Tuesday, 5 August 2014

50 Favourites Countdown (Continued): 40-31

I expected to receive some criticism for my choices thus far -- and you didn't let me down -- but let me reiterate that I'm not attempting to compile a definitive list of Gene's greatest accomplishments here, I'm simply trying to map out those songs that have had the greatest impact on me.

That said, I enjoy hearing people stick up for their favourites!  I especially enjoyed the comment about 'All I Want'!

40.  You Showed Me -- The Byrds The Preflyte Sessions (McGuinn-Clark)
A real head-scratcher. Fifty years after its recording I'm still waiting for a reasonable explanation as to why the Byrds chose not to include 'You Showed Me' on their debut LP, Mr. Tambourine Man. It's an extraordinary composition, far superior to some of MTM's lesser lights ('Spanish Harlem Incident', 'Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe', 'It's No Use') with a hypnotic melody and plenty of rough-edged, youthful exuberance (i.e. Michael Clarke's gloriously chaotic drumming) that could have been smoothed over at Columbia. That it never made it past the World Pacific demos was a major miscalculation on someone's part. It would have fit nicely on either the debut or the followup, Turn! Turn! Turn! Perhaps the Byrds felt the song was, by 1965, dated in some way? If so, that rationale would later prove unfounded.

In the latter half of the sixties, ex-Gene Clark Group member Chip Douglas requested a copy of some of Gene's demos for consideration. 'You Showed Me' was one of the tracks that was included on the tape. Douglas took it to the Turtles and voila, a hit was created in 1969. That fact stands as the greatest evidence of the song's commercial potential.  Can you imagine, say, 'It's No Use' becoming a hit with a slowed-down arrangement?  Proof that while the Byrds got a lot of things right, they also made some terrible decisions.  Of course, I'm sure Gene and Roger enjoyed the unexpected windfall.



39. Gypsy Rider - Gene Clark/Carla Olson - So Rebellious a Lover (Gene Clark)
In the sixties and seventies the motorcycle culture was popularized through its occasionally frightening association with music and films.  Think Hell's Angels, Altamont, the films Easy Rider and The Wild Angels (and the endless series of exploitation rip-offs they spawned). Rock took the macho swagger and tough, non-conformist biker ethos, and transformed it into powerful expressions of individuality, freedom, desperation -- and pure, raucous excitement. Songs like Steppenwolf's 'Born to Be Wild' and later, Bruce Springsteen's 'Born to Run', epitomized this ideal, in both their lyrical approach and Wagnerian musical bluster.

'Gypsy Rider' attempts none of this; the music is completely devoid of swagger and bombast. But that is what makes it so compelling.  Instead, we hear the deliberate, slow strum of an acoustic guitar (instantly recognizable as Gene's), over which lines are delivered in that soaring and stately, quasi-operatic vibrato style I've mentioned so many times. The tempo is so sleepy, and the music so uncluttered, that one is forced to hang on Gene's every word -- which is precisely the point.  The wheels of the motorcycle are spinning at top speed, but the film is in slow motion. There is a story to be told.

The lyrics are coloured with sensory detail but light on narrative detail.  Gene uses simple language, but the poetic images are strong and evocative: the cranking of the engine, the "two-wheeled melody" (which itself recalls the "concrete rhythms" from 'Lyin' Down the Middle', another song of the road). In the end, 'Gypsy Rider' evokes more questions than it answers (e.g. what is "it" in the line "You can take it out if you decide to follow through"?).  But filling in the gaps in the storyline is something the poet expects of the listener -- Gene has stated as much. It can't all be spelled out for us (which is why I like hearing different interpretations of Gene's lyrics; there is no right answer). In the end, each of us has the opportunity to turn this 4 1/2-minute short into a sweeping cinematic experience.




38. No Other - No Other - (Gene Clark)
Who could have predicted in 1965 that Gene Clark would, less than a decade later, write and record a convincing mashup of funk, psych and rock?  In a nutshell, the boldest move ever undertaken by any member of the Byrds. That the song could be stripped down to its basics and be performed just as convincingly by Gene, Duke Bardwell and Roger White shows just how bulletproof Gene's songwriting is. I'm convinced a Salvation Army band could do a stellar arrangement of this.



37. I Knew I'd Want You -- The Byrds -- Mr. Tambourine Man (Gene Clark)
If the Byrds blew it big time by deep-sixing 'You Showed Me', they made up for it by including this on the debut.  'I Knew I'd Want You' was one of Gene's great early efforts, even if it betrayed a transparent attempt to capitalize on the Beatles' recently established style (the gratuitous "Oh, yeah, oh yeah..." parts were embarrassing and, what's more, completely unnecessary in the context of the song). Gene often imitated his idols (The Beatles, Dylan) as a temporary maneuver before ultimately moving on to establish his own voice and style.



36. 'Here Tonight' -- Gene Clark (with the Flying Burrito Brothers) -- Roadmaster
Melodic, but bordering on sickly sweet with its "Do-do-doo" vocal hook, 'Here Tonight' teases the listener as to what a Clark-led Burritos might have sounded like.  Commercial sounding (especially Sneaky Pete's expressive pedal steel), with universally relatable lyrics about blissful romantic idylls interrupted by real-life commitments, it stands as one of the few occasions during Gene's post-Byrds career that he created something with solid hit potential.  Of course it was never released as a single.

