Posts Tagged ‘The Byrds’

Gene Clark Sings For You

Though he’s been and continues to be the subject of numerous reissues and releases, Gene Clark still remains somewhat of an enigma.  The founding member of The Byrds (1944-1991) only released six solo studio albums within his too-short lifetime, bolstering a discography also containing group and collaborative efforts.  But he left behind what seems like scores of unreleased tracks, much of which has been mined in the years since his death.  In 2013, the Omnivore label issued his demos for the A&M album White Light, and now the label has tackled the holy grail of Clark’s demos – a 1967 acetate entitled Gene Clark Sings for You.  An expanded edition of the original acetate has been joined on CD by A Trip Through the Garden from The Rose Garden, a group which enjoyed Clark’s support and patronage.

The eight recordings on the original Gene Clark Sings for You were recorded near the end of 1967 at West Hollywood’s Larrabee Studios and the venerable Gold Star StudiosClark, accompanying himself on guitar, was joined by simple instrumentation including calliope, Chamberlin strings (a keyboard device similar to the mellotron) and electric piano.  Alex del Zoppo of Sweetwater played the piano, though the other musicians’ identities remain a mystery.  One track boasts strings, leading to speculation that it may have come from an earlier session led by Leon Russell as arranger-conductor.  All of the songs reveal a young, talented singer-songwriter at the crossroads, with plenty of talent and ambition but perhaps lacking a clear vision as to how to best deploy those gifts.  The result is a set of original songs in the best sense of the word, even if they may not have been commercial enough to attract an interested label.  It’s also worth noting that Clark never released any of these songs, a testament to his prolific nature as a songwriter.

The Dylan influence so evident in The Byrds’ recordings is also clear on “Past Tense,” though Clark’s own evocative poetic sensibility comes into its own with “Past My Door.”  Eschewing the expected, Clark also employed a tempo shift midway through.  Violins – perhaps arranged by Leon Russell – appear on “That’s Alright by Me,” adding a note of elegance to the folk-rock track.

Clark conjured San Francisco on many of these demos including “On Her Own,” about a beguiling girl he found there, and the mournful “Down on the Pier” (featuring atmospheric, ironic calliope).  The similarly doleful “Yesterday, Am I Right” (previously recorded for Hugh Masekela’s Chisa label but unissued) features Clark’s drawl at its most vulnerable.  Clark’s well-documented country leanings come to the fore on one track alone: the twangy, laconic “7:30 Mode,” on which he adds harmonica and is accompanied by an unknown guitarist.

This first-time commercial release of Gene Clark Sings for You is bolstered with an additional six tracks intended for The Rose Garden – a five-song acetate and one more demo.  The troubadour first encountered the band at the Ash Grove, joining them onstage for a set of Byrds tunes.  The awestruck band were thrilled to work with, and receive songs from, their hero.  The acoustic tracks on the acetate (which has never been heard outside of band circles) include the Dylan-ish “On Tenth Street,” the upbeat love song “Understand Me Too,” and the moving “A Long Time,” which The Rose Garden opted to cover on the band’s sole album.  Two full-band performances were also presented to The Rose Garden: the blues-rocking “Big City Girl” (complete with wailing harmonica) and “Doctor, Doctor,” the most produced and Byrds-esque track on the acetate with double-tracked vocals and harmonies.  “Till Today,” also recorded by The Rose Garden, is included here in a Clark demo.

The Rose Garden is the subject of A Trip Through the Garden, the first-ever anthology dedicated to the band.  And what an anthology it is, appending 16 tracks (14 previously unreleased) to the group’s lone 1968 album.  The band is, of course, best remembered today for the opening track of that LP, “Next Plane to London.”  The top 20 hit still gets airplay today, and earned The Rose Garden the “one-hit wonder” tag.  But as with most artists given that moniker, there was more to the group than just that one tune.
The Los Angeles-area band (John Noreen, Jim Groshong, Bruce Bowdin, and Bill Fleming) was enamored with The Byrds, which made it all the more fortuitous when Clark dropped into their set the Ash Grove.  (They went by The Blokes at that time.)  With the addition of singer Diana De Rose, The Blokes gained a gal and rechristened themselves The Rose Garden (a play on their newest addition’s surname.)  A showcase at hot spot Gazzarri’s on the Sunset Strip landed the still-underage band a deal with Buffalo Springfield managers Charles Greene and Brian Stone.  They got The Rose Garden signed with the Springfield’s label, Atco, and set about producing their first album.

