“Garden Party”

“Garden Party”

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story Behind the Song

Rick Nelson
“Garden Party”

Story by Gunnar Nelson

Written and Recorded by Rick Nelson

You have to cast your mind back to the 1950s when my dad grew up on the Ozzie and Harriet show. While he eventually had two totally different musical careers in his life — the early “rockabilly” years were what he started with on the TV show. In those days the paradigm was that there were songwriters and artists/performers — they were separate. His early hits like “Travelin’ Man,” “Lonesome Town” and the others were written by other people and given to him to record.

In 1963 or so, the TV show was cancelled after fourteen and a half years and he found himself without a show to market his music. Moreover, it was a very different time politically, musically and culturally. The Eisenhower era was passé, people had moved on. It was the era of Bob Dylan, the Beatles and other great artists who wrote their own music reflecting the times… those were the ones enjoying success. Earlier artists like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins couldn’t even get airplay at the time.

After films like Rio Bravo, my dad could have been a film star but he consciously chose to stick with music, his first love. He knew that he’d have to write his own songs to express himself and communicate with his listeners and audiences.

He formed a group called the Stone Canyon Band. When he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he was credited with it being the first country rock band. He had created his own genre.

The band toured little clubs for seven years without much commercial success, but he’d never had more fun. In 1970 they were invited to play Madison Square Garden, which had always been his dream. He was apprehensive but couldn’t turn it down. It was originally billed as a Rock & Roll Revival, but he had it changed to a Rock & Roll Reunion since he didn’t want it to sound like they were dead and needed CPR — instead they were a bunch of old friends getting back together. Some of the other people on the show were many of the greats of the old days like Chuck Berry and Bobby Darin.

While the Stone Canyon Band was touring, they had long hair and their wardrobe consisted of sequins, bell bottoms and other signature hippy attire. At the Garden, he looked out from the side of the stage and the entire audience was dressed like Sha Na Na with slicked back hair, saddle shoes — you get the picture. He didn’t want to go out looking and sounding like he did now, but was assured by the promoter that he would be warmly welcomed by the audience.

When he stepped out onto that stage, however, he instantly felt uneasy. By three songs into the set, he knew the audience was not warming up to him. The fourth song was the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman,” which was a fairly new song at the time. 22,000 people booed him off the stage!

He went back to California and locked himself in his music room, which was his safe haven. He began writing, but it wasn’t until three weeks later that he wrote “Garden Party.” This song came to him as an inspiration during the night.

The chorus is not only catchy, it was a personal statement.

But it’s all right now,

I learned my lesson well.

You see, ya can’t please everyone,

So ya got to please yourself.

After a lifetime of pretending to be a character he wasn’t — wearing the sweater on Monday on the set of Ozzie and Harriet after being a real rock star on the weekends — he was writing and performing for his own pleasure and satisfaction. The song was based on his experience at Madison Square Garden.

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.

He turned what could have remained the darkest day of his life into his brightest shining moment. Just when the music industry considered him a relic, filing him away as yesterday’s news, he had the biggest hit of his career and it was totally autobiographical.

As I was becoming musical as a kid, he told me that he would have given away all of his #1 records for success like this because it was a piece of his life, of his heart. The victory belonged to him alone. He told me then that the best thing in the world to be as an artist is a songwriter first and foremost. That’s why I’ve been defiant about that very thing throughout my career. I am a songwriter. And that’s what I put on the dotted line whenever I’m asked to write what my “occupation” is. And I owe it to my Pop and this one song.

I’m sorry he wasn’t here to see my early success and be proud of me in person, but he was there every step of the way. Without his words of wisdom, I probably wouldn’t have been nearly as committed to writing and performing my own songs.

My most prized possession is the original handwritten copy of the lyrics he wrote, which I have in a frame on the wall in my house. There are two pages side by side and you can see how he was inspired — he wrote all over the margins on the first draft because he didn’t want to break the flow. The second page, which is the second draft, has the verses along with a coffee cup stain and other signs that he couldn’t leave the page-notes about the arrangement (the key and ending) right there. It’s funny — I do the same thing on my lyric sheets when I write them for the first time.

“Garden Party”

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.

But it’s all right now,

I learned my lesson well.

You see, ya can’t please everyone,

So ya got to please yourself.

People came from miles around, everyone was there.

Yoko brought her walrus, there was magic in the air

‘n’ over in the corner, much to my surprise

Mr. Hughes hid in Dylan’s shoes wearing his disguise.

But it’s all right now,

I learned my lesson well.

You see, ya can’t please everyone,

So ya got to please yourself.

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 it’s all right now,

I learned my lesson well.

You see, ya can’t please everyone,

So ya got to please yourself.

Someone opened up a closet door and out stepped Johnny B. Goode

Playing guitar like a-ringin’ a bell and lookin’ like he should.

If you gotta play at garden parties, I wish you a lotta luck

But if memories were all I sang, I’d rather drive a truck.

But it’s all right now,

I learned my lesson well.

You see, ya can’t please everyone,

So ya got to please yourself.

‘n’ it’s all right now, learned my lesson well

You see, ya can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.

Written by Rick Nelson. © MATRAGUN MUSIC

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