Monday, September 22, 2008

The Music Biz: Garden Party

Rick Nelson: Garden Party


Rick Nelson's Garden Party reached #6 on Billboard in the fall of 1972, remaining in the Top 40 for 12 weeks. In my opinion, it's twangy feel helped open the door for Country Rock acts like The Eagles and Pure Prarie League. While researching this song, I came across this great piece from the website, Straight Dope - the writer does a fantastic job dissecting the tune.

In Ricky Nelson's "Garden Party," who is Mr. Hughes?

Dear Straight Dope:

In Ricky Nelson's song "Garden Party," there is mention of a Mr. Hughes who "hid in Dylan's shoes." Who the heck is this guy? I've searched and searched but I have no idea.

— Josh

Ah yes, one of my favorite songs from the 70s. I used to listen for the point about two-thirds of the way through when, instead of going to a 1-4 chord change, Nelson went to a 1-4m9 change--rather dramatic for a musician. But I digress. You're not talking about the music, you're talking about the lyrics.

Symbolism abounds in this song. Eric Hilliard Nelson, better known as Ricky, joined the cast of his parent's ABC sitcom "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" in 1952 at age 11. A fall 1956 episode had him organizing a rock 'n' roll band in high school. Then in an April 1957 telecast he was drafted to perform with a local band and sang a currently popular Fats Domino hit, "I'm Walkin'"--which, backed with "A Teenager's Romance," promptly became a real-life million-selling record for him. Ricky went on to be one of the biggest stars of the early rock and roll era.

His star faded in the mid 1960s. He tried valiantly to regain the top of the charts, but it seemed the British invasion was thwarting him at every turn. Ironically, however, a song he wrote in the early 1970s about his disillusionment with the music industry was his biggest hit.

In October 1971 Rick was invited to play in a reunion show at Madison Square Garden, alongside such early rock luminaries as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard and others. By this time his hair had grown shoulder length and he was heavily into the country rock genre. When he mixed in new material with his old music, the audience began to boo. Whether it was really their reaction to their idol's new look and sound, or, as one report states, " ...there were reports that police were in the back moving people out, and in the political spirit of the early 70's the crowd was actually booing the police activity," Rick felt the crowd was booing him. He wrote about the experience: "I went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends / A chance to share old memories and play our songs again. / When I got to the garden party, they all knew my name / No one recognized me, I didn't look the same."

Rick realized at that point that he had to be true to himself. Hence the chorus of the song: "I learned my lesson well. You see, you can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself."

"Garden Party" was pounced on by the pundits and dissected unmercifully. Some clues were obvious. For instance, "Yoko brought her walrus"--John Lennon and Yoko Ono were at the concert. Lennon, of course, was responsible for the Beatles song "I Am The Walrus."

The lyric you ask about, "Mr. Hughes hid in Dylan's shoes wearing his disguise," is more difficult to interpret, but I finally found it for you. ""Mr Hughes" isn't Howard Hughes, as most people think, but refers to George Harrison, the ex-Beatle. Rick Nelson was good friends and next-door neighbor to Harrison, and was also a good friend of Bob Dylan. "Mr. Hughes" was the alias Harrison used while traveling, and "hid in Dylan's shoes" apparently refers to an album of Bob Dylan covers Harrison was planning that never came to fruition. "Wearing his disguise" is more obscure, but presumably had something to do with Harrison's habit of traveling incognito.

"Garden Party" was one of my favorite songs as a teen. I still remember that line:

You can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself...

Powerful stuff, at least for a 13 year old.

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