Sometimes a hit career can be a heavy burden, especially when it’s founded on being one of the biggest heartthrobs in American pop music history. After his massive success as first a radio and TV star as a child, and then with the adulation of being the ultimate teen pin-up recording artist, Rick Nelson had been maturing as an artist and developing a country-influenced sound for many years, when he arrived at a crossroads on 15 October 1971.
Nelson and his Stone Canyon Band had just released the Rudy The Fifth album, which narrowly missed the top 200 chart in the US but was widely acclaimed. As a measure of how far he’d come from the days of ‘Poor Little Fool,’ ‘Hello Mary Lou’ and countless other hits of his youth, it included covers of the Rolling Stones‘ ‘Honky Tonk Women’ and Bob Dylan‘s ‘Just Like A Woman’ and ‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit.’
Nevertheless, the star was still closely identified with his past, and took part in the seventh annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival concert at Madison Square Garden in New York. The bill also featured such fellow long-runners as Chuck Berry, the Coasters, Gary ‘US’ Bonds, Bo Diddley, the Shirelles and Bobby Rydell.
Nelson played his old hits, but didn’t want to be defined by them, and dared to play new material from Rudy The Fifth. Boos rang out from the rock ‘n’ roll crowd, although there is a school of thought that they weren’t directed at Rick, but at the police for refusing to let fans on stage. Either way, the artist would have the last laugh. He was moved to write ‘Garden Party,’ which specifically referred to the experience and, in 1972, gave him a spectacular comeback hit.
“I went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends,” Nelson wrote of the concert. “They all knew my name…no one recognised me, I didn’t look the same.” He even included a specific reference to singing the Stones’ song. “Played them all the old songs, thought that’s why they came/No one heard the music, we didn’t look the same/I said hello to Mary Lou, she belongs to me/When i sang a song about a honky-tonk, it was time to leave.”
But Nelson couldn’t have been more right when he concluded on the song’s memorable chorus: “You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.” He did just that, and the song wound up in the US top ten — which, with rich irony, also contained new hits by fellow rock ‘n’ roll heroes Berry and Elvis Presley.
The Rick Nelson album Rudy The Fifth can be bought here.