By Eleni P. Austin
About 25 years ago, actor Tom Hanks wrote and directed a pitch-perfect movie called “That Thing You Do!” Taking place in the mid ‘60s, it tells the story of The Oneders (pronounced “Wonders”), a regional band riding their hit song to the top of the charts, experiencing not even 15 minutes of fame and then quickly fading into obscurity.
After the meteoric rise of the Beatles, millions of bands formed in small town garages all over America, hoping to mirror that success. A few, like the Standells (“Dirty Water’), Blues Magoos (“We Ain’t Got Nothing Yet”), Music Machine (“Talk, Talk), the Capitols (“Cool Jerk”), Strawberry Alarm Clock (“Incense And Peppermints”) and Bubble Puppy (seriously, that’s a real band, and their big hit was “Hot Smoke & Sassafras”), made it into Billboard’s Top 20.
Others weren’t as lucky. For Cleveland’s The Choir, and Corpus Christi’s Zakary Thaks, songs like “It’s Cold Outside” and “Bad Girl” went to #1 on local radio, but their hometown appeal never translated to national success. The Palace Guard was that kind of band.
First known as The Emerals, they formed in 1964, in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne. The original line-up included brothers David, Don and John Beaudoin on rhythm guitar, lead vocals and keys and lead vocals and tambourine, respectively. Along with Mike Conley on backing vocals, Chuck McClung on lead guitar, Rick Moser on bass and lead vocals and Emitt Rhodes on drums. The band made their bones playing local spots like Reb Fosters and the Revelaire Club in Redondo Beach, building up a loyal following. They signed with the small Orange-Empire Records. It was around this time they became The Palace Guard, (abbreviated to “the Guard,” by fans).
Their first single, “All Night Long” arrived a few months later. Despite it’s somewhat “suggestive” title, it received airplay on the popular Los Angeles station, KFWB (who, along with KRLA “The Big 11-10” and KHJ “Boss Radio,” shaped the listening tastes of teenagers across the sprawling L.A. metropolis). It quickly became a local hit.
Not so coincidentally, The Palace Guard’s manager partnered with celebrated DJ, Dave Hull and opened the Hullabaloo Club across from the Hollywood Palladium. The Guard performed there regularly. By 1966, they had opened for, or played with British Invasion hit-makers like the Yardbirds and the Hollies, as well as stateside acts like the Association, The Byrds, Dick Dale And The Del-Tones, the Hondells and Paul Revere And The Raiders. They also appeared on local TV shows like Casey Kasem’s “Shebang” along with the nationally televised summer series, Dick Clark’s “Where The Action Is.” They tried out for Ed Sullivan, but didn’t make the cut, most likely because their popularity was limited to L.A.
Emmitt quit the band in mid ’65. The wunderkind had joined at age 14 but had bigger plans. He quickly teamed with lead guitarist Gary Kato, bassist Bill Rinehart and drummer Joel Larson to form The Merry-Go-Round. There he took the reins as lead vocalist and primary songwriter. He created indelible hits like “Live” and “You’re A Very Lovely Woman” before embarking on a critically acclaimed solo career.
The Guard soldiered on, recruiting ex-Driftones drummer Terry Rae. But they soon soured on their management and record label, who failed miserably (or couldn’t be bothered) to get them national exposure. Even when they were paired with actor/singer Don Grady (“Robbie” on the hit series “My Three Sons”), for a couple of songs, the results were hit-and-miss. Frustrated by their lack of success on the charts and limited financial compensation, the band called it quits in 1967. All told, they had recorded 12 songs, spread over six singles.
Fast-forward more than half a century, and record collectors and Garage/Psyche enthusiasts still rummage through record stores, thrift shops, flea markets and scour the interwebs in search of those elusive six singles from The Palace Guard. Thanks to Lenny Kaye’s exhaustive “Nuggets” series (albums devoted to the original Garage and Psychedelic scene), the band has acquired a cult following. Luckily, the cool kids at Omnivore Recordings have gathered the band’s songs in a convenient 12-song set.
Despite their youth and inexperience, the album’s first three songs display a musical acumen that belies their tender age. The record kicks into gear with the buoyant first single, “All Night Long.” Ringing guitars jangle and chime over elastic bass lines and a whipcrack beat. The vocals are surprisingly growly and gritty, the lyrics, slightly risqué; “Well, I want to be your man baby all night long, I want to be your man baby all night long/Sitting on the sofa trying to have some fun comes early in the morning and it’s half past one.” But they hedge their bets on the puerile chorus; “No cootchie, cootchie, cootchie, cootchie coo, all night long.” Luckily the rollicking arrangement, replete with raw rhythm guitar riff-age, feral bass, pummeling drums and a sizzling guitar outro distracts from the baby-talk.
Next up, “Playgirl” exhibits a mellower touch. This was a groovy kind of love powered by plangent guitars, twinkly keys, agile bass, a tambourine shake and a heartbreak beat. Even as lyrics like “Playgirl, that’s what I heard somebody call you today, you’re a Playgirl, haven’t you heard or don’t you care what they say/Here’s what they say: ‘She’s racing around in a foreign car, all made up like a movie star, going too fast, going too far,’” gently chastising a former crush who’s become a Sunset Strip habitue, the vibe is cautionary rather than accusatory.
