This is album retro-review number 187 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.
The series is called “Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
Links to the previous 150 reviews can be found at the bottom of this review.
This artist started out in the 1950’s, first as a teen idol in a TV show, but later as a genuine recording star, where he recorded from the 1950’s through into the 1970’s.
The artist is the Ricky Nelson and this is a vinyl album is titled – All My Best.
It was released on the Australian J&B label in Island label in more recent years – 1985 in fact. It has the identifying code of JB 231.
It is a twenty two track album with twelve tracks on side 1 and ten tracks on side 2.
The musical story of Ricky Nelson starts with a young very clean cut teenage boy appearing with his real life family in a US family TV comedy, called The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet.
This was the real life story of the Nelson family, consisting of the all American dad – Ozzie Nelson, his very 1950’s middle-class wife, Harriet Nelson, older son David, and younger son Erick, also known as Ricky.
The show actually had its genesis on radio, but became a far more popular show in the USA when it switched to television in 1952, and later when the program was screened in the late-mid 1950’s, in Australia.
Now Harriette was quite an accomplished singer and so Ozzie, who wrote most of the scripts, made the decision in 1957 to let his then 17 year old son Ricky start singing on the program.
Ricky, who was born on May 8th 1940 and named Eric Hilliard Nelson. As he grew he was considered as incredibly good looking and proved to have a great voice, and smart dad Ozzie, quickly realised that presenting Ricky singing would also being a lot of teenage girls to the program.
So it was that this TV show, which ran through until 1966, was cancelled because of a severe decline in ratings. This decline that was tied to both a change in what the public in the mid 1960’s perceived to be the “real” American family, and, because Ricky had left to pursue his own musical career earlier.
Ricky (to become Rick in 1961) had as his major influences, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis. In fact it was an Elvis impression on an episode in 1957 that gave his dad the idea to introduce more of him singing.
He had it all in the ’50’s, the ducktail, the flat-top cut, he was handsome and really could sing!
For his first single, Ricky Nelson cut a double-sided smash: “A Teenager’s Romance” backed with Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin’.”
Both songs made the Top Five shortly after the single’s release in April 1957, instantly launching his musical career.
He was all of sixteen years old, and this was just the beginning. All totalled, he would score three dozen hits, record seventy singles and compilations and releases after his death found 37 albums under his name.
This makes him one of the most successfully prolific rock and roll artists of the first 25 years of R&R.
According to the Rock and Roll Hall of fame, “His less frantic brand, more poppy brand of rockabilly went down easily with America’s suburban teenagers.
After the success of his first two singles on Verve, Nelson quickly signed to the Imperial label, where his hit streak extended into the early Sixties. In 1958, Nelson reached #1 with “Poor Little Fool” (written by Sharon Sheeley, who was Eddie Cochran’s girlfriend).
His discerning taste in material also led him to “Hello Mary Lou” – his signature song, penned by Gene Pitney – and “Travelin’ Man,” both of which topped the charts. During a three-year period from 1957 through 1959, Nelson owned the pop charts, placing 18 songs in the Top 40 for nearly 200 combined weeks.“
As indicated earlier, he dropped the “y” from his name in 1961 as he found his appeal with the teens beginning to wane and so he turned to a slightly older audience. This was the audience that had grown up with him, and was an audience audience that was even a bit older than he was.
He turned 21 in 1961.
The further into the 1960’s he went, the more his career floundered. In some ways no more than many artists who failed to keep pace with the rapid changes to what the public wanted.
This was an audience that was being exposed to the exploding music scene in Great Britain, something even his idol Elvis was struggling with.
He then formed the Stone Canyon Band in 1970, whose mellow, California-based country-rock sound anticipated the future laid-back likes of the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt.
One of the Stone Canyon band members, in fact, was bassist Randy Meisner, a founding member of Poco who’d later find fame with the Eagles.
During this era, Nelson had a minor hit with his easygoing remake of Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me.” All the while, he resisted the idea of becoming a nostalgia act desperately trying new material to reinvent himself.
In 1972 he performed at a Richard Nader Oldies Concert at Madison Square Garden where the audience booed him.
He claimed it was because he was playing new songs instead of just his old hits. It was when he performed The Rolling Stones‘ “Honky Tonk Women”, he was booed off the stage.
He was strongly encouraged to return to the stage to perform his “Golden Oldies” – but it cut deep.
Not long after he recorded Garden Party, which he sang of his absolute dismay!
By now hits in any form or shape had dried up. This didn’t stop Rick from working hard, some say harder than ever and he performed up to 200 dates a year.
The decade wasn’t entirely kind to him, as personal problems (including a cocaine addiction) began to mount as his popularity waned.
His life ended tragically in 1985 when his tour plane caught fire and crashed near a highway in DeKalb, Texas, killing him and six others.
