Friday, 10 February 2012

'If I Hang Around' Part 1


Gene Clark in '66/'67: Caught between the Byrd he was, and the poet he was becoming.


'If I Hang Around'

1966 demo recording, released on Byrd Parts 2, Raven Records 2003

Post-Byrds/pre-Dillard & Clark disillusionment
As mentioned in my earlier discussion of the Gene Clark Sings for You acetate, it is now painfully apparent that, after his hasty departure from The Byrds, Gene simply had no clear-cut direction in which to take his music in furtherance of a serious solo career.
Einarson makes it very clear that although Gene recorded extensively throughout this period, the material he came up with (outside of the uniformly excellent tracks on his debut, of course – although these too run a gamut of stylistic explorations) positively reeked of disillusionment, crippling self-doubt, lack of focus/follow-through, and general confusion.
The Sings for You material featured one nicely produced orchestral track (‘That’s Alright By Me’), alongside seven other dubiously produced, clumsily performed outings, wherein Gene’s melodies could be clunky, out of tune and monotonous (‘7:30 Mode’), lazy and undistinguished (‘One Way Road’), or simply carelessly assembled and shoddily performed (‘Past My Door’). 

A lyricist of consequence

The lyrics, however, are another matter entirely.  Impeccably written, full of abstruse musings, ornate descriptions and complex, multi-layered wordplay that asked the listener to tease out meanings like some kind of biographical puzzle, it is easy to picture Gene sitting down to write these songs with a pen and paper.  It is altogether more difficult to picture him sitting with his guitar to write these songs.  At times, the music seems like no more than an afterthought.
Somewhere between the lavishly detailed, disciplined poetry of the Sings for You material, and the callous disregard evident in its subsequent recording, there was some form of disconnect; one that prevented Gene’s muse from reconciling his established reputation as the master of minor-key melancholia with his astonishing emergence as a lyricist of consequence.

“...akin to Dylan singing in front of the Left Banke”

Similarly, other forays into the studio produced a mixed bag of also-rans, false starts and attempts to regroup/relaunch Gene’s career both prior to and after the commercial failure of the Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers debut.


The demos recorded by the Gene Clark Group in 1966 were deemed a disappointment by all involved, prompting Clark to quickly extricate himself from the situation.

In 1967, there was the dreamy and mysterious ‘Only Colombe’/’The French Girl’ 45 that sounded, as Sid Griffin so memorably put it, “akin to Dylan singing in front of the Left Banke.”   Notwithstanding their excellence, these tracks were deemed unsuitable, and plans for the single were aborted shortly before its projected release.

Then there were the three recordings (‘Yesterday Am I Right’ ‘Without You’ and ‘Don’t Let it Fall Through’) made at Gold Star, featuring Gene and trumpeter Hugh Masekela (along with Chris Hillman on bass), the results of which, according to John Einarson, were “bizarre.” 

Apart from ‘Only Colombe’/’The French Girl’ (as featured on the Echoes compilation, approved by Gene shortly before his death) none of this material would ever be revisited.  It was simply cast aside.

Gene’s batting average in the Byrds was pretty much unimpeachable.  He contributions to the first two Byrds’ albums oftentimes provided the most satisfying moments of otherwise uneven releases.  Gene’s songs gave Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn! their commercial appeal as well as their emotional depth; ‘Eight Miles High’ gave Fifth Dimension its backbone and one of the Byrds’ best-loved songs.

But in 1966 and 1967, estranged from both the Byrds and apparently his own muse, Gene was struggling.
So what from this era could be considered an unmitigated success?

‘If I Hang’ around is the answer. 

(Part 2 will follow)

10 comments:

Sha said...

Hi Tom,

sorry for my lack of commenting lately. I'm still enjoying your blog though :-)

'If I Hang Around' is a special favourite of mine. I'm looking forward to part 2.

Sha

Montagu Square said...

A brilliantly perceptive and deeply empathetic critique.

‘If I Hang Around’ is the answer, indeed.

Because it is Gene, and therefore we have grown accustomed to the disappointments as well as the triumphs, I am biting my lip at the crushing implications that this exquisite melody and lyric may be the best we should expect of the lost treasure of ‘66. (Indeed, it is coming to terms with this terrible possibility that has prevented me from commenting on this piece ‘til now).

I have only recently heard the song, and it is love. That Gene could choose to discard such a gem so easily makes me hope, foolishly, that there is more still yet to be found. But, if ‘If…’ must be ‘all’, then I will be content.

Now, please don’t spoil all of my illusions in Part 2 by claiming that Gene is definitely not singing to a certain siren…

The Clarkophile said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Clarkophile said...

Thank you very much for the comments! I appreciate them very much.

To MS: I have no intention of disappointing you by failing to claim such a thing! ;)

To Sha: Nice to hear from you again!

Montagu Square said...

I knew it. Arghh.

The Clarkophile said...

Wait a minute, I'm confused! Are you saying you believe the song IS about you-know-who or are you saying you hope it IS NOT about you-know-who?

Montagu Square said...

Probably best I just wait for Part Two.

(I want them all to be about Michelle, or, failing that, a go-go dancer from Ciro's).

The Clarkophile said...

Heh, I think we're on the same page.

nolan voyd said...

Great work Tom. A Zen master once said that as we get older we are expected to have all the answers but instead we get better questions. Waiting for Part 2. Keep up the great work.

8mileshigh said...

Interesting analysis. Looking forward to part 2.