What might be described as the second phase of Rick Nelson’s career was taking shape in a recording studio on May 10, 1969. That was when he recorded a song from Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home album.
One of America’s original rock‘n’roll heartthrobs of the late 1950s, Ricky had dropped the “y” from his recording name as early as 1961. He had been moving towards a more adult audience through the middle 60s. On that May date in 1969, Nelson recorded the song that heralded his new incarnation with the Stone Canyon Band, “She Belongs To Me.”
Dylan’s version of his own composition was some four years old at the time and was the number with which he began his infamous 1966 “electric” concert at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall. Nelson, for his part, was entering a barren chart period that would prompt his decision to pursue the country-rock sound he was interested in.
A rootsy version of the Dylan song was his first move in that direction. Three months after the session, “She Belongs To Me” was released as a single, still with the Decca label to whom Nelson had been signed since 1963. It was a bold move, and an early sign that he might be onto something came in Billboard’s August 30 issue.
‘A fresh new sound’
“Nelson takes on a fresh new sound with the Bob Dylan material that has all the hallmarks of an important chart item,” said their single review, in its Special Merit Spotlight section. “Top Nelson performance.” A week later, the magazine gave further publicity to the singer’s new sound with a live review.
With country-rock growing in popularity at the time, radio programmers gradually came on board. Airplay helped “You Belong To Me” to sneak into the Hot 100 for October 11 in the bottom position. Initial progress was painfully slow, with two subsequent weeks at No.99, after which the single dropped below the 100.
But then it resurfaced at No.96 and began climbing more powerfully until it appeared to have peaked at No.56 around Christmas. As the 70s dawned, “She Belongs To Me” rose again, a real sleeper hit, peaking at No.33 in late January as it went on to an 18-week chart life. It was the first time Nelson had been in the US Top 40 for nearly six years, with the very different style of “The Very Thought Of You” in 1964.
“She Belongs To Me” is on Rick Nelson’s Greatest Hits, which can be bought here.