35. 'In the Plan' -- Dillard and Clark -- The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark
At only 2:10 it's over in a blink, but 'In the Plan' is a fascinatingly improbable alliance of good ol' down-home bluegrass pickin' with poetic philosophical rumination.

(No YouTube link available)

34. 'Silent Crusade' -- Two Sides To Every Story
The heartbreaking conclusion to Gene's last album on a major label, 'Silent Crusade' employs vivid seafaring imagery to document a quest for inner peace and absolute truth. But its final image -- that of a ship primed and ready to "sail away from the shore", only to find itself anchored "once more" -- thus prevented from embarking on its voyage -- reveals both haunted self-awareness and sorrow.

Read more...


33. 'Only Colombe' (aborted solo single) -- Echoes compilation (stereo)/ Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers (Sundazed mono)

For the longest time I didn't care for 'Only Colombe'.  I thought it was okay, but rather plain and ultimately forgettable.  I also felt Gene's sense of melody had abandoned him, and that the Dylan thing was way over the top.

Over time, however, I grew to like, then love, it. The poetry is, like much of what Gene wrote in this period, maddeningly impenetrable, like some kind of surrealistic word puzzle (others in this category include 'So You Say You Lost Your Baby' and '7:30 Mode').

Chamber pop is one of my favourite subgenres, though -- I'm often reminded of Sid Griffin's comment that the song felt like Dylan fronting the Left Banke -- so although it's a song that I believe needed a better hook, it is still a track I can listen to over and over without growing tired of it. With its twinkling piano and backwards guitar loops, it simply has that sound that gets to me.

Now, to the question of the mono mix with Curt Boettcher's vocal arrangement.  Apparently, shortly before he died, Gene approved the use of the song on the Echoes compilation, but wanted Boettcher's fruity backing vocal arrangement deep-sixed. As a huge fan of Boettcher's I spent the many years cursing Gene's decision.  I wanted that mix. Well, I finally got it when Sundazed released their definitive version of Gene's first solo album, and even then I was a little disappointed.  To tell the truth, I think I laughed the first time I heard it.  Now, however, it's my go-to version.

I still think the 'Only Colombe'/'The French Girl' 45 would have flopped--but I'm glad we have it.

(No YouTube link available)

32. 'If I Hang Around' Byrd Parts 2
I'm still pissed at Chip Douglas for reneging on his promise to make a copy of the tape in his possession from which this song originated. While a lot of the legend surrounding Gene's lost period (i.e. post-Byrds/pre-D&C, Gene Clark Group, Gene Clark Sings for You) has been demythologized, the existence of this song is proof that Gene's muse was intact.
I got in a lot of trouble for discussing this song vis-a-vis Gene's fling with Michelle Phillips, but again, that was only my speculative interpretation.  No one else is forced to share my opinion. I wasn't trying to put that across as the only possible explanation.

Read more...



31. 'If You're Gone' -- The Byrds -- Turn! Turn! Turn!
'If You're Gone” combines innovative drone-like backing vocals with Gene's most soaring, dramatic vocal to date.  Interestingly, the typical verse-chorus-verse structure was eschewed in favour of a series of statements that employed "if" as a pivotal qualifier. Think about it: Gene was experimenting with accepted lyrical traditions/format at the age of 20.



4 comments:

Lesley said...

Again, I am intrigued! I did not expect at all to see Gypsy Rider this early in the countdown. To me it is top five easily (and hovering in #1 territory if we talk about the beautiful, stripped-down demo version from the "Gypsy Angel" CD, but I digress...)

One thing your countdown is really illuminating is how diverse, prolific, and brilliant a songwriter Gene was. When you can compile an entire top 50 countdown of JUST his songs, that is something rare and special indeed.

Thank you for reminding us of Gene's enormous talent. I'm looking forward to more!

ziggi said...

Love your description of the meaning and feelings associated with Gypsy Rider. I agree that it is deserving of much higher rankings and would easily be in my top 10.
Interesting that you have included so many early Byrd songs, ones that I would not have thought of including. It just shows that Genes talent passes through so many time periods and even genres. For example, the version of Here Tonight included is also one of my favorites but is definately a different sound for him at the time. He seemed able to play his songs so differently that they sound like different songs.

ge said...

Gypsy gypped! well
'de gustibus...' they always say!
It does boast and we am lucky to have on YT that super live w/ Nashville? orchestra version...and for the diehardest collector, there's even an odd trusty ol 4 track version stabbed at by moi on my 1st album.

Susiecat said...

Thanks for compiling this list! You put a lot of thought into it and it is a great reference source for Gene's work. I would have ranked "You Showed Me" and "Gypsy Rider" higher because a musician's legacy is often measured by how his/her music endures and is covered by newer artists. Both of these songs have been covered frequently and have brought newer artists the commercial success that Gene sought and failed to obtain. But that is a small critique and I look forward to reading the rest of your list.