Monday, 23 February 2015

The Byrds: Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part One of Four (Gulp!) 1967-1973





   "Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers"
(CBS, February 1967)
Echoes/I Think I'm Gonna Feel Better/Tried So Hard/Is Yours Is Mine/Keep On Pushin'/I Found Out/So You Say You Lost Your Baby/Elevator Operator/The Same One/Couldn't Believe Her/Needing Someone
"You stand inside your wind stilts, watch the sentenced act begun"
If you'd been a Byrds fan in 1966 (as perhaps some of you were) you're no doubt wondering what has happened to Gene Clark. The undoubted star of the band - in a songwriting sense at least - had been at a career peak in 1966 and unlike some of his folk-rock contemporaries Gene had proved he could 'do' psychedelia as well as anyone. Fans waited with baited breath for what Gene might do as the year ticked on with the sounds of 'Eight Miles High' still ringing in their ears, especially when Jim Dickson - still working as his manager - secured a lucrative contract with record label CBS. However, as anyone whose ever studied Gene's life will know, success never came easily. Gene wasn't comfortable as the 'star', hence perhaps the co-credit for harmonising duo The Gosdin Brothers who in truth don't do enough on the album to deserve the billing (they don't even appear all the way through!) In retrospect I'm astonished that Gene allowed the cover through - a posed shot of him standing, with full Byrds haircut, like some rock star God - it will be the last time he'll appear fully face-on (rather than in the distance, in prpofile or on a fake 'tour-pass') on an album cover until 1977, although it has to be said the 'confident' pose Gene has clearly been asked to strike is already caught midway between turning into a worried frown and a tensed jawline. Sessions dragged on, confidence was low from within and without and Gene was adamant that he wouldn't go out on tour, which rather soured the deal with his new record label. By the time this album appeared in the shops in 1967 - by an unfortunate coindcidence a mere week after The Byrds' fourth record 'Younger Than Yesterday', with which it was often unfavourably compared - Gene's star value was on the wane. A lot of the songs here sounded curiously anachronistic in the heady days of February 1967, with Gene naturally returning to the Dylanified dfolk-rock which he loved and less obviously to the heavy rock of the early 60s and the kind of Merseybeat pop the Beefeaters had triesd to make in 1964. As a summary of the many sounds that went into the make-up of pyshcedelia this record is often a delight - but judged against the dazzling brilliance most bands had moved on to (including The Byrds) this album is a disaster. Even the presence of old friends like Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke, plus the help of new friends Doug Dillard (who'll go on to collaborate with Gene for much of the rest of the sixties) and Clarence White (who Hillman gets to know during these sessions and recommends to Roger McGuinn about becoming a full-time Byrd, thus nicely shaping both their careers over the next couple of years) couldn't win over fans old and new.
More recently, though, there's been a growing opinion that this album - like pretty much all the Gene Clark records to come - was deeply undervalued at the time. Now that we view psychedelia as simply another straned in the pantheon on singer-songwriter development across the 1960s rather than the be all and end all, this album makes more sense. While this album is recorded simply and with a certain early 60s rock naivete at times, many of the songs are undeniably complex despite the fact that only one of them clocks in at over three minutes. Now that we all have the rather sad chance to view this album in the context of Gene's entire recorded output, it's interesting just how many daring moves he makes on styles that he'll never return to again: the hard-hitting doomed love song with the comedy chorus 'Elevator Operator' sounds more like Paul Revere and the Raiders than anything The Byrds did, while 'Couldn't Believe Her' is so close to the folk-rock Searchers of 1965 you half wonder whether the album credits have got the names right. There's even a nervy sequel to 'I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better' in the form of 'Think I'm Gonna Feel Better', but this second go at a winning formula ticks all the boxes without re-creating the magic, sounding like a man writing what people want to hear rather than what's on his mind - curiously the opposite of everythying else on the LP.
Sadly, nothing here comes close to the sheer daring and 'now' of 'Eight Miles High' but the best of the album does indeed have the same daring scope: 'Echoes' is rightly hailed as the album's greatest success, a wordy lament abouyt the decaying of the American dream as seen through Gene's eyes since he moved house to Los Angeles. It's also a jaw-dropping self-damning song as Gene attacks himself for 'dreams only half-fulfilled' and his inabiloity to 'keep out of an ill-wind that's blowing' (an early sign of the metereolgical metaphors that will be scattered through his work forevermore). There's even thought to be a sly reference to The Byrds in the line 'they team up to tear down each other's feelings', a spot-on reflection for anyone whose read about their ever-changing dance of allegiences and broken friendships. My favourite song on the album, though, is the haunbting 'So You Say You Lost Your Baby?', a haunting dramatic ballad in a Scott Walker vein with some wonderfully brash and stinging Clarence White guitar work and a backing band that at last are adept at mirroring the tubulence going on in Gene's head. This is a song that doesn't sit still for a second with some rididuclous word play that takes in similies from everything to being put on trial to the downfall of a grey Monday morning after a joyful weekend, Gene desperately trying to write his thoughts down in a hurry as he 'smoulders with fly words, catching the moment on the run'. It's an astonishing work that deserves to be better known.
The trouble is that this is an album so desperately out of touch with its times (the songs dart around from Merseybeat to folk, the two big no-nos of 1966/67 in a world that had moved on from both, while the stylings merge 50s rockabilly with early 60s Ivy League-style harmonies) that it had to be super-brilliantly-awesome to break through the charts of the day. Great as this album is, under-rated as it all is, sadly 'Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers' is only halfway to being a classic. It's lighter and flimsier than both Gene's work with The Byrds (and the once prolific star is clearly struggling to fill a whole LP by himself) and what Clark will go on to make in the 1970s. For all it's worth,this first attempt to kick-start a solo career is clearly a dead-end and Gene will struggle with the confidence of making a fully billed solo album until the 1970s (and even then it's really a collaboration with Jesse Ed Davis in all but name), despite the fact that Clark clearly had the talent. All Gene needed to make a great album in 1967 was a good friend who belived in him and what he could do - but alas Clark's instability just burnt too many bridges, losing not only The Byrds but Jim Dickson and most of his new friends at CBS during the course of making this troubled album. However even a doudt-ridden, under-par Gene Clark is still more than a match for almost any other writer out there in 1967 and I'm surprised this album hasn't been re-acclaimed by a modern audience the way that 'White Light' or 'No Other' have been. While less polished and deep than either, in many ways this record is even more of a delight for the ears, with elaborate performances and songs for the ost part finely balanced between poetry and pop.


   "Greatest Hits"
(Columbia, August 1967)
Mr Tambourine Man/I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better/The Bells Of Rhymney/Turn! Turn! Turn!/All I Really Wanna Do/Chimes Of Freedom//Eight Miles High/Mr Spaceman/5D (Fifth Dimension)/So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star?/My Back Pages
"Sell your soul to the company,who are waiting there with plastic prayer and in a week or two if you make the charts the girls will tear you apart!"
A fair attempt to summarise three very different years of The Byrds, this short (32 minute) compilation came out to fill the gap between albums four and five. While Columbia don't realise it yet their decision to release this album here, just at the point when Crosby and Clarke are about to get their marching orders, makes for a neat line drawn under 'phase one' of the band's career. Side one is the Gene Clark years, complete with two number one records and a further top ten hit, plus one very popular B-side and two much-loved album tracks. The result is a little heavy on first album 'Mr Tambourine Man' (five songs!) and rather skips over the band's own material, but it's a good newcomer's guide to the band's first year together. The second concentrates on album's three and four, released as a quartet and features four top forty hits plus a fourth Dylan cover in 'My Back Pages' - personally I'd have added in 'I See You' 'Why?' or 'Thoughts and Words' over these  and hearing 'So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star?'s sarcasm  and wit about selling out on a compilation album is either hysterically funny or an irony too far, depending on your view. McGuinn seems to do particular well here too, with co-writes on all of the songs on this second side (this conpilation is perhaps more resposnible than anything else for making him appear the 'leader' of The Byrds). However it's fair to say that this first volume of greatest hits does exactly what it needs to, barely scratching the surface as these compilations tend to do but it does offer up a welcome way in for new fans and offers a rare and unseen collection of photos of the band (bar Gene) on the cover for older fans who own everything here. As you'd expect from a best-of, this set is officially the best selling Byrds release ever, reaching as high as #6 in the American charts and staying on there somewhere for most of the rest of the year. As a result it's been released on CD twice, even though there are much longer and more thorough compilations doing the rounds, with two very diferent lots of 'bonus tracks' - the first issue in 1991 added seven songs from later in the band's career and turning this into more of a one-stop Byrds shop, while a second go in 1999 added three period recordings, all of them gems that should have been there in the first place: 'It Won't Be Wrong' 'Set You Free This Time' and 'Have You Seen Her Face?'

The International Submarine Band "Safe At Home" (1968)
(LHI, March 1968)
Blue Eyes/I Must Be Somebody Else/A Satisfied Mind/Folsom Prison Blues-That's Alright/Miller's Cave/I Still Miss Someone/Luxury Liner/Strong Boy/Do You Know How It Feels?/Knee Deep In The Blues
"I've been a lost soul for a long long time - but I been around"
So enter Gram Parsons into our story. You might not realise it from this slightly ramshackle, directionless album but Gram is a man on a mission, determined to unite the two strands of country and rock. A millionaire orphan, Gram was [penniless when this set was recorded but rich by the time it was finally released (after three months of waiting) thanks to a trust fund available to him on reaching his 21st birthday. Unsurprisngly, this record sounds like a man waiting for something big - although even Gram himself probably doubted that he'd find it so easy to switch from being the definite leader of a wannabe band to the leader of The Byrds, America's greatest band (at least in their hey day). In retrospect this album is good practice for 'Sweetheart Of The Rodeo', the only album Gram will make with The Byrds and, while ignored at the time, hailed as a pioneerring country-rock masterpiece today. Many country standards are sung here with the usual country props of a tack piano and pedal steel guitat, but with a swing that's very much rock and roll. Gram chooses several cover songs from the country repetoire that fits what he's trying to do: Johnny Cash songs like 'I Still Miss Someone' and 'Folsom Prison Blues' for instance that were always closest to the previously uncharted waters  between country and rock, not to mention a slowerversion of  'A Satisfied Mind' as recorded by The Byrds themselves in 1965 (and a recording with as good a claim to being the first country-rock hybrid as any). Gram's version of this song is particularly interesting given what meaning the lyrics must have held for him, a trust fund kind waiting most of his life for pay day, interpreting lines such as 'if I had his money I'd do things my way...' The playing across this record may be a little shaky (though arguably no shakier than the early Burrito Brothers will be), but Gram is already a charismatic vocalist and manages to make even these long lasting standards his own.
However the main development across this album is Gram's songwriting. Despite being unknown and untested (unlike many bands who get to reord a debut album the Submarine Band  had no real following to speak of and a run of 1966 single-only songs, re-released on the CD 'Byrd Parts' forty years later, had been major flops barely selling any copies  at all) Gram gets the go ahead to write four songs for the album. All are excellent fro the first, even though remarkably home demos from 1965 reveal that they weren't even the best of his crop (Gram was always good at playing the 'long game' - did he realise that this record was merely a stepping stone in his career and he didn't want to waste them on such a record?) Ratled opener 'Blue Eyes' is already setting Gram's character out: he's grumpy, he's temperamental, he's always busy following his muse and won't stop for anybody, but oh what a heart when he meets the girl of his dreams and oh what a fighter he is when people try and put him down.Gram even adds the word 'stoned', back in the day when even this gentle drug parlance was enough to get yourself a radio ban. 'Luxury Liner' is the album highlight, Gram's narrator stowing away on a 'luxury liner' that sits in great contrast to his own poverty, putting a brave face on things until admitting in the chorus 'well you think that I'm lonesome? *sigh* So do I, so do I!' 'Strong Boy' is the weakest of the originals, sounding closest to the 1950s country purist songs of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard and that ilk, Gram's weedy narrator content that even though his lover might run around with stronger men, inwardly they're just 'boys' and he's a 'man' (a very Gram Parsons theme!) Finally, acoustic ballad 'Do You Know How It Feels To Be Lonesome?' is a serious country weepy, preceded by an opening comedy patter that rather pulls the rug out from under it (what is it with AAA bands all 'asking that musical question...'? The Monkees did it too!) While less interesting than Gram's rockier songs, it's mightily impressive for one so young and unknown, Gram already deeply convincing and utterly believable as he sings about how his 'love has gone away', leaving him a nervy recluse doomed to spend the rest of his days indoors.
Of course this record's main legacy in The Byrds' canon is as an obstacle rather than a stepping stone. Lee Hazelwood, he of the Nancy Sinatra collaborations, was well known for taking a punt on talent even when that talent hadn't yet done much recording or playing. Gram was a natural band leader and his band good enough to sign, so he did, with Hazelwood even staying loyal through the difficult years of 1966 and early 1967 when  the band couldn't shift singles for love or money. It seemed as if the submarines were due to stay below radar level forevermore. Gram got the message and jumped ship, breaking up the band in early 1968 - weeks befored this albun's release - without telling anyone, even Hazelwood. He was fuming and all the more so when he heard that his protege had passed an audition (as a piano player of all things - Gram's work on this album is all on guitar!) to become one of The Byrds. Feeling betrayed Hazelwood rang up Capitol and complained - Gram had signed an 'exclusive' contract  with him and The Byrds couldn't use him. A threatened court case and a bit of money later Hazelwood was soothed enough to give his blessing - but by then Capitol had played safe and got Roger to re-record most of Gram's vocals for the album. Far from being 'Safe At Home', this record was a major part of the problem. And yet you sense that in terms of Gram's career it's essential: had he not been given this chance he might still have become a 'Byrd' but almost certainly wouldn't have had the feelings that he could 'do' it largely on his own and that he needed nobody. The Gram Parsons who skipped this step might well have been more acquiescent and giving, less eager to take an established band over - but Gram knows how good he is here, you can hear that discovered joy in his voice as he realises how many barriers he's just broken without really trying  and that's this albun's greatest legacy in the long run,. No wonder he was so keen to break down more. We'll pick that story up with the very next review on our list...
Doug Dillard and Gene Clark "The Fantastic Expedition Of Dillard and Clark"
(A&M,  October 1968)
Out On The Side/She Darked The Sun/Don't Come Rollin'/Train Leaves Here This Morning/With Care From Someone/The Radio Song/Git It On Brother (Git In Line Brother)/In The Plan/Something's Wrong
CD Bonus Tracks: Why Not Your Baby?/Lyin' Down The Middle/Don't Be Cruel
"Every song they're playing is about a love that's gone"
Like all the best expeditions, the exploration of Dillard and Clark into territories new wasn't properly recognised in their lifetime but is of huge importance for historians who came after. Realising that his work with The Gosdin Brothers wasn't getting him anywhere, Gene hooked up with that album's guest banjo player Doug Dillard and retreated back to the country for a 'roots' album - funnily enough at exactly the same time his old rival Bob Dylan was doing the same following a motorbike accident. The new sound is once again not what fans would have been expecting from Clark - the sound is laidback and rootsy, a million miles away from the intensity and drama of 'Set You Free This Time' and 'Eight Miles High'. However the sound suits Gene a lot more this time around, bringing out the more thoughtful side to his songwriting. Some fans even rate it as Gene's best work - and it might well have been had he taken the lead on the whole of it rather than bowing to Doug Dillard on several covers ongs that don't have quite the same range, although it's not quite as deep and lyrical as some of Gene's earlier and later work (if still twice the depth of everyone else's).
Still, the pair have a certain chemistry together, especially in the writing partnership, and you get the sense that Gene is in with a good crowd this time around that appreciate him for his personality traits (plus the album sleeve of the pair dressed as bikers and laughing their heads off together - an unintentionally hilarious spoof of the rather more serious 'Easy Rider' film a year later which is about to make The Byrds hip again - is delightful). Dillard's naturally upbeat style is a good foil for Clark's wistful sound, pushing these songs into new unexplored territory without sacrificing the essence of what Clark is trying to say (the same is true about both the other Byrds and later Carla Olsen but is particularly true here).  Another key player if future Eagle founder Bernie Leadon, who co-writes several of the songs here and plays banjo and bass on the record - many fans at the time assumed Leadon would become a natural addition to the partnership but instead he joins another retirement project for ex-Byrds 'The Flying Burrito Brothers' in 1970, trying hard to bring Gene with him as Gram Parsons' replacement in 1971 although the collaboration will last for a mere two songs. There are several bright spots to the album including at least three all time classics which deserve to be much wider known than they are (this album was another non-charting flop at the time) and only one truly awful one, the Lester Flatt cover of 'Git On Brother' that doesn't suit either man. However the really bad news about this record is how short it is, clocking in at just nine songs and 29 minutes (thus making The Byrds' albums look positively epic!)
Opener 'Out On The Side' is an unusual Clark song, poppier than most while still centring on heartbreak and loss ('Oh, I will cry!' goes the chorus), with gene passively watching as yet another relationship crumbles, love going 'out on the side'.
'She Darked The Sun' is delicious, though, Gene mastering the country-folk arrangement on another characteristic tale of sunlight and moonlight equating to inspiration - his heart blotted out by the loss of another girlfriend, Gene finds himself unable to dig deep for the inspiration he needs. Again, though, this song is lighter than most Clark songs on the same subject and comes complete with a rollicking folk backing.
'Don't Come Rollin' adds a touch of blues to proceedings and may well be the best of the 'unknown' songs from this album, gene sounding not unlike Gram Parsons on a song where Clark cries out to his generatin that 'peace is a state of mind - if you want it', before reclecting more personally that he's been 'walking through the wrong front door' and that 'dressing fine and drinking sparklin' wine' ain't a way to be 'free'.
The gorgeous 'Train Leaves Here This Mornin' is rightly regarded as a Clark classic and one he'll stick to in his live sets for most of his life (as well as re-recording it with an even folkier lilt for 'White Light'). This simpler version doesn't quite have the staying power but is nevertheless a fabulous song, Gene turning all his common songwrtiting practices of leaving for new destinations and glancing back sadly over his shpoulder into his definitive 'I'm leaving' song, complete with classy timeless melody and a series of emotional heart-tugging chords that are a joy to listen to. It could be too that Gene had yet another career cul-de-sac in mind as he sings about being 'in the right place at exactly the wrong time', moving too far ahead of the musical pack to be popular. One of my favourite Clark songs, with or without The Byrds, full of Clark's usual multiple layers but also an accessibility and musical grasp his heavier songs don't always posess.
The bleak Dylan-style 'With Care From Someone' would be better suited to The Flying Burrtitos, though, with it's furious pace and mounrful cry sounding as if Dillard's furious banjo playing and Clark's natural melancholy are working against not with each other. The almost haiku-like lyrics are an interesting departure for Gene, though, and show his talent in miniature as it were (sample lyric: 'Maybe we'll find this time is designed for finding the meaning of one').
The Clark/Leadon collaboration 'The Radio Song' is another interesting development, effectively a 'cowboy' song quite different to anything else in Clark's archives. That's not necessarily a good thing, though, as Gene's lyric is rather a mouthful and he sounds less comfortable playing the part of a 'character' than, say, McGuinn or Hillman do.
As discussed, 'Git On Brother' is pretty awful, Clark's vocal imploring his audience not to 'sin' in a very black and white sense - even though future Clark records wil be all about the fuzzy grey line between happy release and claustrophobic obsession. Hearing Clark tell 'Satan' that he's 'righted his wrongs' shortly before Gene's drinking spirals out of all control is an uncomfortable lostening experience, not made any better by the basic fiddle-playing and banjo strumming. One of the lowest moments of any Clark album.
The gorgeous 'In The Plan' is another career highlight, though, the folky picking and classy harmonies well suited to Clark's existenstial angst as he tries to work out just what God had in mind for him exactly. The gorgeous melody is one of Gene's best, while his lyrics carry a tremendous power as he sings about the gift of  'the season declaring it's own sound, circling in my mind...knowing there is space to expand' and the curse of having to live up to this knowledge while others live much more happily in their iognorance. Together with some glorious Clark harmonica-puffing this is a key song for Gene and his development as a songwriter, much under-rated.
Closer 'Something's Wrong' is another near-perfect song, mocving bit by bit from the truly beautiful laidback poise of the verse to the melancholy, slightly off-centre chorus when Clark realises his happiness isn't set to last and that 'something's wrong'. Gene sweetly looks back on the 'hours of joy when I was just a boy and never knew...';, the song agonisingly pausing as if he's reluctant to tell us just exactly has changed now he's an adult. 'Is this where I used to be, remembering who is me?' he asks, separated from The Byrds and his apparently rosy future and trying to work out if he's meant for great things or 'just meant to live here till I die?'
Gene of course already has the answers: you don't write three songs with the colossal power of 'Train Leaves Here This Morning' 'In The Plan' or 'Something's Wrong' without being gifted by something and while a lack of confidence (Gene doesn't even have top billing on this album, for goodness sake, despite singing on all of it and writing most of it and I'm willing to bet that while Leadon and Dillard helped out with the arrangements Gene was the prime mover behind the lyrics, always generous with his credits for others) and self-doubt held him back Clark never stopped trying. Rarely though does he try as hard as here, a real expression of emotion and autbiography that occasionally dips into the average or lower but generally speaking proves what an immense talent he was. Though less of an all-round experience than the other Clark classics to come in this book - the consistency of 'White Light' and even outtakes set 'Roadmaster', the depth of 'No Other' or the beauty of 'Two Sides To Every Story' - 'The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark' is indeed fantastic and for three songs manages to be the peak of Gene Clark's career. This album deserved to do so much better, being everything everybody said about companion Byrds album 'Sweetheart Of The Rodeo' (Ground-breaking! Genre-bending! Poignant! Heartfelt!') which wasn't strictly true. It's the Dillard and Clark set that deserved to grow in stature generation upon generation - sadly today you're lucky if you can find this album at all (especially on CD with it's three rather grotty bonus tracks, although a run through Elvis' 'Don't Be Cruel' is rather good fun - once) and only a faithful few still talk about this record in awed silence. As Gene himself said, 'Something's Wrong' - goodness knows this record makes mistakes along the way, but at it's best it's as good as anything else in this book and when that includes 'Younger Than Yesterday' and  'The Notorious Byrd Brothers' then - blimey- it's as near perfection as anybody's ever going to get.






"Nashville West"
(Sierra Briar, Recorded late 1968, Released September 1978)
Nashville West/Mental Revenge/I Wanna Live/Sweet Susanna/Green Green Grass Of Home/Love Of The Common People/Tuff and Stringy/Washed My Hands In Muddy Water/Ode To Billy Joe/Louisiana Rain/Send Me Back Home/Memphis/By The Time I Get To Phoenix/Nashville West
CD Bonus Tracks: Greensleeves/See See Rider/Columbia Stockade Blues/Mum and Dad's Waltz
"Let my guitar playing friend do my request!"
Enter, stage left, a new country band that will have very close links to The Byrds before the end of the decade and will come to dominate the next hundred pages or so of this book. Future Byrds Clarence White and Gene Parsons will both come from this band's line-up, while guitar player Gib Guilbeau will become something of a regular Byrds contributor too. To be honest the latter-day Byrds have far more DNA and sound from this band than anything left from the 'Notorious' era Byrds and how you feel about this album will depend a lot on what you think about the last few records The Byrds made. The bad news is that the only thing that exists of the band is a rather lo-fi quality live recording, released officially - it's not a bootleg despite looking and sounding like one, hence it's inclusion in our list - a full eight years after it was taped and sent on it's merry way for the first time at the height of punk (of which it is the polar opposite, steeped in tradition, pace and poise). The good news is that it's a pretty good unofficial live recording and a lengthy one too, taking in a full fourteen tracks on the original vinyl and a further four as bonus tracks on the mid-90s CD release.
Clarence is already the star, as anyone who knows his time with The Byrds will naturally assume, his guitar work already twice the sped of mere mortal players, while Gene Parsons' natty drumming doesn't yet have the roll and thunder of his later years and his vocals are unusually quiet. The pair are however clearly going places: their joint invention of the 'stringbender' gives the band a unique sound for 1968 and their 'signature tune' which starts the show (and is later re-recorded almost note for note for the 'Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde' album a year later) is already light years ahead of it's time. In fact in some alternate universe out there Nashville West might have had a career as fine as The Byrds': this was the in-sound of the second half of 1968 and the rocky flourishes the band are demonstrating put them even closer to the 'heart' of the era than wannabes like The Band or The Eagles just yet. It's Gib, though, who sings most of the leads and has the most audible presence here with his folkier acoustic strumming - he's also the chief writer for the band with a few 'You All Look Alike' style country songs in the set. The band are rather short on originals all round, though, with a mere three between the whole band (and only 'Nasville West' by White and Parsons). Some of the cover songs are interesting though: a country-style version of Chuck Berry's 'Memphis Tennessee', a rather bluesy 'C C Rider' and most surprisngly of all a countryfied arrangement of King Hnery VIII's composition (allegedly) 'Greensleeves' with lyrics! There's also one song that The Byrds are also doing at this same moment of time on stage: Merle Haggard's 'Sing Me Back Home'. In truth there isn't as muchy difference between the Parsons-era Byrds and Nashville West as you might expect and you can tell why Roger, so keen to hire anyone who could re-create that sound for him, would turn to Clarence and eventually Gene as well. The result isn't staggeringly good, or a lost classic, or the hallmarks of a hitherto unsung genius band, but it does emphasise that Clarence and Gene didn't arrive at their sound overnight; like many early tapes of bands it's fun to hear musicians you know and love working out what their sound should be almost before your ears. And what a sound it is!

        "Live At The Fillmore"
 (Columbia/Legacy,  Recorded February 1969, Released February 2000)
Nashville West/You're Still On My Mind/Pretty Boy Floyd/Drug Store Truck Driving Man/Turn!Turn!Turn!-Mr Tambourine Man-Eight Miles High/Close Up The Honky Tonks/Buckaroo/The Christian Life/Time Between/King Apathy III/Bad Night At The Whiskey/This Wheel's On Fire/Sing Me Back Home/So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star?/He Was A Friend Of Mine/Cbimes Of Freedom
"Sing me back home with a song I used to hear, make my old memories come alive"
The first real archive Byrds release is a fascinating find, dating back to the band's dark and difficult days post-Gram Parsons and featuring a rough but inviting sound from a loose but cooking band. While many fans and even Roger himself moaned about the band's inconcistency and occasional ameatuerishness there's a real verve to this performance and the way the band can move from pure country to rock to psychedelia to novelty pop to a space-out epic jazz version of 'Eight Miles High' in turn is deeply impressive and more than makes up for the odd bum note or wayward drumming. John York especially is a revelation - less sturdy than Hillman or Battin, but full of adventure and fire, driving Gene POarsons to ever more inventive drum-rolls to keep up, while we always knew Clarence White was a genius from the records and that's ever more true heard live. At the centre of it all, just as per the 'Dr Byrds' record, is Roger sounding nicely confident and at times chatty throughout this gig and for now taking lead vocals on everything (though the show still opens with his new partner's 'theme song' Nashville West!)
Compared to the other live Byrds discs out there (the released/unreleased halves of 'Untitled'/'Unissued' from 1970, the Royal Albert Hall gig of 1971, the 'Banjoman' soundtrack from 1973) this is the most 'typical' Byrds concert available officially. All the usual suspects are here (lots of Dylan songs, plus 'Mr Tambourine Man' 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' 'Eight Miles High') though cleverly assembled together in one long medley, as if the band are getting them out of the way so they can get back to having 'fun'. The track selection features some really interesting choices too: McGuinn barely tackles a ramschackle 'Time Between' despite Hillman having left the band, revives 'Pretty Boy Floyd' and 'The Christian Life' from 'Sweetheart Of The Rodeo' (where Roger sounds rather better than the album, finding his own 'voice' without having to imitate Parsons - 'You're Still On My Mind', however, sounds even worse) and unexpectedly revives two old chestnuts from the band's early days - a wobbly but moving 'He Was A Friend Of Mine' and an equally wobbly yet spirited 'Chimes Of Freedom'. The 'new' song choices are revealing too: 'Drug Store Truck Driving Man' is tackled with a knowing sarcastic glee in Roger's voice while the highlights are a stunning rock trilogy also taken from the soon-to-be-released 'Dr Byrds' album, a powerful feedback-fuelled 'This Wheel's On Fire', an urgent 'King Apathy III' that gets the stop-start sections spot-on and a thrilling emotional 'Bad Night At The Whiskey'. Roger sounds glorious here, reduced to the rock and roll basics of a near scream, while Clarence proves once again that despote his background he makes for an expert rock and roll guitar player too. In truth, if I'd been there at one of these shows, I'd have been disappoointed with the rather tentative versions out on the LP the following month after hearing such fizz and power here. Interestingly that's not all - the band also throw in an impressive three country standards exclusive to this album, all leftovers from that last tour with Chris Hillman before the band changed direction: Merle Haggard's 'Sing Me Back Home', Red Simpson's 'Close Up The Hionky Tonks' and Bob Morris' 'Buckaroo'. None of them are that amazing and in truth would have made for a lame follow-up to 'Sweetheart' (perhaps that's the real reason why Gram left?) but a nice unexpected bonus for collectors. The set's a bit of a mixed one, then, and the rough and ragged playing will come as a shock to anyone who only knows The Byrds from their delightfully polished recordings. But there are lots of wonderful highlights that prove that despite all the problems of 1968 The Byrds in 1969 were a riveting band to watch and that McGuinn really was right to keep the band spirit going. At this point, early on in the McGuionn/White/Gene Parsons relationship, the band sound like they can do anything and go anywhere. Perhaps the first truly essential Byrds release since 'Never Before' and 'In The Beginning'. 

The Flying Burrito Brothers "The Gilded Palace Of Sin"
(A&M,  March 1969)
Christine's Tune aka Devil In Disguise*~/Sin City*~/Do Right Woman/Dark End Of The Street/My Uncle*~//Wheels*~/Juanita*~/Hot Burrito #1*/Hot Burrito #2*/Do You Know How It Feels?*/Hippie Boy*~
* = Gram Parsons composition/ ~ = Chris Hillman composition
"This old earthqauke's gonna leave me in the poor-house, it seems like the whole town's insane!"
"They're a devil in disguise, you can see it in their eyes, their music always turns up on the mp3 player in your pocket whenever you are searching for a Sim-on and Garfunkel song, yet when you look out a full album to play unless the moon is full you're just wasting time (and carrying on)..."
I'm never quite sure what I think of this record, the explosive debut of The Flying Burrito Brothers. You see,on paper it's terrific: Gram Parsons finally doing what he wants to do without the Byrd format or McGuinn re-recording his vocals to get in the way and with Chris Hillman only ever so slightly past his compositonal peak. Even critics who don't like 'Sweethearts Of The Rodeo' (and I'm not all that sure about that album even) claim that this is the real deal, an undiluted attempt to ride right in the halfway point between pure country and pure rock (in a similar way that The Byrds once rode the middle ground between Dylan and The Beatles). Having managed to find all the Byrds albums in quick succession (they always seem to be a regular at record fairs, for some reason, even though only their first two records sold in the higher numbers end of AAA bands), The Flying Burrito Brothers seemed the natural place to go next: they were smart, funny, clever, pioneering and the nudie suits they wore on the cover of this first record 'Gilded Palace Of Sin' takes coolness up a notch, even by Byrds standards. At first buying this album seemed like a good move: opening song 'Christine's Tune' (funnily enough, it was named not for Gram's girlfriend but possibly for Crosby's soulmate Christine Hinton, who dies in a car crash in 1970, who liked hanging out at Los Angeles' Los Palameno Club and was at one stage president of The Byrds fan club so Gram would have known her well) is my favourite Parsons song, with country instruments playing a rock and roll beat and making the most of Chris' commercial instincts and Gram's storytelling. Had the rest of the album been up to that standard I wouldn't be telling you about the Flying Burritos here - they'd have had their own AAA book.
However after out-doing 'Sweethearts' on the first go, the rest of this record succumbs to all the wweaker aspects of that album. Most fans would throw 'Hot Burrito #1' and 'Hot Burrito #2' in there too (both songs considered masterpieces of the genre) and these are good supporting songs - but even this pair of Parsons songs aren't as groundbreaking as they think they are, erring towards straight country rather than what the Burritos were set up to play. The tempos across this album are all the same, the instrumentation barely changes, the earnestness of the lyrics soon becomes wearing and while Chris and especially Gram sound amazing vocally the rest of the band (pedal steel player 'Sneaky' Pete Kleinow and bassist Chris Ethridge - the band don't have a full-time drummer yet and use three session men across this album including 'Fast' Eddie Hoh making one of several AAA appearances) sound a little rusty. That's no surprise really because this album was recorded in a hurry: 'Sweethearts' had only come out at the end of August 1968 and Hillman had been a member of The Byrds right up to September. That gave the pair just five months to get together, form a new band, do a bit of preliminary touring, sort out a record contract, write nine new songs between the four of them and record them. No wonder then that 'The Gilded Palace Of Sin' sometimes sounds a little frayed around the edges.
What this album does have, though, is a certain chemistry between Chris and Gram. The 'Sweethearts' album saw Hillman take something of a back seat, with one vocal ('I Am A Pilgrim') and no original songs, a great pity given that for the first time Chris was finally doing a whole album of material which he knew better than Roger McGuinn or Michael Clarke. Gram and Chris clearly had a close bond and wrote most of the songs for this album in one long adrenalin rush at their house in San Fernando Valley (named 'Burrito Manor' by fans). The pair were so close as writers at this point that there wasn't much to choose between them, with Gram's straighforward country given elements of R and B, bluegrass, folk and gospel by Chris. Interestingly, too, their songs manage to convey a unity across this album of a sort of modern updated take on country music, with subject matters very much about the present day, though delievered - generally sapeaking - in very traditional surroundings. 'Hippie Boy' for instance, is a psychedelic protest song done as pure gospel, Chris speaking out sarcastically on the plight of the hippie whilst sounding like an aging country singer. 'Sin City'  is also a damning portrayal of modern-day America that shows the tiger in Hillman was still very much beating after penning half of 'So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star?' As the title suggests, this is also very much a record about 'sin' in modern day living - a clever theme that's a nice backdrop for an album that's trying to bring traditional country back into line with modern trends and the fact that the band are being viewed with suspicion as 'young hippie wannabes' by most of the country music scene of the time only makes this funnier: country music was almost as rife with 'sin' as the rock scene, but at least the Burritos are being honest about it all. The fact that the band are pictured with two rather serious and scary looking beauties, dressed to kill and posing in an evocative manner while the band have their backs to them, earnestly staring out at the camera, makes this theme even funnier (of course, the band couldn't stay this way for long and Gram has his arm round one of them on the back sleeve!)
Gram and Chris are also great musical foils for each other, which is surprising: they barely sang together on 'Sweethearts' and when they did McGuinn was usually in the way. 'Christine's Tune' is again the best example of this, with a great joint record between the two doing their best 'Nashville' accents, Chris sometimes falling below, sometimes singing on top of his partner. Chris especially is a revelation: he sounds like he 'belongs' here in a way that he was only just beginning to with The Byrds and has already stepped up a gear from the pop-folk-country songs he was writing on 'Younger Than Yesterday'. 'Do Right Woman' - one of two songs by leading country session musicians Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham (best known for his work on Neil YOung's 'Harvest') - is also gorgeous, with some excellent harmony vocals from not only Gram and Chris but an unbilled David Crosby, currently getting the first CSN album together and curious about what Chris is up to these days (it's always amazed me that The Byrds can not only work after having such blazing rows but make them up so quickly - the last time they met Chris was giving Crosby his marching orders). Gram's co-writes with Ethridge, 'Hot Burrito #'1' and #2', are two very different but equally entertaining analyses of Gram's state of mind in this period too: the first song has Gram astonished at her audacity at durmping him - she only learnt how the world worked through him and while she's still 'sweet and nice' about the breakup, 'that won't keep you warm at night'; meanwhile, not only does his girlfriend leave him in the second song, she even sells his clothes - he should feel mad, but instead he feels relieved, if a little chilly.
On all these individual levels the record is a success - but there are two major drawbacks with 'The Gilded Palace Of Sin'. One is that it isn't as revolutionary as it thinks it is: far from joining country and rock the way that 'Sweethearts Of The Rodeo' did this is a pure country album with the odd twinge from another direction and isn't anywhere near as important or as varied. Another is that it simply doesn't 'sound' like a classic album: it's too one note and too keen to take the 'easy' way out.There's a few too many 'filler' songs (closing songs 'Do You Know How It Feels?' and 'Hippie Boy' are easily the two weakest songs with Gram's name attached), too much of the rest ends up sounding the same and the playing is at times so sloppy it makes The Byrds look like the slickest, best drilled band on the planet. If only the Burrito Brothers had waited a few more months, spent an extra week rehearsing, hired a full-time drummer and written a couple of extra classics then 'The Gilded Palace Of Sin' could have been ever bit as great as critics retrospectively believed it to be, simply because it had Gram's name on it. Then again, this record deserved better than the re-action it got at the time, which was virtually nil: it was too 'country' for most curious Byrd fans (even 'Sweethearts' didn't sell too well at the time), too 'rocky' for the avergae countrey fan and didn't come anywhere close to making the charts. The end result is mixed, a record that as our little ditty above is meant to suggest sounds rather good when heard in brief, in three minute snatches and comes with several things going for it - but which palls across 37 rather similar sounding minutes.
"To pl
"Preflyte"
(Together,  Recorded 1964, Released July 1969)
You Showed Me/Here Without You/She Has A Way/The Reason Why/For Me Again/Boston//You Movin'/The Airport Song/You Won't Have To Cry/I Knew I'd Want You/Mr Tambourine Man
"I couldn't hear a thing they were saying, but inside my head the music was playing"
When this set of early demos, all dating back to the 'Jet Set' days of 1964 (and reviewed indiviually at the start of this book), was first suggested it couldn't have come at a worse time for the five original Byrds. Roger McGuinn had finally got a stable line-up he could come back with and didn't need reminding about who the band once were. David Crosby was a month into his CSN career and didn't want anything to do with even the glory days of The Byrds, never mind their beginnings. Gene Clark, while in danger of becoming forgotten, was already a cult hero who'd moved on to pioneering folk records with Doug Dillard a million miles away from the Beatle tributes of large parts of this album. Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke were trying to find a new life for themselves in the Flying Burrito Brothers, a band hipper than The Byrds had been since 1965. All five were at the height of their 'cool' and had finally found a name for themselves. The mood was clear: no one, except record label Together who comissioned it, wanted this album out there. For a time it looked as if it wouldn't be: while Hillman and Clarke had no real say, the three Byrd composers had the power to veto any of their songs: Clark needed the money but was soon in; McGuinn took a little more persuasion but eventually he was in too. Crosby, though, truly hated the idea and only came round because his new friend Graham Nash effectively 'charmed' him into it (telling Crosby these were his 'baby pictures' and a charming reminder of how he used to be).
Nash was right on the money. Naturally Crosby and the others were upset to hear their mistakes out on record, with highly variable performances of often derivavctive material and at times hearing any of the three versions of the 1964 material (a longer set with alternate takes 'In The Beginning' came out in 1988 and a two disc set 'The Preflyte Sessions' in 2001) you wonder how on earth manager Jim Dickson was brave enough to put his neck on the line and see something in a band that don't sound at all unsure they've got anything to offer just yet. As a musical experience 'Preflyte' is undeniably amongst the weakest Byrd moments with Michael Clarke especially really struggling on an instrument he barely knows how to play as yet. However if you treat this set in the right way - as a childhood photo of a loved one years before you knew them, with fascinating hours sopent poring over the changes and the similarities - then there is much to enjoy. McGuinn may be a nervy lead singer (with Clark an even more nerby lead singer), but his guitarwork is already outstanding and the glue holding a occasionally wayward band together. Gene Clark, while occasionally leaning a little too far towards Merseybeat, has already written some of his greatest ever material (including the great rocky 'Boston' and the sweet 'For Me Again', which unbelievably he never returned to again despite being two of the best things here). Crosby sings like an angel and, on 'The Airport Song', has already mastered his quirky love of offbeat songs a full two years before what many fans consider his great 'flowering' on the 'Fifth Dimension' album. Hillman, also struggling with an instrument alien to him, is already a lot further down the road of rock bassist than many musicians manage in a lifetime. Yes the glue hasn't 'set' on this band yet, made up of five very different personalities from five very different backgrounds who are far from the bosom pals of some other AAA bands, together for years before their first sniff of success. For the moment The Byrds are far more likely to get things wrong than right: the first attempt at 'Mr Tambourine Man' for instance, completely with odd military drumming, sounds awful rather than the template for a number one record. But then get things right - the gorgeous three-part harmonies 'Here Without You', the angry stomp of 'Boston' (on which Clarke stops trying to play lightly and really goes for it, becoming the hard rock drummer he was always meant to be) and Crosby's astonishing folk ballad 'The Airport Song' (which he doesn't sing but purrs!) are all moments any band can be proud of. What's more, only four of these songs appeared later on the 'Mr Tambourine Man' album and all sounded quite different - the other seven were, unbeliavably, all unreleased at the time, a real coup for the band's fans who never expected to hear anything more once the original line up had quit. Gene Clark comes out of this set particularly, with seven new songs to his name (two of them co-writes with McGuinn) and all were good enough to make that first album. The only downside is that, even in 1969, a full double set could have been on the cards: Crosby's 1963 version of Byrds classic 'Everybody Has Been Burned', while not from these same sessions, very much deserved to be here, while the decision to look over possibly Gene's best song of these sessions ('Tomorrow Is A Long Ways Away') is scandalous (thankfully both of these recordings have since come out on the two follow-up sets).
'Preflyte'; is clearly a key album for anyone who has an interest in the band. However it's also an album that cast much wider shadows than just Byrds history. Back in 1969 rock and roll bands had generally been treated as a passing fad - something to make money out of quickly before the next big thing comes along to replace it. This album though was amongst the very first to treat bands as having 'history' and figuring that fans would have enough love and respect for a group (who played their last show as a quintet a full four years earlier) to buy an album of previously unreleased early material). It's no surprise that this album came out in the dying months of the decade: 1969 was a time for nostalgia and the first ever bootlegs go on sale not long after (Beatles and Stones outtakes at first, although The Byrds' 1969 'Boston Tea Party' show will arrive before too long). As people looked to the future they found themselves wondering, history lesson style, about all the triggers and flashpoints for their own decade. In this era 'Preflyte' was an essential album that set the tone for many an archive set to come and did absolutely no harm to The Byrds' reputation at all, however many warts the set contained. The album was particularly wamrly received at the time and went all the way to #84 in the US charts - not great but still 70 odd positions higher than last album 'Dr Byrds'!