The Rose Garden - A Trip Through The Garden

The Rose Garden is an amiable folk-rock effort with heavy pop leanings and a solid dose of Byrds-esque chime (courtesy of Noreen’s Rickenbacker) and sparkling harmonies.  Notably, while emphasizing vocals over instrumentation in Greene and Stone’s production, the band played on the record as a self-contained unit, without any intervention from the Wrecking Crew or other studio aces.  The liner notes reveal that the album’s repertoire was selected from songs picked by Greene and Stone as well as the band members.  (Only one track is credited to the band: “Flower Town,” a flower-power adaptation of the folk ballad “Portland Town.”)

In addition to Kenny O’Dell’s obviously catchy “Next Plane to London,” featuring Diana’s enjoyably burnished vocals, The Rose Garden offered a trio of songs by future Redbone founder Pat Vegas: the slow “I’m Only Second” (which somewhat recalls “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”), the bright Byrds-meets-Mamas-and-the-Papas confection “February Sunshine,” and the jangly “Coins of Fun” with strong duet vocals from Diana and Jim.  (The latter isn’t as trippy as its title would indicate, though.)  The group’s lustrous harmonies were also in evidence on the folk adaptation “Rider.”  An attractive cover of the Bob Dylan ballad “She Belongs to Me” led by Groshong joined Clark’s “Till Today” (slightly evoking The Fortunes’ “You’ve Got Your Troubles” in the band arrangement) and “Long Time,” which gained a Motown-style bassline.  Bob Johnston and Wes Farrell penned the exquisite, soft ballad “Look What You’ve Done.”

Omnivore’s expanded edition now has a running time of nearly 80 minutes, with an impressive array of bonus tracks.  Kenny O’Dell’s gorgeous “If My World Falls Through” was backed with the uptempo “Here’s Today,” co-written by John Noreen for a follow-up, non-LP single.  The B-side is a surprisingly commercial track that could have held its own as a A-side.  These are heard in both mono and stereo versions.  They’re joined by tracks for a proposed second album that was never completed, including a take of Neil Young’s “Down to the Wire” performed by Young, Stephen Stills, and Mac (Dr. John) Rebennack.  The crunchy backing track was presented to the band by Greene and Stone due to their Buffalo Springfield connection.  The illustrious triumvirate of Bob Crewe, Al Kooper, and Irwin Levine supplied “The World Is a Great Big Playground,” which is charming but falls short of the team’s other accomplishments.

Of interest to Gene Clark fans will be two additional appearances of “Till Today”: a rehearsal with Clark himself, and an acetate alternate.  Five live songs captured onstage at West Hills, California’s Chaminade High School round out the set: “Next Plane to London” and an array of covers not recorded in the studio by The Rose Garden including The Byrds’ “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and Clark-penned “She Don’t Care About Time,” Sonny and Cher’s “It’s the Little Things,” and Bo Diddley’s “You Don’t Love Me,” also by way of Sonny and Cher.  The sound is better on these tracks than might be expected, and they offer a taste of what the band’s strong live sound.

John Einarson, author of Mr. Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of The Byrds’ Gene Clark, has penned the erudite liner notes for both releases, with the story of The Rose Garden proving particularly fascinating.  Gene Clark Sings for You and A Trip Through the Garden are essential snapshots of the unparalleled creativity of the L.A. music scene in the late 1960s.

Both titles are available now:

Gene ClarkSings for You

The Rose GardenA Trip Through the Garden: The Rose Garden Collection

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Goin’ Back” (a.k.a. “Going Back“) is a song written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King in 1966.  It describes the loss of innocence that comes with adulthood along with an attempt, on the part of the singer, to recapture that youthful innocence. The song has been recorded by many artists, including Dusty Springfield, The Byrds, Elkie Brooks, Deacon Blue, Marianne Faithfull, Bill Drummond (of The KLF), Nils Lofgren, Freddie Mercury (on a Larry Lurex single), The Move, The New Seekers, The Pretenders, Diana Ross, Richard Thompson, Phil Collins, and Bon Jovi as well as the versionfrom writer Carole King herself

Carole King hit it big with Tapestry in 1971, but her first solo effort, 1970’s “Writer”, didn’t make much of an impact. After years of writing songs for other people, and in the wake of her divorce from Gerry Goffin, King was ready to stake out her independence, which included reclaiming some of those songs as her own. “Goin’ Back” falls into that category: It had already been recorded by Dusty Springfield and The Byrds, but King, much like she would do the next year with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” dominates on her own version, a spirited ode to drawing from the past in order to step into the future: “Thinking young and growing older is no sin / And I can play the game of life to win.” Barely-there backing vocals from fellow troubadour James Taylor augment the song’s dreaminess, a show of support for King as she gains her “little bit of courage.” That surge carried King through to the No. 1 success of Tapestry, which would lead to a rediscovery of Writer that boosted it onto the charts a year later.

The Byrds recording of “Goin Back”  taken from the album Notorious Byrd Brothers, released as a single on October 20th, 1967 but failed to chart in the United Kingdom.  Musically, the track shares similarities with other songs on the album such as “Get To You” and “Natural Harmony”, through the use of baroque arrangements and instrumentation. The track also resembles a subtle country feel. 

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The band’s decision to record “Goin’ Back” led to tensions within the group, principally due to rhythm guitarist David Crosby’s lack of enthusiasm towards the song. Crosby considered “Goin’ Back” to be lightweight fluff, style of songwriting.  He was therefore dismayed to find that his own song “Triad” was in direct competition with “Goin’ Back” for a place on The Notorious Byrd Brothers album. Ultimately, Crosby was fired from the band and “Goin’ Back” was included on the album and released as a single. 

'Mr. Tambourine Man'

“Wow, man, you can even dance to that!” said Bob Dylan when he heard the Byrds‘ heavily harmonized, electric twelve-string treatments of his material. The Byrds‘ tender-but-tough debut defined folk rock with Pete Seeger and Dylan covers, Los Angeles studio savvy and punchy, ringing guitars. Its influence on generations of “jangly” rock and roll makes it one of the Sixties most visionary albums and while the Dylan songs got most of the ink, their originals (“I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better”) were just as great.

Released in 1965, this highly influential folk-rock album was The Byrd’s first LP, and it remains my personal favourite next to the Notorious Byrd Brothers . Though, of course, not every song on it was actually released as a single, every one of them is a hit. This debut album features Jim (Roger) McGuinn, Gene Clark, David Crosby, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke. The line-up of the Byrds changed regularly but some of these musicians also achieved success with other groups, too numerous to mention here. The style is generally described as folk-rock, but there is more to it than that.
The title track of this album was their first and biggest hit, going all the way to number one on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Byrds heavily covered tracks which were written by Bob Dylan throughout their recording career (in which they were able to bring their own special brand of harmony to one of the greatest song writing talents of all time), and four of them appear on here, including ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’, which both the British and American public took to the top of the charts, and the follow-up single: ‘All I Really Want to Do’, which peaked at no.4. It’s success was made all the more respectable when you consider that it was having to compete against another version by an up and coming girl singer known as Cher.

For me though, the album’s real highlight is an original: ‘I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better’, written by the band’s founding member Gene Clark, and one of The Byrd’s greatest songs.

Sweetheart Of The Rodeo

On this day August. 30th in 1968: The Byrds released their 6th studio album, ‘Sweetheart Of The Rodeo’, on Columbia Records; it was the sixth album to be released by the band The Byrds , recorded with the addition of country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons, it was influential as the first major country rock album by an established act and represented a stylistic move away from the psychedelic rock of the band’s previous album ,The Notorious Byrd Brotherssteered by the passion of the little-known Parsons, who had only joined The Byrds in February 1968, by the time the album was released in August, Parsons had left the band

It was massively influential as the first major country-rock album by an established act; the group had occasionally experimented with country music on their four previous albums, but ‘Sweetheart Of The Rodeo’ represented their fullest immersion into the genre; the album elicited a great deal of resistance & hostility from the ultra-conservative Nashville country music establishment, who viewed The Byrds as a group of long-haired hippies attempting to subvert country music – making “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo”, arguably, the first true ‘alt country’ record…

You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
2:41 I Am A Pilgrim
6:27 The Christian Life
9:01 You Don’t Miss Your Water
12:56 You’re Still On My Mind
15:26 Pretty Boy Floyd
18:06 Hickory Wind
21:44 One Hundred Years From Now
24:46 Blue Canadian Rockies
26:54 Life In Prison
29:45 Nothing Was Delivered

On the original album, Gram Parsons is featured singing lead vocals on the songs “Hickory Wind”, “You’re Still on My Mind”, and “Life in Prison”. Due to legal threat from Lee Hazlewood (who contended that the singer was still under contract to his LHI record label), Gram’s vocals on the three songs “The Christian Life”, “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, and “One Hundred Years from Now” were replaced by Roger McGuinn. Parsons’ original vocals were finally released on The Byrds box set in 1990 (as well as Sacred Hearts & Fallen Angels: The Gram Parsons Anthology in 2001).

Let’s not forget Chris Hillmans contributions, when we think of the Byrds, the Burrito Brothers..Parsons and Hillman were a formidable writing team, and contributed to the sounds of American music just as much as any thing Lieber and Stoler contributed. And when we’re grovin on Gram’s stuff , let’s also remember, Sneaky Pete Klienow the incredible steel pedal player who gave the burritos that, what I would call hippie trippie country sound.

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The fifth album from the grandfathers of American jangle guitar doesn’t have the notoriety or hits of Mr. Tambourine Man or Turn! Turn! Turn! Still, it may be the light heavyweight champion of their catalog, pound for pound the strongest punch of the bunch. That’s an especially impressive claim if you know the band’s chaos of the day. Notorious, indeed: Founding guitarist David Crosby was fired over their recording of Carole King’s “Goin’ Back” (ironically, this album’s only single), and Michael Clarke and Gene Clark eventually ping-ponged their way out the door too. Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman managed to expertly fill in the gaps with session musicians and production wizardry, outfitting their folk rock with trappings of the baroque and psychedelia—found and generated noises, poppy saxophone, the occasional sludgy riff, even early adoption of the Moog synthesizer.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers saw the band and producer Gary Usher making extensive use of a number of studio effects and production techniques, including Phasing, flanging and the introduction the sound of the pedal steel guitar into their music for the first time on the album, making it  alsoone of the first album releases on which the Moog appears.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers rings out like a glorious chiming bell and remains one of the band’s most loved albums. Its consistency is amazing, with one song after another bending one’s mind and inducing a smile. “Artificial Energy” kicks things off in fine style. Co-written by McGuinn, Hillman and Clarke, it’s a perfect album opener. The last song recorded for the album, it bursts forth with punchy horns and driving drums. Yes, it’s about speed, and it’s safe to say the lyrics probably wouldn’t fly today: “I’m coming down off amphetamine, and I’m in jail cause I killed a queen.”

The band’s take on Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “Goin’ Back” is perhaps the definitive version of the song. Elsewhere, “Natural Harmony” and “Draft Morning” bask in pure beauty. (Chris Hillman’s role as composer really began to expand on Notorious, as he co-wrote eight of this LP’s 11 tracks.) Another Goffin/King song, “Wasn’t Born To Follow” offered here in all of its countrified glory – would later feature in the movie Easy Rider.

“Get to You” and “Old John Robertson” are both country-tinged numbers that glow of the era they sprang from, while “Change Is Now” is one of the band’s most beautiful songs without question, and its jingle-jangle guitars resonate for the ages.

“Tribal Gathering” has David Crosby written all over it. He and Hillman worked up this two-minute gem in homage to the “Gathering of the Tribes” festival held earlier that year in San Francisco. “Dolphin’s Smile” conjures up its own psychedelic aquatic adventure over just two minutes, before the album ends on an eerie note with “Space Odyssey.” A otherworldly drone set to a sea shanty waltz, the track is driven by a swirling wash of keyboards and guitars.

David Crosby was fired by McGuinn and Hillman in October 1967, as a result of friction arising from, among other things, Crosby’s displeasure at the band’s wish to record the song “Goin’ Back”. David Crosby felt that recording the song was a step backwards artistically, especially when the band contained three active songwriters. Another factor that contributed to Crosby’s dismissal was his controversial song “Triad”, a risqué composition about a menage a trois , The song was in direct competition with “Goin’ Back” for a place on the album.  Crosby eventually gave the tune to the Jefferson Airplane , who included a version of the song on “Crown Of Creation” Although the Byrds did record “Triad”, the song’s daring subject matter compelled McGuinn and Hillman to prevent it from being released at the time.

The results feel particularly transfused into the body of R.E.M.’s Document, and suggest multiple points in the soundtracks of Wes Anderson’s filmography.

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The Byrds released their third LP “Fifth Dimension” the highly influential, albeit transitional, album released on July 18th, 1966. Most of the album was recorded following the February 1966 departure of the band’s principal songwriter Gene Clark so the majority of the songwriting went to guitarists Jim McGuinn and David Crosby. Even with the two writing, they recorded four cover versions and an instrumental. It was however the first by The Byrds not to include any songs written by Bob Dylan, whose material had previously been a mainstay of the band’s repertoire.

Fifth Dimension was widely regarded as the band’s most experimental album to date and is today considered influential in originating the musical genre of psychedelic rock with tracks like Eight Miles High and Mr Spaceman. It was also the first time the bands logo appeared with the psychedelic artwork.

Arguably the most famous song on the album was “Eight Miles High”, an early excursion into psychedelic rock. Musically, the song was a fusion of John Coltrane influenced guitar playing courtesy of lead guitarist then Jim McGuinn and the raga based musical structure and vocals, inspired by the the Indian music of Ravi Shanker. Written mostly by Gene Clark in November 1965, while The Byrds were on tour in the U.S., the song was pivotal in transmuting folk rock into the new musical forms of psychedelia and raga rock. Regardless of its innovative qualities, however, many radio stations in the U.S. banned the record citing the title to be a reference to recreational drug use ,The song’s lyrics actually pertained to the approximate cruising altitude of commercial airliners and the group’s first visit to London during their 1965 English tour

Happy 51st Birthday to The Byrds LP “Fifth Dimension”!!

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They started out as a folk-rock band equally influenced by the Beatles and Bob Dylan. But it didn’t take long for other artists outside of the usual pop confines to creep into their music. The Byrds’ first two albums  “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn Turn Turn” , both released in 1965 included expertly played folk-rock songs, an instrumental distinction thanks to Roger McGuinn’s 12-string guitar sound and lots of Dylan covers. But by 1966’s “Fifth Dimension” , they were ready to move on.

The album’s centerpiece was “Eight Miles High,” inspired by Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar and free-jazz legend John Coltrane, and included a guitar solo that was as close to avant-garde improvisation as mainstream music got in 1966. It tested the waters for the Byrds’ next record, “Younger Than Yesterday”, which was released in February 1967.

Fifth Dimension had been the group’s first real psychedelic piece, but “Younger Than Yesterday” is the more accomplished album, a record of wild experimentation that was worlds away from the jingle-jangle rings of “Mr. Tambourine Man.” From the backward tapes and raga influences to the horns and, in a sign of things to come, down-home country rhythms that grace a couple of the songs, the album found the band working with new producer Gary Usher for the first time at its creative peak. The mind-tripping “C.T.A.-102,” a song about extraterrestrial life that uses an electronic oscillator to make its point, pretty much sums things up.

All but one of Younger Than Yesterday‘s 11 songs were written by a band member this time (the lone exception was another Dylan cover, “My Back Pages” this time). Gene Clark, the group’s most prolific songwriter, left the band before Fifth Dimension‘s release, though he did contribute to “Eight Miles High” and a few songs leading up to that LP’s sessions.

The album also marked the emergence of the band’s bass player Chris Hillman as a talented songwriter and vocalist, He turned out to be the standout writer on the Byrds’ fourth album, composing four songs on his own and one with McGuinn, the album-opening single “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” (which included a trumpet solo by South African musician Hugh Masekela, another sign of the band’s burgeoning influences outside of their roots). David Crosby who was kicked out of the band the next year, also wrote four songs.

The Byrds’ move toward country which would become closer with their next album, The Notorious Byrd Brothers , until their full-on embrace of the genre with the classic “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo”, all began here. Hillman, who’d go on to the Flying Burrito Brothers with Gram Parsons, following his one-album gig with the Byrds, was a major architect of their sound moving forward.

His contributions to Younger Than Yesterday which was recorded in less than two weeks at the end of 1966 helped shape the album and the band’s future. He had a hand in the album’s two best songs — “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and “Have You Seen Her Face” and provided the foundation for what came next. But the Byrds were still a group, even if they were falling apart, and Crosby’s jazzier, more challenging entries can’t be discounted. It was his growing interest in more worldly music that took the Byrds into more unconventional territory here.

