Now Playing: Gene Clark – ‘The Deep Cuts and Lost Tracks’

by | Nov 6, 2022 | 2 comments

Gene Clark, a founding member of the Byrds and one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most
intriguing troubadours, has often been suspended in the rock and roll gray
area between obscurity and popularity.

Throughout a long musical career that concluded with his untimely
death in 1991, Clark was at the forefront of musical innovators leading the way
to the next big musical movement; whether it psychedelic, country rock,
singer/songwriter, or his own brand of ‘Cosmic American Music.’ Gene was a reserved musical revolutionary. Unfortunately, the more tragic tales of other musicians of the era have distorted Clark’s deserving accolades. The path’s that Clark blazed are often applied to others through posthumous campaigns.Peering through the heavy haze of drugs and alcohol, picking through the
failed album tracks and poor production choices, and inspecting the obscure and
dusty melodies, a collection of forgotten yet stellar Gene Clark compositions
comes into greater focus. Fans and scholars-in-the-know realize that Clark was
and is a melodic innovator and by choosing any of the albums in his
extended discography one can be witness to his deep and spiritual contributions
to rock music.

Clark’s voice will always be remembered for its milky deep baritone, his
lyrics for the revealing and detailed glimpse into his minor key reflection of
life. If Clark only had one hit song during his solo career, or if some enterprising
record executive had the foresight and insight to push his records instead of burying
them, Clark’s musical landscape would be completely different. The deep cuts the
‘rock room is spinning today are powerful, beautiful and revolutionary in their own unique ways and deserve
much more than a cursory mention on my internet list.

While most if not all of Clark’s solo work could be considered brimming with
deep cuts, for this list I have distilled my choices to five songs from his
discography of 11 solo records, two of them with ex-Byrd partners Roger McGuinn
and Chris Hillman. Depending on your familiarity with the Clark discography,
you may have contrary choices to my own, but that’s the beauty of lists. A collaborative review and constructive discussion of the dusty
cobwebbed corners of Clark’s career can reveal long concealed jewels and shine
a brighter light on the obvious gifts of his songwriting abilities …

‘ONE IN A HUNDRED’, (WHITE LIGHT, 1971; ROADMASTER, 1972): A
song filled with so much promise and melodic strengths that it held a spot on
two albums. First recorded in 1970, the song is actually Byrds reunion track,
containing all of the hallmarks of a classic Byrds LP cut with contributions
from all of the group’s original members. The jingle-jangle guitar is present
and accounted for, in addition to thick and sugary sweet harmonies and Clark’s
unique vocal melody lines, all of its elements as distinguishable as a finger
print.

The Byrds’ version of the song languished in the vaults until the release of
the Dutch LP Roadmaster in 1973. In
the interim, Clark, aware of the optimistic songs superior strengths, released
an alternate version of the track on 1971’s White Light. This stripped
down acoustic version is highlighted by Jessie Ed Davis’ serpentine slide
guitar and features an airy yet woody arrangement that showcases this song’s
internal strengths.‘STRENGTH OF STRINGS,’ (NO OTHER, 1974): The combination of his
refusal to tour as well as the creation of an LP way ahead of its time
unfortunately sunk the album No Other before it ever had a chance to
leave the ground. Tucked away as the side-one closer on this now unjustly
forgotten album, the mammoth “Strength of Strings” contains a beautifully sung
wordless introduction, and a slowly ascending main structure that seems to gain
momentum as the song rolls forward. Imposing and towering vocals stretch out
toward a huge sinking orange sun outlining the cosmic range.
The track is an anomaly; there is no music from 1974 that quite sounds like
this. Instruments wrap around one another like a DNA helix, voices take flight,
and melodies elicit images of universes colliding and exploding. The song hails
from an album that Clark considered his finest moment and that once again fell
into the wrong marketplace at the wrong time. ‘Strength of Strings’ is a
revolutionary chapter and a song that continues to impress through its historic
musical relevancy, one of Clark’s finest moments.

‘POLLY,’ (THROUGH THE MORNING, THROUGH THE NIGHT, 1969): ‘Polly’
hails from one of two albums featuring Gene Clark and Doug Dillard from 1968
and 1969 respectively. Exploring the theme of freedom and flight later
reflected in tracks such as ‘Silver Raven,’ ‘Polly’ sways like a weather-worn
back porch swing in a smooth Southern breeze. The song moves in the manner of a
secret passed between friends, soft and breathy, portraying a resonant sense of
loss felt the narrator.
Sparkling acoustic arpeggios in addition to patint strokes across the
strings elicit an intimate empty narrator’s room, a slow horse drawn rhythm
supports the full community of group vocals that hang delicately in the air.
While lyrically brief, Clark’s words, slow and languid expose deeper meaning
with every listen. The resulting musical creation is a lacy waltz adding color
to the black-and-white outline sketched by Clark’s honeyed vibrato.

‘LONELY SATURDAY,’ (TWO SIDES TO EVERY STORY, 1977): After the
disappointment felt by the relative commercial failure of 1974’s No Other,
Clark returned with another record label and 1977’s release Two Sides to
Every Story
. Sticking to a theme that seemed to be developing, the record
had little success, but the gift of hindsight shows this to be a well-made
record containing the usual Clark classics that sit unnoticed like the a beggar
on a cold city street. The LP has many choice moments, but the one that sticks
with me because of its essential Clark elements is ‘Lonely Saturday.’

The song is a classic country tale of being left behind by a woman who has
moved on, but what makes it worthy of inclusion on Clark’s Deep Cuts list is
its definitive Clark vocal. You will be hard pressed to find any rock vocals
more saturated with emotion. Weeping pedal steel, honky-tonk
barroom piano, and the stale smell of a barren dance floor work in conjunction with
Clark’s stomach-twisting vocals adding up to a song that will make any grown
man cry at the bar.‘GYPSY RIDER,’ (SO REBELLIOUS A LOVER, 1987): The So
Rebellious a Lover
LP was subject to positive reviews upon its release, a
major change for Clark. It seems that, with the passage of time, some critics
and musicians were actually catching up with Clark’s sensibilities. The
fruitful collaboration with Carla Olson brought out a number of new Clark
songs, the one featured here being one of his finest late-era compositions.

‘Gypsy Rider,’ originates from Clark’s comfort zone, a dusty cowboy ballad
dealing with travel, escape and a vagabond searching for answers along the
rutted highway of life. Built on Clark’s acoustic guitar and still hearty yet
gently quaking vocals, the song balances on the rhythm of the stringed
instruments and melody until a tender clip-clop percussion joins in mid-song. ‘Gypsy
Rider’ illustrates that Clark’s penchant for melody still remained, despite its
arrival toward the end of his tiring existence. Even tucked away on this
now-rare album, Clark calls out from the grooves remaining relevant, singing
for you.

The above list could go in a myriad of directions with the amount of rare
quality material and hidden tracks to be found in Gene Clark’s discography.
With a prolific artist such as Clark, material was always being created; he
could never turn off the tap; and an abundance of material still awaits discovery.
If only Gene could have hung on for a few more years and escaped the grasp of
his demons, he would have collided with the current renewed interest and respect for
his work.

2 Comments

  1. Σπύρος Γονατάς

    that was an excelent read my dear !!!

    Gene was such a fine songwriter … never understood what could be so wrong, that led things to such a negative course

    he had them all…. talent, looks, inspiration …

    Reply
  2. talkfromtherockroom

    Thank you for reading and the comment. Gene did have it all, including the demons. Powerful musician.

    Reply

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