"Easy Rider - The Motion Picture Soundtrack"
(Reprise, August 1969)
The Pusher/Born To Be Wild/The Weight/Wasn't Born To Follow*/If You Want To Be A Bird/Don't Bogart Me/If 6 Was 9/Mardi Gras/It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)~/The Ballad Of Easy Rider~
* = The Byrds ~ = Roger McGuinn
"Hey there hippie - get yourself a haircut! Want me to blow your brains out?!"  (Roger McGuinn on stage introducing 'The Ballad Of Easy Rider' and quoting from the film, Live Tour 1970)
The Byrds provided so much more than just a part of the soundtrack to the 'Easy Rider' phenomenon - they provided the inspiration too. A (very) low budget film written by and starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, it's a tale of two cool hippies with nothing much in common getting together for a 'journey' that ends (note: spoiler alert - though as it's the most known part of a film that's been out nearly 50 years I don't think I'm giving much away!) with the 'establishment' (or at least a cop) shooting them off their bikes and killing them. Well, it saved us a sequel at any rate. A few people guessed at the time, but Fonda - big Byrds fan that he was (he even released a cover of a rare Gram Parsons song , 'November Night', in 1968) based the two characters on McGuinn and Crosby. Fonda was the icy cool Roger, with an exaggerated blond hairdo and a habit of 'trsuting' that everything would 'turn out alright'. Hopper was Crosby, moustachiod fiery and temperamental and always looking to cause mischief and/or a fight. He even shares David's love of fringe jackets (although the 'hint' that Fonda ia 'all American' and Hopper is 'part Indian' is stolen wholesale from Byrd friends The Buffalo Springfield and refers to Stephen Stills and Neil Young!) Fonda no doubt got many of the characteristics for his pair of hippies from watching the band themselves - Byrd fights were legendary even in 1968 and there are few better rivalries and polar opposites than Roger and David, although the pair's unspoken solidarity comes over in the film pretty well too. To be honest all the film is missing is a third softly spoken, nervy type who keeps writing poetry in between falling off his bike (complete with a tambourine strapped to the front) and this could have been a Byrds biography! (Jack Nicholson is of course the 'third character' - he isn't based on anybody but if we keep the analogy up is most similar to the wisecracking straight-talking confident Gram Parsons and suffers from the same 'trust' issues!)
Inevitably when the pair came to add the soundtrack The Byrds were an easy choice. The 'Notorious' mix of 'Wasn't Born To Follow' was chosen for it's ear-catching flowing beat and references to freedom, although the film rather skips over the song's themes of being 'different' in a psychedelic rather than establishment sense (when the song suddenly drifts into the 'phasing' bit it just sounds as if the pair's Harley Davidsons are about to blow a gasket!) The other Byrds song on the album is credited solely to McGuinn, although Gene Parsons plays along with him for a specially recorded Dylan track 'It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding'. The song acts as a kind of throwforward to the finale and while not obviously suitable for The Byrds suits them really well, McGuinn enjoying the sarcastic sneer he gets to put on in the lyrics and Gene Parsons finally given the wide open space to fill with some big chunky harmonica sounds. The result is one of The Byrds' very best Dylan covers, with a typically Bob-like darkness they usually steer away from delivered with just the right tinge of malice(we've covered the Byrds' 'live' version of this track in a bit more detail as song number #152 coming up in this book at the end of our '1970' section). Roger also included an early demo version of a 'film theme', actually only used in part on the actual physical film soubdtrack although it's popularity was such The Byrds will re-record it for their next LP and make it the title track of that album. The film makers originally asked Bob Dylan, who told them he was 'busy' but after a lot of perstering (and a nice lunch, bought in the hopes of wooing him over) scribbled the opening verse on a napkin and handed it over with the words 'give this to Roger - he'll know what to do with it!' Roger did, making this the only Byrds/Bob Dylan collaboration in their history, although Dylan successfully refused to take a credit for his part in the song. Returning to the theme of 'Wasn't Born To Follow', Roger fleshed out Bob's words of nature study with some lines again looking forward towards that ending: 'All he wanted was to be free - and that's the way it turned out to be' McGuinn sings with concern, aware that the only freedom that awaits the two hippies is death. It's one of Roger's better songs, although this rough orchestra-less original recording merely hints at what a powerful song it's going to be. (The 'Sweethearts of The Rodeo' Dylan cover 'You Ain't Goin' Nowhere' and the Flying Burrito Brothers' 'My Uncle' were both added to the double disc CD re-issue of the album in 2004, although they're a sort of 'thematic' choice rather than having any direct link to the film).
That's all the music The Byrds have on the soundtrack album - but for a long time CSN were under consideration for the film (with a Stills fragment, later used as a B-side, 'Find The Cost Of Freedom' perfect for the 'death' scene). However Fonda rejected the track much to the trio's chagrinm despite it being one of their best: McGuinn probablu allowed himself a rye chuckle over that, although sadlyu it meant Byrds fan were prevented a sort of mini-reunion.  The rest of the album is filled out with the usual kind of early heavy metal/swamp rock bands who were hip in 1969 but not so hip they were mainstream (apart from Jimi Hendrix, The Byrds were easily the biggest band on this soundtrack album at the time it came out), although it did make future stars of Steppenwolf and their song 'Born To Be Wild', the group who came closest to usupring The Byrds' crown. This was all rather unusual for it's day where soundtrack albums tended to be done by the 'cast' or with select choices from one band, not seven. The result is a bit of a messy mix of heavy rock, folk, psychedelia and whatever the hell the unlistenable 'Don't Bogart Me' by The Fraternity Of Man is all about. The same actually goes for the film, which does a lot on a low budget but still has great long patches where nothing happens and a frankly unlikeable pair of characters that lack McGuinn's weary patience and Crosby's cheek to be 'truly' The Byrds. However both soundtrack and film are crucial to their timeframe, revolutionising a tired film and film soundtrack industry (the music rights cost more than the film did to shoot!) and proving that you didn't have to have big budgets, big names and sets to tell a story and comment on politics of the day: all you needed were some bikes, some great music (as well as some ghastly songs) and a lot of peace, love and understanding. Ironically, 'Easy Rider' is not an easy ride as a film - in fact most of it is asboering as a biopgraphy of The Spice Girls - but it's an important and necessary journey (one that all but invented 'jump cuts' and 'flashbacks' in Hollywood narrative storytelling) and one that made The Byrds (if briefly) hip again. To that we say right on brothers - you truly weren't born to follow!

Dillard and Clark "Through The Morning, Through The Night"
(A & M,  August 1969)
No Longer A Sweetheart Of Mine/Through The Morning Through The Night/Rocky Top/So Sad/Corner Street Bar/I Bowed My Head and Bowed Holy/Kansas City Southern/Four Walls/Polly/Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms/Don't Let Me Down
"Just my old memory of how much I care"
Gene's second album away from The Byrds is a little reminiscent of 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' - there are touches of genius still and Clark is obviously way ahead of his time, but compared to the debut there's too many cover versions, too many limp performances, too many inter-band rows and too much playing it safe. For perhaps the first time in his life the prolific Gene was no longer writing millions of songs. His confident hit by the poor reception of 'Fantastic Expedition' and his likely jealousy over the success The Byrds had been having without him, Gene was struggling and only came up with four songs on the album - his lowest on any of his finished projects. As a result this album has gathered something of a bad reputation, a fact that wasn't helped by Bernie Leadon's disgruntled interviews in the press that he'd left the band for Gene's rivals The Flying Burrito Brothers when Doug Dillard decided to give a central singing role to his then-girlfriend Donna Washburn. In pure creative terms, this record probably deserves it's low reputation, featuring little of the spark of the first LP and very little of Gene all round.
However to ignore all the album would be to do Clark a great disservice. The songs he does sing across this album are fantastic: Gene's resonant voice has never sounded so warm or been so expressive, the singer growing in confidence without the other Byrds to put him down and his voice not yet showing the wear and tear of years of hard-living. Beatles cover 'Don't Let Me Down' for instance, which comes in a delightful slow country arrangement that really suits Lennon's howl of pain, is delicious and traditional song 'I Bowed My Head And Cried Holy' is a gospel song where Gene sounds wholly believable as a new Christian convert, naive and pure yet with a buring passion. The Gene Clark songs that did make the album are almost all special too: the title track is the most 'country' Gene ever got but he clearly had a knack for the genre, with his visions ofa farmer viewing broken barns and wrecked fields after a 'storm' outside the house as well as in. 'Corner Street Bar' is a revealing 'drunken' Gene Clark song which is hard to listen to musically, being all over the placew, but lyrically is highly revealing: Gene's heavy drinking comes from 'looking for someone' and where better to meet people than a bar? (or so his addled thinking reckons anyway!) Live favourite 'Kansas City Southern' was a song Gene loved so much he even named his touring band after the track, a neat hybrid of rock swagger and bluegrass banjo that's at least as inventive and pioneering as anything Gram Parsons was up to.
Finally 'Polly' is the album highlight, a soulful outpouring of metaphors that represents the first 'real' time that Gene used the image of a 'bird' in one of his songs - a technique he'll still be using at the end of his life. My take on this has always been that the 'birds' Gene sings about represent himself, cut adrift from The Byrds and left alone to fend for himself away from the flock. In time we'll get into the lure of 'ravens' (representing danger and Gene's drug use, turning his feathersa black and skirting with death) and 'firebyrds' (Gene's attempts to get clean and rise from the ashes). Here, though, the narrator is haunted by a 'wild bird' who speaks to him and 'tells you places of where he's been', the narrator pleaing with him to 'spread your wings' despite the pain of a broken wing and 'come home'. Given the allusions to being unable to fly and taking an individual path, this is surely Gene wishing he could turn the clock back and make things right again. Gene's poetic imagery is haunting on this track, full of missed opportunities and unfulfiled missions, which clearly means something to him: 'Dreams cover much time, but still they leave you blind'.
Unlike much of the LP, this is Clark as a man on a mission, trying to pour out his heart rather than play it safe - which even his biggest fans admit he rather does across this LP. At least he fares better than colleague Doug Dillard, though, who gets evebn less to do on this record than the first one and who all but hands over the 'lead vocalists' job to Gene (his best moment on the album is the country song The Byrds occasionally covered in their live sets in 1972/73, 'Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms', where Skip Battin sounds remarkably similar to Dillard here). The record is also much closer in style to what will become Clark's signature sound - dark, brooding and with a distnctive dynamic range - rarely leaving space for the bluegrass and banjo. The end result is a mixed yet under-rated LP, which like the 'suitcase tag' on the front cover is more about the journey than the destination, Clark realising that he's getting stuck and has to move on, but not being quite sure where. Few were surprised when Dillard and Clark announced their split soon after (ironically making closing track and statement of unity  'Don't Let Me Down' their last statement) and many fans must have feared that Gene would never bounce back from this album. Thankfully they were wrong, as even as early as' Polly' you can hear the 'white light' of new inspiration calling to him...

