I was delighted to see perhaps my favourite rock-related album given the full re-release treatment recently. When I first heard No Other, in 1976, I immediately loved it, from the kick-ass opening bars of “Life’s Greatest Fool” through to the ineffably affecting strains of the concluding “Lady of the North”. Punk was about to kick off, but, before I dived into it, I listened intently to this recording and to the eponymous double album by Manassas (whose Joe Lala features on No Other), another country rock classic, which have both remained at the very top of my ‘best of’ lists, and it is so great to see that No Other, at least, has gradually, over the years, become to be fully recognised, and to be spoken of in the same terms as Sergeant Peppers and Pet Sounds. No Other was only released on compact disc in 2002, and now this definitive remastering will become the edition to have, even though it only contains one ‘new’ track, ‘Train Leaves Here This Morning’, which sounds more like a sixties Clark number and demonstrates why it was left off the original vinyl creation, despite its undoubted quality as a composition. It’s lyrics are considerably less ‘cosmic’ than it’s siblings, and it’s down-home qualities make it a much more standard country tune than the philosophical quiddities that make No Other 1.0. so challenging.
The great Brian Morton, in this January’s Wire magazine, describes the brilliant sequencing of the track order on the original 1974 album, which is “still the perfect set list”, and is is odd on first hearing the different ordering of the ‘canonical eight’ of the ‘alternative versions’ on the second CD (the first recreates the vinyl sequence of the 8 near-faultless compositions, with no extra ‘filler’ deemed to be needed). It can, of course, be argued that the original No Other is entire unto itself (like Forever Changes, for example), an argument that I have considerable sympathy for. To make comparisons, the only other albums that I have several copies of (more than two, that is) are Forever Changes itself and Highway 61 Revisited. Some albums are so good that you want everything associated with the sessions that produced them, an approach that tends to leave normal people completely baffled. So, I love No Other so much that I was prepared to fork out twenty quid to purchase music that I already possess, both on vinyl and CD, with the addition of one track of about 4 minutes length, and different versions of the ur-tracks, that I had a loving relationship with for over forty years.
The alternate versions are interesting and essential for we No Other obsessives, of course! There is one for each original track, and, to me, they sound like preparations for the grand feast, less sumptuous, but still bearing the hallmark of wonderful songwriting and ripe for an ambitious producer. What is missing in these prototypes is the massed choirs and the ‘strength of strings’ of the final work, much less monumentalism, much less grandiosity (the latter quality being the factor that either makes or break No Other for most folk). Only ‘Spanish Guitar’ (a firm favourite of Bob Dylan) on Clark’s 1971 White Light (which also demands retrospective attention and acknowledgement) gave notice of what Clark was to achieve in the Village Recorder studio in L.A. three years later. I, for one, am more than pleased that its standing in the history books appears to be ever-increasing. Now for similar recognition for Stephen Stills’ sophomoric triumph Manassas?