The first of­fi­cial re­lease of the for­mer Byrd’s leg­endary 1967 demos takes us straight to the heart of his wilder­ness years.

Mojo (UK) - - Contents - By Jon Sav­age.

Gene Clark un­earthed. Plus, Bruce Spring­steen, Nina Si­mone, Brian Eno, Zuider Zee, Diana Ross And The Supremes and more.

Gene Clark


Gene Clark Sings For You

OM­NI­VORE. CD/DL/LP 1967 was a frus­trat­ing year for Gene Clark. It started well with the re­lease of his first solo al­bum, but in June – while his erst­while band­mates played the era-defin­ing Mon­terey Pop fes­ti­val – he was out of a record con­tract. De­spite be­ing a pro­lific writer and a ma­jor player in one of the big­gest Amer­i­can groups of the pe­riod, he would not re­lease an­other record un­til Oc­to­ber 1968, and that was not a solo project but a col­lab­o­ra­tion, The Fan­tas­tic Ex­pe­di­tion Of Dil­lard & Clark. This col­lec­tion – a holy grail for Clark fans – comes from the heart of this wilder­ness pe­riod. Clark had been a ma­jor star only the year be­fore, so God knows what he must have felt as the Cal­i­for­nian mu­sic in­dus­try ex­ploded with­out him. Per­haps one in­di­ca­tion comes in the strong­est song here, the gor­geous On Her Own, in which San Fran­cisco is re­peat­edly men­tioned: not as an ide­alised sun-drenched hippy haven, but as a place of hope­less pil­grim­age and deep sad­ness, all mist and rain. It’s not too dif­fi­cult to see that Clark suf­fered a dras­tic loss of con­fi­dence af­ter leav­ing The Byrds. Cer­tainly, Columbia Records did him no favours by re­leas­ing his first solo al­bum, a fine mix­ture of 1966 Bea­tles-es­que Mod pop and the first stir­rings of coun­try rock, both as a col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Gos­din Broth­ers and in the same week as The Byrds’ Younger Than Yes­ter­day. It’s as though they had al­ready made him a lesser pri­or­ity. Peo­ple didn’t leave hit groups with­out some kind of jeop­ardy in the mid-’60s, and this lack of sup­port con­tin­ued. The next record­ings Clark made for Columbia were for a cover of an Ian & Sylvia tune, The French Girl. Af­ter So You Lost Your Baby stiffed as a sin­gle in April 1967, that was it as far as Columbia were con­cerned. Clark was cast adrift, but he didn’t stop writ­ing: the tap that had been turned on in 1964 would not be turned off, and these 13 songs are a small per­cent­age of the dozens that he wrote dur­ing this pe­riod. The sound qual­ity is fairly prim­i­tive: just Clark’s gui­tar, a ba­sic and un­cred­ited rhythm sec­tion, and Alex Del Zoppo on pi­ano and Cham­ber­lin Strings (an Amer­i­can ver­sion of the Mel­lotron). Clearly these songs are not an un­re­leased al­bum but demos, cut just to re­lease the pres­sure of writ­ing so many songs. Their ori­gin from an ac­etate is well dis­guised, but the fact they are rushed comes out in Clark’s hur­ried vo­cals – crack­ing on the high notes in sev­eral places – and poor mix­ing, of the drums in par­tic­u­lar. This takes a few plays to get through, but once you’re in, there are many de­lights. The open­ing lyrics of On Her Own be­gin with “What dou­ble lines I must have been cross­ing/Be­tween the bold awak­en­ing and the asleep”, and the 13 songs are full of Clark’s Dy­lan-in­spired po­etry: har­nessed, un­like Dy­lan him­self, to the ser­vice of pure emo­tion. The pre­dom­i­nant mood is down­beat, with ob­ser­va­tions of city scenes and el­e­men­tal im­ages adding depth to in­ti­mate sce­nar­ios of mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion, sep­a­ra­tion, love af­fairs gone wrong. The eight tracks from the ac­etate of­fer vari­a­tions of pace on the ba­sic theme. Past Tense is a good rocker that could eas­ily have fit­ted on his first solo al­bum, with a sce­nario not too dis­tant from You’re Gonna Lose That Girl. Past My Door be­gins in ab­jec­tion – “Well I didn’t in­tend to linger at your door” – be­fore pick­ing up speed and spac­ing out – “Took a walk with you/The clouds were blue on the bot­tom and white on the top” – and re­solv­ing in an in­stru­men­tal coda. Dom­i­nated by a strange rolling drum pat­tern, That’s Al­right By Me is an­other walk-out song. Its do­lor­ous tones are light­ened by a melodic cho­rus line and one of the ses­sions’ more de­vel­oped ar­range­ments, with a dy­namic group per­for­mance sweet­ened by strings. Alone of these songs, it would be re­vis­ited in Fe­bru­ary 1968 in Clark’s first ses­sion af­ter sign­ing to A&M. That’s Al­right… segues into the fast, switch­back melody of One Way Road, a wel­come para­dox of up-tempo sad­ness that you can only won­der how the Byrds would have en­hanced. Down On the Pier is one of the weight­ier pieces, with a hyp­notic cho­rus line and cal­liope sounds un­der­pin­ning a lyric of lone­li­ness and de­ser­tion – “The hours I’ve spent on a lone­li­ness spree” – that quotes Heart­break Ho­tel and pre­fig­ures the feel­ing of Otis Red­ding’s Dock Of The Bay: “I’m here down on the pier/But you’re never here/There’s no-one but me.” The most sub­stan­tial track, 7:30 Mode, is a six-minute epic that points for­ward to the com­plex­i­ties of No Other. Ben­e­fit­ting from a rea­son­able pro­duc­tion, it was ob­vi­ously in­tended as a grand state­ment. The im­ages flash by with hal­lu­ci­na­tory pre­ci­sion and the emo­tion is sure and true. Clark’s de­pres­sion at his Byrds ex­pe­ri­ence and lack of sub­se­quent suc­cess can be heard in lines such as “He blew un­til his notes were lent un­able/His soul stripped bare to bleed of its re­morse/In­cred­i­ble ar­mada un­der­mined.” The ad­di­tional songs are from a dif­fer­ent, un­dated ses­sion: from their con­struc­tion and ap­proach, they were recorded be­fore the Sings For You demos. Most are com­pletely acous­tic, and wor­thy of in­clu­sion: the Pos­i­tively 4th Street acrostic On Tenth Street and the more Bea­tles-es­que Un­der­stand Me and A Long Time. The lat­ter and Till To­day were given to The Rose Gar­den and in­cluded on their one and only al­bum (also reis­sued by Om­ni­vore as A Trip Through The Gar­den). Sings For You is an im­por­tant is­sue but not that easy a lis­ten. The less-than-stel­lar fidelity does not en­hance the de­pres­sive mood of com­po­si­tions such as Yes­ter­day Am I Right. The im­pres­sion given is that, de­spite all his fame and for­tune – sym­bol­ised by his cho­co­late brown Porsche, once owned by Steve McQueen – Gene Clark was a de­pres­sive, soli­tary man who was un­able to shrug off ca­reer dis­ap­point­ments, but was com­pelled to re­visit them in the rep­e­ti­tious cy­cle pre­fig­ured here.


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