Wednesday, 1 May 2019

The Firebyrd Project Part 4: Conclusion

I'm going to conclude the Firebyrd Project today with a reveal of the material that could potentially be used in the creation of a near-definitive document of the era. What new information I have uncovered related to previously undocumented tracks is included below, and in previous instalments of this series. 

Once again, sincere thanks to Whin Oppice for bringing these two game-changing discoveries to my attention.

I have no doubt that, at some future date, a company will step forward with the necessary resources to take my ideas, build upon my work, and make them a reality. 

Mark my words.  

And now, imagine the following...


Thanks to Indigo Mariana/Neon Brambles for creating the cover mock-up.
Photo by Henry Diltz.

Raven in the Dark: Live, Studio & Demo Recordings from the Firebyrd Era, 1980-1984

CD 1

  1. Mr. Tambourine Man 
  2. Something About You Baby 
  3. Rodeo Rider 
  4. Rain Song 
  5. Vanessa 
  6. If You Could Read My Mind 
  7. I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better 
  8. Made for Love
  9. Blue Raven 
  10. She Loves You
  11. Into the Night
  12. Kansas City Southern
  13. Dixie Flyer
  14. Something About You Baby
  15. Seventh Avenue Train
  16. Silver Raven
  17. Blue Raven
Tracks 1-9 Original Firebyrd release, 1984
Tracks 10-17 Gene Clark & The Firebyrds, Live 1983-1984

CD 2

  1. Over the Mountain 
  2. Strange and Different Way
  3. (Livin' in) Hard Times           
  4. Painted Fire 
  5. I Saw a Dream Come True
  6. Shades of Blue
  7. Crazy Ladies
  8. Midnight Mare
  9. I’ll Change Your Life
  10. If I Don’t Have You
  11. Love is Gonna Come at Last
  12. Young Love 
  13. I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better
  14. You're Gonna Miss That Somebody (aka Rest of Your Life)
  15. Straight From the Heart
  16. Easy Ride 
  17. Love Wins Again
  18. You and I
  19. Raven in the Dark

CD 2 Track-by-track notes

Over the Mountain (chorus only)
Exists as a 52-second snippet of a work in progress. But even as a brief fragment it is a stirring work, possibly envisioned as a No Other-esque epic.  From Gene's dramatic, quasi-operatic singing style and obvious spiritual/religious/metaphorical significance of mountaintops, to the crushing finality of Gene's last strummed chord, I have the distinct sense that this song was intended to be a major work.
The lyrics are difficult to discern, possibly due to Gene's problems with his teeth, but it is, for the most part, a commanding performance. There is a moment at the 0:10 mark at which Gene's voice breaks, yet somehow I can't help but be moved by it. Even when Gene's voice falters, as it does here, it still carries a considerable punch.

I envision 'Over the Mountain'  as a spiritual invocation of sorts, something akin to Brian Wilson's intentions for 'Our Prayer,' the leadoff track from SMiLE.

Strange and Different Way
Songs are open for interpretation, of course, but it's my belief that while 'Strange and Different Way' appears, at first blush, to be another one of Gene's songs of rejection, it's actually dealing with the same kind of metaphysical concerns as those later expressed in 'Pledge To You': intimations that a loving relationship that ends at a partner's death—i.e. final separation in this mortal life—amounts to mere prelude for blissful reconnection in the next:

I want my baby
She told me goodbye
And then she said maybe
We'll meet again on some bright sunshiny day
We'll be together
And we'll see each other
In a strange and different way.

I had a girl
I called her my lady
She meant more than all the world
She called me her baby
We'll meet again on some bright sunshiny day
We'll see each other
And we'll see each other
In a strange and different way.

This is one of the problematic inclusions in the set, as there is no way to determine its provenance.  Another in a seemingly endless series of fascinating mysteries in Gene's career.

(Livin' in) Hard Times
Painted Fire
I Saw a Dream Come True
(See discussion in previous instalments of this series)

The Glass House Tape

December 1980
Recorded with Rick Clark, Thomas Jefferson Kaye, Jon Faurot and Garth Beckington
Shades of Blue
Crazy Ladies
Midnight Mare
I'll Change Your Life
If I Don't Have You

One of the most appealing things about this five-song set is its simplicity: acoustic guitars, rich harmonies, with Gene taking the lead on all (and in fine voice, to boot). Like the Sings for You demos, the Glass House tape has acquired a mythical status among fans. It's high time that fans were given an opportunity to dispel the myth and assess the reality. The good news is that it is a much better-sounding recording than SFY, and the writing is, for the most part, top-shelf Clark. One's enjoyment of the material, however, is largely dependent upon one's tolerance for the presence Tommy Kaye, both as writer (e.g. 'Shades of Blue') and vocal arranger.
I don't mind 'Shades of Blue', but by the same token, I don't think it deserved to be recorded on two occasions, the second of which came in the recording made with John Arrias. Of the two, the acoustic Glass House take is the superior cut, if only because it is not lumbered with the Motels/Quarterflash-like production cliches that were by well past their best-before date when Gene recorded it in the 1989-1990 period.  Either Gene liked the song or Kaye somehow convinced him of its merit. Possibly both.

I had always hoped the GH version of 'Crazy Ladies' would prove definitive—and it might very well have been, had it not been for Kaye's heavy-handed vocal embellishments. To this day, the best versions remain the ones recorded by McGuinn, Clark (and Hillman) in the 1977-1978 time frame. 

