Teen Idols and Plane Crashes

November 16, 2007 at 12:24 pm Leave a comment

Trying to target young teen and preteen girls is not new for the music industry. In recent years this has been the goal of the boy bands like New Kids on the Block, Menudo, ‘NSync, and the Backstreet Boys. While there are certainly examples of bands from the 50’s and 60’s with this type of appeal (Herman’s Hermits comes to mind, and the Beatles certainly appealed to this demographic as well), there are more numerous examples of individuals who fit this mold. For the purposes of this discussion, we can think of a teen idol as someone specifically created and groomed by a record company to sell records to this particular market.

While it may be tempting to think of these “artists” as untalented products of a promotion machine, the fact is that many were extraordinarily gifted singers and entertainers (as is Justin Timberlake – to identify a more contemporary example). In my previous life as professional musician, I had the opportunity to back up Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell. I can tell you from this personal experience that each is blessed with an outstanding voice and an engaging stage manner.

It is also easy to feel that the quality of material given these teen idols to records was not necessarily of the highest quality…almost as if the marketing geniuses that run record companies thought it best to not overtax the limited intellectual capacities of their target audience. Or perhaps they simply didn’t want to distract from how cute the performer was.

In this post I want to focus on two “teen idols” whose fame peaked in the early 1960’s. The first, Rick Nelson, might well be the artist who first comes to mind when using the expression. He even had a hit song with that title. The other is Bobby Vee, who is less well known – and sometimes unfortunately confused with Bobby Vinton.

Rick Nelson was, of course, the son of Ozzie and Harriet. He grew up on television while America watched. Ozzie was himself a professional musician. Much like Pat Boone (who covered Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti”), Rick Nelson’s first recording was a cover of a black artist’s hit. This first single was the Fats Domino song “I’m Walkin'”, and — suitably sanitized to be safe for white audiences — reached #4 on the charts. Soon, each episode of the Ozzie & Harriet television show ended with a musical performance by “Ricky”. Despite the obvious promotional advantages he had in starting his career, Rick Nelson was a more than credible performer. And unlike many teen idols of the time, Nelson showed some real musical integrity — working with incredible lineups of strong musicians, including the legendary James Burton, Joe Maphis, and The Jordanaires. While Elvis may have served as the catalyst for Rick’s musical career, his style — which might be described as a gentle rockabilly – actually owes more to Carl Perkins.

ricknelson.jpg

Nelson had thirty top 40 hits (and fifty-three hot-100 hits), more than any other artist at the time, except Elvis Presley (who had 53) and Pat Boone (who had 38). Many of Nelson’s early records were double hits with both the A side and the B side hitting the Billboard charts. When Billboard introduced the Hot 100 chart on August 4, 1958, Nelson’s single “Poor Little Fool” became the first song ever in the #1 position on that chart.

While Nelson excelled at rockabilly and up-tempo rock songs like “Hello Mary Lou”, “It’s Late”, “Stood Up”, and “Be-Bop Baby”, his pleasant voice and manner also made him a natural to sing ballads. He had major success with “Travelin’ Man”, “Poor Little Fool”, “Young World”, “Lonesome Town”, and “Teenage Idol”.

A reviewer on Amazon noted that Rick Nelson should probably get some credit for helping to make rock’n’roll acceptable to mainstream America. After all, if this clean cut young man from a wholesome family was performing rock’n’roll — had bad could it be? Rick Nelson died tragically in an airplane crash in 1985. Here is a video of “Travelin’ Man” from the Ozzie and Harriet show:

Bobby Vee was born Robert Thomas Velline in Fargo, North Dakota. Rick Nelson’s career and life ended with a plane crash. Vee’s career began with the tragedy of one. On “The Day the Music Died” (3 February 1959), the three headline acts in the lineup of the traveling “Winter Dance Party”, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa while en route to the next show on the tour itinerary in Moorhead, Minnesota. Velline, then aged 15, and a hastily-assembled band of Fargo, North Dakota schoolboys calling themselves Bobby Vee and the Shadows volunteered for and were given the unenviable job of filling in for Holly and his band at the Moorhead engagement. Their performance there was a success, setting in motion a chain of events that led to Vee’s career as a popular singer.

bvee.jpg

Bobby Vee had six top-10 and thirty eight hot-100 hits. He is still around and active, frequently performing in Branson, Missouri. While arguably less influential than Rick Nelson, he is a strong vocalist who recorded some pretty solid material. This is a non-video of his first number one hit – charting in 1961 — “Take Good Care of my Baby”:

For my arrangements of material by these artists, I have chosen those songs which are my personal favorites. “Fools Rush In” charted for Rick Nelson in 1963. It was actually written in 1940 by Rube Bloom and Johnny Mercer. A jazz standard, it has been covered by many artists including Frank Sinatra. “The Night has a Thousand Eyes” was written by Ben Weisman, Dottie Wayne, and Marilyn Garrett. It charted for Bobby Vee also in 1963.

Fools Rush In Stream Mp3
The Night has 1000 Eyes Stream Mp3

Entry filed under: Guitar, Music, Oldies, Vintage Instrumentals.

50’s Instrumental Hits Teen Idols Addendum

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