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Gene Clark - A  Brief Appreciation of a Brief Flight

My recent explorations of some of the superstar singer/songwriters who began to record in the mid- late sixties ( i.e. back into the era before the genre became codified), have led me to re-examine the likes of Leonard Cohen, Van Dyke Parks, Joni Mitchell, David Ackles and Laura Nyro. Over the past few days, I have finally arrived at one of Dylan’s most talented immediate successors, who is one of the least feted of this talented group, both during his pomp and after his very early death in 1991. This is a sad state of affairs - Clark’s catalogue is not a huge one, only four studio albums after he left The Byrds. It can be sampled in a very short space of time, but I have spent over forty years fully appreciate what a subtle and emotionally satisfying an artist this troubled man was.

I dug out an old tape of 1966′s With The Godsin Brothers, and what a fine period piece it remains, part early folk-rock a la Byrds (’Think I’m Going To Feel Better’, ‘Is Yours, Is Mine, ‘The Same One’’, ‘Couldn’t Believe Her’), part pre-No Other baroque, Beatles-influenced, pop rock-pop (the opening ‘Echoes’, ‘So You Say You Lost Your Baby’) part country-rock (’Keep On Pushin’, ‘Needing Someone’) and proto- freakbeat (’Elevator Operator’) all weighing in total at under thirty minutes of understatement and sheer potential, worthy of Guided By Voices or The Minutemen. Those familiar with Pete Frame’s Rock Tree which accompanied the original History of the Byrds double vinyl set and the eventual CD box set (one of the first such retrospective monster,in 1990,  I seem to remember), can get a sense of the huge influence that the wing span of this outfit has cast, reflected in Johnny Rogan’s equally expansive literary history of the band, ‘Timeless Flight’. Clark’s recordings remain my favouirite of the Byrds diaspora - I much prefer his music to that of the overrated self-publiciser Gram Parsons and the grossly under-achieving McGuinn, but have a lot of time for that West Coast ‘cult classic’ of band blowhard David Crosby, 1971′s If Only I Could Remember My Name (an amnesiac condition that Crosby seemed to see as an asset). The latter album and Clark’s No Other remain my favourite Byrds-related product, alongside Younger Than Yesterday and The Notorious Byrd Brothers. My relative dislike of Sweetheart of the Rodeo emanates from a pronounced  non-preference for country-rock as a genre, but Clark’s work remains an exception to this loosely-held tenet. His work with Doug Dillard and

For many years (from around my first hearing it 1976) I have named No Other as probably my favourite rock/pop album of all (along with Love’s perennial Forever Changes and the Manassas double album, just to let people know) I can’t do justice to No Other in one or even three blogs, so I’ll just leave it for listeners to discover for themselves. Clark’s voice is utterly distinctive and he remains one of rock’s great poets of love lost and the lovelorn. Chris Hillman is there from The Byrds and Parsons’s Flying Burrito Brothers, who, along with percussionist Joe Lala, forms a satisfying link to Manassas. The fact that Manassas also had a considerable country-rock feel rather puts paid to my notion of not really liking the form, however. Oh well, consistency be damned.

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