1. Travellin’ Man
2. Hello Mary Lou
3. Poor Little Fool
4. Stood Up
5. It’s late
6. You Know What I Mean
7. I Got A Feeling
8. Just A Little Too Much
9. Believe What You Say
10. Waiting In School
11. Never Be Anyone Else But You
12. Teenage Idol
1. I’m Walkin’
2. Fools Rush In
3. It’s Up Too You
4. Sweeter Than You
5. Mighty Good
6. You Are The Only One
7. Young World
8. Don’t Leave Me This Way
9. Lonesome Town
10. Garden Party
So, there are about 16 versions of this album released in various countries between 1985 and 1996, and the track listing order varies across labels and years.
With this album, the only Australian version, we find that the tracks are not in any chronological order which is the bane of my life with compilations.
Having the tracks assembled in a chronological order is a great way of hearing a (sometimes) full range of styles from the artist.
You would think, the record compliers would give some thought to maybe assembling the tracks in that chronological order so we can hear the progression as the artist develops and the styles change.
But no, in terms of the track order it’s real “dogs breakfast”.
Track 1 – Travelling Man was released in 1961.
Written by Jerry Fuller originally for Sam Cooke, the track was passed onto Ricky when Cooke’s manager decided that it wasn’t a good enough track for Cooke.
Well, the track in fact went onto be reach number 1in the US charts, US Cashbox, Australia and number 2 in the UK.
However it wasn’t his first number 1, that was Poor Little Fool in 1958, but it was his second number 1, and came after an almost three year break.
The song itself is about the loves experienced by a world traveller who seems to catch the eyes of pretty women where ever he goes.
If it had been written by Ricky we could easily imagine it was a reflection of both his experiences and, maybe his dreams.
During the song Fuller’s clever lyrics suggest that our traveller has a girl in every port, where, the girls are sung about in terms of a word or sentence that is associated with the location.
For example we find the women were: a “pretty señorita” in Mexico, an Eskimo in Alaska, a Fräulein in Berlin, a china doll in Hong Kong, and a Polynesian in Waikiki.
What is certain is that it seems to fit Ricky Nelsons voice beautifully, and he delivers in it a way that must have had many teen girls hearts a flutter at the time.
Track 2 is Hello Mary Lou which was in fact the B-side to Travelling Man.
For a B-side it charted at a respectable number 9 in the US, and in fact charted at number 1 in Australia and number 2 in the UK.
Track 3 is his first number 1 hit – Poor Little Fool.
Released in 1958 it was written by a 15 year old school girl, Sharon Sheeley. The story goes that she was encouraged to write by Elvis, a pretty strange claim, but I guess it could be true.
Anyway she decided that Ricky was the person she wanted to have sing it, and again among the many rock ‘n’ roll stories, it is suggested that she deliberately had her car break down outside Ricky’s house.
He subsequently came to her aid and she convinced him to try the song. What a 15 year old was doing driving a car is beyond me, even though a few states allow a 15 year old to have a learners permit – but hey! A story is a story!
The track is a medium tempo country/rock track which totally was right for the period, and yet today we can listen with a degree of nostalgia for a very innocent period.
Incidentally it was supposed to be played more uptempo, but Nelson decided to bring the temp down.
Poor Little Fool
The remainder of side 1 is made up of tracks from albums and featured singles such as the 1959 It’s Late which is a decent medium tempo rocker.
There is a very good cover of A Little Too Much, which is track 8. This track reached the lower end of the top 10 in the USA and came from his 1959 album Songs By Ricky (Ricky Sings Spirituals).
It was written by rocker Johnny Burnett and certainly Ricky sings it as a medium-uptempo rock piece. What it demonstrates is that while Ricky Nelson was never a high energy rock “screamer”, he had an ability to use his more mellow voice in rock pieces.
This was by virtue of his ability to put “bounce” into his delivery and certainly, his good looks were fundamental in him attracting the female rock teen fans.
Some five years after Ricky released it, our own home-grown rocker Col Joye would release the same track.
Just A Little Too Much
The other outstanding track on side one is the second last track, track 11 – Never Be Anyone Else But You.
Call a spade a spade. Today many people would call this a saccharin sweet ballad. Iit was released late 1958, but when Ricky first played it on the Ozzie and Harriet show in circa 1959, it was grabbed and promoted strongly as it represented the gentle non-threatening side to “rock ‘n’ roll”.
In some ways it typifies the gentle balladry nature that seemed to fit Ricky Nelson so perfectly, but Ricky sought more.
Oh the track made it to number 5 on the US Cashbox.
Turning the album over it has a great collection of popular Nelson songs and some good tracks at that.
It kicks off with a popular piece by Fat’s Domino – I’m Walking.
Back in 1957 we need to remember that black artists were largely only followed by black audiences and so it was quite something for a 17 year old white middle class boy to sing a track written and performed by a black artist.
Not long after the Waller version was released, Ricky Nelson performed the song on an episode of his parents’ show, The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet.
Ricky’s version was released as a single, which reached number four on the pop singles chart and number ten on the R&B charts. His version was released on Verve Records label with the B-side being A Teenager’s Romance.
