THE BYRDS’ FLIGHT TO ENGLAND in August 1965 began a disastrous tour for the group. Fortunately, it wasn’t an entirely wasted trip, as it inspired Gene Clark to pen some psychedelically-enhanced poetry. Set to a loose melody strummed on an acoustic guitar, this became the basis for Eight Miles High. With assistance from fellow Byrds David Crosby on the lyrics and Jim McGuinn on the complex vocal and instrumental arrangements, it was released as a single in March 1966.
As many expected this extraordinary record to top the charts, it was a commercial disappointment when it pooped out before reaching the Top 10. Nonetheless, it was the first manifestly psychedelic single to be a major hit and also one of the first rock recordings to openly flirt with modern jazz. It was also the last Byrds single to feature Clark, who flew the coop shortly after its release.
The Byrds would be back a few months later with another daring single: Rather than hip Coltrane-like jazz, 5D (Fifth Dimension) was based on an old sea chantey! McGuinn’s glorious take on the psychedelic experience may also have been an arrogant “Up yours!” to the radio stations that allegedly banned Eight Miles High for “encouraging” drug use.
“I was doing a Gene Clark solo album, and that’s the way it would have finished if I had stuck around to the end.”
Unfortunately, 5D was an even bigger commercial disaster, barely breaking into the national Top 40 in its short run on the charts. While “Eight Miles High” would become a legendary record and a standard on oldies and progressive radio stations, 5D has been forgotten by most people. Nonetheless, it is also an important part of the development of psychedelic pop music in 1966 and deserves more attention from fans and historians.
The pop music world would not hear from Gene Clark again until the end of the year when he released Echoes. It is a lovely record, an interesting attempt at was called Baroque rock at the time (a term that briefly made sense but has been diluted into meaninglessness with time). Unfortunately, few of us heard the record on the radio in 1966 as Echoes failed to reach the national Top 100.
That radio station programmers and record buyers ignored so fine a record in 1966 should have served as an indicator of the reception that Clark’s album would receive when it was released a few months later.
This article was originally published as “Gene Clark’s First Record Echoed Bob Dylan” on my Tell It Like It Was on Medium (July 4, 2019.). The version here has been slightly rewritten and expanded.
GENE CLARK WITH THE GOSDIN BROTHERS (Columbia CL- 2618, mono, and CS-9418, stereo) was released in early 1967 to little fanfare, less airplay, and fewer sales It was ignored by critics and historians for during Clark’s life but has risen in stature since his death and is now considered a minor gem.
Tried so hard
During the last week of August 1966, Gene Clark began recording his first solo album. Columbia staff producer Larry Marks was assigned to work on the album as Gene apparently did not want to work with former Byrds producer Terry Melcher. The Byrds had broken with Melcher while Clark was still with the group over an undisclosed rift between the band and the producer.
The musicians that worked with Clark were the Byrds’ rhythm section, Michael Clarke on drums and Chris Hillman on bass, with Bill Rhinehart from Clark’s current band on lead guitar. Larry Marks brought in Los Angeles stalwarts Glen Campbell and Jerry Kole on guitars and Leon Russell on keyboards.
By the end of August, half the album was complete with the basic tracks in the can for six tracks: Couldn’t Believe Her, Is Yours, Is Mine, Keep On Pushin’, Tried So Hard, I Think I’m Gonna Feel Better, and I Found You.
According to Larry Marks, “Gene was really chasing the Beatles at that point. He was kind of thrilled to be doing his first solo album, but there was a lot of pressure on him.”
Everyone returned to the studio on September 29 to cut a new song Gene had written, Echoes. For this and subsequent sessions, the group was joined by Douglas Dillard on electric banjo, Earl Palmer on drums, and Clarence White on lead guitar. Other sources claim that Van Dyke Parks played some keyboards while drummers Jim Gordon and Joel Larson also contributed to the album.
Gene Clark posing with his guitar sometime in 1966.
When the sessions picked up in early November, Larry Marks was gone. He had quit his position with Columbia and moved over to A&M Records. Columbia replaced him with Gary Usher, who was finishing up producing the Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday album.
But things get confusing for the last two weeks of the Gene Clark project as Jim Dickson claims he took over the sessions: “I pretty much made that first solo album and Gary Usher just sort of stood there. . . . as far as the basic recordings — the stuff with Chris, Michael, and Clarence, those recordings — he just sort of sat through all of that.”
It appears that Usher produced two tracks from scratch: So You Say You Lost Your Baby and Needing Someone. With the seven tracks done under Marks, that means that Dickson produced two of the recordings that appeared on the album: Elevator Operator and The Same One.