  The Flying Burrito Brothers "Burrito Deluxe"
(A & M,  April 1970)
Lazy Days*/Image Of Me/High Fashion Queen*~/If You Gotta Go/Man In The Fog*/Farther Along//Older Guys*~/Cody Cody*~/God's Own Singer/Down In Thje Church Yard*~/Wild Horses
* = Gram Parsons Composition ~ = Chris Hillman composition
"Come by my side and say what I think I already know, I'm going away - don't you want to go?"
Neither the International Submarine Band nor The Byrds with Gram Parsons as a member ever made a second album, so already 'Burrito Deluxe' is breaking new ground. However, already there's a feeling that the Flying Burritos are doomed. Gram Parsons is distracted and will be 'fired' from the band the following year, preferring to spend most of this record's sessions hanging out with new chums The Rolling Stones, tyurning up to gigs and sessions drunk or stoned - when he turned up at all. Hillman, who'd sacrificed a lot to break away from The Byrds and make this band, is less than happy to be left holding the baby yet again, after having to be 'responsible' during the losses of Clark and Crosby and Gram himself in The Byrds. Bassist Cchris Ethridge has gone walkabouts even before this album was made, although the fact that he's back again on album three suggests that it was Gram in particular getting him down. The brotherhood of 'Gilded Palace Of Sin' is long gone by now, with what had been nearly a whole album of collaborations between the two reduced to a mere four songs, the rest being filled out by a pre-fame Parsons tune and a number of rather variable cover songs. No wonder, then, that many fans have all but forgotten about this album which is a step down from both the pioneering country-rock hybrid of the first Lp towards something 'poppier' and from the chemistry that kept the first album (just about) alive.
However, while 'Burrito Deluxe' is disappointing, it's far from awful. Having spent the first album using session musicians (including drummer 'Fast' Eddie Hoh) and recording it before playing any proper gigs, this Burritos is a streamlined band. The addition of Byrd Michael Clarke on drums is a masterstroke: Clarke suits the Burrito's streamlined heavy attack style so much better than the folk-rock the Byrds played and in his element on this record's heavier sound (this development is unlikelier than it sounds and the start of a whole run of The Burritos as a a resting point for ex-Byrds fired by Roger McGuinn down the years; Hillman and Clarke had lkeft on bad terms during the end of the 'Notorious Byrd Brothers' album although their relationship was complex even by Byrds standards. When asked why he hadn't hired Clarke from the begininning Chris said he 'loved him too much to work with him' and didn't want to risk their friendship with another falling out - make of that what you will!) The other new member, dobro and guitar player Bernie Leadon, is another key addition to the band's sound, adding two songs of his own to the album as well as several co-writes and he'll go on to appear on many a HIllman album to come. In retrospect it sounds like Hillman trying to establuish a third partner's sound because he absolutely knows that Parsons is about to leave - although that said Leadon ends up working most closely with Gram, not Chris across this album.  In case you're wondering, Ethridge's loss means that Hillman is once again the bass player in the band, perhaps another reason why he was so cross during the recording having felt he'd escaped that restriction from his Byrds days.
The mood of the album is inevitably downcast - a huge 180 degree change from the general 'up' mood of 'Palace Of Sin'. However if anything that helps the Burritos' sound - country-rock was made to be unhappy. The Parsons/Hillman/Leadon co-write 'Cody Cody' is a good example, the trio's harmonies sounding rather good together on a song that's clearly about Parsons' eventual departure ('I hear your voice calling me away'). The old Hillman/Parsons team wrote another album highlight 'Down In The Churchyard', re-cut by Chris later for his 'Slippin' Away' album in 1976 but sounding far better here with Gram's strident lead on a typical Parsons song about a man on a journey buffeted by winds blowing him in new directions that seems to poke fun at the band's first record and their inevitable demise ('Where you have been is not a sin, it's where you're going!') However the real album highlight comes right at the beginning with 'Lazy Days', a Gram original written as far back as 1965 (an early version can be heard on the Parsons demo tape 'Another Side Of Life' released in 2001) and first tried out by The Byrds during the 'Sweetheart' sessions. Personally I prefer the rough edges from 'Sweetheart' (first released on the box set and now on the many CD re-issues of the album) which is what Chuck Berry would sound like had he been brought up in Nashville, not Memphis, a stomping rocker with country twinges that drummer Kevin Kelley really nails. This re-recording is more polished and therefore more bland but is still a joy to listen to, with Michael Clarke nailing the song's loose and funky rhythm and Chris and Gram sounding great together.
The other original songs are disappointing, however, falling short of even the 'Palace Of Sin' standard with not just Gram but Chris too sounding distracted and trying less hard than average. Leadon tries hard but his songs don't quite match the pair's occasional briliance either, sounding at times like a distant memory of how the first album sounded rather than adding anything to the Burritos sound. However at least some of the cover songs are good, notably two songs that are of huge importance for AAA bands. 'Farther Along' will be familiar to anyone whose read this book backwards, a traditional song recorded by Clarence White as the title track of the band's 'farewell' album in 1972. He probably learnt it from close freiend Gram who sounds not unlike Clarence at times, although it's Chris who takes the lead on a jollier blue-grassed arrangement of the song here. The other song is Rolling Stones track 'Wild Horses', a highlight of their 1971 album 'Stiucky Fingers' and all too obviously influenced by Gram. Legend has it that the Stones and Burritos had a 'disgareement' after their appearance at Altamont (we don't know what it was but the delay before the Stones hitting the stage, leaving the Burritos announcing a band that wasn't there, may have had something to do with it). As an apology to his new friend, Keith Richards sent a casette demo of this song to Gram's house, saying it was written using all the 'tricks' Parsons had taught him. Having fallen in love with the song, the Burritos naturally worked on an arrangement straight away, a fact that suited Keith (the Stones were in a bad place in 1970, waiting for their management contract with Allen Klein to run out so they could dump him and label Decca without having to give up their next bathc of songs - by the time their version appeared a year later everyone had forgotten the Burritos had got their first). Gram's vocal is even more delicious than Jagger's on the 'original' version of this song and the sentiments about the pull between devotion to someone na dhaving to leave them is right down Parsons' road. In fact Gram puts more commitment into this song than anything else on this album, with his last vocal for the band arguably his best. By contrast, an unexpected Dylan cover ('If You Gotta Go, Go Now'- written in 1964 and best known via a Manfredd Mann cover from the following year) is awful, showing that even three ex-Byrds together can't grasp the nuances of Dylan the way Roger McGuinn can.
Overall, then, 'Burrito Deluxe' is far from a classic LP. The band are distracted, their vision is cloudier than on the first record and there's a general lack of oomph that made the first record (occasionally at least) the most exciting Byrds project since 1966. However this album really isn't as bad as people make out. 'Lazy Days' 'Church Yard' 'Cody' and 'Wild Horses' are a strong quartet of songs to build an album around and nothing here is awful compared to the uneven ride of 'Palace Of Sin'. The tradition surrounding this record is that it's as disposable as it's sleeve, a rather ugly shot of a peeled back burrito about to be eaten. However I'd claim that the cover is an even fairer facsimilie of the album than people let on - that half the burrito is disposable but the other half is filled with unexpected and rather crunchy looking jewels.

 "Live At The Royal Albert Hall"
(Sundazed,  Recorded May 1971, Released July 2008)
Lover Of The Bayou/You Ain't Goin' Nowhere/Truck Stop Girl/My Back Pages/Baby What You Want Me To Do?/Jamaica Say You Will/Black Mountain Rag-Soldier's Joy/Mr Tambourine Man/Pretty Boy Floyd/Take A Whiff On Me/Chestnut Mare/Jesus Is Just Alright/Eight Miles High/So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star?/Mr Spaceman/I Trust/Nashville West/Roll Over Beethoven/Amazing Grace
"And we will sail until our waters have run dry"
Roger McGuinn is one of those AAA musicians who liked keeping tapes of his own gigs. A keen collector of gadgets, he's caught on to making his own recordings of live gigs long before most bands did, although these were purely to reflect the changing sound of The Byrds and taped for his own collection rather than a Grateful Dead-style encouragement for fans to capture everything. Tales of the amount of material still in his collection range from a few odd recordings to a whole sea of tapes, although to date this archive set released 37 years on from the event is the only of McGuinn's prixed possessions to see the light of day. Given the circumstances - an unprofessional  recording that, while remastered for CD, was clealy done on tape and with Clarence's guitar coming and going plus a rather booming Skip Battin bass throughout - this is a very interesting and entertaining release. It's a prestigious occasion too - as a general rule British bands only feel they've 'made it' when they can sell enough tickets to fill the Albert Hall (particularly in this period), while as touring outsiders it's very rare for an American band to have such a large devoted following. You can see why McGuinn recorded it in fact, given that it must have been a major boost for the band's confidence and near enough their last hurrah (not to spoil the story but this most stable of line-ups of The Byrds will split in 1972), although oddly he seemes very quiet on this show, mumbling his song ontroductions into the mike and not really explaining them at length (unlike most Byrds shows of the period).
The bootlegs reveal that The Byrds seemed to play as many bad shows as good ones back in the 1970-72 period but this is a good one, if not as musically great as the 'Untitled' concert from near the same time or as interesting as the ragged Fillmore East set from 1969. The set list is remarkably different too considering there isn't much time between the three gigs, featuring several live recordings 'exclusive' to this set that aren't on the other two: Clarence taking lead on an oddly slow reading of 'Truck Stop Girl' and an even slower version of Jackson Browne's 'Jamaica Say You Will', McGuinn's banjo driven Woody Guthrie cover 'Pretty Boy Floyd' (not even layed on the 'Sweetheart Of The Rodeo' tour!), the sinstriumental country medley 'Black Mountain Rag-Soldier's Joy' that is played so fast it strains the listener to keep up with Clarence never mind what it must have been like to play and the album highlight, a rousing Gene Parsons-led a capella rendition of 'Amazing Grace' which should have made it onto the live half of 'Untitled' but got left off at the last minute (and which lasts a alonger than the studio take included on the 'Untitled' CD). Elsewhere it's business as usual with a rather scrappy run through the usual hits, with only a rather cheery 'You Ain't Goin' Nowhere' complete with 'yee-hahs' and 'yeahs' from Gene Parsons and a loose raw 'Jesus Is Just Alright' competing with other live versions out there. The centrepiece is still a pulsating lengthy jazzy improvisation through 'Eight Miles High', but this 18 minute version is a slight disappointment, being slower and less intense than the 'Untitled' version if still pretty out of this world. All in all a nice find which more than deserves it's place in The Byrds' official canon rather than Roger's attic, but isn't exactly an essential purchase.

"The Flying Burrito Brothers"
(A&M,  June 1971)
White Line Fever/Colorado/Hand To Mouth~/Tried So Hard^/Just Can't Be~/To Ramona/Four Days Of Rain/Can't You Hear Me Calling?~/All Alone~/Why Aren't You Crying?
~ = Chris Hillman composition/ ^ = Gene Clark composition
"Well I never believed it could happoen to her - the same old scenes"
Unwilling to let the Burritos brand die after Gram Parsons left/got sacked/got bored, Chris Hillman carried on for one last album alongside fellow Byrd Michael Clarke, founder 'Sneaky' Pete Klienow and new member Bernie Leadon. There are two replacements for Gram: guitarist Rick Roberts, who will in time go on to be bigger than any of them after the Burritos fold and he and Clarke go on to establish 'Firefall' (one of those bands who sold huge amounts of records but aren't that well known anymore - certainly Clarke made more money from them than he ever did as a Byrd) andlate on in the album sessions the band are joined by pedal steelist Al Perkins, who'll follow Hillman throughout his career into Manassas, The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band and into his solo work. The band clearly aren't the same - few bands can recover from losing their focal-point and this album is a touch nearer the mianstream than the fascinating pure country/pure rock hybrid the Burritos were set upo to cater for. However, in many ways it's a more listenable set than either of the first two: Roberts is a great find, dominating the album credits and the lead vocals as Hillman's interest begins to wane and after extensive touring The Burritos sound more and more like a 'band', rather than a loose group of musicians and a session drummer and the playing is vastly improved (once again it's Clarke whose the revelation, returning to his natural, heavier style rather than the softer touch he had to use with The Byrds). Alas Bernie Leadon is under-used, despite being the quiet star of the second record - a surprise to anyone following The Eagles career where he'll dominate the band's first album the following year (and indeed this record is much closer in sound to The Eagles' softer country-rock than the first Burritos record).
The biggest surprise, though, is the brief return of Gene Clark (the surprise being the return, not the 'biref' bit - that's become a bit of a habit by now!) Gene has had a difficult time since leaving The Byrds and is only here making his 'true' follow-up to the 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' album with his all-acoustic near-solo  'White Light'. Gene wrote two songs for the band before backing away from the project again. 'Tried So Hard' made the album, a nice understated pop ballad that suits Hillman's rich tenor voice and with a great hummable melody, although lyrically it isn't one of Clark's best (was he deliberately writing 'down' to a Burritos level and sacrificing his usual metaphorical poetic style? The song's theme about leaving and looking over your shoulder at who you've left behind is very Hillman!) Sadly 'Here Tonight' didn't, even though it's the better song, full of Gene's own trademarks of being followed home by moonlight and Dylanesque lyrics that perhaps hint at how uncommitted he was to the band ('It just seems so insane to strike out in the rain when it seems so easy to remain right here tonight!') Gene's re-recording odf the first and his overdubbed lead vocal on the second were both included on his 'Roadmaster' outtakes set of 1973 (if you're Dutch) or 1984 (if you live in the rest of the world); both of these versions were also included in the CD re-issue of 'The Flying Burrito Brothers' as part of a generous selecton of seven songs - most of which eclipse the album to be honest (Hillman's funky cover of Jesse Winchester's 'Payday' may well be the best thing here, mixing a funky rock strut with country instruments - excatly what the Burritos had been designed for).
The album proper is a bit more of a mixed bag. Rick Roberts shines with 'Colorado' (not the Manassas song by Stephen Stills, although it's rather similar), Hillman and Roberts' collaboration 'Hand To Mouth' mixes  Robert's natural optimism with Hillman's pessimism just like the good ol' Gram days and the funky Hillman/Roberts song 'Just Can't Be' really shows off the band's guitar porwess in this era, a sad lament to a passing friend who could be either a reference to Parsons, departing bassist Chris Ethridge or even Sneaky Pete (whose gone by the end of the album): 'You know I lost a friend the other day...what she's trying to do will be the death of me!' In fact most of the songs off the first side of the album are pretty good, the Burritos re-forming around their new members and utilising their strengths instead of trying to hang on to an old sound they can't replicate without Parsons. However the second is heavier going: the rambling 'To Ramona' is proof that Hillman didn't 'get' Bob Dylan like Roger McGuinn did, Roberts' 'Four Days Of Rain' is just weird (a country-psychedelic song!) and Hillman's own 'Can't You Hear Me Calling?' is the closest he came to writing a traditional country tune on his own and, well, he's no Gram Parsons  On this second side only a further Hillman/Roberts collaboration on the melancholy 'All Alone' is at all memorable, with a delightful dreamlike Hillman vocal across a gorgeous pedal steel/percussion backing.
 Still, half a good record's in there somewhere, putting this record somewhere on a par with the previous two so I've never quite understood why fans have been so harsh about this record. Yes it's a step less ambitious and Parsons is deeply missed - but Roberts and Leadon are a good foil for Hillman across this record, Clarke's drumming is a powerful metronome that gives the band the adrenalin and fire that was missing from 'The Gilded Palace Of Sin' and the band sound much tighter and more discplined than they did in their early days. For most groups this would have been the 'stepping stone' record from one great era to another, as the band chemistry swooshes round and slowly changes from one style to something else. As anyone whose read a lot of my reviews will know, I love these albums - they tend to be the ones that are the strangest, most of character and experimental, if less focussed than their shelf-mates ('Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde' and to an extent 'The Ballad Of Easy Rider' are a good example of this too). I don't quite love this one - there are too many duff moments and the band's missing a certain...something (not just Gram or someone like him - Gene Clark for instance would have filled that role well had he been more comfortable working in a 'group' setting - but Hillman's full attention too). But I do like it in a way that I don't always like long sections of the first two and for me 'The Flying Burrito Brothers' may well be my favourite of the band's albums. Note that I didn't say 'best' - 'Gilded Palace' has the better ideas and 'Burrito Deluxe' at a push has the better songs. But 'The Flying Burrito Brothers' has better performances than either. I'd have loved to have heard this line-up make another studio album, with Hillman's full focus this time, but shortly after the next live album's release The Burritos had been 'dropped' from A&M, Chris and Al Perkins were already in Manassas, Bernie Leadon will be an Eagle and Rick Roberts and Michael Clarke will be in Firefall. It speaks volumes for the Burritos' talents that in effect they were a supergroup in reverse, nurturing the talents of all sorts of future stars of the 1970s - and it's a shame that this line-up in particular didn't spend longer together.

