A brief time in the limelight, revisited…

The Rose Garden – A Trip Through the Garden/ The Rose Garden Collection – Omnivore Records OVCD 281 – 1968 – 78:24 ***1/2:

(Diana De Rose – vocals and acoustic guitar; John Noreen – lead guitar (Rickenbacker 12 string electric), vocals; James Groshong – vocals and guitar; William Fleming – bass; Bruce Bowdin – drums)

Rock and pop bands that have just one hit record or album usually are just a brief footnote in music history. However, there are often times an interesting story in how they caught the public’s fancy. The Rose Garden, an LA folk rock band, in 1967, were in the right place at the right time. They were talented, especially for a largely high school age group. Their mentor was the great Gene Clark, a founding member of The Byrds, who wrote many of the the super group’s iconic songs during his tenure from 1964 to 1966.

Clark heard the youthful band, then called The Blokes, at an afternoon club audition and was moved by their vocal talents, and the 12 string electric guitar prowess of John Noreen. He introduced them to talent managers and provided them with a six song acetate of some new material that he had written for them to consider in recording an album. Their vocal blend brought to mind The Mamas and the Papas, as well as Peter, Paul, and Mary. Diana De Rose with her alto voice blended well with co-vocalist, Jim Groshong, and Noreen’s “jingle jangle” tone gave the young band a strong resemblance in tone to The Byrds, which had fascinated Gene Clark. They had “the sound” that was intoxicating to labels during this Summer of Love period of time on the West Coast.

Atco, a division of Atlantic Records, signed The Rose Garden to a contract with the approval of Ahmet Ertegun, the esteemed honcho for the label. They recorded their single album, The Rose Garden, in 1968. Their single, “Next Plane to London” reached #17 on the charts, and there were big hopes for their success. A second single of  “Here’s Today” and “If My World Falls Through” was issued but did not have the success of “Next Plane.”

Omnivore Records has released a 26 track compilation of all the material – studio, demo, and live- that this band produced along with the more consequential Omnivore issue of Gene Clark’s recently discovered unreleased 1967 tracks in Liberty Records’ vaults (Gene Clark Sings for You), that includes the six tracks that Clark gave to The Rose Garden.

The Rose Garden material holds up quite well some 50 years later. The production value was not strong at the time as the instruments were not well recorded with their strong vocals getting the main focus. Noreen’s Rickenbacker has its moments, while De Rose and Groshong have a very effective folk rock vocal blend. There are plenty of hooks and the band’s chemistry holds up well today.

“February Sunshine” features some talented flute from an unnamed source, and “Coins of Fun” has an eerily effective Byrds influence with “Mr Tambourine Man” channeled on guitar. “Rider” will bring you back to the 1960s period of the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane (the Dead’s guitars meeting Grace Slick’s time with the Airplane).  “Till Today” and “Long Time” were written by Gene Clark and their lyrics show Clark’s lyrical skills.

The 13 additional tracks cover some Byrds, Sonny and Cher, and rehearsal and acetate versions covered on their album. The live material, recorded at a high school, should have been left out, as its recorded quality is quite poor.

All in all, this is a worthy release showing that “one hit wonders” can and do have talent that was popular at the time, and still hold up well to critical listening a half century later.

We will review the significant Gene Clark Omnivore release soon.

Tracklist:
Next Plane to London
I’m Only Second, February Sunshine
Coins of Fun
Rider
She Belongs to Me
Flower Town
Till Today
Look What You’ve Done
Long Time
If My World Falls Through (mono single)
Here’s Today (mono single)
Down to the Wire
Charlie the Fer De Lance
The World is a Big Playground&lt

Here’s Today (stereo mix)
If My World Falls Through (stereo mix)
Dead Men Never Die
I’m Only Second (acetate version)
Till Today (rehearsal)
Till Today (acetate)
Next Plane to London (live)
So You Want to be a Rock and Roll Star (live)
She Don’t Care About Me (live)
It’s the Little Things (live)
You Don’t Love Me (live)

Jeff Krow