Charming, but Little-Known Mid-60s Folk-Rock Band
You might be excused for thinking John Einarson’s fascinating, detailed liner notes for this reissue are an early draft of the script for That Thing You Do! Much like the fictional Wonders, the Rose Garden managed to catch breaks and side-step many of the pitfalls that line the path to fame, only to be pulled back to shore by the tide that grounded many of the bands that followed in the Beatles’ wake. They pulled together a band, worked hard to gain local notice, crossed paths with an artistic mentor, signed with well-connected managers, scored a major label contract with the Atlantic subsidiary Atco, recorded an album, had a hit single, toured on package bills, and appeared on American Bandstand. The group reached the Top 20 with “Next Plane to London,” but internal conflicts and two members awaiting disposition from their draft boards led to label disinterest, a stillborn follow-up single (“If My World Falls Through),” foundering and disbandment.
Had the Rose Garden been nothing more than a studio concoction, their epitaph would have been an endlessly anthologized needle drop of the hit single. But the group had more going for it than their brief brush with fame might suggest, and their album, augmented here by the post-album single and fourteen bonus tracks, provides a lesser-seen view of the culturally fertile mid-60s Los Angeles music scene. The Beatles and the Byrds may have been the group’s north stars, but influences also included the Seekers, Mamas & Papas, Lovin’ Spoonful, Beau Brummels and early Grass Roots. The group played nearly all the instruments on the album – unusual for the time – but didn’t write any of the material. The one song credited to the group, “Flower Town,” is a rewrite of Derroll Adams “Portland Town” that substitutes “flower” for “Portland” and elides the song’s most stridently anti-war verses. What the group did bring to the song is a new approach that turned the original folk vocal and banjo arrangement into a languorous, flute-lined flower-power tune.
Of specific interest to Byrds fans are two songs given to the band by Gene Clark: “Till Today” and “Long Time,” the former of which Clark recorded with the band as a demo that’s included among the bonus tracks. Additional material was drawn from Bob Johnston & Wes Farrell, and in an original arrangement, Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me.” John Noreen’s 12-string Rickenbacker lends a Byrdsian tone to many of the album’s tracks, but none more so than Pat Vegas’ “Coins of Fun,” with a terrific duet vocal from Jim Groshong and Diana De Rose. The wide range of writers from which the material was drawn, and the shuffling of lead vocal duties might have produced an album with no band identity, but the collection hangs together as it ranges through beat pop, sunshine harmonies and flower power. The band suggests that their instrumental abilities were shortchanged by their managers’ lack of production prowess, but the forward mix of the vocals is quite engaging.
The bonus tracks make this edition a must-have upgrade from earlier reissues of the album. Included are the group’s follow-on single (in both both mono and stereo), with backing harmonies on the top side and absent on the flip, suggesting that internal band conflicts might have already been taking their toll on the group’s harmony. Previously unreleased tracks recorded for an uncompleted second album include a cover of Neil Young’s “Down to the Wire,” the First Edition’s “Charlie the Fer De Lance” and Al Kooper & Bob Crewe’s “The World is a Great Big Playground.” Also included are five live tracks from August of 1967 that find the band singing their hit, covers of the Byrds’ “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and “She Don’t Care About Time,” Sonny & Cher’s “It’s the Little Things,” and Willie Cobbs’ “You Don’t Love Me.” The bonuses provide a nice coda to the career of a band whose talent and opportunity carried them far, but whose luck ran out before they could make an indelible commercial mark. [©2018 Hyperbolium]