Monday, June 21, 2010

The Next Best Thing: Ricky Nelson: "Hello Mary Lou/Travelin' Man"

If you ever wondered where the music video started, you would be wrong to think it was in the late 60s, though certainly by then the idea was gaining some ground; no, it is right here in the summer of '61 that the first music video appears, appropriately watched (though surreally) by the performer's own parents on the performer's show - the performer being one Ricky Nelson, and his parents Ozzie and Harriet. That Nelson was gifted musically was something not too much of a surprise - his father was as well - but young Ricky had a rebellious streak (though he & James Burton here all look as if they are the fathers of flannel-flying grunge, when in fact they are helping to create country rock, not to mention Chris Isaak) and made rock music when rock music was going through what could best be called a 'phase'; the major players all away for various reasons, someone young, familiar, distinctly good-looking without being overwhelmingly handsome - that is, a younger version of Elvis without the oomph - was inevitably going to appear, and that he came out of Hollywood makes perfect sense, since Hollywood is all about (amongst many things) making popular things even more popular. That Nelson turned out to be better than expected was a bonus, not doing anything other than what he wanted to do, and doing it well. (Being enormously rich and having his father's help in these matters was essential, of course, but talent wills out in all matters, no matter what the connections are.)

"Hello Mary Lou"'s b-side was the rather risque (if I do say so myself) "Travelin' Man", a song is as casual in its promiscuity as "Hello Mary Lou" is in its faithfulness; there is a kind of yin-yangness to this double a-side (yea and verily that is the definition of a good one) that is the answer to the teenage girl's question - "Yes, but what is he really like?" Is he able to give his heart to one girl, or does he just aimlessly wander around, like, y'know, guys do? Nelson lets the girls decide here, (though I should note that "Hello Mary Lou" was the hit in the UK , the other the hit in the US...hmmmm).

I should also note that "Hello Mary Lou" was written by one Gene Pitney (fear not, dear readers, I do get to him in time), thus the line about 'wild horses' was no doubt heard by, amongst many others, a couple of young men just south of London who were still teenagers themselves and who for all I know were fans of good-bad boy Nelson himself; indeed Nelson lived a life that was a bit rough and casual and yet somehow, his rather innocent bull-in-the-heather good looks could make you forgive him for all that; and as a product of The Man (Hollywood also tends to be just that, despite itself) he was far more successful than anyone had a right to expect*. He wasn't Elvis, but then he was far more Elvis than Frankie Avalon, and for that rock 'n' roll must say thanks.

*Just think of all the rather lamentable albums tv actors have recorded over the years, some of which I will, even more lamentably, have to write about.

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