A second Gene Clark composition in the top 20 of my favourite songs rundown – after The Byrds at #20, it’s “Strength Of Strings” from his solo 1974 masterpiece “No Other”.
Although sonically completely different, the adoration that Gene Clark’s “No Other” inspires means that it has much in common with Slint’s “Spiderland”, as featured in my #10 article. Again, nobody merely “likes” “No Other” – it’s usually either one of your favourite albums of all time or you’re immune to its charms. A stunningly orchestrated record, both epic but under-stated, it’s another LP that was underappreciated at time of release, only to find a devoted audience over the years. With Gene Clark newly signed to David Geffen’s Asylum Records in 1974, “No Other”’s lengthy and expensive recording process (costing over $100K, approximately $500K today) to produce an album of “just” 8 songs that Geffen considered wildly uncommercial greatly displeased the label boss. Upon its release in September 1974, with a generally confused critical reception as well, “No Other” reached just #144 in the US album chart and was soon deleted from Asylum’s catalogue. However, word of mouth and later CD reissues steadily grew the audience for this fantastic collection, albeit sadly largely after Gene Clark’s death in 1991 from natural causes by a substance abuse related bleeding ulcer, aged just 46. Hugely proud of this album above all else, Gene was buried in his home town of Tipton, Missouri with his headstone simply reading “Harold Eugene Clark: No Other”.
After starting with the relatively straightforward country rock strummer “Life’s Greatest Fool”, “No Other” really takes flight with second track “Silver Raven”, the initial slide guitar and Gene’s beautifully yearning voice hinting at the opulent grandeur of the album to come. And what a voice – leading to truly soulful and perfectly judged performances throughout the record. “No Other”‘s six subsequent songs are increasingly lush and ambitious, with my favourite usually a straight choice between the album’s two centrepieces: “Strength Of Strings” and “Some Misunderstanding”, with a special mention too for exquisite closing track “Lady Of The North”, perfectly suited to finish this sumptuous record.
However, “Strength Of Strings” and its gradual build to plush magnificence just about wins out as my most loved. The track opens with a gorgeous introductory motif, next some artfully casual percussion and phonetic singing before the main guitar line kicks in, more stirring “ahhs” then finally two minutes in, Gene’s marvellous questing voice calls out “in my life…the piano sings, brings me words that are not the strength of strings”. Six and a half minutes of euphoric perfection, always managing to stay on the right side of bombastic, calling a song “Strength Of Strings” is a pretty bold move, but one that certainly bears rich fruit here.
“No Other” was re-issued again last year by indie label 4AD, whose founder Ivo-Watts Russell is similarly obsessed by this LP, including a deluxe box set which included “No Other” on silver vinyl and SACD plus various session tracks/alternative mixes, DVD film, hardbook back, seven inch, flexi-discs etc. Simply needing to have this box set, it’s the most I’ve ever personally spent on anything in my record collection, but an item this beautiful is fitting for such an incredible album. Gene Clark: No Other.
VIDEOS AND OTHER STUFF
- “Strength Of Strings” on YouTube (audio only)
- “Gene Clark: The Byrd Who Flew Alone” documentary film trailer
- Other great Gene Clark songs that just missed out on include: Some Misunderstanding, From A Silver Phial, No Other, Silver Raven, Lady Of The North, For A Spanish Guitar.
- “Strength Of Strings” is featured on my 379 to 50: 1 to 25 Spotify playlist
- Also featured on my 379: Garage & Psych Spotify playlist
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