A Dance to the Music of Time is my attempt to pinpoint exactly why I like pop music (and also try my hand at music criticism). It’s entirely subjective, but if you’re interested in starting a conversation I’ll be down in the comments. It’s gonna be published whenever I feel like it and I’ve no intention to target specific songs — when a song gives me joy or makes me think hard enough, I’ll do it on the spot.
The Song: “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)”
from the 1971 album Already by Edison Lighthouse
reached #1 on the UK Singles Chart
Everything about “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” is an illusion. And I mean everything.
Let’s start with the band: “Edison Lighthouse” didn’t exist. (We’re off to a great start, aren’t we?) When the record appeared in stores in January 1970, few people knew it was a pseudonym, a cover for Tony Macaulay and Barry Mason: two songwriters who’d just happened to write a song and wanted to get a hit. The actual singer was Tony Burrows, a man who’d lent his voice to dozens of recordings, all of them under a different name: the week “Love Grows” was released, two other fake groups with his vocals were zooming up into the top ten. (Fake groups were all the rage in early 1970 — over in America, producer Tony Orlando was recording a song called “Candida” for a rival music company. Fearing retribution from his own company, he released it under the name “Dawn”.)
Burrows, like everyone else on the record, was just a session musician — a versatile one, yes, but to him “Love Grows” was just another job. But when it hit #1 in the UK, they had to hastily assemble a group that could actually perform the song on Top of the Pops. A soft rock band called Greenfield Hammer was quickly procured and rebranded, their name punning on the infamous Eddystone Lighthouse in Cornwall, which among other things had a notorious reputation of killing anybody who happened to be standing too near it. Despite this rather inauspicious beginning, though, they were famous — even though they had nothing to do with the song that made them superstars.
Then there’s the title. What kind of a title is “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)”? It’s cumbersome, it’s got too many r’s, and it makes absolutely no sense at all. How in the world, may I ask, does the going of Rosemary induce the growing of love? Is love a plant of some sort now? Can you sprinkle handfuls of love onto steaks? It doesn’t sound right. It sounds like somebody messed up trying to name the song and the resulting word salad was imported wholesale onto the paper. Reading the title, you feel that either the “grows” or the “goes” is a mistake, and you’re not sure which one. Shouldn’t it be, for example, “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Grows)”? That would turn it into something of a botanical paean, but at least it would make sense. It would make more sense than the absolutely bonkers idea of somebody called Rosemary making an abstract concept grow out of the ground — and yet it draws you in.
We’re still not done with picking this one apart. Because here’s the big question: who on Earth is Rosemary? At first I thought it actually had something to do with the herb, and that the singer was some kind of enthusiastic gardener. But no, the lyrics seem insistent that there’s a “she” behind all of this, that it’s a person making our narrator feel excited and ecstatic. Very well, there exists a person called Rosemary. But what kind of person is Rosemary (if Rosemary is even her real name, that is)? Surely we can rely on the lyrics to inform us? Bad luck: so much of these lyrics try and fail to do so. Whatever description we get of her is so vague it makes you want to punch the singer. “Her clothes are kind of funny”. “Her hair is kind of wild and free”. “She talks kind of lazy”. It’s always kind of, qualifying and blurring the already-simple terms we have to work with. It’s like we’ve been given a portrait of Rosemary, but the paint is running everywhere and there’s no way of seeing her face for sure. Just tell us what she’s like, man! We want to know how pretty she is, how she walks and how she really talks, not “kind of” all the time!
A closer look at Rosemary makes the whole thing even seem faintly alarming. The first thing we hear about her is that “she ain’t got no money”. Hardly the best of signs, but he goes on: “people say she’s crazy, and her life’s a mystery”. And she has a magical hold on the singer, one that’s “working so well that I can’t get away”. This is the sort of person that makes you run for the hills, not into her arms. In fact, none of the lyrics seem to support the idea that this is somebody we should be falling in love with. We have the antithesis of love at work here, an easily-broken illusion of a woman that should unsettle us instead of making us fall for her.
