50 Favourites Countdown: The Top 9

This, my last post of the year, will conclude this look at my favourite 50, but I'll be back in 2015 to post more Gene news and, as always, my humble musings on his artistry.
Thanks for reading, Happy Holidays, and all the best in 2015!

9.  'Pledge To You' - Gypsy Angel (Gene Clark)

Gene sings of a love that transcends space and time -- something he had done as far back as 'She Don't Care Care About Time'. Fate, death and reincarnation factor into this Orbisonesque prayer-dream about a romance that has always been, always is, and shall ever be.  An extraordinary accomplishment. Another example of Gene's late-period return to the mystic and extended song length, a la No Other (see also  'Communication' and 'Your Fire Burning').


8.  'Eight Miles High' - The Byrds - Fifth Dimension (G. Clark-R. McGuinn-D. Crosby)

In yet another example of Gene's inability to catch a break -- at any juncture, at any time, anywhere, ever -- history itself seems to have turned a blind eye to his role in the creation of The Byrds' finest moment.  For reasons both known and unknown, Gene's contributions have been marginalized, minimized or forgotten altogether.  Most music writers choose to highlight Roger McGuinn's (admittedly brilliant) arrangement and performance, while forgetting that someone had to, you know, actually sit down and come up with the initial vision for the damn thing in the first place.

The thing is, though, 8MH was a group triumph -- at every possible level.  Gene's initial poem was a dark, surreal vision of the trappings of success that proved, once and for all, that he had grown up since those not-so-long-ago days of 'Boston'.  Crosby's chopping rhythm keeps tension high, and Michael Clarke comes up with the best performance of his career.  Meanwhile, Hillman's ominous bass rumbles like a jet engine beneath McGuinn's Coltrane/raga-inspired flight of fancy.  Three-and-half minutes of perfection.  One of the finest songs of the 1960s.

7. 'She Don't Care About Time' - The Byrds - Originally B-side of 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' 45; now available on Turn! Turn! Turn! CD (Gene Clark)

A majestic track.  The essence of the Byrds --  their power, grit, spirit, beauty, soul, and self-sabotaging combativeness -- is captured in this track.  Gene's wistful lyrics are essentially a character study of an idealized hippie chick whose disposition is gentle and empathetic ("laugh with her, cry with her"), but also be carefree, easygoing, unpretentious and non-judgemental ("She don't have to be assured of many good things to find"; "She walks with ease and all she sees is never wrong or right").  It's a compelling portrait of grace and beauty. Indeed, like many of the women described in Gene's songs, she is the kind of girl "everybody wants to know."

For their part, the individual members turn in some wonderful performances.  McGuinn's Rick has never rung so sweetly as it does here.  Roger is often painted as aloof and self-serving, but his playing exhibits great empathy and commitment to the material.  Michael Clarke, bless his heart, does his best 'Ticket To Ride'-influenced drumming, occasionally erratic, but always steered into the sweet spot by Hillman's solid lines.

David Crosby once said that, at their best, the Byrds sang like angels. He was right.


6.  'Lady of the North' - No Other - (Gene Clark-Doug Dillard)

No Other
's breathtaking finale, 'Lady of the North', begins like a simple acoustic love song in Gene's traditional style -- a style he had used before and would again for the remainder of career.  But in this case, however, somehow, somewhere along the way, 'Lady of the North'  metamorphoses into a soaring sermon-on-the-mount about the fluidity and insidiousness of time; a song that seems to reach up and touch, ever so briefly, the gates of heaven itself.

To borrow a phrase from music writer Dave Marsh, there are certain moments in rock music that can be only be described as moments of "pure rock transcendence." These are moments that in many ways define both song, artist and album. Think of the crushing final chord in The Beatles' 'A Day in the Life'; or Roger Daltrey's scream of defiance and resignation in 'Won't Get Fooled Again'.
For Gene, that moment occurs during the second chorus, after the rising piano figure that is mirrored by a tension-building roll across the tom-toms, and sent heavenward by blasts of ethereal synthesizer.  (roughly the 3:25 mark and following).  And then Gene, at his stentorian, heroic finest, sings: "And the sea-sons roll under the sun/Passing the shadows of our dreams." During the first syllable of the word "seasons" Gene's voice hits a note that constitutes both the emotional climax and philosophical core of No Other. In that second, any quibbles about Kaye's production excesses are dashed.

5. 'Echoes' - Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers (Gene Clark)
An elegiac rumination on his first years in L.A., 'Echoes' is in actuality, a bit of a baroque red herring, insofar as nothing on the rest of its mothership album sounds remotely like it (save for the strings-laden 'So You Say You Lost Your Baby', perhaps). It is possibly for that very reason that for many years now I have a recurring wish-fulfilment dream: I'm in a record store, rifling through the "Gene Clark" section, when I stumble across a legendary lost album from 1966.  It features 'Echoes' and other baroque experiments, like 'Back Street Mirror.'  Many of the song titles are unfamiliar to me, but I snatch up the last copy and head for the checkout to pay for it.  And then I wake up.


4.  'Strength of Strings' - No Other  (Gene Clark)

In music, all things are clear.  Music's meaning is concise, unmistakable, irrefutable. The meaning of language, on the other hand, is susceptible to all kinds of unintended mayhem: irony, understatement, context, subtext -- there is no shortage of ways in which language can be misunderstood.
Even as a poet of some considerable standing among his peers, capable of gifted insight and amazingly complex turns of phrase, Gene accepted the inherent power of music over language.

For Gene, perfect harmony in all things boils down to a reconciliation of known opposites; hence, we have "cooling sun" and "fiery rain". Brilliant images, yet the writer has already admitted his impotence in the heavyweight competition between words and music.  Thankfully, the poet's words are backed by a tsunami of sound that bears out his humble admission.


