The Lost Studio Sessions Companion, Part 3: The 1967 Sessions

Falling through the chamber

On January 27, 1967, shortly before the February release of his first solo album, Gene entered Armin Steiner's Sound Recorders Studios and laid down two tracks, presumably pegged to be a non-album single, 'Back Street Mirror' and 'Don't Let It Fall Through.'

Let me start off with a correction.  Earlier in the blog, I believe I stated that these songs were recorded in an effort to secure a new record deal after Gene had been dropped by Columbia, but of course this is inaccurate -- Columbia did not drop Gene until after the release and subsequent poor sales of his solo debut provided the impetus to do so. (An aside: the company's idiotic decision to release Younger Than Yesterday at roughly the same time as Gene's record effectively made that outcome a foregone conclusion. Somebody goofed big time, but it would be Gene who would pay the price. In retrospect, Columbia's dumping of Gene seems fairly callous and unnecessarily cutthroat, especially since the mixup in scheduling was their fault, not his; it's a pity that they couldn't have seen fit to give Gene the benefit of the doubt and perhaps tried to work with him to improve sales on his sophomore outing.)

Of course the sophomore release on Columbia never happened, but by picking up the finished pieces and assorted rough sketches Gene left us, we may get a better understanding of what might have been. I am speaking of the series of chamber-pop pieces Gene recorded in 1966-1967.  

As discussed in an earlier post about my fantasy second Columbia LP, Translations (which is itself the title of an unreleased Clark song from this era), the chamber-pop sound that Gene was pursuing throughout this period combined his two greatest influences, The Beatles and Bob Dylan. Translations is my take on how the post-Gosdin Bros./pre-Dillard and Clark periods could be assembled. That fictitious album, as I've compiled it, stands up remarkably well (a compliment to Gene, not my abilities as compiler). It would've doubtless made an impressive follow-up to the first album. 

If the lushness of 'Back Street Mirror' makes it feel like the long-lost sister song of 'Echoes,' then the mythical Translations is a similarly ghostly echo of Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers.

'Back Street Mirror' (Gene Clark)
'Don't Let It Fall Through' (Gene Clark)
Recorded January 26, 1967, Sound Recorders
Produced by Jim Dickson
Arranged by Leon Russell; Horn Section, Hugh Masekela 

Voice Characters

I think it's reasonable to assume that many people will be put off, at least initially, by the overt Dylanisms flowing through Gene's vocal in 'Back Street Mirror' (Interestingly, he eschewed the Dylan voice for 'Don't Let It Fall Through,' recorded the same day).  

It is important to remember, however, that Gene adopted many different -- what I will call from this point forward -- "voice characters" throughout his career. For example, the formal-sounding '64 solo acoustic tracks owed more to '50s-style crooners than John or Paul, yet later that same year Gene sang the electrified 'Please Let Me Love You' with a noticeable British accent! The Dylan voice, which crept in during the latter half of 1965 and stayed with him until 1967, was itself discarded by the time the first Dillard and Clark album came out. In 1975, while touring with the Silverados, recorded evidence reveals Gene adopted a wild, overwrought country yodel, almost a howl (cf. 'Long Black Veil').  Duke Bardwell, bassist for the band, told me that Gene's new voice character came as a great shock, both to him and guitarist Roger White. It was obvious to both that this voice was a put-on. Cut to 1977, with Gene fronting the noisy guitar assault that epitomized the KC Southern Band's sound (i.e. 'Hula Mula Man'/'Seventh Avenue Train') and he transformed into a convincing heavy-rock singer. 

In 'Don't Let It Fall Through,' Gene's vocal sits comfortably alongside his performances in such songs as 'Couldn't Believe Her' and 'Elevator Operator' -- gritty, but tuneful. It is Hugh Masekela's horn arrangement that is the main liability here. It's a sleazy, decadent Sunset Strip sound that is almost laughably over the top.  Imagine the soundtrack of a druggy, go-go dancing montage in a low-budget outlaw biker-'spoliation movie and you'll get the gist of what I'm saying. I can see the mass befuddlement now: eyebrows raising across the board, at first exposure to that horn line. But stick with it. Yes, the horn line is quite bizarre, but it doesn't entirely sink the song. Underneath those horns is a spiffy, straight-ahead rocker that adds a nice contrast to the ornate stylings of the presumed A-side.

It is interesting to note that neither song has the sort of harmony vocals that were a trademark of the Byrds' sound. Lyrically, both songs use the image of falling through ("I thought that I was falling through/what I was told to be standing to...") to describe failure in relationships that is either imagined or quite possibly imminent. It's a minor point, for sure, but reinforces the idea that the two songs are meant to be paired together.

I find Gene's chamber-pop/Baroque period an endless source of fascination. I'm hoping that someday we will get a complete '66-'67 sessions set along the line of Dylan's Cutting Edge releases, that would embrace demos, outtakes, alternate takes, etc...

Until then, I'm delighted that Sierra Records is including these two tracks in the forthcoming set. 


Indigo Mariana said…
Interesting that you mention Gene's "Voice Characters". Dylan too adopted different voice characters throughout his career. I think the voice characters he used from pre-flute days through the last demos matched the style of the songs he wrote at the time and were adopted to express the meaning of those songs as well as the genre. Gene imitating Dylan on Back Street Mirror is no surprise here. Everyone at the time did it (some badly) including John Lennon with You've Got to Hide Your Love Away. It's a one off and I think it works really well for that song.

Thanks for another interesting entry! I'm also hoping for a Gene Clark complete sessions from '66-'67. That would be exciting indeed!
Unknown said…
I still want the sessions from The Gene Clark Band. Didn't they record during this era?
The Clarkophile said…
The short-lived Gene Clark Group recorded some demos, yes, but no one was happy with the results. Jim Dickson said he loft them over the course of time, and it's unknown whether any extant copies are out there.
Rich said…
Is the official version I have of Lyin' Down The Middle a Dillard and Clark song or is it a Gene Clark Group track that would have been recorded at the same time as Los Angeles, I Pity The Poor Immigrant and That's Alright By Me?
Christopher Hollow said…
Hey Tom, I love "Don't Let It Fall Through", Gene's voice and the Masekela arrangement. Great bass drum hook into title line. Along with "Back Street Mirror", it's the highlight of the Lost Sessions set. What a great early '67 single it would've been.