Producer: None listed
Track listing: Honeycomb / Boppin’ the Blues / Be-Bop Baby Have I Told You Lately That I Love You / Teenage Doll / If You Can’t Rock Me / Whole Lotta Shakin’ Gain’ On / Baby I’m Sorry / Am I Blue / I’m Confessin’ / Your True Love / True Love
January 20, 1958
Decades before the advent of MTV, a teenage would-be rock star named Ricky Nelson was able to expose his music to millions on television. Ricky, of course, was the real-life son of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson and began appearing on their The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet TV show in 1952 at the age of 11. (He’d first appeared on the radio version of the series in 1948 when he was eight.) By the time he had hit his middle teens, Ricky Nelson’s rock ‘n’ roll dreams were becoming a reality on TV and in real life.
In a 1956 episode of the ABC-TV situation comedy, Nelson formed a high school rock ‘n’ roll band. In real life, Nelson, inspired by his girlfriend’s interest in Elvis Presley, decided that he too should become a pop star. Eventually, Nelson was featured playing his favorite song, Fats Domino’s “I’m Walking,” on the TV show. An audio tape of the performance was shopped to several record labels, but there were no takers until Ozzie Nelson set up a handshake deal with Verve Records. Within months, Nelson scored three top 20 hits: “A Teenager’s Romance,” “I’m Walking” and “You’re My One and Only Love.”
Since Nelson had not actually signed a contract with Verve, Ozzie decided to move his son to a label more equipped to handle the sales of a pop superstar. While Verve dealt primarily with jazz, Imperial Records, headed by Lew Chudd, specialized in rock ‘n’ roll. In fact, Imperial was the label that had released Fats Domino’s version of “I’m Walking.”
When Chudd heard the news that Nelson was looking for a label, he went after the teen star with a vengeance. A&R executive Jimmie Haskell, who was later assigned to work with Nelson, still remembers Chudd’s enthusiasm. “I could hear him yelling at the lawyers, ‘I don’t care how many points Ozzie wants. Give it to him. I want to put a record out now!'”
The first songs Nelson cut for Imperial were “Be-Bop Baby” and a cover of “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You,” which was also recorded by Presley. “Rick chose that as his first [Imperial] backside, because he admired Elvis and loved that song,” says Haskell, who oversaw the recording of Ricky. “He wanted to pay homage to him by recording one of his songs.”
Guitarist Barney Kessel, who served as arranger of Nelson’s Verve singles, was also featured on the first Imperial single. The material featured on the album was chosen by Haskell, Ozzie, and Ricky. “I would sift through about 100 songs submitted to Imperial and narrow it down to about 50, which I would play for Rick at his bungalow on the set of Ozzie and Harriet,” Haskell says. Sometimes, Ozzie Nelson rejected songs because the lyrical content was not consistent with the wholesome image projected on the TV show. “If Ricky liked a song and Ozzie didn’t, they would have a discussion about it. And if Ricky still insisted, Ozzie would let him do it, but he would tell him to be aware of this or that,” Haskell says.
Aside from Elvis, Nelson drew his song from other popular hitmakers of the day (Carl Perkins’s “Boppin’ the Blues” and “Your True Love,” Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”) and even recorded a standard (Cole Porter’s “True Love”). With Nelson’s performances of the songs on the album conveniently featured in the episodes of Ozzie and Harriet, Ricky reached the top of the Best Selling Pop LP’s list in its 11th week. Yet as Haskell points out, “Ricky wasn’t just a TV idol, he was a great singer.” Millions of record-buyers agreed.
THE TOP FIVE
Week of January 20, 1958
1. Ricky, Ricky Nelson
2. My Fair Lady, Original Cast
3. Around the World in 80 Days, Soundtrack
4. Pat’s Great Hits, Pat Boone
5. The King and I, Soundtrack