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Ricky Nelson – From "Ozzie and Harriett" to Musical Stardom

Music | November 22, 2017

Pop singer Ricky Nelson practicing playing his guitar at home. (Photo by Allan Grant/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

You may remember Ricky Nelson as the younger of two brothers on the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett, a sitcom that originally aired from 1952 through 1966 … not too shabby. Nelson played himself alongside his parents and brother. America literally watched him grow up on television. Unfortunately, like a lot of other child actors, he was under a lot of stress and reportedly characterized his father as controlling and his mother as a perfectionist. That is a lot for a kid to handle especially being in a public fishbowl (television).

Ricky Nelson was seen as an all-American boy throughout his appearance on the show with his real-life family. By the mid 1960’s, however, America’s social climate was on the verge of change. Young people, Ricky included, were starting to feel the ideals and values, portrayed in the popular series, were becoming outdated. The show attempted to accommodate the counterculture demographic but never quite hit the mark.

Nelson had always been billed as a talented actor, appearing on stage with many other notable actors including John Wayne and Dean Martin. By the age of 16, he had helped himself into a budding music career after knowing that his girlfriend was infatuated by Elvis. He was wealthy, strikingly handsome and talented so… why not?

Over the years, Nelson had epic success in the music industry. He had no less than 53 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart from 1957 to 1973, eventually being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Guys envied him, and girls worshiped him, often slipping him their phone numbers!

Nelson’s career had its ups and downs as it played out, but he was most definitely a teen idol. He, along with other popular artists, was instrumental in paving the way for musical change in the 1960’s and 1970’s. He had countless popular songs credited to his career. One that comes to mind is, “Garden Party”.

Garden Party” is one of the songs that Nelson wrote by himself. It was an important project for him because the inspiration for the song came out of a very personal experience. He had been “booed” after performing some of his new material at a show he played with Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Bobby Rydell in 1971. I guess that particular audience wasn’t receptive to the "new stuff!" Instead of letting it get him down, it inspired him! That is when he decided to put the lyrics to “Garden Party” to music (1972). Among other things, the song stresses, “you can’t please everyone, so you gotta please yourself.

Garden Party” turned out to be just what young people in America were looking for. It was instantly a Top 10 Hit. Pleasing yourself had become somewhat of a mantra of the counterculture. Nelson has summed up the revolution all in that one song! At that point, he gained epic notoriety and came out more determined than ever to break away from the nostalgia that he was trapped in and be true to himself.

Ricky Nelson lost his life in a tragic plane crash in 1985. He died at the young age of 45; much too soon, but he definitely left his mark in this world!

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.