3. 'She's the Kind of Girl' - Roadmaster (Gene Clark)

This song holds great significance for me. As I'm sure I've indicated elsewhere in this blog, Roadmaster was my first exposure to Gene Clark's solo career. I found the LP -- looking sad and neglected -- in the discount imports section of Records-On-Wheels on Dundas Street in London, Ontario, in 1987.  I paid $8.00 for it...and I still have it to this day! (see photo)
I don't want to say too much about this song, because I'd like to write a more in-depth appreciation at some later date, but suffice it to say it was the perfect introduction to Gene's solo career.
That such tender beauty could be produced from such tension-filled sessions and ill will is a testament to the professionalism of all involved, and proof that the old Byrds magic was intact, even if only for a few moments.

2. 'My Marie' - In Concert (Gene Clark-Pat Robinson)

Easily the best composition to emerge from the CRY period, 'My Marie' is a cinematic, richly detailed and deeply poignant song about an accidental meeting of old lovers in a subway station.  Gene's poetic muse is back in fine style here, nicely grounded in reality by Robinson's more workmanlike contributions.
Tip: forget any of the stale-sounding studio attempts from the Under the Silvery Moon period, and go grab any tape recording you can from Gene's October 1988 tour. He was on fire that month.  I have not heard anything from that tour that wasn't flat-out brilliant.  Gene was focused, direct and professional.  These were the performances of a lifetime.  We're fortunate to have any recordings of them.
Sometimes Gene would include the "angry sons" verse in his performances, but for some reason, on this particular occasion, recorded during that October '88 tour at Mountain Stage, WV, he did not. In any event, it is a spellbinding, deeply soulful performance.

1. 'Your Fire Burning' - Gene Clark & Carla Olson - Silhouetted in Light/In Concert (Gene Clark)

To my knowledge, there are only four extant versions of this song.  The first is a sketch demo, just over two minutes long.  It is included on the fan-created 7-disc "box set".  The second is a rather echo-ey demo featured on Gypsy Angel; the third was recorded during Gene's tragic "last stand" at the Cinegrill from April 1991; it gives us a glimpse as to how the song might've sounded when fleshed out by a full band.
The fourth, recorded with Carla Olson at McCabe's in 1990, the one I've chosen as my number 1 Gene Clark song, is the closest we'll ever have to a definitive version.  Though rough in places it, like 'My Marie', stands as a testament to Gene's extraordinary ability to turn what might've been just another let's-just-play-get-the-money-and-go-get-a-drink gig into a one-of-a-kind, life-changing experience. At the end of the song, Carla Olson simply says "Gene Clark."  Because nothing more needed to be said.

Committed, passionate, dignified, blessed by the angels, this is, quite simply, as good as it gets. Here it is, folks, the top of the mountain.


Henrique said…
Wow, as expected, some real surprises here. But I guess the biggest surprise for me was not seeing songs like "Back in My Life Again" or "With Tomorrow" anywhere at all - even though, as you said earlier, this would be a deeply personal list.
As for "She Don't Care About Time", I actually prefer the Roadmaster version, probably because I'm more fond of 70s singer-songwriters than 60s psychedelia.
Too bad I've never heard that version of "Your Fire Burning". Anyway, I'm really grateful for being introduced to many songs that I actually never heard before, such as "My Marie". It seems there's still a lot for me to discover about his work.
Ron S said…
Interesting that you say you prefer the "Roadmaster" version of "She Don't Care About Time". That's the way I feel about "One In A Hundred". I prefer the "White Light" version to the 1970 Byrds version. Not just because the other Byrds (almost literally) phoned in their parts (and it kind of sounds it), but because the song itself just screams for the early 70s singer-songwriter treatment it is given on "White Light". The acoustic guitar, the slide guitar, the echo-ey tambourine, the faint (uncredited) background vocals at the end (anyone know who they might be?).
Eons ago, I mentioned that I preferred the "White Light" version over on the Gene Clark forum and I was hard pressed to find anyone who agreed. Sometimes I wonder if fans, in their eagerness for that legendary "Byrds sound" are willing to prefer it over what the song might really call for. Just my opinion.
ge said…
Mr Ron
I'm among those w/ the other take, loving the thicker 'sunnier' production on ROADMASTER and even holding that WHITE LIGHT is really a one cut album! [guesses?....the one Dylan liked] Just had the notion to try an interweaving mix of NO OTHER/ROADMASTER songs! --all of the former 1/2 the latter.
There's one tune that's pretty haunting I'd like to cite: 'Rest Of Your Life'---GC does a really emotional solo 3am cassette version i have somewhere~
lost_jewels said…
This suits this holidays very well. Tom thank you very much. Love the comments, the choices and the shares. A fantastic Gene Clark year and this the cherries on the pie. By the way did you ever get a promised copy of the Dingwall gig? ge it would be a blast if youre find youre copy and share it. May 2015 be good to everybody with promised things to come.
jonrus56 said…
Beautifully done Tom and i must admit very pleased with Your Fire Burning where you put it. This is the version I have PERMANENTLY on my i Pod. Your comments have really given me a good insight into Gene the man and his music.Aside fro the book,"Mr Tambourine Man"'this is a definitive commentary of gene's best material. Keep the fire burning !!
ge said…

I found the version of REST OF YOUR LIFE that hit me as a Statement from Gene that feels like an Elvis torcher
[from rockingbyrd's old Rarities 2 part 2]. Is it possible this is not a Gene original? It is his now anyway!
Anonymous said…
Hey, the version you're referring to is now on youtube: