The song “Garden Party” was written by Rick Nelson after one of his personal experiences. The Garden refers to Madison Square Garden in New York City, where Nelson and The Stone Canyon Band performed at Richard Nader’s Rock ‘n Roll Revival concert on October 15, 1971. Nelson, along with stars of the first era of rock and roll that included Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Bobby Rydell, were invited there to play their old hits. The crowd sought nostalgia, and Nelson didn’t really deliver it. He went on stage in ’70s style — bell-bottoms and a purple velvet shirt. He obliged a bit at first, with songs such as “Hello Mary Lou,” but then he played his version of the Rolling Stones song “Honky Tonk Women,” which he called “Country Honk.” The crowd began to boo. Nelson took it personally, although some reports say that the booing was the result of police action in the back of the audience. Anyway, he left the stage and did not reappear for the finale. And so, he wrote this song about the lesson of having to pleasure yourself.
In 1972, “Garden Party” became a hit for Nelson, rising to #6 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary Chart, and in Canada. It was his last Top 40 hit on the pop charts.
There are numerous references in the song. Just to mention a few, here are some. Of course, the Garden is Madison Square Garden and his “old friends” are Berry, Diddley, Rydell. Yoko’s walrus refers to Yoko Ono and John Lennon. The obscure line “Mr. Hughes hid in Dylan’s shoes, wearing his disguise” refers to George Harrison. He was Nelson’s friend and would use the name Mr. Hughes when he was on the road. Also, Harrison was planning an album of Dylan covers, but it never happened. The line “I said hello to Mary Lou, she belongs to me” refers to Nelson’s hit song “Hello Mary Lou” as Dylan’s song “She Belongs to Me” that Nelson covered.
Nelson (that is, Eric Hilliard Nelson known first as Ricky and then Rick) was born in Teaneck, New Jersey on May 8, 1940. He started his show business career in 1949 on the radio sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. When the family moved to TV, he did too, and was on their show from 1952 to 1966. His first feature film was Here Come the Nelsons in 1957. He co-starred in Rio Bravo, with John Wayne, Dean Martin, and Walter Brennan. He was also in The Wackiest Ship in the Army with Jack Lemmon and Love and Kisses with Jack Kelly. Nelson died at the age of 45 in a plane crash on December 31, 1985.