During the late 1950s and early '60s, first and foremost there was Elvis Presley. Then there was Ricky Nelson. He was the embodiment of the teen idols that ruled the American music scene during the pre-Beatles era.
His career traveled through several stages. In his early career with the Imperial label, he was a rock ‘n’ roll singer trading up-tempo rockabilly songs with smooth ballads. During his stay with the Decca/MCA label, he changed from a pure pop singer to producing some the earliest fusions of country and rock. Later bands like Poco and The Eagles would refine this genre, taking it in different directions. During his time with these labels he sold close 100 million records and produced dozens of hits. It was his time with the Epic label that is the great lost period of his musical life.
Real Gone Records has now gathered all his recordings from his short, late-1970s stay with the label, issuing them on a two-CD set titled The Complete Epic Recordings. He recorded three albums worth of material for the label, but only 1977’s Intakes was released during his lifetime. The next album, the Al Kooper-produced Back To Vienna was never released. The third album, Rockabilly Renaissance, a return to his rockabilly roots, was issued after his death in heavily overdubbed form under the title Memphis Sessions. The Real Gone compilation marks the first time the three albums have been released in CD form in the U.S. It also marks the debut of 11 of the 41 tracks.
My only complaint is that the sound quality varies, which may be due to the quality of the original masters. Other than that issue the material is a fine addition to the Rick Nelson catalogue and legacy.
The rockabilly material has been issued in the original and overdubbed formats. While there is repetition, it was a good idea to include the originals. Songs such as “That’s All Right Mama,” “Almost Saturday Night,” “Dream Lover,” “True Love Ways,” “Rave On,” and others are a welcome throwback to his early rock ‘n’ roll days. Add in such undiscovered gems as “Call Of The Jungle,” “New Delhi Freight Train,” “Mama You Been On My Mind,” and “Conversation” and you have an album that will please any fan.
The Complete Epic Recordings shows that Rick Nelson was producing high quality creative music toward the end of his life. This new compilation fills in a lot of holes in his discography and is well worth a listen.