IntroductionThis was not an easy list to make. It was compiled over several days and I rejigged the order uncounted times. I made five separate iTunes lists: 1-10, 11-20, 21-30, 31-40, 41-50 and played it repeatedly, in an attempt to get it just right. Oddly enough, it was not the top 10 -- nor even top 20 songs -- that were difficult for me to nail down. It was this list below, comprised of numbers 50 through 41, that gave me the most trouble, because I came to the realization that, even after naming 40 favourites, there were dozens more that would not make the cut.
A word about criteria
- Songs must be written or co-written by Gene Clark
- Songs must be sung by Gene (So, because of this, I could not include a track like 'Back Street Mirror,' even though I know there is an extant copy with Gene's original vocal out there somewhere, I have not actually heard it, so I cannot include something simply because I expect Clark's vocal to be superior to Hemmings'.)
- List includes official releases and non-official. My reason for including unofficial/bootleg recordings is to make it clear that many of Gene's most brilliant and heartfelt recordings remain unreleased.
- This is a deeply personal list. I don't expect everyone to agree with all of my choices simply because my experience of Gene Clark's music has been coloured by my own life experiences. I'm sure not many people would even rate a song like 'Kathleen', but it manages to make my top 20 (and was, in fact, the subject of The Clarkophile's kick-off post back in 2008).
Songs are listed by Title > Artist/Group (if applicable) > Album > Composer(s)
50. All I Want - This Byrd Has Flown (Gene Clark/Tom Slocum/Shannon O'Neill)Gene's final studio recording, captured in the months before his death, co-written with Shannon O'Neill and longtime buddy Tom Slocum, features tremendously evocative pedal steel, courtesy of the inimitable Sneaky Pete. World-weary resignation in the verses; mellifluous bliss in the chorus. Solid proof that Gene's muse was healthy in his later years, even if his tortured body and spirit weren't.
49. Changing Heart - Byrds (Gene Clark)
The two songs that Gene brought to Asylum Byrds reunion LP in 1973 are the undisputed high points of that otherwise flaccid affair. It's interesting to note that both 'Changing Heart' and 'Full Circle' address the often fleeting nature of fame. But where the former offers insightful philosophical rumination, the latter reveals uncharacteristic -- if understandable -- frustration with the unpleasant, at times irreconcilable, tension between art and commerce.
48. Train Leaves Here This Mornin' - The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark (Gene Clark/Bernie Leadon)Probably Gene's most widely known song next to 'I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better' and 'Eight Miles High', and even then only because co-writer Bernie Leadon brought it to The Eagles. A sturdy, bullet-proof song that rarely left Gene's live repertoire.
47. After the Storm - (Clark/Robinson)
Written with Pat Robinson in the late '80s. Only known recording sung by Gene is quite obviously a many-generations-removed dub (featuring pre-digital foes like tape hiss, distortion and speed issues) and marred by thumping drum machine. Even so, it's a solid song with a moving vocal from Gene.
When I interviewed her in 2009, Carla Olson remembered that Gene was very proud of the main riff. Lyrically, it's an emotional autopsy of a failed relationship, albeit one that raises more questions than answers. Carla recorded it for the long-OOP Not Lame CD, Full Circle: A Tribute To Gene Clark.
46. Rain Song - Firebyrd (Clark/Kandanes)A good song with a stirring vocal that is compromised by plodding, lifeless production and backing vocals that raise the song's "Pablo Cruise Threat Level" to Orange/High.
45. Straight from the Heart (Gene Clark)
For many musicians like Gene who made their bones in the 1960s, the '80s were tough, both from a professional and financial perspective (it wasn't for nothing that Rogan called it "The Dark Decade"). Many of Gene's songs from the period (like this one) reflected upon "fortunes loss" and the realization that money was not, in fact, the be-all, end-all of life. This sentiment pretty much flies in the face of the "greed is good" mentality we associate with the time.
Tom Slocum says the demo was produced by Jim Dickson, which probably dates it from the early '80s.
44. The Day Walk - The Byrds - Turn! Turn! Turn! Legacy CD (Gene Clark)The Byrds had very little time off in 1965. Christopher Hjort's excellent daily diary of the band's activities So You Want To Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star makes it clear that most days were filled up with personal appearances, TV shows, recording sessions and non-stop travel. This song, recorded only a few months before his airport breakdown, provides ample evidence that the pressures, commitments and anxiety of sudden fame were getting to Gene. But he was not yet prepared to come out and say it, and so the pitfalls of fame were cloaked in Dylanesque imagery and mysterious allusions to "it" as an ultimately unsatisfying "thing":
But the emptiness of a thing that's less than it was thought to be / Has left you wondering just how much more?
43. She Has a Way- The Byrds - Mr. Tambourine Man Legacy CD (Gene Clark)
In the hands of a lesser composer this would come across as self-pitying and morose. But Gene's chivalric code, earnestness and wide-eyed optimism carried the day. You believed every word he sang. This is what separates a writer of Gene Clark's calibre from calculating, opportunistic hacks like Robin Thicke and his ill-fated Paula project.
42. Kansas City Southern - Dillard & Clark - Through the Morning, Through the Night (Gene Clark)
One of four train songs that Gene wrote (along with 'The Daylight Line' 'I Remember the Railroad' and 'Train Leaves Here This Mornin''), 'Kansas City Southern' is a spirited reflection upon youth as a time when one's imagination of the future was as limitless as the set of tracks leading away from home.
41. That's Alright By Me - Flying High (Gene Clark)Gene must've had some hope for 'That's Alright By Me'. It was first attempted during the ill-fated Sings for You sessions in late 1967 (augmented by thick layer of mellotron "strings"), then resurrected shortly afterward during Gene's brief alliance with Laramy Smith as part of the aborted Phoenix project. Great twangy guitar sound, solemn delivery and a chorus that shows a Byrd in full flight.