Pop Goes The Country Vol. 33: Lynn Anderson – “Rose Garden” (1970)

Pop Goes The Country is an ongoing series where I explore country music’s biggest crossover hits.

To pursue any aspiration in life takes a degree of passion and inspiration that can’t be explained. For musicians, it’s the unequivocal power of a song that draws them in for the long run.

For Lynn Anderson, that inspiration came (mostly) from singer/songwriter Joe South, whose first appearance on the Billboard pop album chart came on February 8, 1969 with Introspect. The album wasn’t a huge seller, though it did yield a few big hits. Nonetheless, it made a huge impression on Anderson, a 21-year-old vocalist signed under Chart Records, at the time.

Anderson’s own path to stardom was first inspired, however, by her parents, Liz and Casey. Before Anderson was of kindergarten age, the two moved to Sacramento, California, where Casey worked at a car dealership while Liz pursed her songwriting passion. Jack McFadden, a fellow salesman at the Chevrolet agency with Casey, was impressed by Liz’s songs; he was also determined to one day become Buck Owens’s manager and enter the country music business.

As Liz’s songs circulated around the industry, local and national country singers wanted to record them. Merle Haggard, at the time beginning his career in Bakersfield, scored two huge early hits with Liz’s “(All My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers” and “Just Between The Two Of Us,” an award-winning duet with Bonnie Owens. Along with Haggard, Liz’s songs were also recorded by Roy Drusky, Conway Twitty, and herself in a career with RCA and Columbia Records.

Naturally, a young Lynn found herself immersed within the atmosphere of it all. But before she became a singer, Lynn took more to country events, including becoming one of the most accomplished riders in California, enough to where she became the California Horse Show Queen of 1966.

By the late ‘60s, Anderson had moved from Chart to Columbia Records, the label home of her husband, Glenn Sutton. As the story of today’s focus goes, Anderson repeatedly begged her husband to record a song off the Inspection album, “Rose Garden.” The song was carried through different recording sessions, but it was never cut. During one fateful session, however, Anderson and her team had cut four sides and still had 20 minutes left. Sutton finally said, “You wanna try the ‘Rose Garden’ thing?”

Sutton had originally objected the idea for a few of its lines, deeming them inappropriate for a woman to sing. Luckily for Anderson, she had secretly been practicing the song just in case she ever got the chance to record it. She had already worked out a makeshift arrangement, but there were a few problems with the first take. Some of the session players came up with a different pattern, later dubbed “The Rose Garden Shuffle.”

Initially, the song was only meant to be an album cut, but during a DJ convention, Columbia president Clive Davis walked in to find Sutton and Lou Bradley in Quonset Hut mixing the album. According to Sutton, “I was listening to the playback – ‘Rose Garden’ was playin’ back when Clive and his bunch came in through the back door and about halfway through the studio he just stopped and stood there and listened a little bit. He said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘That’s a thing we cut on Lynn, it’s called ‘Rose Garden.’ ”

After a second listen, Davis announced it would be Anderson’s next single.

In the spirit of this feature, the single was a huge hit on both country and pop charts, but an even more remarkable achievement was the song’s lasting impact. The album of the same name sold in excess of one million copies and won Lynn the 1970 Grammy award for “Best Country Vocal Performance by a Female.” In 1989, the song returned to the pop charts when excerpts from Anderson’s vocal performance were lifted from the song and inserted into “I Beg Your Pardon,” a dance record by Kon Kan. As for why the song captivated audiences the way it did, Anderson told the Associated Press in 1987, “It was perfectly timed. It was out just as we came out of the Vietnam years and a lot of people were trying to recover. This song stated that you can make something out of nothing. You take it and go ahead.”

Join me next time on ‘Pop Goes The Country,’ where we’ll hear Charlie Rich sing about “The Most Beautiful Girl.”

This piece was written thanks to the following sources:

– The bulk of the information presented here, as well as Glenn Sutton’s quote attributions, comes courtesy of How Nashville Became Music City U.S.A. by Michael Kosser, specifically the chapter, “Gallico and His Boys.”
– Background regarding Liz and Casey Anderson comes courtesy of The Encyclopedia of Country & Western Music by Rick Marschall.
– Further facts were taken from this article in Country Thang Daily written by Grant King.

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