Tuesday, February 17, 2009

“I Wanna Be Loved” / Ricky Nelson


At least the Troggs had someone specific in mind to seduce – in this 1959 rockabilly number, Ricky Nelson’s on the prowl for anybody, just another restless teenager hot with desire. It’s hard to imagine that Ricky Nelson would ever need to hunt for a girl; thousands of dewy teens in poodle skirts would have been eager to help him out. But while Ricky most often fluttered their hearts with syrupy ballads like “Lonesome Town” and “Fools Rush In” (that’s what his butterscotch-sweet voice did best), this slouchy rockbilly stuff is what he really wanted to sing. Just listen to him rock out on this number (is that James Burton on the twangy guitar?). Elvis may have been King at the time, but Prince Ricky could easily have taken over the throne.

With his TV-star status, Ricky Nelson couldn’t go for Chuck Berry raunchiness – only a wholesome girl would do. The first verse is bare echo-chambered vocals, with just finger snaps and jangly high hats punctuating his heartfelt declaration: “Well I know somewhere there's bound to be / A girl who'd really care for me / Somebody that-a really loves me” -- though he does get to specify “somebody that'll kiss and hug me.” (Even after the guitar comes in in verse two, there’s more upright stuff about her loving him faithfully and understanding him.) And Ricky, being the perfect clean-cut Boy Next Door, offers upright affection in return in the bridge: “I'm gonna treat her just as good as I can / I’m gonna give her anything her heart desires.”

But I’m sorry, if you ever watched The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet like I did, you know that a girl could sink into Ricky’s langorous blue eyes and soft lips -- there was sex all around, just not explicit sex. The lyrics may have sounded innocent, but Ricky knew how to curl his voice sensually around a phrase, or give a sly thrust to a certain word. “The girl I am dreamin' of,” he sings lazily, then throws a surprise punch: “Is gonna love me” – beat – “like I wanna be loved.” And then the guitar swoops in, telling us wordlessly what kind of lovin’ Ricky’s really got in mind.

After all, even a squeaky-clean teen idol has needs. “Say now, don't you understand,” he pleads, earnestly, “That I need somebody to call my own / I'm so tired of being alone,” with just a shadow of a groan. (Dig that urgent female back-up, whoo-hooing high and lonely like a train whistle.) By the next time he sings, “I'm gonna treat her just as good as I can,” you may be inspired to plug in a different verb for “treat.” “I wanna give her anything her heart desires,” he insists – and of course, if she’s the kind of girl he hopes she is, her heart might very well desire….

“The girl I'd like to find, “he concludes, “Is gonna let me know that she's really mine.” And how is she going to let him know that? The same way that the girl in the Troggs’ song was going to let her love show, I’ll bet. Oh, this doesn’t mean that Ricky wouldn’t marry her and love her forever. Such a nice young man, after all. But if you’re thinking that that soda-shoppe romance would be entirely chaste, you haven’t really been listening to Ricky Nelson.

I Wanna Be Loved sample


Mark said...

Ah, what a great, little-known song! I've always liked Ricky Nelson, he doesn't seem to get the respect he deserves. (Although Bob Dylan gave him a shout-out in his autobiography. He said something about how he felt like Ricky was somehow his "Hollywood brother," or something strange like that. Um, okay Bob...) Ricky had such a gorgeous, pure voice. That's a steamy little song!

Holly A Hughes said...

Oddly enough, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame gives him a whole wall -- but I suspect that's just because a lot of his memorabilia was donated. It took me years to realize what a great musician he really was, and he's still held back by that teen idol label.

But sorry, the idea of him as Dylan's Hollywood brother is just bizarro.

Mark said...

I agree that Ricky is still held back by the teen idol thing. But if people look a little bit deeper into his music, they'll find some very rewarding songs. And I hear echoes of Ricky's super-pure voice whenever I hear James Taylor. (Maybe Ricky should have done an album of JT's songs.) And Ricky gets bonus points for writing "Garden Party," and knowing that Paul was NOT the walrus! "Yoko brought her walrus, there was magic in the air."

Mark said...

P.S. And yeah, I have no idea what Dylan was talking about...but that's nothing new.

wwolfe said...

In Paul McCartney's liner notes to the "Run Devil Run" album, he mentioned that the BBC never showed "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," but Rick still had something like 20 Top 40 hits in England. That struck me as a very telling little fact, one that ought to put the lie to the old "he's just a teen idol" criticism.