Think I’m Gonna Feel Better…
Act/Artist: Gene Clark
Release: Gene Clark & The Gosdin Brothers
Release date: February 1967
Label: Columbia (in US) / CBS (UK)
It is easy to see why every online article about Gene Clark is rooted in tragedy and a sense of what might have been. Forget that though; let those who knew him personally have their “what might have been” thoughts and frustration or anger at so many bad decisions (some made by Gene, some made by others in the business). The rest of us should just be glad that we got what we did from Gene because when he delivered, he delivered to the highest standard.
He may have been The Byrd that flew alone but he reached some fantastic heights, at times so far out of view that most people couldn’t see him.
There will be plenty of people in favour of No Other being hailed as Clark’s best album, heck, there will be enough of that group ready and willing to say it’s the greatest album of all time. It’s good. Real good and it deserves to be listened to time and time again but as you have probably gathered by now, this is a 1967 – 2017 series and 50 years ago, Gene Clark’s debut solo album was released, so that is where this focus lies.
Gene bailed out of The Byrds after their first two albums and in a typical piece of Gene Clark fortune, the singer’s debut release would be up against his former band’s fourth record. When you consider that Clark and The Byrds were on the same record label and both records were produced by Gary Usher, you have to assume that at some point, there would have been agreement or acceptance of this decision.
Which was madness.
Perhaps there was a school of thought that a new album by The Byrds was going to get press attention anyway and by shoving Clark’s record out at the same time, it would give more publicity in reflection. In reality, it was never going to work like that. It wasn’t the download age where people would pore over both releases on streams or actual purchases and dissect the hell out of them. It was a time of limited choice, for magazines, for journalists, for music stores, for radio presenters and producers and for buyers. Columbia Records virtually made music industry people and fans pick between the group and their former singer, and with a greater commercial edge, it was the band that gained the most publicity and then sales.
There was critical praise for Gene Clark’s album and rightly so, it’s a great record but Younger Than Yesterday was also a fantastic album. With better timing, both of these records could have had their moment in the sun and time to shine. Who knows, things could have worked out very differently for Gene Clark if there was a more suitable release date for these two albums? Then again, commercial success may have been even worse for Clark, leading to big shot executives forcing him onto plane and plane, grinding their product for all it was worth. You can never say with confidence how life would pan out if difference decisions were made…so it’s sometimes just better getting on with it.
And the record wastes no time in getting on with things, opening track Echoes is pretty classy and epic. The strings are stunning and Clark’s vocals had rarely conveyed more emotion. It may have been an adroit move from a man who no doubt had a public perception of simple pop output but in the opening track, Clark set a high marker to live up to. The fact that he did is worth praising.
With Chris Hillman and Michael Clark appearing on the record, it’s no surprise to find that there are moments that chime perfectly with his former group. Add in the accompaniment from The Wrecking Crew, including Glen Campbell on guitar, and bluegrass/country specialists like Clarence White and Doug Dillard and you have a further example of country rock being brought to the masses long before The Eagles robbed Gram’s grave to make their dirty millions. Keep On Pushin’ would easily have fitted on Younger Than Yesterday, complementing Hillman’s country style songs, although this has a lot to do with Dillard’s banjo play.
There’s a good chance that So You Say You Lost Your Baby is one of the better known solo Clark tracks, if only for the fact that Death In Vegas covered the track with Paul Weller on vocals. The Modfather, as was his wont during this period, grunted his way through the track but there’s a strong link to the psychedelia of the original. This wasn’t a modern reappraisal completely changing everything that the initial release provided; this was masters of (relatively) modern psychedelia breathing fresh spirit into a song that bristled with passion and dark energy. Clark, like so many songwriters, was at his best when love was lost but this is no lament or plea for reconciliation. The swirling motifs in the back of the strong give it a stirring edge and it’s a pulsating song that provide energy and spark to the record.
The first two tracks of the second side are blistering, both passionate, delivering warnings and clipped asides from the singer. The second of the songs, Elevator Operator, is fantastic, a nasty pop song and it still finds time to provide a dad joke in its opening lines. “She was an elevator operator she had her ups and downs”, before extolling the virtues of a girl who seemed brilliant but who always seemed to have a pay-off at the end. You get the feeling Gene knew a few of these girls over the years.
The feel and touch of The Beatles was still present, particularly in the final runs of the record and without McGuinn’s 12 strings rolling over the top, the simplicity of Clark’s melodies held firm. It’s an album to lose yourself in and return to over and over again.
It’s funny listening to the album in the present day because you hear snippets and snatches that have seeped into songs recorded over the years since the record’s release. It’s not as if the songs have been stolen 100% but when you get glimpses of acts like Television or Neil Young’s 90s output, you realise that Clark influenced a hell of a lot of acts over the years. In some ways though, the records diversity, while seeming like a strength now, would have worked against Clark upon release. This wasn’t the expected release from the former Byrd, nor could it be easily categorised or promoted to a certain demographic.
Before 1967 was over, Clark was back in the Byrds, replacing David Crosby who had quit and then, just weeks later, Gene was back out again. In ’68, there would be a new record label, a partnership with Dillard and big strides made down the country rock road. Before 1969 was finished, the working relationship with Dillard was over, Clark was experiencing major problems in his personal life and the singer was to be found playing harmonica in the back of other people’s records.
The 70s would bring more fantastic music, more collaborations, more hope and optimism yet ultimately more unfulfilled promise but as we said at the start, just be grateful for all that we got. Don’t forget to check out our page on The Byrds and the Younger Than Yesterday record.
To Gene Clark: