Ricky Nelson only performed on The Ed Sullivan Show once and his father is to blame
Here's why the teen idol missed being on the show at the peak of his popularity.
The Ed Sullivan Show was the ultimate fame factory of the Fifties and Sixties. Any act that performed on the show immediately had a majority of eyeballs on them. A whopping 60 million people, a mind-boggling 82.6% share of all television viewers, watched Elvis on Sullivan. An even greater 73.7 million tuned in to see the Beatles.
Both of those legendary performances helped turn Elvis and the Beatles into… well, Elvis and the Beatles.
In the spring of 1957, The Ed Sullivan Show was the No. 2 show on television, even in its "down" nights. At that same moment, another television star was making his pop-music debut. Ricky Nelson, the young son from The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, dropped his first single, "I'm Walkin'" b/w "A Teenager's Romance." Both sides of the 45 were radio smashes, turning Ricky into an immediate teen idol.
He might have been even bigger, one of the true eternal faces of rock 'n' roll, had he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show that year.
But Ricky Nelson did not appear on The Ed Sullivan Show that year. Nor the next year, when his "Poor Little Fool" hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts. Nor the following year, when he saw four of his tracks break into the Top 10. Nor in 1961, when "Travelin' Man" topped both the Billboard and Cashbox charts, the only time he achieved that feat.
In fact, Ricky Nelson would not appear on The Ed Sullivan Show until 1966, the very same year Ozzie and Harriet finally ended its run. That was not a coincidence.
"Ozzie [Nelson] kept his son from performing on other shows like The Ed Sullivan Show, so that fans would tune into the family's sitcom on ABC to see him," the official Ed Sullivan website explained.
Yep, that's right — dad wanted exclusive rights.
Ricky was marketed wisely and innovatively on Ozzie and Harriet. The episodes would often end with Ricky performing a number, in what were essentially early prototypes of the music video.
Alas, in 1966, nearly a decade into his pop career, Ricky was slumping commercially. Out of his last four singles, two of them failed to crack the Top 100, and two of them failed to chart entirely.
So, when Ricky turned up on the Ed Sullivan stage wearing a checkered tan jacket, he sang "Fire Breathin' Dragon" and "Your Kind Of Lovin'" — two sides of one of those flop singles that never touched the charts.
He would never appear on The Ed Sullivan Show again. One of the era's biggest pin-ups appeared a single time.
Shortly after his Sullivan episode, Nelson transitioned to country music, a savvy career shift that revitalized his career.
In 1972, his country-tinged tune "Garden Party" rocketed into the Top 10. He was back!
Unfortunately, The Ed Sullivan Show had ended the previous year.