Never Had a #1 Hit… Ricky Nelson

I’m taking a quick break from the usual rundown to give a mention to the bands and artists that we will never meet at the top of the UK singles chart. If you were following along, wondering when (*insert name of your favourite act*) were going to finally appear in this countdown, then I got some bad news for you…

(I’ll do this in chronological order, with acts whom we would have met by now – i.e. in the fifties, sixties and early seventies.)

I wanted to include an early rock ‘n’ roller in this feature, and the obvious one would have been Little Richard. But, as legendary a figure as Richard was, a lot has been written about him since his death a fortnight ago. And, in terms of chart hits without reaching top-spot, one star of the late fifties and early sixties stands out even more…


Look at those eyes! Nelson was quite ridiculously good-looking. The son of two well-known celebrities of the 1930s and 40s, he made his way in typical teen-idol fashion, first through radio sitcoms as a child, then TV shows and films as a teenager, and then, in 1957, he released his first single, aged seventeen. He scored tons of Billboard Top 10 hits, as well as two #1s, and while he wasn’t as successful in the UK, here are his five biggest:

‘Travellin’ Man’ / ‘Hello Mary Lou’, #2 in 1961

A pretty standard, Neil Sedaka-ish early sixties pop song for the first half of this double-‘A’, in which Nelson sings about the girls he has around the world. He’s got a little Eskimo girl in Alaska, and a China-doll in ol’ Hong Kong. Simpler times, simpler times…

A much better song on the flip side: a rolling country beat and a simple tale of falling in love with a pretty young gal called Mary-Lou.

‘It’s Late’, #3 in 1959

Great, light rock ‘n’ roll song, and a common theme for the time: a young couple stay out past their curfew, and dad’s gonna be mad. Ricky hopes this won’t be their last date…

‘Poor Little Fool’, #4 in 1958

Another fifties standard. His first US #1, and the new chart-topper on the first-ever Billboard Hot 100. Not his greatest song, though. A little dull. Nice enough. Next.

‘Someday’, #9 in 1958

Suspiciously similar in theme and sound to Connie Francis’s ‘Who’s Sorry Now’… The follow-up to ‘Poor Little Fool’ was an older country song given a light rock ‘n’ roll makeover, which is how around fifty percent of the chart-toppers in 1958 came about.

To be honest, Ricky Nelson’s biggest hits aren’t his best. I love his version of ‘Fools Rush In’, and his sarcastic seventies comeback ‘Garden Party’. And then there is the majestic ‘Lonesome Town’ – one of the 1950’s sparsest, most haunting hit records. As the sixties progressed, he dropped the ‘y’ from his name as the hit singles and big movie roles dried up. He struggled through a very messy divorce, and drug problems, before dying in a plane crash in 1985.

Hope you enjoyed this short interlude. I’ll do another three artistes-sans-#1s in the autumn…



3 thoughts on “Never Had a #1 Hit… Ricky Nelson

  1. Ohh Ricky, he was definitely handsome… I think my fave of his is “Poor Little Fool” which was written by Sharon Sheeley, Eddie C’s fiancee… His other songs are just so-so in my opinion, he had a great voice though.

  2. The funny thing about Travelin’ Man is that it’s basically Talk Dirty by Jason Derulo 53 years before the fact in singing about all the foreign girls he has sex with touring around the world. Even in the good old days they were songs like this albeit in a more tamer matter. Though I’d probably prefer the Ricky Nelson song to Jason Derulo any day of the week.

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