The Merry-Go-Round had a recording contract with A&M Records when they disbanded in 1969. Rhodes recorded songs at A&M to fulfill that contract, but A&M decided to not release it at the time. Rhodes then decided to go out on his own and bought equipment to make a recording studio in his parents' garage. Rhodes recorded his first album (Emitt Rhodes) in that home studio. He got a recording contract with ABC/Dunhill Records, who released his album, as well as the next two albums he recorded (Mirror and Farewell to Paradise). Rhodes got a $5,000 advance for Emitt Rhodes, which he spent on recording equipment.
His first album was a critical success – Billboard called Rhodes "one of the finest artists on the music scene today" and later called his first album one of the "best albums of the decade". The album reached number 29 on the Billboard charts. The single "Fresh as a Daisy" reached number 54 on the pop chart. Rhodes opened at the Troubadour nightclub on February 9, 1971, concurrent with a large earthquake that struck the Los Angeles area. An ad that ran in Billboard said "That wasn't an earthquake, that was Emitt Rhodes opening at the Troubadour!" Meanwhile, shortly after Emitt Rhodes was released by Dunhill, A&M decided to release their old recordings of The American Dream, which confused record buyers. Mirror was released in 1971 and did reach the top 200 on Billboard's album chart. In 1973 Dunhill released Rhodes' final album, Farewell to Paradise.
Rhodes wrote all of the songs on his albums. On Emitt Rhodes, Mirror, and Farewell to Paradise, he played all of the instruments and sang all of the vocals while recording himself in his home recording studio. He used a four-track recorder for the instruments for Emitt Rhodes and transferred those to an eight-track recorder to add the vocals. He used an eight-track recorder for Mirror, and Farewell to Paradise. The mixdown engineer on Farewell to Paradise was Curt Boettcher, the producer and musician who is best remembered for his work on the "soft pop" albums by Sagittarius and The Millennium.
Rhodes' contract with Dunhill called for an album every six months (six albums over three years) – a schedule that was impossible for Rhodes to meet, due to writing all of the songs and recording each instrument and vocal individually by himself. Dunhill sued Rhodes for $250,000 and withheld royalties because of his failure to deliver albums on the timescale required by the contract. Emitt Rhodes took nearly a year to record, the album Mirror took nine months, and Farewell to Paradise took over a year.
After Farewell to Paradise, Rhodes stopped performing and released no more material, except on compilations. He continued to record his songs in his studio, but they were unreleased except for one song on Listen, Listen. He worked as a recording engineer and record producer for Elektra Records. He runs his own studio for recording other acts. Rhodes' song "Lullabye" (from Emitt Rhodes) was featured in the 2001 Wes Anderson film The Royal Tenenbaums. In January and February 2009, Italian director Cosimo Messeri shot a documentary movie about Emitt Rhodes's vicissitudes: life, past, present, troubles and hopes. The movie, titled The One Man Beatles, was selected for the International Rome Film Festival 2009, and received standing ovations. In 2010 The One Man Beatles was nominated for David di Donatello Award as Best Documentary of 2010. Its US premiere screening was scheduled for May 29, 2010 at the Rhino Records Pop Up Store in Westwood, California.
In 2009, Emitt once again entered the recording studios with a new band and all-new material, joined by the co-founder of The Grass Roots and The Merry-Go-Round drummer Joel Larson, co-founder and former bassist for Counting Crows, Matt Malley, and guitarists Jim Rolfe and Dan Mayer.
In 2010, Rhodes, along with Matt Malley, joined Iain Matthews on a new version of "Time Will Show the Wiser", arranged, produced and performed by Nick Vernier Band. This recording, initially released on Nick Vernier Band's Sessions album, marked Emitt's first new release as a featured artist in almost four decades. Both Emitt and Iain recorded this Rhodes-original early on in their careers, the song being starting points as well as signature works for The Merry-Go-Round and Fairport Convention respectively. The new version united the two singers in an Indian musical setting. Also in 2010, a tribute album titled Long Time, No See was released. It contained Emitt Rhodes songs recorded by various artists.
On November 3, 2011, Emitt released three new songs on iTunes titled "Just Me And You", "What's A Man to Do" and "This Wall Between Us", featuring back up singing by Vicki and Debbi Peterson of the Bangles, and guitar work by Richard Thompson. These were removed from sale shortly after release by recording facility 201 Studios, due to litigation. 201 Studios made them available again in February 2015.
In 2014, Emitt began work with musician/producer Chris Price on a full album of songs, recorded in his original home studio, intended as a stylistic follow-up to Farewell to Paradise. During these sessions, Emitt recorded a cover of the Bee Gees hit "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" for a tribute album called To Love the Bee Gees, released in November 2015 by 80 Proof Records and Tapes. On April 18, 2015, the recording was released as a limited edition 45 rpm single on red vinyl, as a Record Store Day exclusive. On November 12, 2015, the announcement was made that Emitt's first album in 43 years will be released on February 26, 2016 through Omnivore Recordings. The album is titled Rainbow Ends and is produced by Price. It features contributions from Roger Joseph Manning, Jr., Jason Falkner, Aimee Mann, Jon Brion, Susanna Hoffs, Nels Cline, Pat Sansone, Taylor Locke, Fernando Perdomo, Joe Seiders, Bleu, Probyn Gregory and Nelson Bragg. The first single, "Dog On A Chain", featuring harmonies by Mann and a solo by Brion was premiered by the Wall Street Journal's blog Speakeasy. Rainbow Ends was released to favorable reviews, including 4 star reviews from MOJO Magazine, All Music Guide, American Songwriter and a highly favorable review in The Washington Post that said "in a better world [it] would have topped the charts in 1978 or so."The Merry-Go-Round (1967, with The Merry-Go-Round) reached #190 on the Billboard 200
The American Dream (1970) #194
Emitt Rhodes (1970) #29
Mirror (1971) #182
Farewell to Paradise (1973)
Rainbow Ends (2016) #150
Daisy-Fresh from Hawthorne, California (The Best of the Dunhill Years)
Listen, Listen: The Best of Emitt Rhodes
The Merry-Go-Round: Listen, Listen: The Definitive Collection
Royal Tenenbaums: Collector's Edition CD
The Emitt Rhodes Recordings (1969–1972), two CDs:
CD 1: The American Dream (all thirteen songs from both versions) and Emitt Rhodes
CD 2: Mirror, Farewell to Paradise, plus the single "Tame the Lion"
with The Merry-Go-Round:"Live" #63 on pop chart
"Time Will Show the Wiser"
"You're a Very Lovely Woman" #94 on pop chart
"She Laughed Loud"
"'Til the Day After"
solo:"Fresh as a Daisy" #54 on pop chart
"You Take the Dark Out of the Night"
"Live Till You Die"
"With My Face on the Floor"
"Love Will Stone You"
"Really Wanted You"
"Golden Child of God"
"Tame The Lion" / "Those That Die"
"Isn't It So?
"Just Me And You", "What's A Man To Do" / "This Wall Between Us" Released on iTunes, November 3, 2011 (removed from sale); Remixes released on iTunes, February 20, 2015.
"How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" / with Chris Price "Please Read Me" B-side. Limited edition release for Record Store Day, April 18, 2015.