Think I’m Gonna Feel Better (Marks)
Tried So Hard (Marks)
Is Yours Is Mine (Marks)
Keep on Pushin’ (Marks)
I Found You (Marks)
So You Say You Lost Your Baby (Usher)
Elevator Operator (Dickson)
The Same One (Dickson)
Couldn’t Believe Her (Marks)
Needing Someone (Usher)
The back cover of GENE CLARK WITH THE GOSDIN BROTHERS featured a less-than-flattering photo of Rex and Vern but also included a list of the musicians who played on the album. This was very unusual for the time, especially as few of us had heard of Glen Campbell, Leon Russell, or Clarence White.
Is yours, is mine
It was Dickson who brought the Rex and Vern Gosdin on board during the last week of recording. They were to supply backing vocals to the fairly dry sound that the tracks had up to that point. Vern, who arranged their vocal parts, remembered, “We had a wonderful time doing the album. Gene was nervous about doing his first solo album. Gene was a good fella but he was into drugs too much.”
This means that Clark originally envisioned his first solo album as himself singing his songs. Alone. That is the way that Larry Marks recalled it:
“The Gosdin Brothers were not involved in that album at all when I was there. I knew them but I was doing a Gene Clark solo album, that’s all, and that’s the way it would have finished if I had stuck around to the end. Even if they had done the singing on it, which was great, it wouldn’t have been GENE CLARK WITH THE GOSDIN BROTHERS. It was Gene’s album.” (John Einarson, Mr. Tambourine Man, page 115)
Whatever the thinking, Dickson had his way and the Gosdins became an integral part of the project. Their vocals add a connection to the Byrds (although they sound more like Don and Phil Everly that Jim McGuinn and David Crosby) and also add a bit more country to the album’s overall feel.
Finally, the excellent lead guitar throughout the album was mostly that of Glen Campbell; Clarence White handled the lead on Needing Someone, The Same One, and Tried So Hard while Bill Rinehart did the nifty Beatles-ish playing on Elevator Operator.
This attractive advertisement for Gene Clark’s first record Echoes took up two full pages in the national trade magazines Billboard and Cash Box. two-page
Marks needed a single and Clark came through with Echoes. While the other songs that Clark was recording were more or less straight forward musically and lyrically, Echoes has dense, poetical lyrics. It’s a lovely recording but with two fatal flaws:
1. The orchestral arrangement is wimpily lush, sounding like background music to a section of Fantasia that Disney had the sense to excise from the final cut of the movie.
2. Gene was obviously affected by Bob Dylan’s recent BLONDE ON BLONDE. Instead of presenting himself to the public as straight forward as possible with his first solo record, Gene hid behind his Bob Dylan mask.
Here is a link to the 1966 version of Echoes; below are the lyrics so that you can read along while listening:
On the streets, you look again
at the places you have been
or the moments that you thought,
“Where am I going?”
Though the walls are like the dead,
they reflect the things you’ve said,
and the echoes in your head continue showing.
Near the castles you can build,
out of dreams you have fulfilled,
won’t keep out all of the ill wind that is blowing.
And you look still for a trace
of an opening in a place
where you find the life that you were used to knowing.
You can walk out in the night
and be sure that it’s all right
to exaggerate the world that’s only being.
You can watch Regina dance
through the crystal panes of glass,
yet you know that there’s so much that she’s not seeing.
Still, you hold one precious thought,
after all this time you’ve sought,
that she might be just protecting what she longs for.
And her eyes are veiled with black,
’cause she claims she can’t look back *
at the love she wanted so but says is no more.
The lights go on, commence the cold,
as your senses will be sold
to the parrot-watchers mimicking no reason.
To pretend that what they are from the fact completely far,
while the truth may be betrayal, lies, and treason.
Build their towers in the sand,
walk the roads at their command **
while the kingdom is the innocence they’re stealing.
And infection easily spreads
through the searching, twisted heads,
as they team up to tear down each other.s feeling.
* The lyrics printed on the 2-page ad in Billboard have this line as “’cause she plays she can’t look back.”
** The lyrics printed on the 2-page ad in Billboard have this line as “don the robes at their command.”
I hear both depending on which set of lyrics I looked at most recently. Either way is fine as they make as little rational sense as most of the rest of the impressionistic lyrics. (Thanks to Clarkophile’s tweet for pointing this out to me.)
Keep on pushin’
By late 1966, I had been an avid Byrds-watcher for almost eighteen months. I was also an inveterate AM radio listener who picked up a copy of the WARM radio (“the Mighty 590”) Top 40 that was distributed at record stores around the area.
But I never heard Echoes played on either WARM or WILK radio in northeastern Pennsylvania. My stations were not alone in ignoring the Clark record and Echoes didn’t even crack the Top 100 of any of the national charts.
But should it have been a hit?
There are several reasons why Echoes wasn’t a particularly savvy selection as Clark’s first record:
• The dense lyrics did not make for good AM radio listening.
• The mood of the recording is introspective and brooding, two adjectives we don’t normally associate with hit records.
• The pace of the record is so slow it’s almost ponderous.
• Clark simply reads his lines: There are no hooks to catch the listener’s attention.