 Gene Clark "Gene Clark" aka 'White Light"
(A&M,  August 1971)
The Virgin/With Tomorrow/White Light/Because Of You/One In A Hundred//For A Spanish Guitar/Where My Love Lies Asleep/Tears Of Rage/1975
"To play on a Spanish guitar, with the sun shining down where you are, singing and singing a bar from the music around"
If you're reading this book in order, it might be dawning on you by now 'whatever happened to Gene Clark?' Last heard of in 1968 working with Doug** Dillard, the most prolific Byrd had been having a bit of a quiet time, unsure of his next direction after a couple of poor-selling records and his record label and public even less sure about him. To right his career his next album had to be fantastic and it had to be a return to a career direction Gene could live with. A lot of time was spent getting 'White Light' just so, with more outtakes for this one album than perhaps any other in this book (along with a lot of simple demos partly released on CD and a lot more released in their own right in **2011). And it's...so very nearly almost there. Gene's re-connected with his brooding inner singer-songwriter and never sounded this good even within The Byrds, relaxed and poetic.  His songs have gone back to that lyrical folky style that always suited him so well, with Gene all but dropping the 'rock' half of his early career along the way. The musicians he's surrounded himself with (including Jesse Ed Davis, an ex honorary member of Taj Mahal's band and soon to be John Lennon's right hand man after the Beatle's move to America) are sensitive and empathetic, able to coax all sorts of mood-fitting music.
However given the time and engery lavished on this record, it's sad that more didn't find it's way onto the album. While all nine songs are excellent, they're excellent in a very similar way, with Gene sticking fully within what he knows he can write rather than what we fans know him to be capable of. While stepping into this album is a bit like stepping into a hot bath, it's a water without a ripple, without any real waves: which is perfectly acceptable for everyone except a writer like Gene who was a tormented genius, at his best when writing from the heart. 'White Light' is more of a cerebral puzzle than the singer-songwriter confessional we were all hoping for and while there are several extremely good lyrics (with 'For A Spanish Guitar' particularly revealing) they can't match the power of his best work with The Byrds. Like the painted glass Gene is spied from on the back cover, everything seems to be from behind some sort of a veil, with Gene not as open-hearted as normal. Compared back to back with David Crosby's period solo debut - on which the Byrd who was still writing pop nursery rhymes with McGuinn when Gene was last in the band - and the differences are clear: Crosby's album couldn't have been made by anybody else; Gene's could.
 Everything about this album, impressive as it is, seems slightly skee-whiff too: the album cover should be poignant shot of Gene's silhouette against the night sky - instead it makes for a ridiculously dark album cover with one tiny patch of light that looks odd (and like the sun setting on Gene's career, not rising as he may have intended). The album title, too, is a mistake: Gene always intended to name this album 'White Light' after it's third track, but a mistake designing the original sleeve meant only the artist's name appeared and people naturally assumed this record was meant to be titled 'Gene Clark'. However, the CD re-issue from ** is handled with a care and passion rare for Gene and in many ways is the single CD of his solo material to get: as well as the nine original excellent songs there's an additional five, all of which deserve a place on the final album. Gene wasn't really one for returning to his songs (although this album's 'One In A Hundred' is a rare exception, later re-taped with The Byrds) and these three orignals and one cover are all highly impressive: too good to sit in the vaults. 'Stand By Me' sounds nice in a folky setting even if Gene can't match Ben E King's original. The 150 second gospel-pop 'Ship Of The Lord' sounds like it might have been a promising song if it had ever been finished and is unusually religious and reverential by Gene's standards. 'Opening Day' is a gorgeous song full of hope and longing, Gene seeing life as a 'waking dream', with all his hopes turned into reality, with some lovely Jesse Ed Davis guitar. That idea of dreams and whether they can ever be true crops up a lot on this album in fact, with Gene often picturing himself waking rom a dream, not sure if it was real or not (an apt description of his life post-Byrds). And finally, the moody 'Winter In' is the rockiest song here, with some turbukent guitar changes and one of the best of the many AAA songs around about the passing seasons. All would have made fine additions to the album.
Where this album does hang together remarkably well is the six very different portrayals of what sunlight (the 'white light') means to humanity, spread across the fnine songs on the album. For 'The Virgin' its the beckoning call of a neon light, ultimately artificial when held up against where her spirital path shoud be taking her but  ultimately just as bright. 'With Tomorrow' adds that there 'won't be space or time to look behind' when sunlight comes round again, bringing the chance of a new day. 'White Light' is about the particular way the light falls on an un-named village, where 'ignorance of light can be held in sight' as mankind distracts himself from a 'higher' calling'.  'Because Of You' has yet another reference on this album to the healing power of sunlight (perhaps after Gene has spent so long alone in the dark, alone?), the 'sun I see only shining for me because of you'. 'One In A Hundred' has the stars disappearing in the night sky meaning happier times are ahead, with Gene content to ignore his problems with a new love by his side, 'looking at tomorrow let your problems fade into the sun'. 'For A Spanish Guitar' has a village shaped by 'sunhine and rain', the sun a metaphor for the better times in life. The sun, though, is Gene's muse, his artistic inspioration, which enables him to see an escape out of what must be his own village and enables to handle even 'the rain' better than those around him. Thereafter the sun references disappear: for a record as acrefully planned as this one that surely can't be aco-incidence; did Gene stack his 'sun hex**-ology' together at this juncture to emphasise the running theme?
The starting point of the album is 'The Virgin', a Dylanesque song that features Gene back to his beloved harmonica and the tale of a young hopeful moving to the city 'to find what she was looking for'. She soon changes with 'no curfews left to hold her' and a 'life insane'. Clark's schoolmasterly tones sound like he's reading out a code of conduct on a school report and the song is a little wordy, but like the title character it's a sweet little thing really.
'With Tomorrow' is my favourite song on the album, co-written with Jesse Ed Davis. A debate about the nature of reality, it sounds to me like Gene confronting what made him drop out of the Byrds and whether he has the strength to go through something similar all over again: 'Another moment of joy and sorrow and another dream and another....'. Gene talks about the pop game, the 'unreal'ness of being surrounded by sycohpants on the one hand and band members who pout him down on the other and 'the things that I could not taste but I could feel' - the true state of his songs and his artwork. Gene sings much more like his 'old' self on this track, timid and shy, with some terrific guitar work from him and Jesse - a kind of fokified version of the country pickings continued by Roger McGuinn and Clarence White under the Byrds name in this period.
Title track 'White Light' is an upbeat folk song with some odd lyrics about a 'village on the hill, sitting silently at will, like a silent prophecy forgotten by an age'. The village appears to be a metaphor for humanity, ravaged by seas and attacked by passing time. By Clark's standards, though, there's no real resolution to this song or any clue as to what this all really means. Still, Dylan got away with much worse!
'Because Of You' is another strong song, a moody ballad that actually sounds better in the rougher, less polished demo added to the CD as a bonus track. Clark is in love and it's great to hear him so happy at last, 'when the dark clouds break away', and with yet another reference on this album to the healing power of sunlight (perhaps after Gene has spent so long alone in the dark?) This song would be better still with some sort of progression or change, though - what happened to those superlative middle eights Clark always used to be writing?!
'One In A Hundred' is the gorgeous love song best known from the original Byrds re-recording made in **1973 but not released until 1977's 'Roadmaster' LP. The song has a lovely vibe that would have been perfect for a mid 60s Byrds albums and suits the band - CRosby especially - like a glove. This version with Gene singing solo never quite takes off, with a busier noisier backing less suitable to such a devotion of love. Still this song is indeed' one in a hundred' for its sheer beauty and intelligence, if not quite one in a million.
The Dylanesque 'For A Spanish Guitar' is another strong song. Hearing bells 'singing of the ages asleep', Clark depicts the events in another sleepy village. Some of these words are among Gene's greatest: the beggar 'sitting on his miserable throne of defeat' as he begs in the high-street; the 'workings of sunshine and rain, the memories they made that remain' that shape all of the inhabitants' lives and the 'laughter of children employed by the fantasies not yet destroyed, by the darkness of those they avoid' - all three images are simple but powerful and sharply drawn - humanity's winners and losers, but especially losers, all jumbled up together. Gene sings that there for the grace of God - and the lone of his first 'Spanish guitar', he might have gone too. The most memorable element of this track, though, is not the guitar-work at all but the harmonica playing, as passionate as always.
'Where My Love Lies Asleep' is a bit of a step backwards. A long preamvle means 40 seconds goes by without anything much happening at all and when the song finally kicks in it lacks the instantly hummable melody of the best of the album. It's nice to hear Gene so content again, though, painting a sweet instant snap of how he feels after waking up next to his wife: 'There's no past nor tomorrow, only treasures to keep'.
'Tears Of Rage' is an interesting choice for the album. Unlike Roger, Gene had never shown any particular interest in Dylan's recordings (in fact the interest came from the other directon, with Bob calling Gene his biggest competiton at one point). The one and only post-Byrds Dylan song Clark ever attempted, 'Tears Of Rage' is an apt choice in the sense that it dates from Bob's post-motorbike crash exile (it even sports a co-credit with The Band's Richard Manuel) and features Dylan in unusually defensive mode about where his career is headed. Gene must have felt a sort of connection with the song, although I wish a bit more of the drama of the lyrics to 'Tears Of Rage' had come through in the performance.
'1975' looks towards the future with more concern than other songs on the album. A more troubled re-write of 'The Times They Are A Changin' with a river 'that we've never crossed before' stretching out to infinity, it's arguably the weakest song here and a bit of a limp end to the album, although Jesse turns in another typical fluent guitar solo to liven things up at the every end. You wonder why Gene was so cut up about his year in particular - a time that was, at the time this album was released, just four years away.
Overall, then, 'White Light' is a modest, thoughtful, carefully planned record. You just wish that Gene had spent a little less time making his songs sound good (although there are some excellent lines throughout) and spent a little more time writing from his heart. I'd hate to call  'White Light' a 'bland' album when there's so much going on within the detailed lyrics, but it really takes a few hearings before this album even sounds like it's made up of different songs rather than nine installments of the same one. Unlike some albums I own, though, whose lyrics aren't that interesting or different to make it worth all that effort of looking beyond the surface, there's a very intelligent brain and a very quick eye and at times a very warm heart behind the songs on this album; it's just blinded a little by the 'white light' of the same folk sound heard so many times.

