Rick Nelson was blessed in many ways, but some of those blessings also could be a curse. I’m talking about his great looks and his luck of having a national showcase in television on the “Ozzie and Harriet Show.” Those two things, unfortunatly, made some folks doubt his musical prowess. With this wonderful four-CD set, Capital tries to set the record straight.
Everything you’d expect is here. In fact, there’s 100 cuts, 54 of which hit the charts. Plus there’s a lot of unreleased tracks, live stuff, and alternate versions of a few songs. There’s a 48-page booklet that contains some great essays and more information than you can shake a stick at on the tracks that are contained on the CDs. Even the sleeves in each individual CD have info on what Rick recorded and when during different phases of his career.
Let’s talk about the music. There’s no denying the young Nelson fell under the influence of Sun Records and Elvis. Disc one has great cuts like “Be Bop Baby,” “If You Can’t Rock Me,” and so many rockin’ cuts it’s hard to pick just one to single them out. And talk about guitar playing. By the middle of the CD, James Burton has been installed as Rick’s lead guitarist. And he carves out a huge history of rock and roll on too many cuts to mention. What’s cool is that Burton gets his own page in the liner notes booklet – a very nice appreciation, written by Bob Hyde. By the way, Burton isn’t the only guitarist of note to record with Nelson. How about the likes of Joe Maphis, Barney Kessel, and in later days, the late Bobby Neal, who died in the plane crash that claimed Nelson.
Back to the music. There are a few cuts where it’s obvious daddy Ozzie picked the tune. But none of them are awful. Just boring. It’s when Rick tears it up that things get going again. By disc three, when his interests turn to country and country rock, things get really interesting. He’s doing stuff like “Louisiana Man” several years before the Byrds hit the country trail, and many years before the Eagles. He was trailblazer. His cover of Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me” was one of my favorite songs as a 12-year-old. Disc three also has his masterpiece from the later years, and one that summed up his philosophy – “Garden Party.” By the time we hit disc four, Rick can’t buy a hit, but the disc has some of his best stuff. Blazing country rock, killer ballads, and rockabilly heaven highlight the effort.
His vocals were always on the money, his band was tight as could be, and you could tell he still loved the music. His death in that New Year’s Eve plane crash in 1985 took away one of the true pioneers of rock. And by the way, no, drug use in the plane did not contribute to the crash, the NTSB made that official years ago, but for some reason that rumor just hangs on.
Anyway, check this one out. It’s finally a great package from one of the pioneers of rock who continued to grow long after his fans stopped progressing.
This review originally appeared in VG‘s May ’01 issue.