Garden Party

Album: Garden Party (1972)
Charted: 41 6


  • As a child, Nelson starred with his parents on The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet and became a teen idol as a singer in the '50s. He had a string of hits, but by the mid '60s he was no longer in demand as The Beatles were dominating the American music scene.

    On October 15, 1971, he played a "Rock & Roll Spectacular" show with fellow '50s stars Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Bobby Rydell at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He was expected to play his hits, and at first he obliged, opening with "Be-Bop Baby" - not one of his more meaningful songs but a consistent crowd-pleaser. After delivering a few more hits and getting rousing ovations, he started playing newer material, including his country-rock cover of "Honky Tonk Women" from his yet-to-be-released album Rudy the Fifth. For that one, he moved to the piano, and when he finished the song and walked back to his guitar, he heard an unusual sound: booing.

    Nelson had been playing his newer songs at collage shows, and they were well-received. This audience was different though, comprised of some oldies purists who thought the experience was about the hits and nothing but the hits. The booing unnerved Nelson, who played one more song before cutting his set short and leaving the building.

    This experience prompted the former teen idol to write "Garden Party," which became his first US Top 10 hit since 1963's "For You." He died in a plane crash in 1985 at age 45.
  • This song expresses the importance of doing what feels right to you. Nelson sings:

    You can’t please everyone
    So you gotta please yourself

    It's a valuable lesson he learned at the concert that inspired the song - even though it was a rough evening, he came out of it stronger and determined never to be a nostalgia act.
  • This was one of the few songs Nelson wrote himself, and it was very important to him. Rick's son Gunnar wrote in a Chicken Soup for the Soul article: "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.

    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." (Have a look at Nelson's handwritten lyrics to "Garden Party")
  • The line, "Mr. Hughes hid in Dylan's shoes, wearing his disguise" is a reference to George Harrison, who used the alias "Mr. Hughes" when he was on the road. Harrison, who was friends with Nelson, was planning an album of Bob Dylan covers, but that project never came to fruition.
  • These lines refer to songs Nelson played at his Garden concert:

    I said hello to Mary Lou, she belongs to me
    And when I sang a song about a Honky Tonk
    It was time to leave

    "Hello Mary Lou," from 1961, is one of his most popular songs; "She Belongs to Me" is a modest hit (#33 US) from 1969 - when he played it the grumblings began in the crowd. "Honky Tonk Women" is the one that got him booed off the stage.
  • Nelson made the Hot 100 just once more: with "Palace Guard" in 1973 (#65). He kept performing until he died in a plane crash in 1985, and while he didn't do oldies shows, he was happy to play at least some of his hits. "Garden Party" was often the last song in his sets.
  • Looking back on Nelson's experience at Madison Square Garden, it's clear that Nelson did not get into the spirit of the event, as instead of giving the crowd his old hits they had come to enjoy, he showed up with long hair, a sequined outfit, and new songs. Kent Kotal at Forgotten Hits puts it in perspective: "Nelson wasn't one of the artists typically invited to these Oldies Revival Shows, and since he had been playing all along with his Stone Canyon Band (featuring an odd 'oldie' here and there as part of his act, including a somewhat 'countrified' version of 'Hello Mary Lou'), he REALLY didn't know what to expect, or fully understand what the crowd had come to hear. Ironically, a decade later his stage show was virtually non-stop back-to-back oldies hits, very true to their original arrangements, and Ricky's voice truly did improve with age. The good news was that one of the biggest songs of his entire career came out of the experience."
  • Rick's twin sons, Gunnar and Matthew, are a musical duo called Nelson. They had some hits in the early '90s, including the US #1 hit "(Can't Live Without Your) Love And Affection ," and while their father stopped playing his old songs when he faded from glory, Nelson not only continued to play their old songs at state fairs and other shows, but their father's as well.