Normally at this point the literature student in me would be dying to point out the chinks in the armour, the signs that the singer is having doubts. This should be easy, given that Rosemary is no attractive mortal. But this is impossible when we listen to the song itself. Tony Burrows is simply exploding with joy anytime we hear him during this song: you can hear his heart lifting up to the heavens every time he sings “BECAUSE love GROWS WHERE my Rosemary GOES!”. The instrumentation, too, is excited in a way that you’ve never heard it before: the swelling strings, the monstrously unforgettable guitar riff and above all the extremely predictable key change after the second bridge. It’s all gloriously fun and wonderful to hear, despite everything about Rosemary pointing towards a catastrophic breakup. This is not a man who has anxieties about his relationship. There are no Stepford smiles, no signs of bewitchment — the happiness is for real, and Tony Burrow’s voice carries the utter conviction that he’s in the right. Because, to put it simply, he is.
This is one of those cases where “lyrical dissonance” just doesn’t apply. Normally when we hear lyrics like these, at least we remain clearheaded enough to maintain our distance, to keep ourselves quietly appreciative and analytical about everything in the song. But we’re won over as well when it comes to “Love Grows”. This isn’t a situation like “Always on My Mind”, where the music is so free and fancy that we forget the vision of darkness behind it. This is a place where you get convinced that these are all virtues. Having no money just makes her a Bohemian figure, her hair being wild and free points us to her unrestrained nature, and as for the “talking kind of lazy” bit, since when has talking assiduously been a good thing for anyone? In a way, her life being a mystery isn’t a defect, it just makes her all the more adorable, desirable, even. Nobody in their right mind would ever think of these as good things, of course, but the way the singer makes it sound, you can’t help but be converted as well. We lose our minds along with him. (And he knows it too — the last words you hear in the song are “believe it when you’ve seen it, nobody knows like me!” He knows what she’s like, a subtle rebuke to all the people who’ve said she’s crazy, to all the people who just don’t get it.) Yes, something will inevitably go wrong between him and Rosemary in the future. But that’s for clearer heads to contemplate, and in the presence of this man, there can be no clear heads.
The “my partner is horrendous but I love them anyway” trope isn’t a new one — there’s a pretty famous sonnet by Shakespeare that uses this exact same premise — but what I love about this song is that it doesn’t set itself apart by trying to distil the experience of love into its purest form. It doesn’t seek to answer the question of what true love is, the way the Beach Boys were constantly trying to do. Nor is it any good in a metafictional sense — its lyrics are sparse and absolutely laden with cliches, and the song is so simple that a musicologist would laugh at such banality. Instead, I like to think that it wins you over through sheer audacity: selling you its own happiness, and trusting that its own enthusiasm is enough. And on that front, it succeeds: “Love Grows” is, at its heart, a sugar rush of a song. It’s absolutely saccharine and hammy, the electricity of the guitar (in so many ways) carrying through the electricity of Rosemary and of the most blissful love.
But it’s more than that as well, because you never feel bereft after it’s finished. A lot of happy pop songs create an addiction loop in their wake — they make themselves so happy that you finish the song and end up feeling melancholy, cause you feel like it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, cause you think you’ll never feel like that ever again. You look for more songs to fill the gap. That doesn’t happen with this song: you might return to the beginning to savour it once more, but after you move on, there’s no feeling that you’ve lost something forever. Instead, you feel fulfilled, a better person simply for having listened to the song. You feel happy for the singer, you agree that he’s found the perfect girl. You are, in a sense, content with this illusion.
And that’s ultimately what makes “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” so special: it doesn’t need to pull on memories or thoughts of love to carry you along. Those are just too easily tainted by hints of sadness. All it needs is for you to be happy, with its wholesome celebration of some guy’s love — a pick-me-up for whenever you feel lonely. Neither you or him really know what’s going on, and why should you? After all, clarity can be a bit overrated sometimes. “If you’ve met her, you’ll never forget her”, indeed.