Thorns in the Garden Special Edition: Tom Northcott/The Explosive: Tom Northcott — “Who Planted Thorns (in Miss Alice’s Garden), The Explosive — “Who Planted Thorns (in Miss Alice’s Garden)””Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — April 20, 2022

I couldn’t decide which version of this rare gem I love better — the original by Canadian Tom Northcott or the cover version by the Explosive from the UK — so I am featuring them both. So sue me. I’ll hire Tom Northcott to defend me (pro bono, I hope) — he became a lawyer!

420) Tom Northcott — “Who Planted Thorns (in Miss Alice’s Garden)”

“Thorns” is the self-written B-side of Tom Northcott’s biggest U.S. “hit” (reaching #123 in July ’67) — his cover of Donovan’s Sunny Goodge Street (see #20). Northcott calls the song “a personal favorite” that “is nominally about my first wife . . . and our broken family. But it’s really about me and the human condition. Forty years later I still don’t understand the rules of the game (culture) . . . .” (liner notes to his Sunny Goodge Street: The Warner Bros Recordings comp) John Bush calls it a “sunshine pop nugget.” (

Tom Northcott? He is regarded with reverence, as “[b]lessed with one of the most distinctive voices of the ’60s — a folky flutter sure to carry listeners on a magical ride of winsome wonder . . . .” (Andrew Sandoval’s liner notes to Sunny Goodge Street: The Warner Bros Recordings) Joe Marchese ponders that “had things turned out a little differently, he might be remembered in the same breath as Joni Mitchell or Gordon Lightfoot, fellow Canadian troubadours.” (

As to his story, Ray McGinnis tells us that:

Tom Northcott is a Vancouver folk-rock singer with hits on the local pop charts from the mid-60s into the early 70s. He became known to a Canadian audience by his regular appearances on CBC Television’s Let’s Go music program in 1964-68. He was nominated as best male vocalist for a Juno Award in 1971. . . . [I]n his teens [he] was gaining a reputation performing on the Vancouver coffeehouse circuit in the early ’60s. In particular, he was a regular in the Kitsilano neighborhood, the nexus of the hippie scene north of San Francisco. In 1965, Northcott took over . . . as the lead singer for the Vancouver Playboys . . . . [H]e [then] formed The Tom Northcott Trio . . . . [who] were soon regulars on . . . Let’s Go . . . . Meanwhile they were selling out the top clubs in the area . . . . The Tom Northcott Trio traveled to California and played gigs in San Fransisco and Los Angeles. This exposure got them further performances . . . and they opened for The Who, The Doors and Jefferson Airplane. . . .

Joe Marchese adds that:

[Northcott] gained solid regional airplay and a minor chart entry in the U.S., but his music never struck the same chord in America as in his native Canada. . . . Is it sunshine folk? Is it baroque coffeehouse? This genre-defying and blissfully offbeat music speaks for itself. Northcott was supported by a virtual “Who’s Who” of the L.A. scene, including Harry Nilsson, Leon Russell, Randy Newman and Jack Nitzsche, all under the watchful eye of Warner Bros.’ supreme A&R man, Lenny Waronker. He stood apart from many of his contemporaries, though, by his reliance on material from outside songwriters. Though an accomplished composer and lyricist . . . Northcott was launched by Warner Bros. as an interpretive singer . . . .

McGinnis adds a footnote:

[Northcott] changed careers in the early 1970s and got a license to become a commercial fisherman in British Columbia. At the end of the decade Northcott ran for public office under the banner of the Social Credit Party of British Columbia in the New Democratic Party stronghold of East Vancouver. He lost the campaign. Once again he switched careers and, after studying law at university, he specialized in maritime and admiralty law.

421) The Explosive — “Who Planted Thorns (in Miss Alice’s Garden)”

The Explosive issued “Thorns” as a ’69 A-side. 23 Daves tells us:

The Explosive were simply Decca group The Plague (of “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” and “Looking For The Sun” fame) operating under another moniker. No line-up changes, no mess, no fuss, just a simple alteration of the band name, perhaps to shake off the curse of “psychedelic flop single” that might have clung to them at that point. . . . Signing to President, they fared a little bit better, but not so much that they ever managed a bona-fide hit single. However, a string of 45s emerged on that label of which this is probably the finest. The A-side is a slightly more bizarre version of Tom Northcott’s cult . . . single . . . . [T]he band go to town on the original track and, in my opinion, improve it with their splashes of wah-wah guitar, eccentric reggae-tinged rhythms and quirky vocals. Somewhere amidst the racket, the sound of the art school seventies is being created.

I have added a Facebook page for Brace for the Obscure 60s Rock! If you like what you read and hear and feel so inclined, please visit and “like” my Facebook page by clicking here.

Well, you decide which version you like better:

Here is Tom Northcott’s original:

Here is the single version, which was actually the demo. Tom says it “is bouncy, syncopated, and has the required psychedelic free-form freak-out ending.” (liner notes to Sunny Goodge Street: The Warner Bros Recordings):

Here is the Explosive:

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