Five Favorite Newly Discovered Rick Nelson Gems

After six months of listening to nothing but the Brothers Gibb, it regretfully reached a saturation point, and I forced myself to enter a new listening cycle. Chest hair, pearly white smiles, and tight white satin pants have been replaced by the laid-back, natural, gorgeous tones (and head and shoulders and knees and toes and eyes and ears and mouth and a nose – oh, a nose!) of Rick Nelson.

In case you’ve missed one of the recurring themes of this blog, I can’t just like something. I can’t just watch a movie. I can’t just read a book. I cannot — and I refuse to — just listen to a song or an album or an artist’s complete discography. I must completely immerse myself, devouring every last morsel of information and media available to me. I guess you could refer to it as an “obsession.” So right now, I’m obsessed with Rick Nelson…again. (I also tend to recycle my obsessions.) I’ve been tracking down episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet I haven’t seen (can’t wait for the ultimate box set to be released!), raiding the library of all their Rick Nelson materials (do you think they’ll notice if I don’t return them?), absent-mindedly drooling over my Rick Nelson records (I am going to have to start investing in those clear protective sleeves), and, of course, listening to all the Rick Nelson I can, all in my search for THE REAL RICK:

therealrick

(Yeah, I have totally been carrying this picture around with me and pulling it out, asking people if they know or have seen THE REAL RICK. No one’s signed me up for any medical attention…yet.)

And whatd’yaknow, the real Rick — I think — is not found in the wise cracks of an irrepressible kid or the idealistic portrayal of life found on his family’s television show (which I love dearly) or even his dreamy blue eyes and long, long, long — man, are they long! — eyelashes but in his music. And, thankfully, there is so much music. So much, in fact, that I am still wading through it, trying to find it all, digesting it and loving it.

While digging through all this music, I have enjoyed listening to old favorites and forgotten favorites, but I have most of all enjoyed discovering new songs I had never heard before — and here’s a list of a few, out of many, of my newly discovered favorites, most of which were never major hits (or minor hits or any kind of hit) and all, save one, were penned by Rick himself — yes, not only could this guy sing the phonebook, but he could write, too!

5. “Dream Lover”
Single, 1979

Rick’s cover of Bobby Darin’s 1959 hit is subtle, magical, and dreamier than the original (or any subsequent cover) ever even hinted was possible. His voice is older, maybe not quite as smooth as it once was, but still as beautiful and captivating as it ever was. I love that this song, which could have signaled yet another comeback for Rick, was released amidst the sea of Punk, New Wave, and Disco. Rick didn’t change his style to gel with current trends; he sang what he knew and loved.

4. “Gypsy Pilot”
Rudy the Fifth, 1971

As understated and gentle as “Dream Lover” is, “Gypsy Pilot” is as loud and guitar-fueled — maybe even the loudest and rockiest song of his career. The autobiographical lyrics also offer a fitting epitaph, particularly the last verse: “When they claim my body/They won’t have much to say/Except that he lived a good life/He lived every day/And I know he saw the sunshine/And I know he felt the rain/And he loved everybody/And he hopes you’ll do the same.”    

3. “Easy to Be Free”
Single, 1970

I love that in the clip posted above, Rick is peacefully standing amidst the open country. He is calm and steady and completely at ease; the music, like his surroundings in the clip, is breathtakingly beautiful and lulling, perfectly mirroring the lyrics expressing freedom and the peace it brings. The ease and naturalness with which he sings this song reflects, I think, how he lived his life and directed his career. At times in his career, the music he created didn’t necessarily follow what was popular in the charts or reflect what many people perceived his (or, rather, their) “image” to be, but he did what he loved and believed in. He was genuine and heartfelt and free. But I doubt it was truly easy — nothing really is.

2. “Are You Really Real?”
Garden Party, 1972

Oh, I love this song so much. Hidden on the Garden Party album, this has to be one of the most beautiful songs Rick ever wrote (seriously, this dude could write songs — who knew? Not enough people!) or recorded. With the yearning lyrics and his voice doubled for effect, it envelopes the listener into a kind of a trance — the kind of trance where once the song ends, you have to listen to it again. And again. And again. And again…

1. “Life”
Rudy the Fifth, 1971

The trance of listening to “Are You Really Real?” on repeat indefinitely can only be broken by listening to “Life” on repeat. Fact. This song is so simple, yet so poignant, and despite posing some of humanity’s common questions (“Tell me life, what are you here for?/Tell me life, I wanna know more/Tell me life, what are we here for?”), implying uncertainty and a desire to know more, the song exudes bliss. Still, when Rick asks, “Life, will you go on without me?”, in the song’s opening line, it’s sobering. Life has gone on without Rick, and it will go on one day without each of us. That last sentence looks so depressing in print, but I swear this song is not depressing. It’s beautiful, and I could listen to it all day. (Pssst, I already have.)

Oh, and check out this performance from 1972. I have no idea what the premise of this special (“Fol-de-Rol”, according to the description) was, but it features Rick as a kind of minstrel, replete with tights, so you know it’s totally worth your time.

Rick Nelson was a great artist, understated and under-appreciated. Miss him! Can’t wait to discover even more gems buried in his discography…

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