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.” (https://www.allmusic.com/artist/tom-northcott-mn0000611200/biography)
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.” (https://theseconddisc.com/2012/04/02/review-tom-northcott-sunny-goodge-street-the-warner-bros-recordings/)
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. . . .https://vancouversignaturesounds.com/hits/1941-tom-northcott/
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.
“Who planted thorns in Miss Alice’s garden? Who put the black in the clothes she now wears? Where is the softness and why did it harden? And what has been broken that can’t be repaired? Miss Alice, don’t you know you shouldn’t worry over what you lost? It’s a better thing to choose it than run the risk you lose it and never know the joy that comes from finding out. Who put the rock through Miss Alice’s window, paving the pieces all over the floor? Where is the vandal and why did he leave her? And what has he done with the key to her door? Miss Alice, don’t you know you shouldn’t worry over what you lost? It’s a better thing to choose it than run the risk you lose it and never know the joy that comes from finding out? Who’s painting names on Miss Alice’s platform? Who tore the picture and left her the frame? Why is the past a part of the future and who didn’t tell her the rules of the game? Miss Alice don’t you know you shouldn’t worry over what you lost? It’s a better thing to choose it than run the risk you lose it and never know the joy that comes from finding out.”
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.http://left-and-to-the-back.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-explosive-who-planted-thorns-in.html
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:
Pay to Play! The Off the Charts Spotify Playlist! + Brace for the Obscure 60s Rock Merchandise
Please consider helping to support my website/blog by contributing $6 a month for access to the Off the Charts Spotify Playlist. Using a term familiar to denizens of Capitol Hill, you pay to play! (“relating to or denoting an unethical or illicit arrangement in which payment is made by those who want certain privileges or advantages in such arenas as business, politics, sports, and entertainment” — dictionary.com).
The playlist includes all the “greatest songs of the 1960’s that no one has ever heard” that are available on Spotify. The playlist will expand each time I feature an available song.
All new subscribers will receive a Brace for the Obscure 60s Rock magnet. New subscribers who sign up for a year will also receive a Brace for the Obscure 60s Rock t-shirt or baseball cap. See pictures on the Pay to Play page.
When subscribing, please send me an e-mail (GMFtma1@gmail.com) or a comment on this site letting me know an e-mail address/phone number/Facebook address, etc. to which I can send instructions on accessing the playlist and a physical address to which I can sent a magnet/t-shirt/baseball cap. If choosing a t-shirt, please let me know the gender and size you prefer.
Just click on the first blue block for a month to month subscription or the second blue block for a yearly subscription.