The Lost Studio Sessions COMPANION, Part 2: The 1964 Sessions

Peach fuzz and promise

I predict that most fans, in their somewhat understandable haste to get to the more legendary material like 'Back Street Mirror,' will give these songs the short shrift. 

Personally, I think that would be a great shame. 

Beautifully recorded and performed by a 19-year-old Gene sounding peach-fuzzy and pure with an almost comically earnest croon, these tracks capture him at a pivotal moment in his career.

In the spring/early summer of '64 Gene had just left the New Christy Minstrels and was trying to find his own voice in LA.
But while he may have left the somewhat corny, straight-laced confines of the fogey-folk ensemble in the physical sense, his voice still carried the same button-down quaintness that made that group seem unhip and passe, especially when juxtaposed with the concurrent juggernaut of musical change ignited by The Beatles (who had appeared on Ed Sullivan in February of that year). It is a credit to his talent that Gene's impossibly noble sound makes these recordings infinitely more palatable than anything recorded by his erstwhile bandmates in the Christys.

Perhaps not as distinguished as the songs he would write in the months to come (and recorded later that year during the "Preflyte" sessions), 'The Way I Am' is nonetheless a fascinating glimpse into Gene's songwriting development. 

Already evident is a disarming facility with song structure and the establishment of narrative thread. It's a "don't try to change me, baby" type of song -- the kind of thing one doesn't usually associate with Gene. But rather than assume the macho posturing that often comes with this sort of kiss-off song, Gene sings it as a serious lament. 

If anyone ever says there's no such thing as a happy Gene Clark song, play them this. A jaunty little ditty, replete with chirpy (pre-Byrd) whistling and a bouncy rhythm that will doubtless raise a few eyebrows on first listen.

Once you've got past that, however, it's a thoroughly enjoyable, charmingly innocent little number. It was also a creative dead end, but the fearlessness and facility with which Gene investigated different musical avenues throughout his career is always commendable (more on that when we get to the '67 material).

This is ground zero for The Gene Clark Ballad Style™. Indeed, all of the familiar and much-beloved elements of Gene's songwriting are present here, and in the next two songs. Sense of melancholy, roving despair? Check. Subject matter --unrequited love? Check. Plaintive, mid-tempo-dirge style? Check! It's all there, replete with a moving and mature vocal from Gene. 
How many 19-year-old males are able to summon, and subsequently channel, this kind of naked vulnerability and pull it off convincingly, dignity intact?

Haunting, unrelentingly bleak self-study of loneliness and loss, this is another crucial block in the foundation of The Gene Clark Ballad Style. In the hands of a lesser writer/singer, this would've seemed like self-piteous drivel, but Gene's compelling delivery 
-- along with a peculiar, spooky vibe that pervades the entire recording -- make it one of the standouts of the '64 material. 
A 19-year-old kid isn't supposed to sound this world-weary. 
It's Prince Valiant before the haircut.

The ostensibly bouncy rhythm off the final track from the 1964 sessions is undercut by Gene's ghostly croon and the soon-to-become-a-standby qualifier in the quiver of the promising young songwriter: "if." 


Indigo Mariana said…
I heard The Way I Am and A Worried Heart on the "My Back Pages" radio show. I was struck by how "mature" these two songs are 1. For 1964 and 2. For a 19 year old songwriter! While this may not be the Gene Clark most are accustomed to hearing, his voice is so pure and quite simply, lovely. Compared to pop and folk.songs of the period, these sound very sophisticated to these ears. Gene's subtlety with lyric is already evident with lines like "for she sits with one who's name is just the same" in A Worried Heart.Love it! Looking forward to hearing the rest!