If I had been anywhere near the northeast past of the US last week, snow or no snow, I would have been heading for New York, or Baltimore, or Washington, or Philadelphia, on one of the nights that the Gene Clark No Other Tour hit town. So, what is this? It’s a tour put together by members of Beach House, Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear and The Walkmen—and even Iain Matthews, from the early days of Fairport Convention. I even know one or two of these groups. And it’s in honor of an album by the late Gene Clark, songwriter extraordinaire, called No Other, issued in 1974. I’m glad I’m not the only one who loves this album. Here’s the description of the tour in Pitchfork; here’s the generous write-up in The New York Times; here’s a review of the Washington show. Sounds like a great show. Too bad they’re not coming to London.
No Other, which was released in 1974, bombed at the time, but has hung on. And it seems to have hit a chord with people a generation removed from me. Victoria Legrand of Beach House is absolutely correct when she says
It’s one of those records where each time you listen, you love a different song the most. Every song is nuanced and amazing in its own way.
It was overproduced, and far too many of the LA music establishment involved, and these perhaps aren’t even Clark’s best songs. But it’s a perfect album—every song a self-contained gem. The songs stay in the mind, something Clark was good at—writing songs that lingered, that haunted. And there’s some excellent guitar work by the late Jesse Ed Davis, among others, a solid rhythm section in Rusty Kunkel and Lee Sklar, and some over-wrought production by Thomas Jefferson Kaye. No matter—it works. The album stays in the head. Clark knew it was brilliant, and its commercial failure remained with him until his premature death in 1991.
I’ve got a pretty good collection of Clark, including all his Byrds work and all the solo and group albums. But he wrote so many good songs it’s hard to keep track. How good a songwriter was Clark? Well, on that wonderful album Raising Sand, by Robert Plant and Allison Kraus, where they showcase some of their favorite songs and songwriters, there are two Clark songs. No one else gets two. He was a mainstay of the early Byrds albums, writing some of their best songs (Clark was a considerably better songwriter than anyone else in the band, including David Crosby). He finally had to leave the band because of his fear of flying, but continued to write songs for them (and his own erratic solo career). But Clark, perhaps, suffered from what we can refer to as Richard Thompson syndrome—writing too many good songs. Not a problem faced by Elton John, for example, or The Eagles. Or David Crosby, for that matter.
So I’m glad Clark is getting some recognition. This is a nifty idea. And I hope the tour was recorded and that we’ll see an album come out of this. So thanks to all these youngsters who are hopefully leading a little min-revival for one of the best songwriters of our time.
But there must be other albums from departed artists deserving of this treatment as well—whether they’ll be as inspirational as No Other is for these folks is uncertain, I suppose. But I’d love to see someone re-create the Small Faces’ Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake, from the late Steve Marriott (pre-Rod Stewart) era. Delaney and Bonnie’s Motel Shot? How about some Stan Rogers? Laura Nyro? Nick Drake, anyone? Thea Gilmore has done an album of lost songs by Sandy Denny, and even a Sandy Denny tour—but no one has tried to recreate any of Denny’s wonderful albums—particularly Like an Old Fashioned Waltz. I’m sure I could come up with more 30 or 40-year-old classics if I thought about it hard enough. You get the idea. For all the music that has been produced over the past 50 or 60 years, perfect albums are rarer than you might expect. Even The Beatles only managed three. Lots of great groups never manage any, or only one (The Who). And sometimes we need some distance to actually tell. But they’re out there, and they shouldn’t be forgotten.
Categories: Music/Popular Culture