Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers
Columbia CS 9418
I've mentioned in some of my posts on the Byrds how much I admire Gene Clark. He was my favorite member of the group and I'll always despise David Crosby for being such a jerk to him while he was in the band. I think he was a better singer and songwriter than Crosby or McGuinn. I like Clark's solo records as well and this is my favorite, one of my most treasured records, an original pressing of his debut album. It features two of his former bandmates as a rhythm section, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke in addition to Glen Campbell, ex-Leaves Bill Rinehart and future Byrd Clarence White on guitar and Leon Russell on keyboards. Vern and Rex Gosdin provide back-up vocals and somehow end up with co-billing on the album, apparently because Clark's manager Jim Dickson wanted to plug his other clients, the Gosdins. The album opens with the chamber pop, "Echoes" which is one of the most extraordinary songs Clark ever wrote. The song is poorly served by Leon Russell's fussy arrangement but the lyrics are brilliant. Most of Clark's songs with the Byrds had been some sort of love song which makes the Dylanesque poetic impressionism of this song all the more striking. I picture Clark strolling along the Sunset Strip pondering his current situation ending up at the Byrds's former haunt The Whisky a Go Go (the woman mentioned in the song, Regina, was a dancer there.) The imagery of the song really sends me and shows his growing depth as an artist. "Think I'm Gonna Feel Better" is a return to the themes and folk-rock sound of Clark's work with the Byrds not that there is anything wrong with that. The jangly country rock of "Tried So Hard" is immensely appealing to me. I've loved this song ever since I first heard Fairport Convention's cover version on "Heyday." Clark's own version is even better with a heartfelt vocal ably supported by the sweet harmonies of the Gosdins. The lyrics which describe dealing with heartbreak are evocative and moving without being maudlin. I think this is one of the best songs Clark ever wrote. I never get tired of hearing it. "Is Yours Is Mine" is more Byrdsian folk-rock. It sounds like it is about a girl, but it makes me think of his departure from the Byrds as well. "Keep On Pushin'" is another country rock song with lots of jangly guitar and a propulsive beat. Hillman's throbbing bass drives the song which is about encouragement and commitment. "I Found You" has a catchy guitar rift and loads of hooks that make it another of one of the more memorable songs on the record. Side two opens with "So You Say You Lost Your Baby" which opens with some promising stinging guitar lines before Leon Russell's string arrangement kicks in. Once again I think Russell's orchestration is obtrusive and distracting, nearly ruining one of the best songs on the album. Fortunately the song is strong enough to push through the orchestral syrup with a terrific emotional vocal from Clark leading the way. The lyrics are very poetic with lots of great imagery and the melody is very compelling. "Elevator Operator" is a riff driven garage rocker. The song is slight lyrically if not inane, but it does provide some rock and roll energy. "The Same One" is a haunting folk-rock song with an emotional Clark vocal. Nobody in rock does heartbreak better than Clark. He had the ability to describe the sensation of loss and longing without wallowing in sentiment and self-pity. "Couldn't Believe Her" is another riff-driven rocker with plenty of energy. The album concludes with the country rock "Needing Someone" which is about trust and finding direction. The Gosdins' vocals are mixed way too high, I can barely hear Clark's vocal over them. It is still a good song though and it ends the album on an upbeat optimistic note. This is such a wonderful record, it is hard to believe that it was a flop. I suppose it got lost in the shuffle with all the great albums that came out in 1967. You could argue that its emphasis on folk-rock was dated, but I don't accept that. I think the record is timeless. Aside from Leon Russell's heavy-handed arrangements on "Echoes" and "So You Say You Lost Your Baby" my only complaint about this record is that it is too short, not even a half hour long. It is full of great singing and memorable melodies, every song is good and several are great. If you are a fan of the Byrds, it is a must-have record. Recommended to people who think that Clark's "Here Without You" is a better Byrds song than Crosby's "Mind Gardens."