Great news everyone! Amidst all the unbearable dross that fills our everyday lives (you name it, it’ll probably be dross) a small nugget of wonder has finally been given the recognition it deserves, or at least it will do in November. One of the truly great albums of any time is getting the full on, massive, multi layered, spunky money up the wall, box set treatment and (and please just note that this does happen from time to time, perhaps more often than you’d imagine) I’m ever so excited and happy and, despite the financial implication, can’t really wait.
For years ‘No Other’ by Gene Clark wasn’t even available unless you had an original copy and, ultimately, not many people had an original copy because it didn’t sell too well. It didn’t sell too well because nobody was really interested in Gene Clark by this stage. Once he had been at the cutting edge, writing songs and singing for The Byrds as they ascended to some of the higher branches of the mid 60’s rock tree. Only they didn’t stay there for all too long: too many egos, too many opinions. And even worse just as they were reaching that peak Gene Clark left, for a few reasons, the most ironic of which was that he didn’t like to fly. At least not literally.
So off went Gene, taking his exemplary song writing skills with him and proceeded to plunge into a deafening non-event of a solo career. It’s not that the music wasn’t good it’s just that there weren’t enough people out there with enough time to listen to him; they were busy tuning in to every other act clogging up the charts; the late 60’s were brutal at this kind of thing – in the space of 18 months The Beach Boys went from all to nothing, all the while still turning out stunning music at every turn.
By the early 70’s Gene had very conscientiously built up quite an impressive drink and drug problem, but that didn’t stop him putting out an eponymous album, otherwise called ‘White Light’, on which every song can be measured as more worthwhile than, for arguments sake, the entirety of James Taylor’s career. Still, he was struggling to hit the big time when, bizarrely, out of the blue came David Geffen and Asylum Records and offered him a fat budget to record what would become his masterpiece and eventually nestle comfortably amongst the best albums ever recorded.
‘No Other’ is a strange combination of country, jazz, rock, soul and cosmic dust (according to Clark he was influenced at the time by The Stones and Stevie Wonder – dark into light, lethargic yet effervescent, the devil and the gospel). It has tunes, of course, but in its best moments it seems to take on an altogether higher quality; it glides rather than struts and it really does feel as if Gene Clark had briefly slipped into another dimension of song craft that no-one else had ever been allowed to hear, nor would be again from then on. It is a panoramic, widescreen dream. A hazy, narcotic opera with cowboy boots and a denim shirt. The opener ‘Life’s Greatest Fool’ is a joker, a red herring to think you know what else will follow but after that every song takes a different direction; the only common thread is Clark’s superb, all too human voice and whatever it was he was smoking at the time.
Roughly 17 years ago some bright spark had the sense to dig out the master tapes and give ‘No Other’ a second flight and that’s when I first dipped in and to this day I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity. The song ‘Strength of Strings’, for example, is up there with any song ever written – a stoned, numb, stratosphere stroking classic and a call to arms for anyone with the vaguest appreciation of what music can really do for the soul. ‘Some Misunderstanding’ isn’t far behind. If you think The Black Eyed Peas are great then this probably won’t work for you.
Not only will I probably spend the £140 needed to get the super deluxe, more money than sense edition, I’ll actually be proud to do so. I feel that somehow I owe Gene Clark this one. I owe him for bringing a thing of beauty into my life and for letting it grow all over me. Like all the best albums ‘No Other’ isn’t meant to be an instant fix, it takes time to mature and what one song means now will mean so much more in five years time. Sadly Gene Clark died a long time ago, the victim of a life lived unwisely, probably unhappily too, and yet he was about as smart a songwriter as I could care to name. I could keep ‘No Other’ all to myself but I’ve decided to share. If you try it and don’t like it then don’t bother telling me because I’ll just know that you haven’t tried hard enough or that you’re not up to it. Yet. ‘No Other’ has few equals and it deserves a much, much bigger audience. But then, as the history of musical culture teaches us – when they reach the top people seem to stop bothering sooner or later. Gene Clark was never afforded such luxury and so in that sense it’s much better that ‘No Other’ remains as it is. Which is fucking brilliant.
G B Hewitt. 11.09.2019