Saturday, 11 October 2014

50 Favourites Countdown continued: #20 - #10


20.  'One in a Hundred' - Gene Clark - Roadmaster (Gene Clark)

Far superior to its lumbering twin from White Light, this version features the five original Byrds in an astonishingly effortless updating of their '65-era sound. Masterminded and produced by ex-svengali Jim Dickson, who somehow finagled an ersatz reunion via studio layering (McGuinn and Crosby were still not on speaking terms), the finished product of which sounds seamless and soulful. Ever a paradox, only the ever-warring Byrds could create such beauty out of such ill will.

For many, the real Byrds reunion took place in 1970, not 1973.




19.  'In a Misty Morning' - Gene Clark - Roadmaster (Gene Clark)
Haunting, wonderfully detailed lament about the alienation experienced after leaving the peace of country life for a cold, indifferent city (presumably inspired by Gene's treks from Mendocino to L.A. for purposes of recording). The city-vs.-country trope is one Gene would revisit many times.

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18.  'Hear The Wind' - Gene Clark - Two Sides To Every Story (Gene Clark)

No one has ever distilled the essence of loneliness into such a beautiful line: "The cold blue hunger of the soul."

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17.  'The World Turns All Around Her' - The Byrds - Turn! Turn! Turn! (Gene Clark)

The Byrds are routinely credited with being at the forefront of sub-genres like folk rock, psychedelia and country rock, but we sometimes forget their role as progenitors of what would later be called power pop. 'The World Turns All Around Her', Gene's urgent yet wistful paean to the girl that got away (complete with self-chastizing moral) epitomizes this influence.  Great riff? Check. Soaring harmonies? Check. Driving beat? Check. Song about a girl? Check.  How is this not power pop?  It's certainly not folk rock.

Structurally speaking, there is not a wasted note in this two-minute gem.  Every second counts.  From the chiming, twin-guitar opening riff, to the majestic harmonies in the bridge section, plum full of expository detail ("Somewhere along the way...") and halting power chord accents, every element pushes the song towards its bittersweet conclusion.  The concluding line "You'll feel the same if you should set her free" always makes me wonder if the song was somehow linked, directly or indirectly, to 'Set You Free This Time'.

Clarkophile confession: I've sometimes binged on this song, playing it ten times in a row.





16.  'Communications' - Gene Clark - (Gene Clark) [November 1990

The legendary unreleased track.

In Johnny Rogan's essential Byrds bio, Timeless Flight Revisited, he describes 'Communications' as "an amazing composition that combined biblical prophecy with extra-terrestrial visitations and even speculated on the nature of angels." (p. 450). That's the kind of rhetoric that catapults an unreleased song into Holy Grail status -- for me, at any rate.

I felt a deep kinship with Rogan because of the manner in which he spoke of Gene's writing.  Up until I read his book, I had no idea that other people held Gene's work in such high regard, or spoke of it with such unabashed reverence.  As a besotted, lifelong Clark fan, my appetite was duly whetted by his descriptions of the song as "awe-inspiring"; "extraordinary" and "the ultimate Gene Clark 'cosmic consciousness' composition".  No such praise is bestowed upon the work of any of the other Byrds, even Crosby or Gram Parsons.  Rogan's descriptions made a huge impact on me, and were a catalyst in my decision to begin this blog in 2008. Such was the power of his words.

As for the song itself, when I finally got to hear it in 2009 I remember being afraid that it would neither live up to my expectations nor Rogan's descriptions. I am delighted to report Rogan wasn't exaggerating in the slightest.  If the long sought-after Gene Clark Sings for You demos proved an anticlimactic false grail, one can rest assured that 'Communications' is the real deal; a bona fide treasure waiting to be discovered.

With handclaps sounding like a crackling fire, and spare, intimate backing (as in Neil Young's 'Will To Love' -- which it resembles musically as well), 'Communication' features Gene singing in a voice we've never heard before.  He sounds in character -- not himself.  At times he sounds possessed.
It's a little frightening.  That this was one of Gene's last recordings [dated November 1990] shows that his mystical muse was only getting started.

This song demands release.  That it sits unheard is our collective loss.

Here are the complete lyrics, published here in their entirely for the first time:

Communications

Talk about your prophets, What kind of man was he? The alien saviour walked on the waters of the sea. From where did he originate? What kind of power it took to elevate What was he trying to communicate? Just to communicate.
Communications Need receivers even out on the brightest star So what in heaven do you think halos are? Ezekiel, he saw a wheel within a wheel He wasn't the first biblical form that the ships did reveal They wanted to tell the universe They're gonna send someone to communicate. Communicators need receivers even out on the brightest star So why in heaven do you think angels are? Communications need receivers even out on the farthest star So what in heaven do you think halos are?


