Dr. J's Blog

Rock and Roll History, News & Views

Rick Nelson Pt. 2: "The Pop Years"

In 1960, Rick was signed to co-star in a World War II-era comedy adventure film called The Wackiest Ship in the Army with Jack Lemmon that was filmed in Hawaii. The plot involved Lemmon having to take a dilapidated sailing ship into enemy waters on a secret mission. Because he was already signed to do the film, Rick had to turn down John Wayne’s offer to appear in The Alamo. Rick’s part went to Frankie Avalon.

 

Rick played Ensign Tommy Hanson, the only member of the motley crew, besides Lemmon, who knows anything about working a ship with sails. Ozzie insisted that the script provide an opportunity for Rick to sing a 1940’s song in a scene at the Officer’s Club in Pearl Harbor. Rick performed “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans”, a song that was first made popular by Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong in 1947. Watch Rick's performance of the song in a clip from the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZ1GvbjpV-s

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Rick Nelson Pt. 1: "Rockabilly Ricky"

When rock and roll critics and historians first began looking back at the history of the genre in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Rick Nelson’s talents as a rock and roller were greatly undervalued. Influential Village Voice critic Robert Christgau called him “An inspired fake” and the first edition of the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll relegated him to the Teen Idols chapter instead of the Rockabilly chapter where he rightly belonged.

 

Today, the early teen idol era is often thought of as consisting of shallow, deriviative songs with little or no lasting value. Nelson was stung by being lumped into that category more than all of the negative reviews he ever received put together. He was distressed when he saw his photo surrounded by singers who were recorded more because of their looks and hairstyles rather than talent. In a 1972 interview with the New York Times, Rick had this to say: "A lot of people try to equate me with guys like Frankie Avalon and Fabian, but in the old days I sold a lot of records over a period of time, and you can't sustain that by being just another pretty face."

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The Blue Light Turned-On Midland

The Blue Light was an important mid-Michigan teen dance center that featured major rock and roll acts, many of the state’s important regional bands, as well as a host of young garage bands formed in the wake of the British Invasion. The venue was the brainchild of Hersh Goodwald: a chemical engineer, businessman, part-time disc jockey, and avid record collector, who formed a partnership with some other investors to buy a building and transform it into Midland, Michigan’s first, and most important, nightclub for young people.

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