Tift Merritt's new album, 'See You On the Moon,' is chock full of new songs that…
- Posted on Mar 25th 2011 5:30PM by James Sullivan
And by 24, Emitt Rhodes was effectively finished with the music industry, a victim of stiff contracts, band brawls and career mismanagement.
The pure pop songwriter hailed as the "One-Man Beatles" was a 15-year-old drummer from Hawthorne, Calif., (the Beach Boys' hometown) when he got his first taste of stardom. His band, the Palace Guard, became a local sensation when Casey Kasem invited them to appear on his TV show, 'Shebang,' and they became regulars at the Hullabaloo nightclub.
Rhodes wanted to write his own songs and play guitar, and he soon formed a band of his own, the Merry-Go-Round, with some high school buddies. Two of them were quickly replaced by slightly older "pros," ex-Grass Roots drummer Joel Larson and ex-Leaves bassist Bill Rinehart. The band stayed together for several albums through the late 1960s, scoring big regional hits with 'Live,' which was later covered by the Bangles, and 'You're a Very Lovely Woman.' They were noted in England, too, where Fairport Convention recorded a cover of Rhodes' 'Time Will Show the Wiser.'
Unfortunately, the band members hated each other. "We used to spit in each other's faces, bloody each other's noses" in the studio, Rhodes recalled on his website. The group disbanded in 1969, leaving its talented frontman to pursue a solo career.
Recorded in the shed behind his parents' suburban home, Rhodes's self-titled debut earned him $5,000 from ABC/Dunhill Records. The album drew plenty of praise for its McCartney-esque melodies, and the first single, 'Fresh as a Daisy,' began climbing the national charts.
Then the record business got in the way. A&M, which was still owed one final Merry-Go-Round record, took some of Rhodes's demos and released them under his own name as the album 'The American Dream.' The sudden appearance of two albums by the same new artist confused record buyers, sinking his commercial prospects.
Rhodes had signed what was then a fairly standard contract, calling for the artist to produce two albums a year for three years. When he fell behind, he found himself on the wrong end of a $250,000 lawsuit. By the time his next album, 'Mirror,' came out, the record company's enthusiasm had waned. His third official solo album, the prophetically titled 'Farewell to Paradise,' would be his last.
At age 24, he "retired" to a quiet, penny-pinching life as a recording engineer. Asked whether he thought of himself as a Baroque popper in a 2010 L.A. Record interview, the singer joked that he's always been a "brrrroke popper."
Not that fans of Beatlesque pop haven't tried to resurrect his career. Proposed comeback albums in 1980 and 2000 were junked for various reasons; Rhodes had a momentary flurry of interest when music fanatic Wes Anderson included his song 'Lullaby' on the 2001 soundtrack to 'The Royal Tenenbaums.' In 2009, Hip-O Records released a two-disc collection of his solo recordings, and an Italian film director made a Rhodes documentary called, of course, 'The One Man Beatles.'
Finally, the singer is reportedly working on a new album. Given his lousy experience in the business, it's entirely possible Rhodes just didn't care all those years. By his own admission, his self-imposed seclusion made him "completely bonkers crazy."
"I just stared at the wall," he said.