• The orchestral arrangement doesn’t jibe and gives the record a pretentious feel.
Echoes seems to have been conceived in a different universe than the rest of GENE CLARK WITH THE GOSDIN BROTHERS. The only other recordings that Clark made in the post-Byrds ’60s that it resembles are the two sides of an unreleased 1967 single, The French Girl and Only Colombe.
In 1972, Columbia released COLLECTORS ITEM – THE EARLY L.A. SESSIONS. They allowed Clark to rerecord most of the vocals for his first album and remix the tracks. For ECHOES, instead of reading his lyrics like a Dylan-wannabe, he read them like Gene Clark. Here is a link to the 1972 version.
Early in 1967, So You Say You Lost Your Baby was issued commercially in Canada but to little airplay and fewer sales. It is a rather rare record indeed. Like Echoes, the record credits Clark solely.
The same one
As Echoes was Clark’s first record, it was supported by a good promotional campaign. The two-page ad (above) that appeared in trade magazines (Billboard, Cash Box, and Record World) indicates that Columbia (or somebody) believed in Clark and thought that Echoes was a winner.
Columbia shipped promotional copies of Echoes to radio stations in a very attractive picture sleeve (above). The sleeve included liner notes on the back:
“Gene Clark has been writing music for a long time. (He started when he was 11.) He didn’t make music his career until he joined The New Christy Minstrels. But Gene had definite ideas about what kind of music he wanted to make. After he left the Minstrels and the ‘folk’ scene, he helped form The Byrds.
“The Byrds made it big, but Gene still wasn’t happy with his musical expression. Most of his songs were moody and thoughtful. He had to communicate feelings and ideas on his own.
“So Gene left The Byrds. To sing the songs that are important to him. Songs like ‘Echoes.’ Songs like ‘I Found You.’ ‘Music is a way of relating to a lot of people at one time,’ he says. He feels that he is relating now.”
Inexplicably, in April 1967, Columbia shipped promotional copies of So You Say You Lost Your Baby (Columbia 4–44088) to radio stations. This may have been done to plug the album or to test the waters for a second single.
Around the same time, Columbia issued THE SUPER SET, a promotional extended-play album that sampled tracks from six recent albums. So You Say You Lost Your Baby was included and the album GENE CLARK WITH THE GOSDIN BROTHERS was featured prominently on the picture sleeve.
THE SUPER SET was a seven-inch EP album that played at 45 rpm and featured snippets of tracks from si new Columbia albums. Released in early 1967, it featured Clark’s So You Say You Lost Your Baby
I think I’m gonna feel better
Releasing excellent records that no one heard would practically define Gene Clark’s solo career. But both of Gene’s producers went on to work with other artists and enjoyed a bit more fame and fortune. Larry Marks would go on to produce many fine artists, including Liza Minelli, Phil Ochs, Lee Michaels, and Emitt Rhodes.
Two albums he handled are among the defining works of country rock: THE FANTASTIC EXPEDITION OF DILLARD & CLARK and the Flying Burrito Brothers’ THE GILDED PALACE OF SIN.
Gary Usher would become one of the finest producers of the ’60s, handling such gems as the Byrds’ YOUNGER THAN YESTERDAY, THE NOTORIOUS BYRD BROTHER, and SWEETHEART OF THE RODEO and Chad & Jeremy’s OF CABBAGES AND KINGS and THE ARK. He would also assist Brian Wilson on his first attempts at a comeback album in 1986.
The Byrd Who Flew Alone is a documentary movie by Jack and Paul Kendall about Clark’s life and career. It is a film, “you finally see, as well as hear, the legend in everyone’s memories and etched forever in those records.” (David Fricke) A voice in the film’s trailer asks this rhetorical question: “How is it possible for someone like that—who was so talented, so good looking, such a great singer—to get into such a mess?” While Gene Clark’s life seems tailor-made for a big-budget biopic, that no one in Hollywood has picked up on him makes perfect sense.
Finally, for a very different appreciation of Echoes, check out the Clarkophile website. The writer explains the lyrics in a manner that makes sense:
“The first four lines of the song provide brilliant exposition for the dual narratives (past/present) to follow. One can imagine Gene’s having written these lyrics in the immediate aftermath of his split from the Byrds. It must have been humbling, possibly even a little humiliating, to walk down Sunset Strip as a former member of the Byrds. Imagine how many times people got in his face demanding to know why he left the band.”
Hell’s Belles, he even explains who Regina is, where she danced, and how Michelle Phillips might have figured into the song!
FEATURED IMAGE: Since most of the images in this article are either black & white, I thought I would add a little color. I cropped Clark’s face from the cover of the GENE CLARK WITH THE GOSDIN BROTHERS album and played with the color tools on the GIMP photo application. While still somewhat somber, they are interesting. I used one of them here and the other as the featured image for “When Was ‘Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers’ Released?”