098 SONG REVIEW – Lonesome Town
SONG: Lonesome Town
ARTIST: Ricky Nelson
Listen to it here:
“Lonesome Town” was written by Baker Knight, an American songwriter. This rendition, sung by Ricky Nelson became a hit single in the US, and features the legendary Jordanaires on tambourines. Just kidding, of course they’re on background vocals.
Ricky Nelson was born in Teaneck New Jersey in 1940 into an entertainment family. Both of his parents were touring musicians, and his older brother became an actor, David Nelson.
Nelson’s parents left him to be brought up by his grandparents for his first two years as they tried to establish themselves in Hollywood, and he joined them there at age 2. Red Skelton had Nelson’s parents on his show all the time, and then when he was drafted into the War in 1944, he set up a radio sitcom called The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet for Ricky’s parents, which took off. In the show, child actors played the couples’ children, up until 1949, when Ricky made his radio debut. Eventually the show moved to television and became one of the longest running sitcoms in TV history.
Nelson had a very musical childhood, and at 16 to impress his girlfriend he told her that he had a record deal (he did not). Because of his dad’s connections, he was able to get a one year deal with Verve records, and in March 1957, he recorded his first singles. He made his TV rock and roll debut before the first single was released on his parents’ TV show (of course). This “preview” of his single meant that his High School performance a week later was greeted by hordes of screaming teens.
After a summer of touring with older jazz and country session musicians who were openly contemptuous of rock and roll, Nelson formed his own band with members closer to his own age. Through the late 1950s to 1962, Nelson had 30 Top 40 hits, trailing only Pat Boone (38) and Elvis Presley (53).
Nelson’s career fizzled a bit in the 1970s as he went through a very public and expensive divorce, and in 1985 on New Year’s Eve, Nelson died in a plane crash flying to Dallas for a concert.
- A very weird quote from Ricky Nelson: “Perhaps the most embarrassing moment in my career was when six girls tried to fling themselves under my car, and shouted to me to run over them.”
And we’re back with the reverb-arama on the vocals! I am familiar with Ricky Nelson, but not this song (I know “Hello, Marylou” and “Traveling Man”). This one is definitely darker than what I’ve heard from Ricky before, and…I don’t know? The Jordanaires sound like an absolute DIRGE in the background, adding to the melancholy feel. I think the arrangement is interesting though, just Ricky, backup singers and guitar plucking away. They could have definitely sweetened this up to some fromage with a string section or tinkly piano, but they kept it very minimal. Ricky’s voice is nice, not incredible, but I feel like he has some genuine sadness there, like he’s had actual real life heartbreak. I’m not blown away, but the song is decent.
Ok, I remember this song very vaguely, but I don’t think I’ve ever really listened to it. It seems very stripped back, and after weeks of triplety piano, hand claps, and very present background vocals, this song is a really nice palate cleanser. It’s no masterpiece, but the simplicity and clarity of it are really nice. Nelson’s voice is definitely a familiar entity, and I think I like it. It’s unaffected, but kind of distinctive. Though it sounds very gentle in this song, you can hear that he has the strength and power to really push it if he wants to. During a period where sad songs are just dripping with sap and emotion, this seems a bit more genuine. Now, I don’t know a heck of a lot about Ricky Nelson, but he sounds like a fairly skilled singer in this song, although I know his career got some very significant bumps from his rich and famous parents. With that in mind, I think it’s really bold of him to play such a stripped down song. I like the background vocals in this one. They are vital to this song, without getting in the way, and the guitar playing is again understated and supporting. It feels like I should hate this ending, but it kind of does a lot to place this song squarely in the 1950s. To me, this song was a lovely surprise.
Average mark out of 10:
Other notable versions of this song:
Paul McCartney, David Gilmour, and Iain Paice:
The Cramps darken it up a bit:
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Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist: