Gene Clark is best-known as an original member of The Byrds. He was the first to leave the group – with a fear of flying he disliked touring, while the other members resented his song-writing royalties. The most accomplished songwriter in the original line-up, it’s not surprising that he went on to forge an acclaimed career as a solo artist. Clark never met with much commercial success, however – upset by the commercial failure of the lavish masterpiece No Other, he recorded little new material after 1974. Clark passed away at the age of 46 in 1990, shortly after he appeared with the original Byrds for their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.
Along with No Other, 1971’s singer-songwriter record White Light and the early country-rock of 1968’s The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark are other post-Byrds highlights. Clark’s career is frustratingly erratic, but it’s worth trawling through his catalogue for other highlights. This list only covers Clark’s material after he left The Byrds – Byrds classics like ‘Eight Miles High’, ‘I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better’, and the b-side ‘She Don’t Care About Time‘ aren’t eligible. ‘One In A Hundred’, however, is a lost Byrds song recorded by the original lineup in 1970 that emerged on Clark’s 1973 album Roadmaster.
10 Best Gene Clark Songs
#10: Gypsy Rider
from So Rebellious A Lover, 1987
Clark’s final studio project was a collaboration with Carla Olson, a Texas-born musician who was a member of the Textones. ‘Gypsy Rider’ is one of only three Clark originals on So Rebellious A Lover but it’s a typically gorgeous Clark melody, delivered with world-weary resignation.
from Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers, 1967
Clark’s first post-Byrds album opened with ‘Echoes’. It was recorded after the rest of the project, intended as a single. There’s a clear Dylan influence in the lyrics, while the music is baroque psychedelia. Leon Russell contributes orchestra, woodwinds, and harpsichord. The album was unsuccessful, partly attributed to the fact that Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers was overshadowed by The Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday.
#8: Out on the Side
from The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark, 1968
After the commercial failure of his debut album, Clark joined forces with bluegrass picker Doug Dillard, making an early country-rock record. Their first release was the fabulously named The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark; future Eagle Bernie Leadon sings harmony and plays lead guitar. Opening track ‘Out on the Side’ is the standout, although Clark’s reading of The Beatles’ ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ is also very good.
#7: For A Spanish Guitar
from White Light, 1971
‘For A Spanish Guitar’ is acoustic track that again highlights Bob Dylan’s influence on Clark. The album is produced by Jesse Ed Davis, who also contributes some lovely guitar work. Davis is a largely forgotten figure in popular music – he played with American blues guitarist Taj Mahal in the 1960s, before playing with 1970s luminaries like John Lennon, Jackson Browne, and Emmylou Harris.
from Through the Morning, Through the Night, 1969
The second Dillard & Clark album wasn’t as strong as their first – Bernie Leadon was pushed out of the group in favour of Doug Dillard’s girlfriend, and it was more reliant on covers for materials. There are, however, a handful of excellent Clark originals. The haunting melody of ‘Polly’ is gorgeous. ‘Polly’ was later covered by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant on 2007’s Grammy award winning Raising Sand, along with the album’s title track, ‘Through The Morning, Through The Night’.
#5: One in a Hundred
from Roadmaster, 1973
The original Byrds lineup briefly reconvened in 1970 to record a single, with each member recording their part separately. Both sides of the single were written by Clark, but it remained unreleased due to legal issues. ‘One In A Hundred’ was rerecorded for Clark’s 1971 album White Light in an acoustic version. The Byrds’ version, which eventually turned up on Clark’s 1973 record Roadmaster is superior, reuniting McGuinn’s chiming guitar and The Byrds’ lovely harmonies with Clark’s fantastic song-writing. Roadmaster was comprised of odds and ends and originally only released in the Netherlands, a travesty.
#4: Because of You
from White Light, 1971
‘Because of You’ steps closer to soul than anything else in Clark’s catalogue, with Clark’s sensitive vocal and the organ backing. The credited organ player on White Light is Michael Utley, who later became the musical director for Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band.
#3: Strength of Strings
from No Other, 1974
After Clark outshone the other Byrds on the original group’s 1973 reunion album The Byrds, he was given the chance to reboot his recording career. The resulting album, No Other, was a masterpiece, with richly layered music coupled with philosophical lyrics. Like Clark’s other records it was unsuccessful, perhaps ahead of its time; its lush soft-rock sound presaged Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 blockbuster Rumours. ‘Strength of Strings’ is a six-minute epic, with a two minute introduction before Clark delivers the first lyrics. Clark’s generally a straightforward songwriter, but there’s a sophisticated chord sequence behind this track.
#2: No Other
from No Other, 1974
The title track to Clark’s masterpiece is stuffed with 1970s studio goodness – the electric piano, the thunderous fuzz bass, the wah-wah guitar, and the Latin percussion. There’s a great introduction, where tentative noodling coalesces around the huge, fuzzy riff. The funky Latin percussion break in the middle of the song is also a thrilling moment.
#1: From A Silver Phial
from No Other, 1974
The piano introduction of ‘From A Silver Phial’ recalls Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Believe (When I Fall In Love)’. A drum fill that leads into Clark’s opening line “Refuse from a silver phial”, and it’s gorgeous. The anti-drug lyrics are rumoured to be inspired by Gram Parsons, who passed away from an overdose the previous year.
Are you a fan of Gene Clark? What’s your favourite song?