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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Existential Music

That’s Rose Garden, sung by Lynn Anderson. It was a big, big hit back in 1970. It didn’t matter much what chart you were looking at, or what country the chart was in. Everybody everywhere dug this song. Everyone liked Lynn Anderson, too. What’s not to like? Remember, the higher the hair, the closer to God.

Lynn first got her head (and her hair) above water by singing on the Lawrence Welk show. I think Lawrence was less stiff when he’d been dead for five years than when he was on the tube. On reflection, perhaps I should reserve judgment. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen anything from that show. Maybe he was scintillating. I am beset by doubts, however. It was something that was on the tube in your grandmother’s nursing home recreation room.

There was a whole genre of entertainment back then that was full of girls who had won their high school talent shows and guys with men’s regular haircuts, standing in a gang, slightly in profile and swaying a bit while they sang, hitting the notes with the kind of halting precision of chickens pecking a toy piano. They never missed, but then again, they never aimed too high in the first place. Lynn had no more than the correct amount of sway to avoid running afoul of someone like Ed Sullivan’s sensibilities. She was a pro, through and through. They put a little X in gaffer’s tape on the stage where the cameras were going to be pointed, and you couldn’t have moved her off that spot with Mean Joe Greene. She looks right into the camera, a cheerful basilisk, and the notes come out just like the record and everyone goes home. Happy, maybe. I guess. Whatever.

It’s an interesting piece of songwriting. It was written by Joe South, who had himself quite a career in the biz. He was a jack of several trades. He’s playing bass on Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde album, guitar on Chain of Fools by Aretha Franklin, and guitar on Sounds of Silence album with S&G. No one blasted a wider scatter pattern of songwriting credits than he did, either. Who could you name who could write Rose Garden, Down in the Boondocks for Billy Joe Royal, something or other for Donnie Osmond, and Hush for Deep Purple?

He said he was inspired by how far afield Bob Dylan went when he wrote songs. Moon, June, Spoon songs were all the rage before Dylan. Rose Garden reminds me of Wichita Lineman. They sound sorta square. But they ain’t. When they head to the bridge, she comes out with:

So smile for a while and let’s be jolly

Love shouldn’t be so melancholy

Satre got nothing on Joe.

Joe recorded it first. His version is unlistenable. It has the same sort of Phil Spector over-reverbed opening drumbeat of Boondocks, and he sings the lyrics so fast I think he wanted to go home early. But Lynn Anderson liked it, and told her producer, Glenn Sutton, that she wanted to cover it. He refused about a hundred times, and said it made no sense for a girl to sing it. Of course Glenn was also Lynn’s husband, and I can imagine just how she convinced him to relent. I picture the reverse of the auditions for backup singers for Ray Charles: If you wanna be a Raelette, you better let Ray.

Lotsa people covered the song in the intervening half-century. Martina McBride is still dining out on it, I think. Here’s something to make you lay your head down on your surrealistic pillow tonight and dream strange dreams:

That right there might be why when people ask me if I like country music, I answer in the affirmative. But I never specify what country.

11 Responses

  1. “…the Lawrence Welk show… was something that was on the tube in your grandmother’s nursing home recreation room.”

    And yet, PBS, which prides itself on being the ne plus ultra of culture, travel, science, and social justice finds it imperative to resurrect The Lawrence Welk show every Saturday evening. I call shenanigans.

    1. Hi Mike- I had no clue that was the case, but upon hearing it from you, I suppose it makes sense. PBS is pretty geriatric if you consider it dispassionately. I bet their target audience is older than Welk’s was back in the day.

  2. oh, yeah…all those POLKAS…ah one and ah two…and the Lennon Sisters.
    Dad really wanted his three daughters to be a competitive version of the Lennon Sisters.
    Alas, that involved carrying a tune and keeping rhythm.

    1. Hi Jean- Thanks for reading and commenting.

      There was a lot of stuff on the TeeVee when I was a kid I wasn’t much interested in. But I do remember how much stuff like Welk just tried to be unironically pleasant. It’s kinda a lost art at this point.

  3. Sip (if I may)- Rose Garden was employed by my (the) United States Marine Corps as a recruiting
    ditty ’round the early 70’s- to pretty good effect as I recall. Thanks for yer literate, amusing, interesting site.

    1. Hi Cletus- Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I’ve always found second-tier people like Joe South, people one level below bigtime notoriety in the music, publishing, and movie industries, to be way more interesting than the big name acts. They make the whole thing go. My wife and I watch the credits after movies and marvel at all the semi-anonymous people who actually make the thing. We know the difference between Ben Nye movies and Wally Westmore movies, for instance. Of course all movies are Edith Head movies.

  4. That right there might be why when people ask me if I like country music, I answer in the affirmative. But I never specify what country.

    I was a bit confused when I saw (Argentine) tango dancing coupled with an American hit song. I went to YouTube and saw that the video had a Brazilian Portuguese brand on it. This was recorded in Brazil? But there was an ABC marker on the video, so it appears that someone in Brazil downloaded the ABC video and then uploaded it to YouTube.
    Fortunately, the video informs us who the dancers are: Alec Mazo and Edyta Slowinska, who are Polish, and back in the day appeared on Dancing with Stars. Polish dancers dancing an Argentine tango style to an American hit song recorded in the US, with the video subsequently downloaded to Brazil and then uploaded from Brazil to YouTube.

    You weren’t kidding when you you said “what country.”

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