15. 'Why Not Your Baby' - Dillard and Clark - orig. single, now available on 2-fer of 
The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark/Through the Morning Through the Night (Gene Clark)

Fascinating blend of pop and country pickin', with insistent Motown-like drumming and a heartbreaking chorus that ranks among Gene's best, 'Why Not Your Baby' was arguably Gene's best chance for a post-Byrds hit. As with 'Polly', one wonders why it never figured in Gene's live shows.  A real head-scratcher.



14.  'Full Circle Song' - Gene Clark - Roadmaster (Gene Clark)

Probably the best song to emerge from the aborted '72 sessions, 'Full Circle Song' would later act as the opening track on the Byrds' reunion album, albeit in a less successful, rather rote rendition.  This, however, is the definitive version; a beautiful, deeply soulful track that should have been released as a single. Brother Rick Clark sings backup, and can best be heard as the highest voice singing "when it's ri-i-i-i-ight it brings it back again" at the very end of the song.  A triumph on every level, from the universality of the lyric and irresistible melody to its production, performance and arrangement.





13.  'Here Without You' - The Byrds - Mr. Tambourine Man (Gene Clark)

This list is intended as a deeply personal reflection of my appreciation of Gene's music, not as a scholarly, objective ranking. Emotion plays a huge role in all of this. While in my head I can appreciate the epic grandeur and boundless poetic imagination that is on full display in a song like 'White Light', the appeal is mainly cerebral. 'Here Without You', however, hits hard in the gut and in the heart. I have lived this song. I have felt what Gene describes. I felt I knew Gene, and he me. 

I feel an everlasting connection with Gene Clark because of a song like 'Here Without You.' He and I met on a plane of understanding that defies rational explanation. Gene got me. 

And the sad events of 25 years ago -- the complex situation in my life that was so effortlessly reproduced in this song -- no longer matters. She is dead. And so is Gene. 

What does matter, and what has transcended both their lives, and those now unimportant episodes of romantic tumult and 20-something drama -- and what continues to live within me -- is that feeling of being eternally connected with someone I never met.




12. 'Something's Wrong' - Dillard and Clark - The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark (Gene Clark-Doug Dillard)

Used to great effect in the recent documentary The Byrd Who Flew Alone to evoke the halcyon days of Gene's childhood, 'Something's Wrong' was used as the smashing yet sombre conclusion to D&C's first album. It's another one of Gene's city vs. country songs (cf. 'In a Misty Morning', The Daylight Line' etc.), the tension and conflict of which is captured in two words: "neon brambles."
I may be wrong, but it's my belief that a portion of the melody (especially the final 15 seconds) is a rejigged version of the haunting mellotron part in 'Past My Door' from Gene Clark Sings for You).


11. 'Tried So Hard' - Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers (Gene Clark)

The majestic, enigmatic 'Echoes' was the obvious choice as leadoff single from Gene's first album, yet one wonders if the more accessible 'Tried So Hard' wouldn't have had a better shot.  One of Gene's most durable compositions, it would feature in his live show for pretty much the remainder of his career.  Perfect as is, of course, yet one can't help but fantasize about how the harmonies would've sounded with Crosby and McGuinn.




10.  'Kathleen' - Gene Clark - Gypsy Angel  (Gene Clark)

The song I chose in my first post on this blog.  An uncommonly empathetic character study of a female, similar in spirit to 'The Virgin' and 'From a Silver Phial', 'Kathleen' feels like it's based on a true story; a tale told in sea shanties in seaside pubs and handed down through the ages.  A mythical classic.

Indeed, to me, 'Kathleen' feels like it should be recognized as a standard.  And yet no one ever talks about this song.

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3 comments:

Lesley said...

As the end approaches, the countdown becomes ever more fascinating. First off, thank you for the lyrics to Communication. What an amazing composition that just makes me all the more hopeful that some day those legendary recordings will be available to all.

Also, your choice to put Kathleen in the top ten really made me happy. The more I hear that song, the more I love it. Truly a much-overlooked song in Gene's later years that deserves more recognition.

jonrus56 said...

Reading the authors comments on Here Without You,I can sense a camaraderie between the author of the Clarkophile and myself,feeling the same pain and sadness but a glimpse of hope as well,"I'll see you someday". I can relate so well."Here Tonight in retrospect heals and I can snuggle up to it.

Anonymous said...

I love "Kathleen" too, but what really gets me in that song is the harmonica solo. Still, I probably would've placed "Dark of My Moon" above it. Anyways, I'm really curious to see how this list is going to end, and I guess I'll see some surprises there in the top 10 :-)