"Stood Up" on New Years: RICK NELSON


Well, since we're on the subject of early rock n' roll "teen" stars who definitely don't get the respect they deserve, let's talk for a moment about RICK(Y) NELSON. While this post may seem out of the blue, it's unfortunately quite timely. Unfortunate because it was 22 years and one day ago, December 31, 1985, when Rick Nelson died alongside his fiance and band in a plane crash on his way to a New Years Eve concert in Dallas, Texas.

Rick Nelson's early career on his family's radio and television program (the massively popular The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet) did nothing in the long run to help legitimize his music career. Nelson's musical performances on the television show did a great deal to bring rock n' roll into mainstream households and make the form palatable to conservative parents who may have been fretting where the younger generations obsessions were heading (remember, this was the generation who were frightened of Elvis's pelvis).

Sadly, Nelson's boy-next-door persona and insane good looks would pigeonhole him as one of rock's first "teen idols." This, paired with the fact that his father refused to let Nelson peform any one of Ricky's dozens of hits on any other show but his own, put the figurative shackles on his musical career.

It must have been perplexing for Nelson to deal with having so many hit singles and yet receiving little respect in his lifetime for being one of rock's earliest stars. While posthumous, his induction into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in its second ever induction (by John Fogerty) was a fitting tribute just a year after his death. Not long afterward, he was also inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Too little too late, perhaps, but respect is respect in my book.

"Stood Up": (Previously posted here in October 2005) A staple of my old DJ sets, "Stood Up" was usually played as the last song of the night, as a little joke to all those sad bastards still hanging around the bar trying miserably to arrange that last-minute hook-up. If I owned a bar, this is how I'd announce closing time every single night.

"Travelin' Man"
"Hello Mary Lou": How many great singles did Nelson have? So many that "Hello Mary Lou" was the frigging b-side to "Travelin' Man," and both were massive hits!

"Poor Little Fool": Written by Sharon Sheeley, the fiance of Eddie Cochran who - along with Gene Vincent - was one of the other passengers present in the car crash that would result in Cochran's death.

"I Will Follow You": Originally recorded under the title "Chariot" by Petula Clark, and then covered as "I Will Follow Him" by 14 year old Little Peggy March, who had a #1 hit with the song the same year that Nelson recorded it, 1963.

"Lonesome Town": Whether or not you'd like to admit it, appearing on a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack can go a long way to re-igniting interest in an artist's career. I probably wasn't 18 years old the first time I heard "Lonesome Town," but I'm pretty sure catching it on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack sparked a newfound interest in this guy I'd always assumed was as square as Pat Boone.

"Garden Party": Nelson's biggest (only?) late-career hit, "Garden Party" tells the story of a concert in the early 70s where Nelson joined other rock legends at Madison Square Garden, and was booed after performing new material (some reports say he was covering a Rolling Stones song). While it later came to light that the audience was possibly booing some police officers in the crowd, Nelson took the incident quite personally, leaving the stage and later penning one of the biggest hits of his career. "It's all right now / I've learned my lesson well / You can't please everyone so you've got to please yourself."

"My Rifle, My Pony, and Me" (with DEAN MARTIN): In what has to be one of the most pimp musical moments in celluloid history, crooner Martin joins up with Nelson for this classic little nugget of a country song, taken from the John Wayne movie Rio Bravo.

- His official homepage if pretty packed with info, trivia, merch and more. The gallery of old 45" picture sleeves is a particularly fun way to waste a few minutes. And if you've been confused at my usage of Rick and Ricky tonight, please note that his own site uses both names as well.
- A bunch of Nelson clips over at YouTube



Anonymous said...

Dylan - I read your blog regularly and am always impressed but this is the first time I simply had to post. Clearly, you have the taste of a champ but this tribute reigns supreme. Good for you for remembering an oft-overlooked contributer to the great music we both know and love.

CSG - Chicago

Dylan Gaughan said...

Thanks, CSG!

It took me doing a search at HypeMachine to really see the horrifying Ricky Nelson drought going on in the blogosphere. Sad, sad stuff.


TarBabyJim said...

Very nice read!
Thank you,

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mkudlacz said...

The retarded collusion of our sensibilities continue -- I was also moved to reminisce about RN's death this New Year's and subsequently inspired to seek out more bio info online while hanging out at DT's house. Funny that we didn't talk about it over the holiday, even though we were both in the same city and basically seeing one another daily. Apparently that didn't matter anyway, as we were still having this dialogue on the astral plane.

I dunno why, but hearing the news of his death 22 years ago left a mark on my recollections of childhood New Year's passed. I think of it almost every year, which is a little weird, since I had no idea who he was until he was already dead. My brother -- my personal allmusic database in the pre-information age of 1985 -- expounded on the significance of his death by telling me an essentially accurate version of the "Garden Party" story. He didn't give me much of a primer on his early work, but he accurately captured the the tragedy-of-the-fallen-superstar legend enough to keep it fresh in my mind.

"What a bummer," I thought, "that a one-time success would be shunned b/c he was starting over as an artist and exploring new (and apparently unwelcome) changes in his sound."

Honestly, I think that being exposed to this sad object lesson so young in life was a formidable moment for me as a music listener. I like to think that the lesson that I gleaned was to remain open-minded about the trajectory of an artist's career, despite where and how their story began.

Years later, it occurs to me that it's this paradigm that probably keeps me engaged when, say, Radiohead decides to embrace electronic music or GbV veers away from lo-fi.

I suspect that you have the same sort of attachment to RN's story for these exact reasons -- or at least I'm projecting that onto this post -- but, either way, many thanks for resurrecting a more complete body of his work!


Leda Carmody said...

Too bad you didn't know Rick. He was truly a decent human being. He could have acted high and mighty. He always remained the boy next door. He was the handsomest, talented, boy next door, you would ever meet. He was my friend. I will always miss him!

Dylan Gaughan said...

No kidding, too bad I didn't know him! God how I wish I could have... he was 100% class and seemed to so obviously be a nice and decent human being. You're right, the kind of fame he reached could and even should have turned him into a jerk, but he never seemed to change from it all.

I'm jealous of your friendship, and am so glad you stopped by to share your thoughts. Thanks!