Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Dance Party: If Memories Were All He Sang

I ran across this week's Dance Party (which, like so many others, has no dance) while researching the death of David Nelson. Ricky Nelson is considered by many to be the original teen idol (he even had a hit song with the title), and became a recording sensation while appearing as himself on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The early, and most successful, part of his recording career was managed by his father, who used the TV show as a vehicle to introduce the public to Ricky's music. In it's middle and later years, the sitcom featured a concert-type performance by Ricky in about a third of the episodes.

During the heyday of the Nelsons' program, our star landed on Billboard's Top 40 a whopping 30 times, but as The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet came to a close, Ricky's recording career slumped. He is sometimes considered a pioneer of early rock-and-roll and its offshoot rockabilly, but by the late 60s, he was in trouble with both his professional and personal life. He was a regular cocaine user and a sexaholic, and endured a lengthy, highly contentious marriage and divorce. He fathered a son out of wedlock, whom he never supported, and suffered continual financial problems.

He wrote the song below after a disastrous appearance at Madison Square Garden in 1971. The concert was marketed as a Rock-and-Roll reunion; Chuck Barry, Bo Diddley, and Bobby Rydell were also on the bill. John and Yoko were in the audience, as was George Harrison: this was a pretty big deal. Ricky's physical appearance surprised the audience, who were expecting a more adult version of the clean-cut teen he had played on his parents' TV show. Instead, Nelson sported shoulder-length hair, a purple velvet shirt, and bell-bottoms. He sang several of his old hits, then launched into a cover of the Rolling Stones tune "Country Honk." The crowd began to boo, and Ricky left the stage in frustration.

It's now thought that the crowd may have been booing some police activity happening at the back of the auditorium, but at the time, Ricky took the response personally. He wrote this song about that appearance; it was to be his final Top 40 hit.