It Must Have Been the Roses

Easter 2021

Photo by David Bartus from Pexels

It strikes me as more than a bit ironic that the flower most associated with Easter–the Christian feast day celebrating the Ressurection–is also the one most likely to be encountered at a funeral.

Maybe lyricists noticed the same thing. Because when it comes to inspiration, there are only a handful of songs inspired by lilies, while the scribe in search of songs about roses faces the daunting task of editorial selection.

Here then is the product of one man’s selection exercise. It’s the usual baker’s half-dozen followed by a playlist.

And may the promise of renewal be with you.

Love is a Rose— Neil Young (1974)

In the liner notes to Decade Neil says he wrote this song specifically for Linda Rondstadt and it’s true, she had a hit with a full-on country version of the song a year after he recorded the version you can listen to in the playlist. No one would ever confuse Neil’s thin, reedy voice with Ronstadt’s and these lyrics are neither especially poetic nor insightful. Nevertheless, for some reason, this almost-demo-like song has stuck in my head for decades now. The period video is worth a peek to see Neil play a banjitar.

Ramble on Rose–Grateful Dead (1972)

Until Axl and the Gunners arrived I don’t think any band had more of a rose fixation than the Grateful Dead. Songs, albums, artwork, the roses proliferate. Maybe that’s why they’ll appear twice in the playlist, if not on the page. Here, the line-up I saw perform takes on one of my favorites, a song that first appeared on Europe ’72.  I can wax overly sentimental about the oddball stew our country is. Maybe that’s why I love Robert Hunter‘s catalog of Americana, right down to the echo of Nat King Cole in the song’s name.

Blood and Roses–The Smithereens (1986)

If D Minor is the saddest of keys, then E minor is downright gothic. Of the many ways I might try to convince you of that, there’s none better than this gem from the debut album by one of  New Jersey‘s greatest, lamentably undersung bands. I love everything about The Smithereens-the classic line-up, the punchy songs, even that their hometown is Carteret. The next time someone tells you it’s not possible to tear up the house with cowboy chords, play some Smithereens for them.

Roses in the Snow–Emmylou Harris (1980)

I fell in love with Emmylou about a year before this record came out and she’s kept a place in my heart and musical head ever since. You might think, given the songs above, that roses and melancholy exist as a sort of lyrical Reese’s peanut butter cup.  And much of this album might back that thought up, but not this title number which is about as exuberant a bluegrass tune as you’ll ever find. Emmylou’s birthday was this past Friday. Happy birthday, ma’am.

Everything’s Coming Up Roses–Ethel Merman (1959)

Having nimbly leapt to the sunnier side of the street you didn’t think I’d pass up the chance to visit with mid-century Broadway, did you?  Gypsy, the 1959 Jule StyneStephen Sondheim musical, spawned a number of hit songs, including what became a signature song for the show’s star. The original production ran for 702 performances and The Merm was spectacular, as can be seen here.

Rose Garden–Morrisey (2017)

Sometime around 1971 or 1972 Lynn Anderson burrowed her way into my musical consciousness with her biggest hit. It being the early 70s, the song was given the full countrypolitan treatment. Like they say, you can’t keep a good song down and it’s turned up over and over again through the years, notably on K.D. Lang‘s 1987 debut record, Angel with a Lariat. But no subsequent rendering may be as unexpected as Steven Morrisey‘s 2017 cover, recorded live at the Grand Ole Opry.


English Rose–Paul Weller (2001)

Back when I first heard All Mod Cons, the 1978 album by The Jam on which this song originally appeared, it irked me. I couldn’t fathom what it was doing amidst all those other songs of, to use a pet phrase of the era, righteous indignation. By the 2001 release of Days of Speed, I’d grown to tolerate it. Now I see it as spectacularly English in the way that only Weller and Ray Davies seem able to be.


As I said, there are dozens and dozens of rose songs before you even start to address the issue of versions. Here’s a cross-section. I promise you’ll find the big hits that set me off on this idea. They didn’t need any extra help from me, which is why they do not appear above.  As always,  I hope you find something that tickles your eardrums or reminds you of a special moment.



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