Essential Listening: Gene Clark – No Other (Original Recording Remastered CD)

No Other (Original Recording Remastered CD)

No Other was first released in 1974, and has acquired mythic status since. This is due to a number of factors. Foremost was its unavailability--vinyl copies were about as easy to come by as Holy Grails, and so No Other has tended to circulate on homemade cassettes. Then, of course, there was the legendary eccentricity of its creator, Gene Clark, who founded one of the most influential groups of all time, the Byrds, wrote several of their best songs ("Feel a Whole Lot Better", "Here Without You"), and then quit because, ironically enough, he couldn't stand flying (Clark died in 1991).

The good news is that No Other sounds just as marvellous when heard on a CD that anyone can buy in a shop. It is an immensely, almost ostentatiously, ambitious work, complete with choirs and orchestras the sort of aggrandising, bombastic accoutrements that were favoured by many Californian musicians in the 1970s, for reasons that may not have been unrelated to the drifts of cocaine everyone was having for breakfast. However, the songs on No Other survive--indeed, flourish--beneath the mountainous arrangements because they're anchored to Clark's essential humility: the opening track recognises that "Man is life's greatest fool".

The songs on No Other weave elements of funk and soul in with Clark's country-rock leanings with astonishing success "Strength of Strings" could have been recorded by Isaac Hayes. Gram Parsons, who for a while took Clark's place in the Byrds, was fond of saying that his dream was to create what he called a Cosmic American Music, an overarching synthesis of all America's popular forms. On No Other, Clark did it.