One Album Wonders: The Merry-Go-Round

THE MERRY-GO-ROUND — YOU’RE A VERY LOVELY WOMAN • LIVE (1967)

This week’s One Album Wonder is the 1960s baroque pop band The Merry-Go-Round, who released their only album in October 1967. Although several members played in the band, few would challenge the claim that the ringleader of the band was a prodigious then-teenager named Emitt Rhodes.

The Merry-Go-Round band photo

Emitt Lynn Rhodes was born 25 February 1950 in Decatur, Illinois. In 1955 the Rhodes family moved to Hawthorne, California, drawn by a job in the aerospace industry. When he was fourteen, Rhodes played drums in a high school dance band, The Emerals, with Bill Leeder, Dennis Troll, and three brothers from Montreal: Don, Dave, and John Beaudine, The Emerals split but Rhodes soon rejoined the brothers Beaudine alongside Chuck McLung, Mike Conley, and Don Grady (Don Agrati) in the decidedly Anglophiliac band, The Palace Guard.

The Palace Guard performed on KRLA DJ Casey Kasem’s program, Shebang and in 1965 made their recording debut backing actor Don Grady of the show My Three Sons on a song titled “Summertime Game” b/w “Little People.” On their own they released two singles on Orange-Empire, “All Night Long” b/w “Playgirl” and “Falling Sugar” b/w “Oh Blue (The Way I Feel Tonight)” in 1965 and ’66. The band were briefly the houseband at The Hullabaloo (a long-ago-demolished Hollywood club where Hollywood Car Wash and Discount Tire Centers now stand). One final single, “Calliope” b/w “Greed” followed on Parkway before the band split.

The Merry-Go-Round play Fenders

In 1966, Rhodes (on rhythm guitar) formed The Merry-Go-Round with fellow high schoolers Mike Rice and Doug Harwood. At the suggestion of their manager, Russ Shaw, Rhodes’s bandmates were soon replaced by more experienced musicians Gary Kato (lead guitar), Joel Larson (former drummer for The Grass Roots and The Gene Clark Group), and Bill Rinehart (former bassist The Leaves and The Gene Clark Group).

The Merry-Go-Round signed a recording contract with A&M Records. Their demo of “Live” was only slightly tweaked and released as a single b/w the fully produced “Time Will Show the Wiser.” ” It was hugely popular in Southern California and reached #63 on the Billboard pop charts. In on 10 and 11 June 1967 The Merry-Go-Round performed at the Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival alongside Blues Magoos, The Byrds, Canned Heat, Captain Beefheart, Country Joe & the Fish, Dionne Warwick, The Doors, Every Mother’s Son, The 5th Dimension, The Grass Roots, Jefferson Airplane, The Loading Zone, The Mojo Men, The Seeds, The Sparrow, and Tim Hardin.

The Merry-Go-Round You're a Very Lovely Woman-Live

The follow-up single, “You’re a Very Lovely Woman,” was again popular in Los Angeles but only reached #94 nationally. Sensing that their window of opportunity was already closing, A&M rush released an album titled, You’re A Very Lovely Woman • Live (but often listed merely as The Merry-Go-Round) in October and it just cracked the charts, reaching #190.

Rinehart and Rhodes rarely saw eye-to-eye and the guitarist quit the band and was replaced by Rick Dey (formerly of The Vejtables). Two more singles followed in 1968, “Listen, Listen” b/w “Missing You” and “Highway” b/w “Till’ the Day After,” neither of which charted. In 1969, for all practical purposes, The Merry-Go-Round ground to a halt.

Nonetheless, confronted with unfulfilled contractual obligations, Rhodes assembled a group of studio musicians who recorded a batch of songs which A&M elected to shelve. As a solo artist, Rhodes constructed a studio in a shed behind his parents’ garage and began recording material with himself playing every part. He signed a contract with ABC/Dunhill Records.

Rhodes next recorded three solo albums, Emitt Rhodes (1970), Mirror (1971), and Farewell to Paradise (1973) — three albums in four years for which he wrote every song and played all instruments. That wasn’t enough, however, to satisfy his employers whose contract required one album every six months for three years. To express their dissatisfaction, they sued Rhodes for $250,000 and withheld his royalties.

Not that the royalties amounted to much. Despite its quality, Emitt Rhodes only reached #29 and the single, “Fresh as a Daisy,” reached #54. Still, it was successful enough for his old label, A&M, to dust off Rhodes shelved album which they released as The American Dream (1971). It reached #194. The proper follow-up, Mirror, did slightly better, reaching #182. Farewell to Paradise somehow didn’t chart at all and a jaded, scarred, 24-year-old Rhodes retired from performing entirely and from 1976-1980 worked as an engineer and producer at Elektra.

As for The Merry-Go-Round’s other members, Gary Kato joined Ronnie Skurow’s Las Vegas act, Skurow, who were active in the early 1970s and released a single, “Keep Your Funky Side Out” on London. Larson went on to play drums with The Turtles, and Lee Michaels, who had a hit with “Do You Know What I Mean” and then re-joined The Grass Roots. Bill Rinehart later worked as a producer and composer.

Rhodes was always recognized by a dedicated group of followers. Fairport Convention covered “Time Will Show the Wiser” in 1968, on their debut. In 1980 Rhodes began work on a new solo album that was cut-short when the label executive behind the effort left the label. The Bangles covered “Live” on 1985’s All Over the Place. “You’re a Very Lovely Woman” was included on the third volume of  the Nuggets compilation in 1984 and “Live” was the lead track on volume four. Rhino Records released the vinyl The Best Of The Merry-Go-Round in 1985. Another Rhodes solo effort was begun and scrapped in 2000.

In 1992, a similarly inclined baroque pop band, The Left Banke, got a posthumous career boost with the release of the compact disc compilation, There’s Gonna Be A Storm – The Complete Recordings 1966-1969 in 1992. Other baroque pop bands like The Millennium and Sagittarius also benefit from re-issues in the 1990s but for many years The Merry-Go-Round’s material remained frustratingly hard to obtain, confined as it was exclusively to rare, long out-of-print vinyl records and audio cassettes.

In 2001, filmmaker Wes Anderson featured the solo Rhodes’s “Lullaby” in The Royal Tenenbaums which probably played a significant role in reawakening interest in the songwriter. Finally, in 2005, the 29-track compact disc compilation, Listen, Listen: The Definitive Collection, was released on Joe Foster’s Creation Records sublabel, Rev-Ola. Sundazed Music re-released the band’s only album on vinyl in 2010.

In 2009, Cosimo Messeri made a documentary about Rhodes titled The One Man Beatles. That year Rhodes rejoined Merry-Go-Round drummer Joel Larson, Matt Malley (ex-Counting Crows), and guitarists Dan Mayer and Jim Rolf and performed Merry-Go-Round tunes for the first time in decades.  In 2010, an Emitt Rhodes tribute album Long Time, No See was released by Groover Recordings. In 2011, Rhodes released three new songs on the internet, “Just Me and You,” “What’s a Man to Do,” and “This Wall Between Us” and in 2014 he began working on new material with Chris Price and Fernando Perdomo.

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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