    In the '00s, the Nelson twins put together a show called "Ricky Nelson Remembered" where they play many of their dad's songs. "Garden Party" is a big moment in the show, as it marked a turning point in Rick Nelson's career. When we spoke with Matthew in 2016, he said: "He loved music, and he gave his life for it. With 'Garden Party,' getting booed off the stage for playing some new tunes and looking different, he just kind of got to a place where it just came through him."
  • Al Kooper's memoir Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards devotes a few pages to the experience of working with Rick Nelson. Nelson had signed with Epic Records shortly after Garden Party, and Al Kooper relished the opportunity to produce him. At first Kooper wanted to reunite Nelson with his guitarist from the 1950s, James Burton. But Burton wanted too much money and Epic balked. Next Kooper had to scramble for a back-up plan, and ended up producing an album of Nelson singing covers of a diverse series of hits from other bands. Epic Records was less than enchanted with this decision, to say the least, and refused to release the album. Even after Nelson's death!
  • Nelson explained in ZigZag, 1974: "It's a pleasant tune, and catchy. After the people have heard it a few times, they begin to listen more to the words and discover what it's about. Some people, though, think that the song is about some desire I might have to return to the Fifties. It's really just the opposite, of course – I'm trying to put a stop to all that."

Comments: 37

  • Seventhmist from 7th HeavenThe only group that might have booed this song was truck drivers.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaGot to see him perform a number years ago great show.
  • Dan from Chesterfield, MichI'm glad I read this article...learned some interesting things.

    Hey, I love "Travelin' Man" and "Hello, MaryLou" fact I liked all of Ricky's music. I'm an "old guy" now, in 2017, but I gotta tell ya', those songs were some of the songs that played in my head as I penetrated typhoons with the lightning flashing, in the western Pacific Ocean, and flew along the border of North Korea in the middle of the night with those lunatics continuously warning us that we "would be fired upon"...and during a little excursion down to Panama, and Granada...and then there was Dessert Storm....yeah, I'm a "travelin' man!" lol

    Where'd the years go, eh?'s nice to always have such great memories with all the great music.

    Rest in Peace, Ricky...I'm one of the millions that are sure glad you didn't drive a truck! lol
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn October 15th 1971, Rick Nelson played Madison Square Garden in New York City, and as most rock 'n rollers know this appearance inspired his last Top 10 hit, "Garden Party"...
    Eight months later on July 23rd, 1972 "Garden Party" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #99; and 14 weeks later on October 29th, 1972 it peaked at #6 {for 2 weeks} and spent 19 weeks on the Top100...
    And on November 12th, 1972 it reached #1 {for 1 week} on the Canadian RPM 100 Singles chart {it also peaked at #1 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart}...
    It had been over eight years since his last Top 10 record; "For You" peaked at #6 {for 1 week} on February 9th, 1964 {all tolled between 1957 and 1972 he had seventeen Top 10 records, with two reaching #1, "Poor Little Fool" in 1958 and "Travelin' Man" in 1961}...
    He just missed having four #1 records when "A Teenager's Prayer" and "Stood Up" both peaked at #2 on the Top 100.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyAt my age (69 years old) I should always use a calculator; in my post below it should have been 8 and not 6 years between Top 10 hits for Mr. Nelson!
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 9th 1964, "For You" by Ricky Nelson peaked at #6 (for 1 week) on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; it had entered the chart on December 9th, 1963 at position #61 and spent 12 weeks on the Top 100...
    The record's B-side also had the word 'You' in the title, "I Need You", and it also charted, it stayed on the Top 100 for 4 weeks, peaking at #83 (its on You Tube)...
    Six years and eighteen charted records later he would finally entered the Top 10 again, that was with "Garden Party" at #6 in 1972...
    R.I.P. Mr. Nelson, born Eric Hilliard Nelson, (1940 - 1985).
  • Chomper from Northampton County, PaMy parents grew up in the 50s, and were in their teens at the time Ricky Nelson was a television star on "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" ; listening to him singing "Poor Little Fool". My Mom, being 11 months older than my dad, was 14 years old at the time Rock and Roll became popular in 1955 (my dad was 13). We first heard the song on the radio back in the 70s (sometime around '76 or '77, I believe) while living on base at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Nebraska (we were either listening to radio station "K.O.I.L. fm." , or listening to K.F.A.B. fm from Omaha). To my mom and dad ; they lost one of their favorite Teenage Idol of the 50s...To us who have grown up in the 70s and early 80s ; we also lost a favorite teenage idol. Ricky Nelson was, and always will an Idol to his fans. R.I.P. Ricky.
  • Dalan from Notacityyet, Mt"Can't please everyone so you got to please yourself"