'I'll Change Your Life' positively soars with Merseybeat ebullience; at some point, it could have (i.e. should have) been translated into a power-pop arrangement. 
'Midnight Mare', co-written with brother Rick Clark, is a bit of an oddity, but enjoyable nonetheless.  The spontaneous outburst of assorted whinnies, hoots and hollers—perhaps jarring upon first listen—are refreshingly spirited, even exhilarating. If the following mathematical equation acoustic guitars + lush harmonies + 1980 leads you to a disappointing answer of Air Supply or the Little River Band, rest assured this stuff is far nowhere near that cynical in execution or intent. 
'If I Don't Have You' is another classic Clark torch song, and would today be recognized as such, had had he had the inclination to record it for Firebyrd. I understand the artistic impulse is to move inexorably forward, never look back, but sometimes I wish someone had grabbed Gene by the lapels and said, "Gene, you must release this song."

Some may be wondering why I haven't included the legendary track 'Communications'. The short answer is that the most recent research undertaken by Rogan in his exhaustive attempt to uncover the truth (see footnotes for the track in Requiem for the Timeless Vol 2) suggests it dates from much later in the decade, towards the end of Gene's life, and was accidentally lumped in with the other five songs from 1980 due to, ironically enough, tape-trading miscommunications.
In truth, it sounds nothing like the other five tracks, and Gene's voice sounds weathered and on-the-edge, emotionally speaking, so I would tend to exclude it from this set.  Should definitive, incontrovertible evidence emerge that it was among the songs recorded for the GHT then of course I would insist on its inclusion.

Love is Gonna Come At Last
Young Love
I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better

In the 1984 period, for unknown reasons, Gene recorded a slew of bizarrely chosen cover songs: 'Living Next Door to Alice', a sappy story-song that became a hit for Smokie in 1976); 'Needles and Pins', written by Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono, made famous by Jackie DeShannon and the Searchers, but in this case, as astutely noted by Rogan, inexplicably faithful to Smokie's arrangement in the '70s; two well-chosen songs by Badfinger, 'Love is Gonna Come at Last' & 'Baby Blue'; 'Young Love', written by Ric Cartey and Carole Joyner, was a hit for Tab Hunter in the late '50s; 'The Closer You Get' was a hit for Alabama in 1983; and yet another remake of 'I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better'. (Should you wish to hear them, all of Gene's versions can be heard here).

'Baby Blue' is my all-time favourite Badfinger song. And while on paper it makes total sense—pairing the man who wrote some of the sweetest proto-power pop of the 1960s with one of the finest examples of the genre as it matured in the 1970s—Gene misses the mark completely, hence its absence from the set. In truth, it doesn't sound like he knows the song very well to begin with, and the production and backing is coldly antiseptic, devoid of anything even approaching soulful commitment.  On the other hand, 'Love is Gonna Come at Last' fares much better: Gene's voice rises above the robotic backing in a way that undercuts the titular expression of hope with world-weary resignation and an underlying sense of futility.  Check out Gene's guttural reading of the otherwise throwaway bridge in the song, in which he infuses genuine passion (largely missing from the other covers) into the following lines: "I live for tomorrow, what it may bring/I live through the sorrow, live in a dream."
The guitar playing, while hopelessly tied to the usual assortment of '80s pedals and effects, offers another high point to the track.

As Rogan says, 'Young Love' succeeds "in spite of itself." As performed by a man of 40, we understand it is a song sung in reflection of a time long past.  Gene's sincerity prohibits any sleazier interpretation. Unfortunately, the smoky burr that sometimes affected Gene's voice from around this point forward is on full display here, and is somewhat distracting once heard.

If you're keeping score, this is Gene's third re-recording of  'I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better' in as many years. To date, two of the three have been released: the 1982 NyteFlyte version came out on The Lost Studio Sessions 1964-1982; and of course, there's the ramshackle bar-band-like version on Firebyrd. I have included it in this set because it is, after all, Gene's signature song, and ultimately, it's interesting to compare the three versions. Sadly, while the countrified approach is certainly appreciated, Gene's rough-edged vocal simply doesn't work.  The musicians sound like inveterate rockers doing their best impersonation of country players...with predictable results.

You're Gonna Miss That Somebody (aka Rest of Your Life)

Rogan knocks this song as an unashamed Elvis pastiche, but I think Gene does a masterful job on it. We've heard the tinny version on the dodgy Silvery Moon album, but there exists at least two versions of Gene performing the song accompanying himself on acoustic guitar that are worthy of release.


Straight From the Heart
Easy Ride 
Love Wins Again
You and I
(The BUG demos)

For many years we've been under the impression that there were three songs issued on the BUG demos tape, but recently Whin Oppice disclosed that there was a fourth: a cover of Herb Pedersen's 'Easy Ride', which Gene had previously performed with Flyte at the Palomino engagement in 1982. 
I haven't heard Gene's version in its entirety, but suffice it so say it sounds like a winner: fresh, breezy and instantly likeable. Here is Pedersen's version, dating from the same year Gene recorded it.


Many fans are familiar with the other BUG demos, 'Straight from the Heart', 'You and I' and 'Love Wins Again'. I don't think anyone would be averse to their seeing official release. They are all solid, well-sung Gene Clark originals, and would nicely sit alongside his best song from the decade. In truth, a collection of Gene's 20 best songs from the 1980s—a time during which he was largely forgotten—would demand that critics and fans take another look at his body of work.  

Raven in the Dark 
(discussed in previous instalment)

Thank you to everyone who took the time to assist me in this project.
That's it for me for a while. Taking a break to work on my Bill Rinehart story for Ugly Things magazine. I'll be back sometime in the summer to delve into another aspect of Gene's career. 

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your work on this. It's energizing to think of there being more Gene music out there (and a recontextualization for previously released work to bring it into sharper focus).

Bill S. said...

Thank you for your work on behalf on Gene and his music. Every entry is fascinating and leads to a greater appreciation of Gene by both longtime listeners and new fans just discovering him. This Firebyrd project is especially exciting!