Ricky Nelson – Travelin’ Man

Ricky Nelson was a two-way star in the 50s. He gets overlooked at times compared to his peers.

This song was written by Jerry Fuller, a singer who had minor hits in 1959 with “Betty My Angel” and a cover of “Tennessee Waltz.” Fuller wrote “Travelin’ Man” one day at De Longpre Park in Hollywood while he was waiting to pick up his wife. He didn’t play an instrument, so he beat out the melody on his car’s dashboard.

Fuller recorded a demo of this song with Glen Campbell on guitar. He was hoping Sam Cooke would record it, so he brought it to Cooke’s manager, J.W. Alexander. Joe Osborn, who was Ricky’s bass player, heard it through the wall, He said, ‘J.W., do you have that ‘Travelin” song you just played?’ He said, ‘Yeah, you can have it,’ and he reached in the trash and he pulled out the demo.”

Osborn brought the song to Nelson, who loved it and recorded it. The song became his second (and last) #1 hit, and gave him a huge career boost.

Travelin’ Man peaked at #1 in 1961.

From Songfacts

For the lyrics, Fuller came up with a “girl in every port” idea – a guy who travels all over the world and finds a different girl waiting for him wherever he goes. He used an atlas to get ideas for places and looked up what the word for “girl” was in those places, so in German it’s “Fraulien,” in Mexico it’s “Senorita,” and in Alaska it’s a “cute little Eskimo.” He couldn’t figure out what the term was in Hawaii, so he went with “pretty Polynesian baby.”

Nelson used Elvis Presley’s backing singers The Jordanaires on this song, as he did on most of his recordings. He loved the background vocals on the demo though, which were done by Fuller, Glen Campbell and Dave Burgess. Nelson brought them in to record on subsequent records.

Depending on the criteria, “Travelin’ Man” could be the song with the very first music video. Ozzie Nelson realized that whenever he had Ricky sing on their show The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet, Ricky’s record sales shot up the next day, so Ozzie tried to work it into the plot whenever Ricky had a new record out. As Ricky became popular and the demand for his songs was overwhelming, Ozzie realized that working his singing into the plot was going to be impossible, so Ozzie filmed Ricky singing “Travelin’ Man,” superimposed some travelogue scenes over the film and tacked it onto a show episode at the end. Viola! The music video was born.

That is, if you don’t count performance videos and extracted movie scenes like “Jailhouse Rock.” And if you’re OK with it being black and white.

The episode, “A Question of Suits and Ties,” aired on April 5, 1961 (the song hit #1 on May 29). The clip is far from groundbreaking, but it was footage synched to a performance. Around this time, standalone concept videos were starting to show up for use throughout Europe in Scopitone video jukeboxes, which were typically placed in bars. A few American artists made videos for these machines in the mid’-60s when they started to appear Stateside. Neil Sedaka made one for “Calendar Girl” and Nancy Sinatra did one (for a company called Color-Sonics) for “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.” 

Rick Nelson was born Eric Hilliard Nelson in 1940. He died in a small plane crash in Texas in 1985 while flying to a New Year’s Eve concert. Mechanical problems and a cabin fire were suspected as the cause of the crash. Speculation that the fire was caused by someone on board freebasing cocaine was never proven, though aerosol cans were found at the crash site. The Nelson family said that the cans were part of the makeup box and that no drugs were involved. The matter was never completely resolved. 

This is a crowd favorite on the “Ricky Nelson Remembered” show, staged by his twin sons Matthew and Gunnar. In our interview with Matthew Nelson, he said, “When I’m singing ‘Travelin’ Man,’ it’s 1977 at the Sahara in Las Vegas, when I hung out for a week while Pop did a residency there. And I think about the guys who were in the band.”

