Ricky Nelson – Hello Mary Lou

I went through a Ricky Nelson phase when I graduated in 1985. I purchased a greatest hits package and was learning more songs by him. I wanted to go see him perform that year and I kept waiting for him to appear somewhere because I heard he was touring. This was before the internet and you had to look at the newspapers for any announcements and listen to the radio. Musicians would play at places and you would never know sometimes.

I never got a chance to see him because on December 31, 1985 his chartered jet crashed killing him and six other passengers.

Ricky was a rockabilly guy and a good one. He gets lost in the shuffle because he was a huge teenage actor at the time on his family’s show…The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

This was part of a super single. In America, this was released on the B side of Travelin’ Man, which peaked at #1 in the Billboard 100. At the time, most artists put hastily produced or unwanted songs on the flip sides of singles, but Nelson took his B-sides seriously, figuring the singles would sell better if he did. The Beatles would do that later.

This song peaked at #9 in the Billboard 100, #1 in New Zealand,  and #2 in the UK despite being on the B side in 1961.

The song was written by Gene Pitney and Cayet Mangiaracina. Cavet was given credit later because his music pubishing company sued for plagrism because of the similiar titled Merry, Merry Lou.

From Songfacts

One of Ricky Nelson’s most popular songs, in “Hello Mary Lou” he gets a case of love at first sight, as she steals his heart at first glance. It’s a very simple tune but quite memorable, with 14 mentions of the melodious Mary Lou packed into a 2:17 running time. The song begins and ends with the chorus, with another between the two verses.

There are two credited writers of this song: Gene Pitney and Cayet Mangiaracina.

Pitney is a rock legend whose biggest hits as an artist – “Only Love Can Break A Heart” and “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance” were written by the Burt Bacharach-Hal David team. Pitney also wrote some hits for other artists, including “He’s A Rebel” for The Crystals and “Rubber Ball” for Bobby Vee. He wrote and recorded “Hello Mary Lou,” but he had another single out so his record company didn’t release it. Meanwhile, his publisher shopped the song around to various artists, including Ricky Nelson, whose version became a huge hit.

In 1957, a New Orleans group called The Sparks released a song called “Mary, Mary Lou,” which goes:

Mary, Mary Lou
Why must you do
The things that you always do

In this song, Mary Lou runs off to marry another man, leaving our hero heartbroken.

Cayet Mangiaracina, who was a member of The Sparks, wrote it in 1954 and the band started playing it at their gigs. Mangiaracina, who said there was no Mary Lou and that the lyric just sounded good, left the band in 1956, but the following year they won a “battle of the bands” competition that earned them a deal with Decca Records to record the song and release it as a single. The Sparks version went nowhere, but Bill Haley and Sam Cooke both covered it, Haley in 1957 and Cooke the following year.

After “Hello Mary Lou” became a hit, Cayet Mangiaracina’s publisher, Champion Music, took legal action and got a share of the song, with Mangiaracina listed as a co-writer along with Pitney. Mangiaracina became priest and claimed to give royalties from the song to the Southern Dominican Province, where he served.

Pitney, who died in 2006, never spoke of Mangiaracina or the lawsuit.

This was a huge hit in Australia, where it went to #1. In the UK, it was also very popular, reaching #2.

Nelson’s father Ozzie, a popular bandleader and star (along with Ricky and the rest of his family) of the TV series The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, played tenor guitar on this song. The solo is by Nelson’s guitarist James Burton, who later joined up with Elvis Presley.

Gene Pitney claimed to be baffled by this song’s success. “I’ve spent a lifetime trying to analyze why it was as big as it was,” he said.

Several acts have done popular covers of this song, including Brownsville Station, New Riders of the Purple Sage and Creedence Clearwater Revival. When Ricky Nelson entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, he was inducted by John Fogerty.

Nelson’s voice sounds very full and ambient thanks to overdubs in the studio. Producer Jimmie Haskell joked that he used “15 layers of overdubbing.”

Queen played this on their 1986 tour, their last with Freddie Mercury. It was part of a tribute to American rock from the ’50s that also included “Tutti Frutti.”

Hello Mary Lou

“Hello Mary Lou
Goodbye heart
Sweet Mary Lou
I’m so in love with you

I knew Mary Lou
We’d never part
So hello Mary Lou
Goodbye heart”

You passed me by one sunny day
Flashed those big brown eyes my way
And ooh I wanted you forever more
Now I’m not one that gets around
I swear my feet stuck to the ground
And though I never did meet you before

I said “hello Mary Lou
Goodbye heart
Sweet Mary Lou
I’m so in love with you

I knew Mary Lou
We’d never part
So hello Mary Lou
Goodbye heart”

I saw your lips I heard your voice
Believe me I just had no choice
Wild horses couldn’t make me stay away
I thought about a moonlit night
Arms around you, good an’ tight
All I had to see for me to say

I said “hello Mary Lou
Goodbye heart
Sweet Mary Lou
I’m so in love with you

I knew Mary Lou
We’d never part
So “hello Mary Lou
Goodbye heart
Yes, hello Mary Lou
Goodbye heart
Well, hello Mary Lou
Goodbye heart”

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

45 thoughts on “Ricky Nelson – Hello Mary Lou”

    1. They do meld together nicely in that verse. He always worked with great musicians like James Burton and the Jordonaires.