The three singles pulled from Younger Than Yesterday didn’t get higher than No. 29; “My Back Pages” would be their last trip to the Top 40.  Although it was largely overlooked by the public at the time of its release, the album’s critical standing has improved over the years and today Younger Than Yesterday is considered to be one of The Byrds‘ best albums. The title of Younger Than Yesterday is derived from the lyrics of “My Back Pages”, a song written by Bob Dylan, which was covered on the album.

The Byrds

The Byrds have had bigger hit songs like their recording of Bob Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man which reached number one, as did their cover of Pete Seger’s Turn! Turn! Turn! but among the band’s self-penned tunes, none are more enduring, or as misunderstood, as Eight Miles High.

Released in 1966, “Eight Miles High” has been called the first psychedelic rock song. However, Roger McGuinn, who wrote the track with fellow Byrds members Gene Clark and David Crosby, disagrees. “It’s a unique song, sure,” he says, “but psychedelic wasn’t something we were trying for. It’s a big misunderstanding. If anything, I consider it to be the first jazz-rock song, or even jazz-fusion. But psychedelic? No, I wouldn’t call it that.”

McGuinn also dispels the widely held notion that “Eight Miles High” refers to drugs, the idea of which got the song banned on radio stations. In addition, he talks about the influence that Ravi Shankar and John Coltrane had on him during the writing of the track, along with how the version of the song that millions of listeners have heard over the years isn’t really the one the band intended to release. We Recorded it at RCA with Dave Hassinger as the engineer, but Columbia Records had a strict policy that they only used their house engineers, so we had to re-record it. It became a real sticking point between us and the label. So, in fact, we really did have kind of a demo—the RCA version is the demo. We went to the Columbia studios and redid it. Both versions are pretty good. I think the first one has more spontaneity, and the second one is better rehearsed.

We’d been doing pot and LSD at that point—everybody was experimenting with things. There wasn’t anything deliberate or intentional about that in the title. I didn’t really mean anything by it, except for the airplane trip to England that we’d been on. It was more about the trip than the drugs. The only drug reference is the word “high.”

We flew over to England—it was our first time there, our first concert tour—and a promoter had called us “America’s answer to the Beatles.” That’s a hard label to live up to. It’s all right for the studio, but it’s not so great on stage. The press was already out to get us, and we got bad reviews for the tour.

We did get to meet the Beatles—George, John and Paul. I don’t remember Ringo being around. Paul even drove us around to different gigs. I got to ride in his Aston Martin DB5, which was a thrill. Lennon asked me about my little glasses. He was interested in them because he wore prescription glasses, but he didn’t want to wear them on stage like Buddy Holly. From that standpoint, it was a great tour—well, except for myself getting the flu.

After coming home, Gene had some chord changes—the E minor, the G and the D. We started to write a song about the tour, but then I said, “Let’s make it about the airplane ride.” I’ve always been into airplanes and technology. Gene was kind of afraid of planes, but we decided to do that—make it about the plane ride. He asked me, “How high do you thing this plane flies?” And I said, “Maybe 39,000 feet”—that would be seven miles high.

At the time, the Beatles had a song called Eight Days a Week, so Gene thought eight was a cooler number than seven. I said, “Sure, let’s change it. Poetic license—who’s gonna care?” I didn’t think that the radio stations would do the math. The DJs said, “Commercial airlines don’t fly eight miles high. They must be talking about some other kind of high.”

‘Incapable of divesting his work of resonance and beauty’ … Gene Clark.

1. Echoes
Having midwifed the more exhilarating variety of psychedelia as the co-writer of Eight Miles High, Gene Clark left the Byrds in early 1966 a move triggered, in a much noted irony, by a fear of flying. The following year came Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers, a glorious countrified psych-pop album, and more than distinctive and original enough to establish him as a major act in his own right. In a decision probably more clumsy than malicious, but one that prefigured the misfortunes of Clark’s entire subsequent career, Columbia Records timed its release in direct competition with his old band’s Younger Than Yesterday, on the same label, and it tanked. Its lambent, artfully scored opening track, taking a stately stroll through the twisting paths of inner space, was perfect for its moment. Alas, its moment never got to hear it.