    How true!! How true!! That saying has been such a part of my life philosophy ever since hearing that song (omg) almost 40 years ago.
  • Carolyn from Knoville, TnI understood his frustration with being asked to sing the same thing over and over again, but still...when you go to a concert, you want to hear the "hits"--those songs that made the singer a household name to begin with. I think "Garden Party" was an excellent song, but I still like "I'm a Travelin' Man" and "Hello, Mary Lou".
  • Jeff from Panama City , Flricky loved carl doubt a bond with george harrison for that reason alone...I admired rick for the reason that (no matter how hollywood his family might have been)...his love for the real essence of rockabilly music overshadowed any logic for him clinging to the california crowd and hollywood...he had the looks and talent..but in a documentary by his brother...he stated that ricky didnt care how big the venue...just so he was playing the music he dearly loved...God bless him for that....another note....his quote from garden party..."you cant please everyone, so you got to please yourself"...has stuck with me through the years, and as the years go by with all the crazy people in this world...those lyrics has grow more and more true...
  • Shane from Chattanooga, TnI went on a cruise last year and Gunner and Matthew were on it as well. They performed a tribute show to their dad one night which was actually a mix of his music and theirs. The narrated it with stories of growing up with a famous dad. The story of this song was included. The next afternoon they performed an acoustic show in the atrium of the ship. Other than that they were mixed and mingled with the passengers of the ship for the entire cruise. They were very friendly, funny and entertaining to be around which in my mind was a bigger tribute to their father.
  • Craig from Fort Lee, NjThe Dylan/Hughes reference was aimed at Gerge Harrison (who disguised himself on a regular basis to raom the population)thus the Mr Hughes wearing Dylans shoes (George was close to Bob Dylan).
  • Alan from Sault Ste. Marie, OnI love the material Rick Nelson did with the Stone Canyon Band. Rudy the Fifth is one of my favourite albums and his cover of "Love Minus Zero No Limit" is superb. I've heard that the last song he sang on stage prior to him taking the flight that killed him was a Buddy Holly tune.
  • Don Piccolo from Denver, CoSpent a week with Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band at Marvelous Marvs in Denver in 1971. He was kind enough to remember our band, the Jesters, when we performed on the same show in Ft Lauderdale in 1959.
    His loss was a truly sad one for me. Randy Meisner was his bass player at the time. A really nice guy.
  • John from Fort Worth, TxI admit that I never paid much attention to the lyrics of this song till I learned about ten years ago of the event that was supposed to have inspired it. Since then, I get a lump in my throat and watery eyes each time I listen to this remarkable original song written by the performer himself. "...But if memories were all I sang / I'd rather drive a truck." When I think of Rick Nelson's life and his desire to grow as an artist, I hear such depth in those words. John, 46, Texas USA
  • Sara from Greenville, AlMy third comment should say
  • Sara from Greenville, AlI read that the Stone Canyon Band gutarist said that the band wasn't being booed at Madison Square Garden. Two jerks in the audience had gotten drunk and started a fight, but they didn't find out about this pressumebly until after the song had been released.
  • Sara from Greenville, AlAnyone looking for lyrics should go to and look in discography.
  • Scott from Ipswich, MaThe Dylan-Hughes comparison is not Nelson's way of calling Dylan a sell out, a businessman. The people who booed Dylan as a sellout in 1966 were probably the same people booing Nelson in 1971â??I can't imagine Nelson would join those ranks, especially not in this song. The very next verse quotes the Dylan song with which Nelson himself had a hit.
