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Reissue CDs Weekly: The Rose Garden | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: The Rose Garden

Reissue CDs Weekly: The Rose Garden

‘A Trip Through The Garden’ charts the rise and fall of the fine, folky Californian harmony pop band

The Rose Garden come out to play Omnivore Recordings

The Rose Garden didn’t linger in the bright lights but for those inclined towards harmony pop their name resonates due to the quality of their sole album rather than memories of them as a one-hit-wonder.

Granted, their debut single and late 1967 US hit “Next Plane To London” was a wonderful example of moody Mamas & the Papas-style pop which will always be a staple of American oldies radio. But there was no follow-up hit and it’s April 1968’s long-player The Rose Garden which seals their reputation.

Interest in the album began picking up in the early Eighties after the realisation it included “Long Time” and “Till Today”, two otherwise unrecorded – and amazing – songs written by former Byrds member Gene Clark. There was also a version of “Rider” which, as “I Know My Rider”, had been recorded by The Byrds as a potential single. A scour of the album's credits revealed that its producers included Charles Greene and Brian Stone, who managed Sonny & Cher and The Buffalo Springfield. The Rose Garden appeared to have connections.

The Rose Garden A Trip Through The GardenLast week, this column looked at a collection of previously unissued demos recorded by Gene Clark which included tracks drawn from an acetate he had given to The Rose Garden’s lead guitarist/vocalist John Noreen. A Trip Through The Garden, a first-time Rose Garden anthology, is a companion piece to the Clark release and, as such, it illuminates the relationship and tells the band’s story.

A Trip Through The Garden includes the ten tracks from The Rose Garden, the band’s non-album A- and B-sides, previously unheard studio recordings, demos, live tracks and a band rehearsal of “Till Today” which was, extraordinarily, taped in Noreen’s bedroom with Gene Clark.

In the liner notes, The Rose Garden is described as “steeped in jingle-jangle Byrdsy folk rock (done well but arguably passé by 1968) and lush folk-inspired vocal harmonies” which nails it. The band were not writers – though they took arrangement credits for the folk songs “Flower Town” (their rewrite of “Portland Town”) and “Rider”.

The Rose Garden ATCO album 1968The Rose Garden (pictured left) hangs together and is a prime example of West Coast pop of the period. Nonetheless it was, indeed, a little behind the times. A fair guess for a release date made after hearing the album for the first time would be Summer 1967: an assumption supported by the very 1967 song title “Flower Town” and the cover of The Giant Sunflower’s April 1967 single “February Sunshine”. Even so, five decades on it remains a fresh, winning album.

What led up to it being recorded, the deal with Greene and Stone and the contract with ATCO (also The Buffalo Springfield and Sonny & Cher’s label) is detailed. The roots of The Rose Garden lay in the suburbs outside Los Angeles (not West Virginia as has been said elsewhere) and in a band variously named The Marauders, The PF Flyers and the magnificently handled The Blokes: the latter after a line in Herman’s Hermits’ “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter”. Initially, The Beatles were the inspiration, especially the Rickenbacker guitar sound permeating the A Hard Day’s Night album.

The Rose Garden Next Plane To London Australian issueThen, The Byrds arrived on the scene and swiftly became The Blokes’ prime influence. A Trip Through The Garden’s live tracks include fine versions of “She Don’t Care About Time” and “So You Want To Be A Rock ’N’ Roll Star”. Playing a late 1966 afternoon show at the Ash Grove venue, they saw the by-then former Byrd Gene Clark at the bar. They did a few Byrds covers, he applauded and was duly invited onto the stage where they ran-through “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” and “‘Eight Miles High” with him. The relationship with Clark did not end there and, ultimately, the band recorded a pair of his post-Byrds songs. (pictured right: the Australian issue of "Next Plane To London")

Following their initial encounter with Clark, the all-male, mostly teenage band added singer Diana De Rose, attracted Green and Stone’s attention and changed their name from The Blokes to The Rose Garden. Despite the infrastructure now surrounding them, they had just the one hit. Clark joining them in the studio to help record his compositions, play tambourine and offer advice did not help. Neither did the presence of Neil Young, also there  when they recorded the album (he is not on it). Their strong version of Young’s then-unreleased “Down To The Wire” is heard here for the first time. The end came soon after ATCO divisively credited one of their singles to “The Rose Garden Featuring Diana De Rose.”

Listening to this fine band raises the what-if of whether they might have evolved into a self-determining unit: could they have begun generating their own songs? But the question is moot. The Rose Garden were what they were, and the music they left behind is uniformly great. And, as the hugely enjoyable A Trip Through The Garden amply demonstrates, they were about much more than “Next Plane To London”.

  • Next week: Metal box sets – Winds Of Time: The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal 1979–1985 and Contract In Blood: A History Of UK Thrash Metal

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