Meanwhile, “A Girl You Can Depend On” starts off slightly spooky and contemplative, before accelerating into a confident, mid-tempo Rocker. Sidewinder guitars, sultry bass and a thunking beat are enhanced by icy keys. Painfully sincere lyrics extol the virtues of a reliable gal who “only wants to be with me all night and day” and “is always there on time.” Perhaps all this punctuality will give way to more Playgirl-ish proclivities. Only time will tell.
The Guard tackle a couple of well-known songs, “If You Need Me” and “Saturday’s Child,” and acquit themselves nicely. The former, was originally a hit on the Soul/R&B charts for it’s composer, Wilson Pickett. But The Guard takes their cues from the Rolling Stones’ version. It’s all Farfisa and Fuzz, latticing tart and tangy organ notes over fuzz-crusted guitar riffs. The sanguine instrumentation is matched by ardent but defiant vocals. Initially, lyrics passionately pledge undying loyalty, but during a spoken-word interlude the truth emerges; “People have always said, darlin, that I didn’t mean you no good, and you would leave me someday/But way deep down in my heart I know I’ve done the best that I could that’s why I know that one of these days, it won’t be long, you’ll come walkin’ through that same door.”
The latter was written by future Bread front-man David Gates and appeared on the Monkees’ self-titled debut, But The Palace Guard beat them to the punch by a few months, and their approach is positively primordial. Distorto guitars partner with spiky keys and a stompy beat. Jaunty harmonies crest atop lyrics that cleverly compare and contrast the virtues of being born on a Saturday, rather than Sunday through Friday.
Midway through the collection unveils their biggest hit, “Falling Sugar.” Here insistent shang-a-lang guitars are bookended by spidery bass lines, wailing harmonica and a crackling beat. The hooky chorus is made all the sweeter by honeyed harmonies, which helps to camouflage clumsy metaphors like “The hurt is so deep, that I can’t eat or sleep, if you would come back, you’d make my thoughts of you sweet and they’d tumble down like sugar.” The opening number, “All Night Long” is an original by Guard brothers Don and John Beaudoin, three more of their songs are featured here. “Oh Blue (The Way I Feel Tonight)” fares the best. Surf-Rock guitars crash over nimble bass lines and a rattletrap beat. The whipsmart arrangement and instrumentation are juxtaposed by hushed, Beatlesque and sad-sack lyrics that parse the beginnings of a broken heart.
The Beaudoins’ other two compositions are hampered by overly ambitious and weirdly cheesy production values. “Calliope” floats in ¾ time, affecting a woozy, circus atmosphere. But all manner of bird whistles, gimcracks and animal noises quickly subtract from the fun. The flipside, “Greed” is a wild-eyed Mazurka that’s frenetic and overwrought. Somewhere, beneath the dross, are a couple of not-bad songs.
Other interesting tracks include the ramshackle “Party Lights” which is anchored by spiraling carnival keys, chunky rhythm guitars, roiling bass and a taut military cadence. On the break, chicken-scratch lead guitar that recalls the fleet fretwork of the Rolling Stones’ original guitarist, Brian Jones.
The final two tracks are billed as Don Grady And The Place Guard. The actor/singer, who segued from a Mouseketeer to one of Fred McMurray’s three TV sons, has a pleasing tenor that echoes television’s most famous Rocker, Ricky Nelson. But the song “Little People” provided a weak showcase.
“Summertime Game” is suitably breezy blending a Tijuana brass fanfare with splayed guitar riffs and a snapback beat. It’s pleasant enough, but The Guard is relegated to the background. The partnership with Grady, was short-lived. He went play drums for the Sunshine Pop band, Yellow Balloon. Not long after, fed up with the music industry, The Palace Guard called it quits.
Although he faced his own frustrations, Emitt Rhodes released four quietly brilliant solo records in the early ‘70s. Critics compared him to Paul McCartney, but album sales were lackluster. Discouraged, he continued to work in the music industry on the production side of things. Something of a recluse, he was coaxed out of retirement a few years ago. Thanks to the patient encouragement of musician/producer Chris Price, (as well as a coterie of famous friends and admirers), he made a stunning return with “Rainbow Ends” in 2016. Sadly, he passed away quite suddenly last year, a few months after his 70th birthday.
Don, John and David Beaudoin, along with Mike Conley, Chuck McClung and Rick Moser all walked away from the music business. Each found a measure of success in their chosen career paths, raised families and stayed in touch.
The Palace Guard had the goods, tapping into the sort of melodic zeitgeist that would propel both the Byrds and the Zombies to greater heights. Who knows what might have happened if they’d had sharper representation or a record label that was more invested in getting them to the next level. “All Night Long: An Anthology 1965-1967” offers a aural snapshot of those halcyon, early days of Rock & Roll. Back when woodshedding in a garage could lead to gigs on the infamous Sunset Strip, a recording contract and a couple of hit singles. The Guard didn’t get to rule the world, but they definitely left a lasting impression.