Travelin’ Man

I’m a travelin’ man and I’ve made a lot of stops
All over the world
And in every part I own the heart
Of at least one lovely girl

I’ve a pretty Señorita waiting for me
Down in old Mexico
If you’re ever in Alaska stop and see
My cute little Eskimo

Oh, my sweet Fraulein down in Berlin town
Makes my heart start to yearn
And my China doll down in old Hong Kong
Waits for my return

Pretty Polynesian baby over the sea
I remember the night
When we walked in the sands of the Waikiki
And I held you, oh so tight

Oh, my sweet Fraulien down in Berlin town
Makes my heart start to yearn
And my China doll down in old Hong Kong
Waits for my return

Pretty Polynesian baby over the sea
I remember the night
When we walked in the sands of the Waikiki
And I held you, oh so tight

Oh, I’m a travelin’ man
Yes, I’m a travelin’ man
Yes, I’m a travelin’ man
Whoa, I’m a travelin’ man

Ricky Nelson – Lonesome Town

Not only do we have Ricky Nelson singing but the great Jordanaires are backing him up. The loneliness conveyed in this song still works. The song peaked at #7 in the Billboard 100, 1958. The song was written by Baker Knight.

Ricky Nelson was huge in the 50s given his constant exposure on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet… This song was a change for him at the time as he usually did up-tempo songs.

From Songfacts.

“Lonesome Town” was written by Baker Knight, a behind-the-scenes genius who wrote many hit songs throughout the ’50s and ’60s for the likes of Perry Como, Elvis Presley, and Dean Martin. Knight wrote the song as a cynical look at Hollywood, a place Nelson knew well since he grew up a TV star on the series The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. As part of an entertainment legacy, Nelson fared well in Hollywood, but he also knew it could be a “town of broken dreams.”

You could imagine “Heartbreak Hotel” being somewhere in Lonesome Town, and the 1956 Elvis Presley hit was certainly an influence on this song. Presley and Nelson were the most popular American singers at the time, with Nelson getting a big boost from exposure on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. When we spoke with Nelson’s son Matthew in 2016, he explained: “There was obviously a little echo of ‘Heartbreak Hotel,’ but it was way deeper, I think. ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ was a very sexy, almost tongue-in-cheek kind of thing, and ‘Lonesome Town’ was like, ‘Man, I’ve got a broken heart that I drag around with me on a daily basis and nobody can understand but me.’ Our pop had a little bit of that.”

This song was a big change of pace for Nelson, who had been doing lots of upbeat pop songs. “Lonesome Town” is just his voice, his acoustic guitar, and backing vocals by The Jordanaires, who also sang on many of Elvis Presley’s recordings. By recording such a dark and earnest song, Nelson showed another side of his personality – one that a lot of people didn’t know about. “He connected with it plain and simple,” Matthew Nelson told us. “It’s really melancholy. And our pop identified with that, because he grew up famous and really deep down, even though he was a really affable, sweet guy, he told me he could never really tell who was in his life for the right reasons, as you can imagine. So he really tapped into the song.”

Today, this song’s greatest claim to fame is being on the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction, in the scene at Vincent and Mia’s “date” at Jack Rabbit Slims when they order the disputed five-dollar-shake. The song continues to go along with the mood as Uma Thurman puts a point on John Travolta’s grumpiness by asking him “Could you roll me one of those, cowboy?”, begging one of his hand-rolled cigarettes.

The song has been covered by Paul McCartney, The Ventures, Shakin’ Stevens, Chris Isaak, Richard Hawley, The Cramps, Jason Donovan, and others. It also shows up in television shows from time to time, sometimes even playing in a ’50s diner with somebody ordering a milkshake, in a shout-out to Pulp Fiction.

This was featured in a Pepsi commercial that debuted during the Super Bowl in 1995. In the spot, a man at a Pepsi vending machine in the middle of the desert is desperately trying to get the contraption to take his dollar, which it keeps spitting back out. Most of the commercial is taken up by the sound of the bill-validation mechanism buzzing back and forth. “Lonesome Town” is playing over this scene.

Nelson had a total of 36 Top-40 hits ranging from 1957’s “A Teenager’s Romance” (#2) to 1972’s “Garden Party” (#6). That one could have a hit-song career spanning three decades, with the last hit scoring only four positions below the first hit, speaks volumes about what a formidable talent Rick Nelson was. If he hadn’t had his life cut short in 1985, who knows what else he could have done?

