Rockin' and Rollin' with Ricky Nelson

Ricky Nelson was born May 8, 1940, 73 years ago today … and not long after, he became a star. Nelson was just 9 when he began appearing with father Ozzie, mother Harriet and brother David on the radio program The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. As he grew up, he graduated to movie and TV star (he was 12 for the family's first feature film, Here Come the Nelsons, and the debut of the TV version of Ozzie and Harriet), then teen idol and recording artist.

At the peak of his career, in the late 1950s and early '60s, Nelson was one of the very hottest musicians around. From 1957 to 1962, only Elvis Presley and Pat Boone charted more Top 40 hits. And, of course, some of his rock 'n' roll classics made it to the very top of the charts. Here's a look at Ricky Nelson's No. 1 hits.

It was five years into the TV run of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet when Nelson first sang on the show, launching his recording career. Teens who already loved his onscreen persona and boy-next-door good looks went completely gaga over his debut single and the tracks that followed. He hit the Top Five immediately, and by 1958 he went all the way to No. 1 with "Poor Little Fool."

For the next several years, Nelson rarely left the Top 40, and he was back on top with 1961's "Travelin' Man."

Nelson was ready and willing to change his sound to suit the times. 1963's "For You" left behind his early rockabilly sound for a very au-courant groove. Though the tune reached only No. 6 on the Hot 100, its mellow tone took it to the top of the Adult Contemporary chart.

As the '70s began, Nelson embraced a new sound, becoming a pioneer of the country rock movement. His 1972 track "Garden Party" was another Top 10 song for Nelson, and once again he was No. 1 with Adult Contemporary listeners.

Rick Nelson (Wikimedia Commons / anyjazz65)"Garden Party" was Nelson's final No. 1 hit, though he continued to perform. On Dec. 31, 1985, Nelson and his band were on tour, traveling to a show in Dallas, when their plane crashed two miles short of the landing strip. Nelson, his fiancée and all of his bandmates were killed. Only the pilots escaped.

Nelson was only 45 when he died, though he left a lifetime's worth of TV and movie performances and dozens of hit songs. But there was one more important legacy he left: his children. Two of his sons, Gunnar and Matthew, followed in their dad's footsteps as musicians. As the band Nelson, they too made it to the very peak of stardom, hitting No. 1 on the Hot 100 in 1990, five years after their father's death, with their single "(Can't Live Without Your) Love and Affection." Just like their father, they perfectly captured the sound of their era. We think he would have been proud.

Written by Linnea Crowther. Find her on Google+.