2. So You Say You Lost Your Baby
Lost love was Clark’s creative engine; his former bandmates had always looked forward to his turbulent personal life going awry, because of the songs they’d get out of it. This hallucinatory stormer, also from his debut LP, is an urgent, pounding, organ-driven (in several senses) account of the tripped-out mind as much as the cracked-open heart. Clarke was a superb vocalist, one who merits consideration alongside Scott Walker and Nina Simone. As a lyricist, he needed to be heard rather than read; his ornate, often mystical and sometimes overwrought writing can fall flat on the page, but it soars on record.

3. Polly
Ever ahead of a game he somehow always ended up losing, Clark had included country and bluegrass on his first album, well before the Byrds recruited Gram Parsons and recorded Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Two years on, he teamed up with bluegrass banjo maestro Doug Dillard, and a band including future Eagle Bernie Leadon plus other leading sidemen of the new country-rock movement, for a splendid pair of rootsy albums, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark and Through the Morning, Through the Night. Their quality and influence would later be acknowledged with the inclusion of two songs from the latter on Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’s 2007 Americana hit, Raising Sand. One was the title track, the other, this. Dillard and Clark’s haunted, gorgeous original is slow, clear, stark and heavy with longing – country music’s primary emotion, for which Clark, with his rich, tempered vibrato and yearning lyricism, had a particular affinity.

Byrds of a feather … Gene Clark (second right) with the Byrds in an overliteral London photoshoot in August 1965.

4. The Virgin
In 1971, Bob Dylan was the elephant in every singer-songwriter’s room, and he was bound to loom particularly large when the room belonged to a former Byrd. Clark was always too singular, too idiosyncratic, to be a straight-up Dylan imitator, which is perhaps why Dylan, who unjustly scoffed at Donovan, held him in such high regard. The plain, folky, largely acoustic album White Light was as close as Clark ever came to sincere flattery of Dylan – and while it wasn’t all that close, it stands among the finest of that era’s many records unmistakably beholden to the master. On opening track The Virgin, the measured, honeyed, philosophical tale of a girl in the big city, his inflection veers towards Dylan’s – but he never gives himself over to pastiche. Nor would he ever, even when it might have benefited him. Perhaps he genuinely didn’t know how.

5. She Don’t Care About Time
Clark often reworked his own songs. His later versions of Feel a Whole Lot Better and Train Leaves Here This Morning are wonderful, but this is the ne plus ultra of his revisions. Still feeling his way around country rock on the recordings that would be collected on the Roadmaster album, in 1972 he turned to a classic he wrote for the Byrds, the epitome of all things jangly, and rendered it something else entirely. Baroque and suffused with tenderness and wonder, it is one of those overwhelming tracks devotional not only in a romantic but in a quasi-religious sense. The best known such number is, perhaps, the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows – and you wouldn’t want to live on the difference between that and this. It was also a foretaste of what Clark would do next.

6. Life’s Greatest Fool
What Clark did next was produce one of the greatest albums ever made. No Other (1974) eventually became synonymous with the phrase “lost masterpiece”. Initially celebrated for its obscurity – it was deleted by Asylum in 1976, reissued in 1991, then given the bells-and-whistles treatment in 2003 – it is now celebrated for its magnificence. It was in every way a magnum opus: epic, sprawling, poetic, choral, rococo. It cost a small fortune to record, and the already erratic Clark never got over its commercial failure. Its opening song is an exuberant, foot-tapping country-gospel anthem stuffed with counterculture folk wisdom, its downbeat lyric defied by its pure joie de vivre.

7. No Other
Gram Parsons, in some ways a parallel figure to Clark, had a vision of a cosmic American music; Clark lived to fashion one of his own. The title track of his masterwork pulses, glows and rattles in a thrilling meld of country and funk, gospel and rock, with echoes of the Family Stone, Staple Singers, Gimme Shelter and Abbey Road (Anglophilia being a strain unacknowledged in Americana, but not by Clark). It’s unique not only in his own catalogue but perhaps in all of pop music.

8. Some Misunderstanding
Here it is: the centrepiece of the No Other album and indeed of Clark’s career: a slow, eight-minute cry from the heart, reflecting on the perils and pleasures of a life lived too extravagantly. For Clark, who would surely have recognised William Blake as a spiritual progenitor, the road of excess had at last brought him to the palace of wisdom – and what a palace his is. It is a song to be dwelt in, to walk about within, exploring its chambers, curlicues and turrets. It is in most ways the antithesis of his sharp, concise writing of a decade previously, yet what stayed with Clark throughout was soul and soulfulness.

