“I’ll Plant My Own Tree” — Song for a Sunday

I’m oddly ashamed to admit this, but somehow the song “I’ll Plant My Own Tree” never hit my radar until last week.

Movie poster Fair use

Maybe that’s not surprising: I’ve never seen the movie Valley of the Dolls. I’ve never been a huge fan of André and Dory Previn, who wrote the song. And while I like Judy Garland just fine, I’ve never obsessively combed the more obscure corners of her discography.

Garland recorded “I’ll Plant My Own Tree” because she was supposed to play the character who sings it in Valley of the Dolls. She dropped out early in the filming, replaced by Susan Heyward.

The song hit my radar this week when some friends of mine posted an American Gothic-like photograph of themselves, after planting, um, their own tree. So I clicked on the song link and there was Susan Heyward in a glittery gown, belting it out while a giant Calder-esque mobile swirled around her, casting trippy pseudo-psychedelic colored shadows. The setting, choreography, and the relentless 1960s-ness of the arrangement made it impossible for me to form an opinion about the song.

Next stop, Judy. No setting or stilted choreography to worry about here—the only thing that exists is audio. But the arrangement is even more aggressive, like the conductor and the entire orchestra were on speed. And about as subtle as a truck.

Was that really the best I could find?

Lena Horne plants her own tree

And then I found Lena Horne’s performance. Still a little too peppy for my taste—someday maybe I’ll sing this song the way I hear it in my head. But the emotional intensity gave me goosebumps. No doubt about it, Lena Horne is going to plant her own tree. And if anyone tries to stop her, she may just bite their head off.

Full disclosure: I would like to bite the head off whoever posted this video. It’s the entire song MINUS the climactic ending. There’s a special place in hell for you, whoever you are. Still, there’s enough here to make you fall in love—or at least serious like.

Go plant your own damn tree this week. I know I will.

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