The past couple of years have been a bit of a bonanza for fans of Gene Clark as previously unheard recordings have crept out of hiding, songs which have been discussed and analysed in print and on the net but always tantalisingly out of reach unless one was connected. Sings for You, an acetate of eight songs recorded in 1967, is described in the liner notes (by Clark’s biographer John Einarson) as the holy grail of lost Clark songs and they are accompanied here by a further five songs from the same year which Clark wrote for an LA combo, The Rose Garden, along with one other song he offered to them.
So 14 Gene Clark songs, recorded at the height of his post Byrds fame and none of them released elsewhere or refashioned on any of his albums. Whew! However it’s important to emphasise that these songs are sketches which were never polished for general release. The eight song acetate was recorded by Clark after he was let go by Columbia Records after his album with the Gosdin Brothers failed to sell as well as they expected and seemingly was intended to be sent to various labels as Clark looked for a new recording contract. He’s joined in the studio by bass and drums and occasional keyboards including a chamberlin (which was somewhat akin to a mellotron). Stripped of the baroque folk embellishments which embroidered the album with the Gosdins, Clark is in fine fettle here with the songs pointing in several future directions. On Her Own, Yesterday Am I Right and That’s Alright with Me are prime Clark melancholia, one can imagine them gracing White Light a few years later if one strips out the somewhat overenthusiastic drummer who is somewhat obtrusive. There’s a more balanced band sound on the other songs. Down on the Pier is a fantastic song which is only let down by its similarity to Dylan’s 4th Time Around (which of course was influenced by The Beatles’ Norwegian Wood) but the addition of calliope makes it one of the more realised songs here. Past My Door and One Way Road meanwhile offer a glimpse into Clark’s next venture with the Dillards as they venture into early country rock territory.
It’s hard to believe but the next five songs, all recorded by Clark to offer to The Rose Garden, are even better than the fabled Sings For You songs. On Tenth Street and A Long Time are just Clark and his guitar in true 60’s troubadour mode, slightly Dylanish but totally Gene and totally brilliant while Understand Me Too would have made a brilliant Byrds song in the manner of Here Without You. The addition of a band on the Jimmy Reed like Big City Girl is great fun and the band also appear on the excellent Doctor Doctor which finds Clark in proto psychedelic mode sounding like a cross between the early Jefferson Airplane and indeed the Younger Than Yesterday Byrds. The band wig out as if they were shimmying in the background of a Roger Corman film scene and the guitar solo is pure Nuggets.
It goes without saying that Sings For You is essential for any Gene Clark fan but Omnivore Records have a neat tie in which is The Rose Garden’s album, the band for whom Gene offered several of the songs above. Despite his interest they didn’t set the charts ablaze although they had some minor hits. A typical 60’s psychedelic pop sound, the album does have a period charm as the band channel Byrds’ like jangled guitar, folk rock and Mamas and Papas vocal harmonies on various songs. They do a great version of the traditional CC Rider (here just called Rider) with glorious harmonies and Flower Town just drips with psychedelic whimsy. The original 10 song album is enhanced by the addition of a further 16 songs culled from single releases and live cuts with some of them eclipsing the album songs as on If My World Falls Through, a song which approaches Brill building pop brilliance. It’s a curio but one which, for anyone who digs the more harmonic side of 60s psychedelia, is well worth getting.