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‘Garden Party’: The Reinvention Of Rick Nelson

Rick and his Stone Canyon Band found new success with first the ‘Garden Party’ single, then the album of the same name.

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Garden Party Rick Nelson

The artist formerly known as Ricky Nelson had been moving his career into what became known as country-rock, as one of the forerunners of the style, for some years by 1972. On albums like Rick Sings Nelson and Rudy The FifthRick Nelson showed how far he had progressed since his days as a teen idol.

But Rick and his Stone Canyon Band found real validation that year, not just because the single ‘Garden Party’ climbed all the way to No. 6 on the Hot 100, his biggest hit in nearly nine years — but because it was about how he walked off stage when some of his audience made it clear they were still expecting to hear his original hits. Then on 9 December, the album of the same name made the Billboard chart, on its way to a new year peak at No. 32 — again, his best showing since Rick Nelson Sings For You reached No. 14 in 1964.

Nelson had been undergoing his reinvention since the mid-1960s, and made the top 40 with his group on a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘She Belongs To Me,’ a top 40 single in early 1970. On that single, his band included Randy Meisner, soon to be a founding member of the Eagles. ‘Easy To Be Free’ made a mid-chart showing later that year. But the ‘Garden Party’ single was the real breakthrough, sending a clear message about his musical direction and determination.

The lyric was a real life reflection of how the now long-haired Nelson had played the Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival concert at Madison Square Garden in October 1971, on a bill with Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Bobby Rydell. He met with a hostile reception for his new sound, especially when he performed the Rolling Stones’ ‘Country Honk,’ the C&W-flavoured version of their ‘Honky Tonk Women’ hit, to fans who were expecting ‘Poor Little Fool’ and ‘Stood Up.’ He ended up leaving the stage.

“I went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends,” wrote Rick. “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 recognised me, I didn’t look the same.” The lyric also contained entertaining references to some of those present, including “Yoko and her walrus,” Yoko Ono and John Lennon, and “Mr. Hughes,” aka George Harrison, who sometimes travelled as Howard Hughes.

The chorus of the song had Rick in defiant mood but also singing a catchy, harmonised country-rock melody: “But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well/You see, you can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.” Rick did just that and found a whole new audience by sticking to his guns.

‘Garden Party’ is on Rick Nelson’s album of the same name, which can be bought here.

Follow uDiscover’s official Ricky Nelson Best Of playlist.

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Nelson Waller

    December 9, 2014 at 10:52 pm

    Grew up with the songs of Rick Nelson. From Ozzie and Harriet until his last plane ride. Kid surely had a gift.

    • MRGRB

      December 20, 2014 at 1:38 am

      His R&R was always a little different. Well done rhythms good harmonies. Always non-Elvis. I still have several of his vinyls.

  2. Bob Burkeen

    December 9, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Rick said at a concert in St. Louis, that one of his band mates from Missouri wrote that song for him. ??

  3. michael fugleberg

    December 10, 2014 at 3:56 am

    I always liked his song segment on Ozzie and Harriet but fell over at Garden Party. Very sad at his death. He was a terrific entertainer.

  4. Millie

    December 10, 2014 at 5:22 am

    I have adored Rick Nelson for many years & he was so handsome and such a good singer & loved him on the Ozzie &Harriet Show too…..

  5. Elizabeth Hougham

    December 10, 2014 at 6:41 am

    Oh I loved Ricky Nelson ! From the time I was 11 years old. Once I married and had a husband and children, I would say, ” If he asked me to leave my husband And children, I would have left in a heart beat ! I was SO in love with him ! I have every album he ever made including some 45’s ! The ring tone on my cell phone is Traveling Man ! My heart broke when he died. RIP Ricky !

  6. Audrey Chen

    December 18, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    He is the best!

  7. Audrey Chen

    December 18, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    He is the best!

  8. Judy Burghardt

    December 18, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    I listened to Ricky Nelson when I was a kid, teenager, young adult and still do and I am a senior citizen. I was so sorry to hear about his death.

  9. Linda Harrell

    December 20, 2014 at 12:03 am

    I never missed an Ozzie an Harriet episode. at The end of the show he always sang and I just swooned over him.. He was so dreamy we could really call him Mcdreamy!! cause he definitely was

  10. Rob Newcombe

    January 7, 2015 at 6:58 am

    Always liked the combination of Rick and James Burton – when Rick sang numbers like My Babe, I’m walking, I’m on love again they were a perfect combination. Then when he recorded Garden Party —— Wow —— thought it was (and still do) one of the greatest contemporary ”Pop” songs ever written.!! Again, a wonderful talent taken from us so early.

  11. Rob Newcombe

    January 7, 2015 at 6:58 am

    Always liked the combination of Rick and James Burton – when Rick sang numbers like My Babe, I’m walking, I’m on love again they were a perfect combination. Then when he recorded Garden Party —— Wow —— thought it was (and still do) one of the greatest contemporary ”Pop” songs ever written.!! Again, a wonderful talent taken from us so early.

  12. Rob Newcombe

    January 7, 2015 at 7:07 am

    I always loved the music of Rick Nelson – thought the combination of Rick and James Burton were a wonderful match – numbers like ”My Babe” ”I’m in love again” ”I’m Walking” brought out the best – then he later recorded ”Garden Party” — wow!!!!!! I thought (and still do) that this was one of the finest contemporary ”Pop” numbers ever written. Another mammoth talent taken from us so soon. ”Long live Rick Nelson.”

  13. Dani Kauffman

    June 22, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    loved this guy. Have a great album with great songs!

  14. Sandra Ryan

    June 22, 2015 at 11:05 pm

    Rick Nelson taught me the VERY BEST “Life Lesson” I ever learned…..
    “You can’t please everyone…so you got to please yourself.”……Written and sang by Rick. Thanks Rick! For the “LIFE LESSON”!

  15. Roy Miller

    June 23, 2015 at 11:25 am

    Absolutely timeless, the light went out but the star still shines.

  16. Rita Saka

    June 28, 2015 at 4:37 am

    when I was young I always did like Ricky nelson and I did watch Ozzie and Harriet and the last song he recorded garden party is my favorite.

  17. James W Cummings

    December 9, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    no formerly about it . He didn`t care if He were called Rick or Ricky… just so people remembered to call him.

  18. Ben Gordon

    December 9, 2015 at 5:53 pm

    I liked all the cuts on Ricky Sings Again, watched Rio Bravo and saw him at the Bitter End NYC in 1970. I can listen over and over to Give Me a Sign

  19. Susan Eubans

    December 10, 2015 at 6:33 am

    I also grew up with he and his brother, Ozzie and Harriet. Will never forget the show and how I always waited for the end of the show when he would sing. He was my crush of all time. Not another one like him. Kept up with him til the end. Anyone know what David is doing now?

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