The first official release of the former Byrd’s legendary 1967 demos takes us straight to the heart of his wilderness years.
Gene Clark unearthed. Plus, Bruce Springsteen, Nina Simone, Brian Eno, Zuider Zee, Diana Ross And The Supremes and more.
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.
“SAN FRANCISCO AS A PLACE OF HOPELESS PILGRIMAGE AND DEEP SADNESS, ALL MIST AND RAIN.”