Garden Party

Rick Nelson

Decca, 1972

REVIEW BY: David Bowling


In the late 1950s and early 1960s, there was Elvis Presley and then there was Ricky Nelson. Elvis was a musical and cultural phenomenon, but Ricky Nelson would be a solid number two, selling millions of albums and charting thirty top forty singles during the years 1957-1962.

He rose to prominence as an actor on his parents’ TV show, Ozzie And Harriet. As Ricky aged, he was given a few minutes at the end of each show to sing a song. This would propel him to the status of teen idol, a term Life magazine coined to describe him in an article.

His career would come to an abrupt halt with the advent of the British invasion. Musical tastes in the United States were quickly changing and he would be regulated to the oldies bin. He ended up dropping the Y from his name and continuing to produce albums but with little success. The low point of his career came when he was booed off the stage at a Madison Square Garden oldies show for singing a few new songs.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Rick Nelson began his comeback in 1969 with the brilliant live album, In Concert At The Troubadour, 1969. Nelson had moved in a country/rock direction and surrounded himself with a first-rate backing group, The Stone Canyon Band. Ricky Sings Nelson (1970) and Rudy The Fifth (1971) followed and reestablished Nelson as a commercially successful and creative artist. His comeback would be complete with the release of Garden Party in 1972, which reached number 32 on the national charts.

Garden Party was a brilliant foray into the country/rock idiom centered on the autobiographical title song. He took his rejection at the Madison Square Garden concert and turned it into a personal song of redemption and peace. His smooth delivery sold this song about him accepting his place in the musical world. “Garden Party” became a huge single hit and reached number six on the Billboard Pop Chart.

This album contained a large number of superior tracks. “So Long Mama” is a bouncy country tune with an almost boogie beat. “I Wanna Be With You,” written by former band member Randy Meisner, could have been an Eagles song. It finds Nelson in a group setting and features superb harmonies. “Are You Really Real” is a sparse ballad that is enhanced by a subtle use of flutes on the breaks. “A Flower Opens Gently” contains some of the most sophisticated lyrics that Rick Nelson produced. It is a song with biting commentary. He pays tribute to our war dead with the refrain “Goodbye, so long.”

Garden Party finds a mature Rick Nelson brimming with confidence. He wrote six of the album’s ten songs and they ranged from very good to excellent. The equally brilliant album, Windfall, followed in 1974, but after that, Rick Nelson would figuratively play out the string until his death on December 31st, 1985, in a plane crash. In many ways, Garden Party stands as the last testament for an underrated artist.

Rating: A-

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