9. All I Want
Come the 80s, Tom Petty and REM were making the Byrds’ 60s sound fashionable again. In 1982 Clark recorded what would be released two years later as the Firebyrd album (later expanded and issued in the UK as This Byrd Has Flown). Again, circumstances (and perhaps self-sabotage) conspired against him; even when blatantly courting the main chance and invoking his past at every turn, he couldn’t catch a break. All I Want sounds like a prototype for later, poppy hits by the Traveling Wilburys and former bandmate Roger McGuinn; an updated, 80s-style Byrds. It is, by Clark’s standards, facile, a plaintive courtship of radio play. Yet it illustrates how he was quite incapable of divesting what he did of resonance and beauty.

10. Gypsy Rider
In 1986, five years before his drug- and alcohol-hastened death at 46, Clark recorded his final studio album, So Rebellious a Lover, with the roots singer Carla Olson. It includes this lovely piece, in the traditions both of biker and rambling-man’s-gotta-be-free songs. Yet it’s a world away in spirit from Born to Be Wild or Free Bird. It is as sorrowful a motorcycle tune as you’ll ever hear, and it invokes an almost unbearable sadness at the prospect of leaving yet another love. “She should have known by now / You’re just a vagabond,” laments Clark. “You may never pass this way again.” It is easy to read too much into words in hindsight, but it truly does sound as if he is performing his own elegy.

When Gram Parsons’ name is mentioned, it is often done so in association with those more well-known artists he influenced, such as The Byrds, who took Parsons’ lead during his brief tenure in the band for their groundbreaking album “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo”, or The Rolling Stones, whose admiration for Parsons shined through in their own forays into country music in the early ’70s.

Yet the recorded evidence of Parsons’ genius is frustratingly finite. As Keith Richards wrote in a tribute for Rolling Stone about his buddy, “I think he was just getting into his stride when he died. His actual output — the number of records he made and sold — was pretty minimal. But his effect on country music is enormous. This is why we’re talking about him now. But we can’t know what his full impact could have been.”

Luckily, in addition to his work with the Flying Burrito Brothers, Parsons made a pair of stellar solo albums before he died in 1973 that make clear why he is so revered. From “Grievous Angel”, the second of those albums which was released posthumously in 1974, came “$1,000 Wedding,” which stands as one of the saddest songs in history even though nobody is quite sure what transpires in it. Enigmatic though it may be, it demonstrates Parsons’ ability to add idiosyncratic touches to traditional material and perform it in mesmerizing fashion.

With a solemn piano tiptoeing in to begin the arrangement, Parsons starts his tale about a groom left standing at the altar under mysterious circumstances. All the narrator offers is that “the young bride went away.” Parsons makes things even more difficult to parse by switching haphazardly from third-person to first-person narrative. He hints at the protagonist’s friends perhaps joining him in some deception (“And he felt so bad when he saw the traces/Of old lies still on their faces”), but he never lets us know just what.

Most confounding of all, the narrator seems at times to be at the scene of a wedding gone awry and at others to be in the midst of a funeral. Certainly Parsons is toying with our expectations here and the fact that the most celebratory day in one’s life is held in the same location as the saddest. Parsons also takes country clichés like the mean mother-in-law and the preacher spewing fire and brimstone and balances them with the honest and raw sadness of the narrator, evident in his woeful delivery of the song’s closing couplet: “Supposed to be a funeral/It’s been a bad, bad day.”

For the record, this writer’s opinion is that the events being described are two separate occasions which the narrator jumbles into a single song. She initially did leave him at the altar, likely due to some sort of indiscretion he committed, hence his regret and wish to be put to sleep like the beasts in the preacher’s sermon. He’s there also for the girl’s funeral, perhaps not as fully attended as the wedding, which explains his concern that there isn’t the proper fanfare to mourn her.

Of course, you can take that interpretation with a grain of salt and blow it all into the Hickory Wind. What’s so great about “$1,000 Wedding” is that you can feel it plenty even if you don’t fully understand it. And what’s great about  is that he left us songs that are somehow as potent and vast as the shadow he cast on the music world.