Ricky Nelson's first two albums and assorted singles, recorded when he was 17 years old, are triumphs of taste over experience. As chronicled in James Ritz's liner notes, Nelson turned to music more or less on a dare, and while he could carry a tune, he had little personality as a singer when he started, relying for his popularity more on his familiarity as a television star and his good looks. The sound of the day was Elvis Presley-styled rockabilly and the even wilder sounds of Jerry Lee Lewis and black R&B performers, but unlike such pale imitators as Pat Boone, Nelson didn't have to be talked into awkwardly appropriating such material; clearly, he really liked it. Especially on the earliest cuts here, he was barely competent, completely draining "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" of its sexual threat, for example. But he learned fast; by the time of recording the material for his second album, Ricky Nelson (tracks 16-27), he had vastly improved, and his band, led by guitarist James Burton, was first-class, so that, for example, "There's Good Rockin' Tonight" sounded like it could have been made at Sun Studio in Memphis instead of Master Recorders in Los Angeles. Of course, all that meant was that he was still an imitator, albeit a good one, but everyone starts out imitating, and his choices of what to copy, along with his enthusiasm, marked him as a promising new artist. The onrush of pop celebrity tended to obscure this at the time Ricky made him the youngest recording artist ever to have a number one LP -- but more than four decades later it's much easier to appreciate Nelson's early efforts as a teen rocker.
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