The Flying Burrito Brothers "Last Of The Red Hot Burritos"
(A&M,  February 1972)
Christine's Tune aka Devil In Disguise*~ /Six Days On The Road/My Uncle*~/Dixie Breakdown/Don't Let Your Deal Go Down/Orange Blossom Special/Ain't That A Lot Of Love?/High Fashion Queen*~/Don't Fight It/Hot Burrito #2*/Losing Game
CD Bonus tracks: Wake Up Little Susie/Money Honey/One Hundred Years From Now*
* = Gram Parsons composition/ ~ = Chris Hillman composition
"This rig's a little old but that don't mean she's slow, I got a flame from that stack and that smoke's rollin' black as coal"
With Gram Parsons out of the band and A&M ready to drop the band, The Flying Burrito Brothers have nowhere to go but crash. At first the label wanted a final studio album to say goodbye, but somewhere down the line they got talked into letting the band record a live album on their 'farewell tour' - a good move as it turned out because a live record meant Gram's loss was less in the way and the band were on cracking form on that tour, p,aying with a harder rockier edge than any of their studio records. Chris Hillman, Michael Clarke and Rick Roberts are still onboard from the third record, but Sneaky Pete - whose been there since the beginning - has bailed out, Bernie Leadon going with him. They're replaced on this album by Kenney Wertz on vocals guitar and banjo and Al Perkins on pedal steel - the latter will become an especially good friend of Hillman's and a welcome addition to his next band Manassas when the bassist raves on about his playing to Stephen Stills (the pair will still be working together, off and on, until the 1990s).
Understnadably, the track listing is a little Hillman-heavy, without the pure country that Gram bought to the group and Michael Clarke is in his element, the pure rock drummer that he was always born to be, with a whallop whallop whallop that Gram would never have stood for. That will no doubt upset a few fans who came to the burritos for their country leanings, but for a listener like me whose background is more in rock this latest twist in the band's fortunes is a revelation. Hillman does a great job at holding this band together, rocking out most convincingly on a series of the Burritos' rockier material ('Christine's Tune', here retitled 'Devil In Disguise' and 'High Fashion Queen'), along with a really great set of cover songs exclusive to this set: a revved up version of the blues set 'Ain't That A Lot Of Love?', a slinky 'Don't Let Your Deal Go Down' and a pounding 'Orange Blossom Special'. Hillman even sounds good the one time (on the original album anyway) that he dips into Gram's half of the stage, his rendition of 'Hot Burrito #2' nicely done with a rocky edge that actually fits rather well (especially the thrilling elongatedguitar solo at the end!) Interestingly nothing from latest album ('The Flying Burrito Brothers') is here, with the songs mainly taken from the debut LP, suggesting again how much the band were in disarray during the making of that record. There's no such qualms with this live set though, which features a cooking band on a good night who've finally ironed out the wrinkles from the studio sets and replaced their occasionally arch Nashville sound with a country-rock fusion that's right on the money. How typical, then, that this is to be the band's 'proper' farewell, for when the band returns in 1975 only Rock Roberts will be left and Gram will have died, the myths and legends surrounding which will change the way everyone will think about this band and risks turning them from cult heroes into mainstream wannabes. For now, though, The Flying Burritos finally live up to the promise of their name, flying and cooking  all at the same time!
"To play
Skip Battin "Skip"
(**,  'Early' 1972)
Undercover Man/The Ballad Of Dick Clark/Captain Video/Central Park/Four Legs Are Better Than Two//Valnetino/Human Being Blues/St Louis Browns/My Secret Life/Cobras
"I need a good beat that's easy to rock to - I give this a 93!"
The first thing to say about Skips's debut album is that it's a lot more 'normal' than fans might be expecting having heard his Byrds work. That's not to say it's 'normal' by anyone else's standards - only Skip could write a tribute to how being a dog is better than a human or write a love song to a snake. But whether Skip was genuinely trying harder to reach the mainstream on this album or because his work makes sense when heard together rather than surrounded by other people's songs, 'Skip' will give you new respect for the bassist, a talent who never quite fitted into The Byrds format. The few people I've heard who know the album seem to adore it - I'm not quite sure I agree but it's certainly more enjoyable than an album full of 'Tunnel Of Love' and 'Citizen Kane's would have been. However these songs are clearly by the same writer, with collaborator Kim Fowley along for the ride too: nearly everything here is defiantly, deliberately retro: had this album come out in 1952 rather than 1972 it wouldn't have raised any eyelids. This was of course more naturally Skip's home' than the other Byrds - being that bit older and with a series of hits as the duo 'Skip and Flip' when the rest of The Byrds were still at school, it speaks volumes that there's barely any country or folk influences here now that Skip is no longer a Byrd. Alas that also means Skip doesn't stretch himself as much as he might - there's nothing here with the lasting depth of 'Welcome Back Home' or 'Yesterday's Train' for instance - but if you treat this record as a compilation of fun B-sides rather than a major release there's still much to enjoy.
The best songs are those that speak more directly from Skip's hearts rather than taking off into hob-goblin land. 'The Ballad Of Dick Clark' is a fun rockabilly number dedicated to 'American Bandstand' presenter who helped rock and roll become mainstream and asks what happened to Skip's favourites, Annete Funnicello (answer: she appeared in The Monkees' 'Head' film of 1968) and doo-wop band The Penguins (answer: Paul Simon has them still playing in his head as part of his 'Hearts and Bones' album in 1983). 'Valentino', the folkiest song on the album, has Skip's heart skipping a beat when a girl he fancies says 'you've got eyes like Rudolph Valentino' (and yes, Skip can't resist rhyming this with 'saw your film in Rio'). 'St Louis Browns' is probably the best song on the album, taken slower and without the gimmicks of some of the other songs, Skip getting the 'blues' about the sameness of the city he calls home, so full of 'brown' he decides he's got that too, before talking about the baseball team of the same name. However the most 'important' song from a fans point of view is 'Captain Video' which not only features a guesting Roger McGuinn on some pretty Rickenbacker (hinting that the pair were still good friends at this point) but makes lots of references to Byrds songs - including many Skip never played on. Declaring that he was there in California where it all began, Skip claims that he never quite fitted in, a figure too far ahead of his time, 'Captain Video not Captain Soul'. He also fits in references to unreleased Crosby classic 'Stranger In A Strange Land' and declares he left 'when my guitar got much too hard to hold' (not quite the truth, but Byrds songs were getting harder to play in 1973!), while all the time sounding for all the worold like Bob Dylan singing a Byrds song!  A fascinating bonus for fans, this track rather sits outside the rest of the album, Skip strangely serous for a few minutes. Overall, though, this is a fun album - not essential by any means but a record that makes you wish some of these songs had appeared on the last couple of Byrds albums rather than the Battin songs that did...

"Stephen Stills/Manassas"
(Atlantic,  April 1972)
The Raven: Song Of Love/Rock and Roll Crazies-Cuban Bluegrass/Jet Set (Sigh)/Anyway/Both Of Us (Bound To Lose)*
The Wilderness: Fallen Eagle/Jesus Gave Love Away For Free/Colorado/So Begins The Task/Hide It So Deep/Don't Look At My Shadow (It's Behind Me)
Consider: It Doesn't Matter*/Johnny's Garden/Bound To Fall/How Far?/Move Around/The Love Gangster
Rock and Roll Is Here To Stay:What To Do/Right Now/The Treasure/Blues Man
* = Chris Hillman compositions or co-compositions
"It's been a long long road, but got some more to go - don't look at my shadow, it's behind me!"
There's an un-nerving parallel between how Chris Hillman's roles in The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers ended. Once again Chris is drawn away to pastures from a band he'd helped found by the simple promise of talernt and chemistry. But whereas Hillman's links with Gram Parsons came from a shared love of country and a desire to turn people onto that music, Stephen Stills bonded with him more as a 'brother'. Chris had caught onto Stills' music early, being on eof the very first people to recognise the talent of Stills' first band The Buffalo Springfield and the pair had remained in mutal respecting contact ever since, despite the awkwardness of Stills working with ex-Byrd David Crosby (still seething over his treatment by Roger and Chris when they began to start seriously working together). Never one to sit still for long, Stills' next adventure post-CSN was typically huge: a seven part band who could play anything and everything - if not quite at the same time then certainly in a nod of the head or a blink of an eye. Having already been in America's premier folk-rock band, grown up as a bluegrass player and been hailed as a pioneer of country music, the versatile Hillman was a natural fit for the band. The deal suited Hillman very well: compared to his last depressing days in the Flying Burrito Brothers he would no longer have to carry an ailing group squarely on his shoulders (the way the Burritos had been after Gram left) and he would finally be back playing for audiences the size the early Byrds had known (Stills and the rest of CSN were huge in 1972 - Hillman must have looked on enviably at what his old pal Crosby was doing then). Stopping just long enough to play Stills some Burritos recodings featuring pedal steel guitar solos by good friend Al Perkins (welcomed into the band with open arms), Hillman left the Burritos almost overnight for the lure of a new adventure to waters unknown.
The first Manassas album is one of those records looked on with awe by collectors of a certain age. A double set - how many other 'new' band managed that with a debut? - the record is divided into four pretty much equally impressive quarters each dealing with a slightly different shade of music. Considering that all seven men (three of them: drummer Dallas Taylor, percussionist Joe Lala and bassist Fuzzy Samuels are all good friends with Stills, with the 'missing' member a talented young pianist named Paul Harris who the band discover while rehearsing the LP) had never played together before and didn't have that much time to build up an impressive 70 minute set, this is a stunning LP of the sort that still makes fan's jaws drop in awe today. Few styles invented in 1972 are missing from the LP which covers pop, rock, folk, blues, psychedelia, prog rock, orchestral ballads and a full side of country (the most obviously Hillman-influenced part of the set). Many of these are heard in the opening side to the record, an 18 minute medley that lurches from one style to another, switching gears with real sophistication and telepathy. Making this record seems to have been a genuinely enjoyable experience for everyone: having recently split from on-off girlfriend Judy Collins Stills has songs pouring out of him in this period and loved having a ready made 'band of brothers' to fall back on who were less argumentative than Crosby, Nash and Young. The rest of the band adored the stronger roles they had in the band after a lifetime as side men too and got more money than they'd probably ever had in one go thanks to Stills' generosity in dishing out writing credits (again, quite unlike The Byrds). For Hillman it was a chance to prove himself a third time, bond with a songwriting partner firing on all cylinders and to have fun with all the many influences of his career instead of sticking to one at a time. Manassas is a special record for many reasons: songs, performances (Stills' guitar solos were never more expressive) and sheer groundbreaking audacity. It remains one of the top five CSN-related albums, a tour de force that covered so much ground in one go that Stills in partticular struggled hereafter to come anywhere close to matching the verve and range of this album again. The set contains such highlights from Stills as a glorious seven minute jammed version of 'The Treasure', the angry snarling self-mocking 'Jet Set (Sigh)' and perhaps the greatest song of Stills' career, the heartbreaking ballad 'So Begins The Task', although the really impressive fact about this album is how little filler there is: there's perhaps one too many country ballads on the second side, but otherwise that's it - everything here is top notch. The only thing that prevents this record from being the greatest record ever made (as opposed to one of them) is a rather muddy mix, which rather gets in the way of the brilliance of the playing.
Like the second and final Manassas record we've reviewed this LP in full for our forthcoming  'CSNY' book because there's so much more to say about it if you're a Stills fanatic (rarely does he ever open his heart to the listener quite as widely as he does on this album), but equally it deserves a mention here because this record is so much more than just a footnote in the Chris Hillman story. Manassas was a special record for everyone who played on it, but Hillman may well have benefitted from it even more than the others. While the album is very much Stills' baby (as chief writer, singer and guitarist), Hillman gets more to do in his 'supporting role' than he ever really seemed to in The Byrds (even when they were down to a duo!) and duly gets 'second billing' on the LP. Chris is a great vocal foil to Stills, his more grounded often sarcastic harmony vocals the 'weight' Stills often needs to stop flying away to goodness knows where and the pair's voices are easily a match for Stills' with Crosby's (even if you miss Nash's higher part on top). Hillman also maintains his role in the Burritos as a 'rhythm guitarist', slashing away nicely at Stills' soaring lead and helping to drive the songs on. The 'country' side also allows Hillman to fully explore the 'country-rock' hybrid idea from yet another perspective, with a 'rock' star in charge this time rather than a country one and that suits Hillman much better to my ears, with Chris free to mine his bluegrass roots (his bond with Burrito Al Perkins gets ever deeper and more telepathic in this era too).
Chris also gets to co-write two of the best songs with Stills, Hillman later commenting in interviews how much he learnt from working with Stills, who was always determined to go the extra mile in delivering a killer recording (at this period on his life at least; Writing with a workaholic after so many years of trying to get the laidback Gram to sit still long enough to collaborate on a song must have thrilled Hillman immensely). The pair write the glorious finale to the album's first side 'Both Of Us (Bound To Lose)' which they alternate verses on, as if mimicking the soon-to-come Gram Parsons-Emmylou Harris duets. A plea to not be ignored ('Is that really how you see me? Just a statue making sounds?') Stills is clearly coming at this song as part of his elongated goodbye to Judy Collins, but Hillman may well have been writing with his own recent divorce in mind, or perhaps had Gram in mind here (or even Crosby, whose name must surely have come up during the sessions), with lyrics about having to 'choose' between two paths and how when one side doesn't pull their weight both sides 'lose'. The song starts off as a trippy psychedelic ballad straihg tof the 'Notorious' era before slowly building in steam and ending up a fiery salsa rocker by the finale, thepair moving from sadness through to an anger and rounding off with a rattled canon blast from Dallas' drums. The pair's other song 'It Doesn't Matter' (which begins the third side) is a clever, catchy pop song that Chris must have liked because it satyed in his live setlists for a long long time after the band split. The two sing in close harmony on another song about heartbreak, pleading with a girl to change her mind on any single conditions she wants ('It doesn't matter which of our fantasies stay'). Hillman's rocky riffing almost slices Stills' soaring lead solo in two before another strong resolution where Fuzzy Samuels' killer bass sawing kicks in and instead of simply kicking back to the verse the chorus keeps on going, extending into a powerful middle eight that just won't let go. The result is two fabulous songs which prove how similar the two writers were to one another: musically adventurous and eclectic, but with strong harmonic sensibilities and both suffering from more than their fair share of bad luck. Notwithstanding the close friendships Hillman formed with McGuinn, Parsons and later The Desert Rose Band (by contrast the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band never really gelled), the duo sound remarkably close here, possibly the best collaboration of Hillman's life. The fact that Manassas only stayed together long enough for one more record after this (and at far less than half the level of this impressive record) is one of 1970s music's greatest tragedies, for there was nothing Manassas couldn't do, nor Hillman with them.

