Gene Clark – Sings For You (Omnivore)
A holy grail for fans of the enigmatic ex-member of the Byrds
Very few artists have the mystique of Gene Clark. Perhaps it’s because he’s the only former member of the original Byrds not to achieve any solo success. Or maybe it’s that his music always seems to carry a haunting quality that was all his own. Either way, a newly-discovered collection of demos from 1967 called Sings For You will do nothing but add to that legend.
Clark started out as one-fifth of the original lineup of the Byrds, penning many of the band’s early album tracks, including “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” and co-writing one of their biggest hits, “Eight Miles High,” before quitting in 1966 (purportedly over a fear of flying) to pursue a solo career. After one unsuccessful album for Columbia, Clark was dropped from the label. This is where we find the mercurial artist on Sings For You, a new archival release from Omnivore Recordings.
All 14 songs come from various, extremely rare, vinyl acetates, yet are of surprisingly high quality. The first eight songs that make up the original Sings For You project, were demos recorded while Clark was in-between record contracts. These tracks were never officially released to the public, only shopped around to industry insiders.
The set opens with the phenomenal “On Her Own.” Over jangly accompaniment, Clark paints the setting of a girl leaving – “she slipped away / and I wasn’t dreaming / I don’t know what she plans to do for her key.” Then, in the middle of the song, the mood changes, Clark lowers his voice and utters “sometimes I feel so low / I can hardly speak.” It is a perfect Gene Clark moment.
“Past Tense” is a rocker with loud drums and pounding bass, while the electric piano solo gives it a Zombies’ feel. He shows off his falsetto on “Past My Door,” which also features a clever tempo change in the middle of the song, and what sounds like a Mellotron.
The cinematic “That’s Alright By Me” actually contains real strings, but the too-loud drums still give it an unfinished feel. “One Way Road” contains an hypnotic guitar line and could’ve been a hit if it had been properly produced (the song kind of falls apart near the end, with the drums lagging).
For the Dylan-esque “7:30 Mode,” there’s a skip at the 1:33 mark that was probably on the original vinyl, and a slide guitar that’s a little too loud in the mix.
The remaining six tracks, listed as The Rose Garden Acetate, mostly feature just Clark on voice and guitar. They were given to the band The Rose Garden, who had a Top 20 hit in 1967 with “Next Plane to London.” Clark had become friendly with the group and had offered some of his songs to them. They ended up using “A Long Time” for their lone album (on their version, they give it a very Byrds-infused treatment).
Of these songs, “Understand Me” has some interesting chord changes, while “Big City Girl” is a full-band, bluesy rocker. “Doctor Doctor, with its haunting harmonies, is the real standout of the entire disc, and could’ve easily been a Byrds outtake.
If you’re unfamiliar with Clark’s work, start with the first two Byrds albums, or 1974’s No Other. For those who are already fans, Sings For You adds another fantastic chapter in the story of one of rock’s most under appreciated artists. —Tony Peters