|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)