‘A Hand Full Of Thorns . . .’

We were heading home from an errand the other day when Neil Young’s unmistakable voice came from the radio speaker, courtesy of WXYG in Sauk Rapids:

Love is a rose
But you better not pick it
It only grows when it’s on the vine
A handful of thorns and
You’ll know you’ve missed it
You lose your love
When you say the word “Mine”

I wanna see what’s never been seen
I wanna live that age old dream
Come on, lass, we can go together
Let’s take the best right now
Take the best right now

I wanna go to an old hoe-down
Long ago in a western town
Pick me up if my feet are draggin’
Give me a lift and I’ll hay your wagon

Love is a rose
But you better not pick it
It only grows when it’s on the vine
A handful of thorns and
You’ll know you’ve missed it
You lose your love
When you say the word “Mine”
Mine, mine

Love is a rose, love is a rose
Love is a rose, love is a rose

“I only know the Linda Ronstadt version,” said the Texas Gal. “Did Neil Young write it?”

“I think so,” I said, being pretty sure that he did.

“It kinda caught me by surprise,” she said. “It was a little different than the way Linda Ronstadt sings it.”

And it is. Ronstadt puts an extra chorus in just before the verse about the hoe-down in the western town, then adds another chorus later on, along with an instrumental, making her version of the tune run about thirty seconds longer.

And the thought came to my mind as we got home: Which one came first? So, I did some digging. And it got a little complicated. The melody first showed up in a Young-penned song called “Dance Dance Dance,” which was first recorded by Young’s back-up band Crazy Horse and released on the group’s self-titled album in 1971. (All of the release information here comes from a combination of Wikipedia, Second Hand Songs, and discogs.)

Somewhere in the next few years, Young gave new words to “Dance Dance Dance” and came up with “Love Is A Rose.” As Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young rehearsed for their 1974 tour, Young recorded the song, planning to include it on an album titled Homegrown. The album was shelved, and Young released his 1974 recording of the song in 1977 on his anthology Decade.

Meanwhile, Ronstadt recorded the song in 1975, releasing it as a single in August of that year and on her album Prisoner In Disguise in September. The single reached No. 63 on the Billboard Hot 100 but stalled when its B-side, “Heat Wave,” began to get air play and went to No. 5. Ronstadt’s album, Prisoner In Disguise, went to No. 4 on the Billboard 200.

Young finally released Homegrown, including “Love Is A Rose,” in the summer of 2000.

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