    The significance of the name-dropping in this verse is Nelson placing himself in good companyâ??Dylan booed for going electric; Lennon widely criticized for his relationship with Yoko,;Yoko herself blamed for breaking up the Beatles. All because they had the balls to do what they wanted to do with their lives. In The Ballad of John and Yoko (a perfect complement to Garden Party), Lennon compares the treatment they received to crucifixion. Nelson's identifying with Dylan and Lennonâ??and maybe Howard Hughes.
    If he is comparing Dylan to Howard Hughes, it's more likely for eccentricity. Compare Dylan and Hughes's fingernails. Hughes was a notorious recluse by 1971, and Dylan was in the middle of an eight-year hiatus from touring, eschewing the public eyeâ??having moved from rock and roll to country, in part inspiring a generation of rockers to do the same, including Nelson.
    I find the Hughes=Harrison idea compelling, though, never heard that before. Dylan was a major influence on Harrison, and the two were close friends. Besides the songs they wrote together, Harrison covered some Dylan tunes. Would that be him standing in Dylan's shoes?
  • Ken from Dallas, NmThe new Applebee's marketing campaign is using this song to sell salads. Hearing it today brought back the memory of being a senior in high school in Hobbs, NM in 1985. As a favor to our band director, my best friend and I had agreed to help set up the city auditorium (which was part of the high school) when touring acts came to perform. You can imagine that a small town in the middle of the desert doesn't get the top-shelf acts. So I thought it was pretty cool that Rick Nelson - someone I had actually heard of - was coming to town... I had watched the Ozzie & Harriet reruns many times as a kid. We felt like we had a minor brush with fame by setting up the group's instruments and sound equipment for the show that night. I was very saddened later that year to hear he was killed. The accident happened on that same tour that he was on when visiting my small community.
  • David from Youngstown, OhNelson took the stage looking like a hippie, which surprised the Madison Square Garden crowd.
    Yoko's walrus is obviously John Lennon.
    The "honky-tonk" reference is Nelson started singing the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman," when the boos really started pouring down on him and his band.
  • Barbara from Altadena, CaI grew up watching Ricky on TV and had the maddest crush on him. I felt I had been betrayed when he married. I cried for days at the news of his death. Hearing him sing takes me back to the times of my youth and allow me to get in touch with the feelings of the times. Being a little Black girl in the '50s didn't stop me from adoring Rick Nelson. I did then and I still treasure his memory. A while ago I bought his "Greatest Hits" CD and played it (and sang along) for my granddaughter. I began telling her the story of Rick and watched as she was fascinated to hear about my love of his music. My childhood favorite was Poor Little Fool, however, Garden Party has grown with me and feels more like the Rick he became rather than the Ricky he was. I loved him and treasure his memory and what it meant to my childhood.
    -Barbara, Altadena, CA
  • Michael from West Chester, PaIt is alledged that Ricks death had a lot to do with frebaseing, but this is not the case. The science detectives on the Discovery Channel have shown it to be a case of explosive decompression. As I remember it to be.
  • Greg from Victoria, CanadaNot one of my all time faves but it did distance Ricky from the Nelson family 50's mentallity and almost gave him an edge.
  • Maurice from Philly, PaMr. Hughes is George Harrison. He is wearing Dylan's shoes as a disguise because Harrison wrote a song with Dylan in 1970 called "I've had you anytime" (I think). Harrison is trying to be like Bob essentially
  • Duff from Birmingham, AlI just read in an older article that Ricky was on his way to Dallas from Alabama when the plane crashed. Anyone know the details or where to find them?
  • Alan from Grande Prairie, Alberta, CanadaIronic has it may seen maybe tragic's a better word. Rick Nelson's last show his last song was a cover of Buddy Holly's "True Love Ways" which he was planning to record. He then boards a plane and dies in a crash.
