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Ricky Nelson Traveled All The Way To Number One 50 Years Ago

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Ricky Nelson has been safely enshrined in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame for 24 years. As a star of the long running Ozzie and Harriet television series, he became one of the first teen idols of rock music during the late 1950s and early 1960s. He placed 54 songs on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart during his career but only two reached the top of the mountain.

Fifty years ago this week “Travelin’ Man” replaced “Mother-In-Law” by Ernie K-Doe as the number one song in the United States, ultimately spending two non-consecutive weeks at the top.

Jerry Fuller wrote the song and originally offered it to Sam Cooke, who turned it down. Nelson then quickly recorded the song, which went on to sell six million copies worldwide. Overall Nelson would go on to record 23 songs written by Fuller.

Typical of the innocent early 1960s, “Travelin’ Man” was a catchy pop song about having a girl in every port, including an Eskimo, a señorita, a fräulein, and a china doll, among others.

The flip side was also a hit song. “Hello Mary Lou,” written by Gene Pitney, also entered the top ten. Interestingly, it was the A-side of the single in most other countries. It reached number two in England and spent 14 weeks at number one in, of all places, Norway.

Nelson was only 21 when “Travelin” Man” became a hit, but it would, in many ways, mark the end of the first period of his career. He would start calling himself Rick Nelson instead of Ricky, and he would begin issuing more pop-oriented material as opposed to the rock songs that dominated his early releases.

Ricky Nelson would produce dozens of memorable songs during his career, but very few as good as his second number one hit. It was a well-deserved number one song 50 years ago this week.

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About David Bowling

  • I became Ricky Nelson when my parent left the house and I could play guitar and sing down the long hallway at home. Great acoustics for a crooner, even without the echo. He was 22. I was 12.

    “Be-Bop Baby” is my bride’s favorite. Good piece, David.

  • What a tragedy … died young at 45.
    Lifestream my alltime fav, on my fav album also Windfall.

    Manuel Porras
    Ricky Nelson fan since 1982.

  • Larry Velasco

    I have been a Rick Nelson fan since I’m Walkin, flip side was, Teenagers Romance. I think that was back in 1956-or 57. I am going to be a young 66 yrs. old on July 18. I see Mathew and Gunnar evertime they come to South Lake Tahoe, CA or Placerville, CA. They are both very cordial. I have an autograph item with Rick’s name and Mathew and Gunnar. When I showed it to Mathew at a concert in Stockton, CA. That was in 2004, he said, NO WAY and asked if I would stay for the second concert so Gunnar could sign it too. I stayed of course. Mathew said, hey Gun, look this. Gunnar said, it was cool. I got pictures with them. After a couple of more times seeing them, I asked Mathew, what would you do if I mentioned this certain name? he said, this is nuts. He used to go with my cousin. I told him I would tell her Hello. I am looking forward to seeing them in Auburn, CA. in Sept. 2011. I have seven children, sixteen grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Eight of each and on boy is great grandchild. I am goin to overwelm them with these guys. They will be, as always, kind and sincere. BIG RICK FAN and Nelson Fan. My birthday is the same day as Harriet’s was. July 18,
    Best to all,
    Larry Velasco.