When you listen to the two versions side by side, in some ways it is not so much chalk and cheese, as probably well matured cheese and fresh cheese.
OK, enough of the dairy food analogies, what I’m trying to say is that the Fat’s version is actually faster than the Nelson version and reeks of “jive”, has more “swing” in it – but we still have to dip our hats at what Ricky achieved with his version.
Of course it’s a little ‘sanitised” but with the help of James Burton on guitar (don’t you just love his playing?), it may not have the swing that the original version has, but is a great piece anyway.
Track 2 – Fools Rush In was released in 1963.
It represents the period where Ricky Nelson mutated into Rick Nelson.
It is a deliberate move away from the teen crowd and, rock. Written by Johnny Mercer it was a track recorded by the likes of the Tommy Dorsey band with Frank Sinatra and, also by Billy Eckstine.
They were the artists of the teens parents generation. But on the other hand, R&B artists of the day, such as Brooke Benton and Etta James also recorded it, so on one hand it could still considered music of the day.
Yet, it really was not the music of the teens.
Ricky did a good job of interpreting the track, and it reached number 12 in the UK and the US.
The Nelson version, while not rock, has a decent uptempo track, with a smidgeon of Latin America laying below the surface. I’m not certain, but it sounds a lot like James Burton still accompanying Ricky, and what a great middle eight guitar solo.
Fools Rush In
The rest of the album consists of an eclectic arrangement of pieces from various albums. The only tracks to be released as singles being tracks 4 – Sweeter Than You (1959) which reached number 9 on Cashbox, Young World (track 7) in 1961, which also reached number 9 on Cashbox and the final track – the ‘telling” track of the album, the 1972 track – Garden Party.
It was telling for several reasons.
Garden Party only reached a respectable number 3 on Cashbox (actually a damn fine effort when you consider the year and the styes of music that were popular), and it reached number 3 in Australia and number 1 in the little known adult contemporary chart in the USA.
So it was his first number 1 for nine years, that last track to reach a #1being “For You“, which was released back in 1963.
Secondly, it would be his last number 1 track – ever!
It was also representative of the long journey he had been on, a journey where like many other artists he wanted to break free of the “good old songs” and start afresh.
However, that performance at Maddison Square Garden reminded him, and all artists that, you need to be careful and be very aware that when you build your fan base up, the expectation is that you will continue to provide those same songs that you gave them when building that fan base.
To do otherwise is to pull the foundations away, and fans are very unforgiving.
It is a sad song, a song of reflection but also a song of insight and realisation.
I went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends
A chance to share old memories and play our songs again
When I got to the garden party, they all knew my name
No one recognized me, I didn’t look the same
But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.
You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself
People came from miles around, everyone was there
Yoko brought her walrus, there was magic in the air
‘n’ over in the corner, much to my surprise
Mr. Hughes hid in Dylan’s shoes wearing his disguise
Played them all the old songs, thought that’s why they came
No one heard the music, we didn’t look the same
I said hello to “Mary Lou”, she belongs to me
When I sang a song about a honky-tonk, it was time to leave
Someone opened up a closet door and out stepped Johnny B. Goode
Playing guitar like a-ringin’ a bell and lookin’ like he should
If you gotta play at garden parties, I wish you a lotta luck
But if memories were all I sang, I rather drive a truck
‘n’ it’s all right now, learned my lesson well
You see, ya can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself
It remains hauntingly beautiful and so very relevant, even today so many years later.
Ricky Nelson was popular, at times incredibly popular and his accolades are righteous and worthy.
Yet if you ask people to name their favourite R&R artists, let alone musical artists of the period from the mid 1950’s through to the early 1970’s, few if any would mention Rick(y) Nelson.
His album sits comfortably as part of the cream of my crate, and I remember him not just as a nostalgic rock singer but as a lively and talented artist who loved what he did and did what he loved.
This album does just about contain all his best work, certainly his hits and therefore is a good album to have in any collection that purports to be a R&R collection.
The album All My Best has been released some 16 times and differing versions have fewer tracks, and sometimes the tracks are in a different order.
Do be aware that some versions are shortened with only 17 tracks, so why be shortchanged?
There is this original Australian vinyl release on J&B which Discogs have a couple of copies of for under $10.00, but there was also a re-release on vinyl in 1986 on the Skyline label and a CD re-release in 1988.
Youtube came up trumps with Ricky (or Rick), and we can thank the TV program The Nelson’s for some of the material still available to view.
Hello Mary Lou
Never Be Anyone Else But You
Garden party (I had to include this clip)
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen album reviews 101 – 150 just click the image below –
Click to open the following reviews covering #’s 151 onward.
#155. Billy Thorpe – Tangier
#159. The Band – Stage Fright
#162. Jimi Hendrix – Radio One
#170. Chain – Two Of A Kind
#171. Bob Marley – Legend
#176. B.B. King – The Best Of
#180. Flowers – Icehouse
#181. Joe Tex – The Best Of