Lonesome Town

There’s a place where lovers go to cry their troubles away
And they call it lonesome town, where the broken hearts stay
You can buy a dream or two to last you all through the years
And the only price you pay is a heartful of tears

Goin’ down to lonesome town, where the broken hearts stay
Goin’ down to lonesome town to cry my troubles away
In the town of broken hearts the streets are paved with regret
Maybe down in lonesome town I can learn to forget

There’s a place where lovers go to cry their troubles away
And they call it lonesome town, where the broken hearts stay
You can buy a dream or two to last you all through the years
And the only price you pay is a heartful of tears

Goin’ down to lonesome town, where the broken hearts stay
Goin’ down to lonesome town to cry my troubles away
In the town of broken hearts the streets are paved with regret
Maybe down in lonesome town I can learn to forget

Ricky Nelson – Garden Party

Songs like Hello Mary Lou, Lonesome Town, and Traveling Man from the fifties and sixties still sound good today.

He was playing in a Rock and Roll revival show in 1971 at Madison Square Gardens with other artists such as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Bobby Rydell. Ricky was releasing new music and he did not look the way he did in the 50s. He had long hair and dressed modern. He started off with some of his old songs the fans responded enthusiastically but then he played “Country Honk” a country version of the Rolling Stones “Honky Tonk Women.” That is when it went south.

He started to hear booing and eventually left the stage. There are mixed reports about the booing. Some say there was a disturbance in the crowd with policemen escorting people out and that is what the booing was aimed at… not Ricky. Either way, he got a great song out of it.

He wrote the song about what happened with some references to ex- Beatles, Yoko. Elvis and Chuck Berry.

These references are from Wikipedia

A garden party – October 15, 1971’s Rock ‘n Roll Revival concert at Madison Square Garden, New York City
My old friends – fellow performers at the concert Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Bobby Rydell
Yoko – Yoko Ono
Yoko’s walrus – John Lennon
Mr. Hughes – George Harrison
(Mr. Hughes) hid in Dylan’s shoes – Harrison’s planned (but later abandoned) album of Bob Dylan covers
I said hello to Mary Lou, she belongs to me – Nelson’s song “Hello Mary Lou”, which he played at the concert; also a reference to “She Belongs to Me”, a Bob Dylan song covered by Nelson
I sang a song about a Honky-Tonk – The Rolling Stones song “Country Honk”, the song that allegedly caused the booing
And it was time to leave – Nelson’s subsequent departure
Out stepped Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry’s song “Johnny B. Goode”
Playing guitar like a-ringing a bell – the line in “Johnny B. Goode”, “he could play guitar just like a-ringing a bell”
I’d rather drive a truck – Elvis Presley worked for a time as a truck driver, having famously been told after several failed auditions to “stick to truck driving because you’re never going to make it as a singer”

The song peaked at #6 in the Billboard 100 and #44 in the Country Charts.

Ricky Nelson had 44 songs in the top 100, 2 number 1’s and 14 top ten hits. This song was Ricky’s last top 40 hit.

“Garden Party”
I went to a garden party
To reminisce with my old friends
A chance to share old memories
And play our songs again
When I got to the garden party
They all knew my name
No one recognized me
I didn’t look the same

But it’s all right now
I learned my lesson well
You see, ya can’t please everyone
So ya got to please yourself

People came from miles around
Everyone was there
Yoko brought her walrus
There was magic in the air
‘N’ over in the corner
Much to my surprise
Mr Hughes hid in Dylan’s shoes
Wearing his disguise

But it’s all right now
I learned my lesson well
You see, ya can’t please everyone
So ya got to please yourself

Lott-in-dah-dah
lot-in-dah-dah-dah

Played them all the old songs
Thought that’s why they came
No one heard the music
We didn’t look the same
I said hello to “Mary Lou”
She belongs to me
When I sang a song about a honky-tonk
It was time to leave

But it’s all right now
I learned my lesson well
You see, ya can’t please everyone
So ya got to please yourself

Lot-dah-dah (lot-dah-dah-dah)
Lot-in-dah-dah-dah

Someone opened up a closet door
And out stepped Johnny B Goode
Playing guitar
Like a-ringin’ a bell
And lookin’ like he should
If you gotta play at garden parties
I wish you a lotta luck
But if memories were all I sang
I rather drive a truck

But it’s all right now
I learned my lesson well
You see, ya can’t please everyone
So ya got to please yourself

Lot-dah-dah (lot-dah-dah-dah)
Lot-in-dah-dah-dah

‘N’ it’s all right now
Learned my lesson well
You see, ya can’t please everyone
So you got to please yourself