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  1. Ricky Nelson was such a heart throb. I remember hoping against all hope there would be time at the end of their show for him to sing. I think it was a hit because he sang it. Combine his eyes, lips, and hair with his voice and he could have sung the telephone book and produced a hit. I was also a huge Gene Pitney fan although I did not know about the lawsuit.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. He had some great songs through that stretch like this one, Lonesome Town and many more. He worked with a lot of the musicians that worked with Elvis…he did it right.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. never really paid any attention to him except “Garden PArty” which I liked, and was a hit when I was young. But you’re right, this is a better than average song from that era, and ‘Travelin Man’ is a little better still, I think.
    Poor guy. Sometimes seems like it would be easier to list early rock stars who DIDN’T die in plane crashes than those who did.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know….he was riding high when he died… a revival was happening…I mean if an 18 year old like me was getting into him…there had to be more. He was on the news more at that time.
      I think he had the David Cassidy effect before Cassidy…that was the point of Garden Party…all people saw was the pin up from the early 60s. He was really good.

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  3. Ricky had some good singles, i bought garden party, and then a 90s cd single reissue of this. I still like his stuff, but i adore Gene Pitney, amazing singer, songwriter and back catalogue that was huge in the uk, under appreciated in the USA…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know much about Pitney…I need to look him up.
      Nelson was really good and he surrounded himself with the best musicians at the time. I think being a heartthrob hurt him later on. Garden Party is a great single.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Gene pitney was huge in the uk. 24 hours from tulsa, the epic im gonna be strong, the quirky mecca, looking through the eyes of love, somethings gotten hold of my heart are good ones to check out. Im gonna be strong especially is right up there with orbison at his best. Cyndi lauper covered it decently 25 years later… 🙂

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  4. Ricky had a certain tone in his voice that I really liked. As a kid, “Travelin’ Man” was one of my favorites. Not sure if we listened to it on the radio but part of my memory says we had an album we listened to. This is another classic hit that’s really good.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You are playing my childhood. I think I still have my dad’s 45 of this.

    I like this but, preferred Travelin’ Man on the flip side. Garden Party was OK.

    Grew up with Gene Pitney, too. Stunning voice.

    Did you ever listen to Nelson?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. James Burton’s guitar playing made the song. He’s the one that set the tempo. Originally Ricky had rehearsed it as a slow ballad. Traveling Man was also a great one. My band was playing a New Years gig in Dallas the night he died in the plane crash. Someone in the audience told us, sad night.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Love that tune, Max, thanks for reminding me of it. So it sounds like we have yet another in common. You mentioned you wanted to see Ricky Nelson but never could because he died in a plane crash. I got one for you.

    I had a ticket to see Bill Haley in Germany in 1981. Admittedly, I was much more into Elvis, but obviously Elvis was dead, and I also liked “Rock Around the Clock”, “See You Later Alligator” and other songs by Bill Haley & His Comets. As such, I was quite excited when I heard he was supposed to go on tour, which would include Germany. Unfortunately, Haley passed away in the U.S. before he could ever embark on that tour.

    Weirdly, the same thing happened to me with Aretha Franklin. When I heard she was doing a small tour (even though she technically had retired) and would come to New Jersey, I immediately bought a ticket, since I had never seen her. The gig would have been on March 25, 2019, her 77th birthday. Well, it wasn’t meant to be. She passed away on August 16, 2018!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nelson had some really good songs.

      Oh man…twice…. Aretha because of her age…you can almost see that but Bill Haley…that sucks. That would have been really special…don’t get me wrong…so would Aretha!

      So many people I wish I would have seen.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m supposed to see Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band on June 7, one month prior to his 82nd birthday. Originally, that gig was supposed to have happened in 2020. Fortunately, Ringo does seem to be in really good health…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes he seems in great health and we can only hope we age like he does!
        I saw him on his 70th birthday at the Ryman. His brother in law came out and played!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I don’t know what the line-up of The All Starr Band is going to be. Most recently, it included Colin Hay, Steve Lukather and Gregg Rolie, among others. An appearance of Joe would be cool.

        “My gig” is supposed to happen at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, which is a beautiful venue – keeping fingers crossed!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Steve Lukather and Gregg Rolie was there when I saw them….so was Todd Rundgren.

        Oh did you ever see the Allman Brothers at the Beacon?

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Rundgren also was a member of the All Starr Band at some point. It’s quite amazing who has played with Ringo as part of that group over the decades.

        The Allman Brothers were a very late discovery and I literally got to see them only once on what was their final tour in 2014. I caught them at a great outdoor venue in New Jersey in the late summer.

        I never saw them at the Beacon – another missed opportunity, since it would have been very easy. From 1997 until 2007, I lived in Queens, and Manhattan and the Beacon only were a 45-minute subway ride away!

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Ringo had a lot of members. Levon, Rick Danko, John Entwistle…and many. Rundgren was a lot of fun to see.

        I’ve read where they played a lot at the Beacon…that is why I asked.
        I’m so happy you got to see them! I never did.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Unlike Fats, Holly, Elvis, and others…he doesn’t get mentioned a lot…that is the only reason I could think of…sometimes heartthrob and actors get pushed a side a bit in music.

      Liked by 1 person

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