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnThis was a great autobiographical song of Rick Nelson's bad experience at Madison Square Garden when he was booed for singing new material. Great backin by The Stone Canyon Band to give it a country-like beat.
  • Pat from Indianapolis, InIn the 80?s my brother and I had a computer store in Indianapolis, IN. Twice a year Chicago and Vegas hosts the Consumer Electric Show. We went to the summer CES in Chicago in ?85. One of our distributors had a 50?s show where the ?Oldies? came in to entertain. The ?one and only ?Rick Nelson gave a show and half. He saw I was taking pictures of him as he sang. He actually ?posed? as he performed and looked in my camera so I could get the ?best? pic of him. Now I don?t know if other singers would take the time to allow a ?rookie? photographer take his pic and pose while he is singing >>>>BUT HE DID. That is why he is on the ?Top Shelf ?in my view. It is true the ?Good? die young. The good news is he will live on in video and song and in our ?hearts?. And who could want more than that?
  • Jerry from Brooklyn, NyNelson had another bad experience at a concert at the Hollywood Palace and wrote a song called "Palace Guard". It was the same basic theme and I guess it was too much like "Garden Party" to be a hit. I have tried, not too hard, to find the lyrics. Anybody know this song?
  • Bo from New York City, NyI disagree with Joe. "Mr. Hughes hid in Dylan's shoes wearing his disguise" absolutely refers to Howard Hughes. The sarcasm in the lyric is a little abstruse, but I believe it refers to Dylan having "sold out" and becoming a "businessman" just like Howard Hughes. While he looks like Dylan on the outside he's really Howard Hughes in disguise! Loueye....
  • Jamie from Sydney, Australiathis is truely a 'great song' taking elements of 50's, 60's and finally 70's 'famous person' angst. Suming up every musicians life with the line. 'if memories were all I sang, then I'd rather drive a truck'. proving a that this singer songwriter can pen one song and remain more signifacant then say Donavans' whole catalogue...
    and in true rock and roll style the rumour we heard in Australia was that the plane blew up due to Rick and co free basing coke and trying to make the plane crash. Anybody else heard this one??
  • Pete from Nowra, Australialearn't the rock barn dance to this song in school...God i was good
  • Joe from Oswego, states:
    "Mr. Hughes hid in Dylan's shoes wearing his disguise," is more difficult to interpret, but I finally found this. ""Mr Hughes" isn't Howard Hughes, as most people think, but refers to George Harrison, the ex-Beatle. Rick Nelson was good friends and next-door neighbor to Harrison, and was also a good friend of Bob Dylan. "Mr. Hughes" was the alias Harrison used while traveling, and "hid in Dylan's shoes" apparently refers to an album of Bob Dylan covers Harrison was planning that never came to fruition. "Wearing his disguise" is more obscure, but presumably had something to do with Harrison's habit of traveling incognito.

  • Kris from Bangor, MeRicky totally rules! When I'm feeling no pain, I like to put on some Ricky, or maybe Nirvana or Johnny Mathis. It would have been so cool to have them all on the same show.
  • Jonnie from St. Louis, MoIn an interview that I did with Rick Nelson in
    October, 1981, he explained his beginnings as a
    "Teen Idol" with "A Teenager's Romance"/"I'm
    Walkin'". Then,later in the interview, when I
    asked what one his personal favorites of all his
    hits were, he stated "Garden Party" and then explained how and why he wrote it. A little over
    4 years later, December 31, 1985 when I was on
    the air doing afternoon drive, I had one of the
    saddest days of my career as I tore off the news
    bulletin from the A.P. Wire. The bulletin was
    notification that the charter plane that Rick was
    on that New Year's Eve had exploded and crashed.
    Reading that on the air was the hardest thing I've
    ever had to do in my 37 year career. And the interview that I did with him was one I will always cherish. I listened to it again before I
    wrote these comments. Rick Nelson was a true legend and a gracious gentleman...I will never forget his kindness and warmth.
  • Brooke from Sedona, AzWhat a great song this is! Love it.
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