"The Byrds' Greatest Hits Volume II"
(Columbia,  November 1972)
The Ballad Of Easy Rider/Wasn't Born To Follow/Jesus Is Just Alright/He Was A Friend Of Mine/Chestnut Mare//Tiffany Queen/Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man/You Ain't Goin' Nowhere/Citizen Kane/I Wanna Grow Up To Be A Politician/America's Great National Past-Times
"Above the hills, higher than eagles we're gliding, suspended in the sky...behind those black walls, below was a bottomless canyon, floating with no sound"
However none of The BYrds could escape the shadow of their past for long and so it proved with yet another compilation album released in the dying days of the band. With so many of the famous and successful Byrds songs already released on volume one, this is a rather sorry collection of flop singles and album tracks and is one of those 'Greatest Hits' compilations that doesn't really deserve the name (the highest charting hit here? 'The Ballad Of Easy Rider', which raced all the way up to, erm, #65 on the American Billboard charts, with 'You Ain't Goin' Nowhere' the next highest at #74). The record doesn't even serve as a proper entry to curious fans who'd never given the post-Crosby Byrds a look: where for goodness sake are the fan favourites 'Bad Night At The Whiskey' 'Lover Of The Bayou' 'Gunga Din' 'This Wheel's On Fire'...even a few more Dylan covers or Gram Parsons songs would have been preferable to this largely random trawl through the band's archives. 'He Was A Friend Of Mine', whilst one of the best recordings here, is also seriously out of place being the only recording by the Gene Clark era of the band. McGuinn apparently had a great deal of inpiut into the record, which might explain why he gets so many originals on it (five songs), but if so then Roger seems to have overcome his reported dislike of Skip's songs (he gets two - while Gene Parsons and Clrence don't even get any vocals!) All that said, the packaging is first class, with a striking cover photograph of the McGuinn/White/Parsons/Battin line-up in profile - a photograph that's inifnitely more interesting than those used on all the post-1968 Byrds records. The result is mixed, a record that does half a job of showing what The Byrds were all about and with a good half a dozen of the strongest songs of the era - but this set should have been an EP or re-done to reflect what fans really considered the band's best work. Released to cash-in on the fuss about the reunion record the following year, this really wasn't a good pointer towards how well that album was going to go....

Gene Clark "Roadmaster"
(Ariola Records,  Recorded 1970-1972, Released January 1973)
She's The Kind Of Girl (with The Byrds)/One In A Hundred (with The Byrds)/Here Tonight (with The Flying Burrito Brothers)/Full Circle Song/In A Misty Morning/Rough and Rocky//Roadmaster/I Really Don't Want To Know/I Remember The Railroad/She Don't Care About Time/Shooting Star
"I see no easy way, but today I've got to say, I don't mind what I'm being shown"
Bouncing back from the disappointing response to 'White Light', Gene Clark continued with his next solo album, off and on over the course of the next couple of years, with the distant blessing of A&M boss Jerry Moss. Clark's refusal to tour the album and the record's poor sales had hurt their relationship, but Moss was still convinced that with the right commercial material Clark had a future with their label. By and large they were right - songs like the gorgeous 'One In A Hundred' and a first go at Byrds reunion song 'Full Circle' are not just pretty and clever, like most of Gene's songs, they're catchy too. Alas, though, 'Roadmaster' was never given a proper chance: interrupted first by an abandoned reunion with the Byrds in 1970 and then by Gene's support to the post-Gram Parsons Flying Burrito Brothers (highlights of both of which appear on this record), 'Roadmaster' never had the chance to grow into a 'proper' song suite like 'White Light'. As a result 'Roadmaster' comes off sounding half-baked, as if four albums have been randomly stuck together (which of course is exactly what happened).
But I'm one of a number of growing Gene Clark fans who believe that 'Roadmaster', if not quite the best thing Gene Clark ever did, is at least right up there. The two reunion songs with The Byrds (reviewed in full in the '1970 Recordings' section of this book) are excellent, far better than the reunion record of 1973 even if the original five all did their work seperately through the power of overdubbing (in fact, thinking about it, perhaps that's why it comes off sounding better than that feuding reunion record...) 'Here Tonight'  is a far better song for the Flying Burrito Brothers than 'Tried So Hard' (the one Clark song that ended up on their third and self-titled LP), with some lovely Chris Hillman harmonies which are most Byrds-like. A more uptempo and slicker 'Full Circle Song' lacks The Byrds' velvet harmonies but still sounds fantastic, already a work of genius with the arrangement pretty much there already.
And those are just the outtakes from other projects that start the album off! Highlights of the record 'proper' (not that gene ever did assemble it fully) include a sumptuous orchestral ballad 'I Remember The Railroad' which sounds like a sequel to the classic 'Train Leaves Here This Morning', an older and wiser narrator reflecting back on a difficult past life and wondering if he was right to leave (it could well be that this is Gee, post 1970 Byrds reunion, wondering if he really was right to leave the band after all - they certainly sounded good on those two songs and worked together well by their standards!) A re-make of Byrds B-side 'She Don't Care About Time' is fascinating and more evidence that Gene was looking backwards in this period. Sung achingly slowly, with each line seeming like it;s being physically pulled out of Gene, this might not be better but is certainly different to the uptempo version recorded by The Byrds in 1965. Here Gene sounds older once more, the pace of life now reduced to half-speed, which works particularly well against the country backing and makes the mots of lines like 'She don't have to be assured of many good things to hide'. The effect is a relationship nearing an end, not the beginning, with a pair who vowed to be beside each other for all time coming true at the end of the couple's life. Finally, the closer 'Shooting Star' is another lovely Clark ballad, pointing the way towards the more intricate epics of 'No Other' and reflecting on the point of one's life journey. Gene's ride so far has been a bumpy one, 'born unto a storm and cast adrift upon a wave' but somehow Gene has stayed true to himself, a 'cosmic dancer in the wind...driven by the thought that men are free'. Clark may feel alone with the journey he's taken and finds it difficult to come to terms with 'going from where you have been to where you have come', but he still holds on to the 'truth' of his vision and believes that he takes it for a reason. Typically Gene, the title isn't mentioned anywhere in the lyrics but it fits all the same, with the characteristic reference to high altitude and the idea that 'stars' exist on some other sort of 'plain' to the rest of us. It's an astonishing finale which boded well for anyone wanting to take a chance on Gene's solo career in the future.
If in truth the rest of the record is more uneven than usual by Gene's standards (woeful cover songs like Flatt and Scruggs' 'Rough and Rocky' and Don Robertson's 'I Don't Really Want To Know'), then it should be remembered that 'Roadmaster' was a work in progress rather than a fully finished, carefully planned, signed off album. The reason for it's release at all is unusual: A&M's Holland branch decided that they wanted to steal a march on their bigger subsidiaries dealing with Europe and America and so could have something of an 'exclusive' with a 'big name'. Whether Gene Clark was a big enough name or not at the start of 1973, by chance he was by the end of the year with The Byrds reunion big news and Clark rightly getting the few plaudits from that album. As a result 'Roadmaster' should have done better and been re-issued in the rest of the world right away: instead, yet again, the moment passed and another great Gene Clark record was lost to the world. Or at least it was until 1994 when this set was finally re-issued in most regions as a tribute to the singer a year after his death on both vinyl and CD. Of al of Gene's masterpieces, this might not be the best but it's arguably his most unfairly forgotten, containing at least five excellent songs exclusive to this set  (and two that sound just as good as they do elsewhere) and with the singer in terrific voice, which for the first time sits large and proud in the mix without banjos, Byrds or Burritos (or the messy mix of 'White Light') getting in the way. A real treat that's long overdue a second re-issue.
"Without no po
. Gram Parsons "GP"
(Reprise,  January 1973)
Still Feeling Blue/We'll Sweep Out All The Ashes In The Morning/A Song For You/Streets Of Baltimore/She//That's All It Took/The New Soft Shoe/Kiss The Children/Cry One More Time/How Much I've Lied/Big Mouth Blues
"The country doctor will see you now!'
In many ways I'm surprised that Gram Parsons got it together long enough to release not one but two albums in his short lifespan. Tiring quickly of his own band The International Submarine Band, The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers in quick succession, it seemed as if Gram had the attention span of a gnat and so wouldn't amount to much without the like of Chris Hillman snapping at his heels, getting him to focus. That's certainly what happened throughout 1971, with Gram's friends getting worried for the first time as Gram dined out on drugs and motorbikes night after night and finally got the time to enjoy the trust fund he'd inherited, spending it like there was no tomorrow (perhaps he had a premonition?) Then again 'GP' doesn't sound like a last will and testament (though sequel 'Greivous Angel' was finished at the time of Gram, he'd died before it's release, making this the last record of his short lifetime). When he did get around to making both these records Gram sounds deeply focussed, appearing on both these records as if he's firmly here to stay: the slight confusion of the earlier years is gone and Gram's voice sounds not only sure of his way but croons with a confidence beyond his years (he was all of 24 when he made this record but sounds at least twenty more than that). He also sounds vibrant and passionate, a world away from the distracted figure who made the second Flying Burrito album such heavy work.  Far from being a 'general practitioner' as the 'GP' title suggests, Gram is singing as a country purist for the first time (rather than as a country-rock pioneer), with less nods of the head to his rock career and while that's not my natural cup of tea at all the material is written and performed with such care that I actually prefer this purist record to many of Gram's hybrid works (I also prefer iot to the sequel, which isn't the case with most fans).
The best partof this album isn't Gram's work at all though, but Emmylou Harris' duetting vocals. Harris has a key history with several AAA bands - The Hollies help maker her a star with a cover of 'Boulder To Birmingham' , Neil Young worked with her many times in the late 1970s and The Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler ends up recording his duet album with her 'All The Roadrunning' in 2006, a fiery electric set a long way from this laregly acoustic reflective one. This was Emmylou's first recorded appearance, for which she surely deserved a co-credit, but the pair sound as if they've been singing together all their lives, Emmylou's bright glare bouncing off Gram's downcast vocals in a very pretty but very supportive way throughout (though what really makes this a great 'duets' album is the shared telepathic sadness they both share - the difference being that Emmylou sounds ready to move on and Gram sounds trapped in the past). Gram was after a female singer but, not being that practical, didn't know where to start - it was Chris Hillman who spotted Emmylou performing in a club and told Gram about her. Parsons refused, but was badgered and bagered enough times to give her a try - and onlookers report the chemistry was almost instant, despite their very different upbringings (Emmylou, so hungry and desperate for work she'd have signed anything when Gram called round, had been living hand to mouth since becoming a single mother in 1969 at the age of 22).
At first Gram reached out to a more established figure to help him out with the record: country star Merle Haggard. But in a reflection of just how brave it was to make a 'country-rock' LP in 1972, Haggard dismissed Gram as a 'hippie' and refused to have anything to do with him; figuring that he wanted the 'sound' rather than the person, Gram 'stole' his engineer instead, Hugh Davies, who became a firm ally (and most probably a key reason why this album sounds so much better than either 'Sweetheart' or the Flying Burrito records). The production for this record is easily the best thing about it: Gram's voice had never had such space to soar before, with or without Emmylou in support, while the group of backing musicians (including lsoon-to-be-Burrito Al Perkins on pedal steel) are far more sensitive and rehearsed than the Byrds or Burritos ever were.
There's one thing that lets this album down, though, and that's the songs. There's nothing here to match 'Christine's Tune', 'Hickory Wind' 'One Hundered Years From Now' or even The International Submarine Band's 'Luxury Liner' (though album highlight 'She' comes closest). All of Gram's new originals bar one also repeat the 'Sweethearts' feeling that the narrator is the only 'winner' in oife and no one else is worthy of him; fair enough for a song or two but a little wearing across a whole record. Left without enough original songs to fill a whole album, Gram reaches back heavily into the country songs on his youth, but the result is an even more mixed bag than on 'Sweetheart'. Joyce Allsop's 'We'll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning' is a clever piece that uses the matphor of a dying fire for a couple's dying love, but that's the only cover song here that comes close to Gram's own work even on a lesser day: 'Streets Of Baltimore' is dull, 'That's All It Took' is cliched, 'Kiss The Children' is drippy and the album's one attempt at another style (blues) on Pete Wolf's 'Cry One More Time' is one of the single worst songs in this book, a one note chugging 12 bar that never does anything for a full 208 seconds. Usually I'd be fuming when an album's songs don't come to scratch, heralded classic or not, but the singing is so good, the backing so fine, the production so clear and the arrangements so clever that for once that's not the wide gaping hole at the heart of this record it usually is. Like 'Sweetheart' I do rather come away from this record scratching my head over why so many fans are so devoted to what's a rather rushed and repetitive affair, but 'GP' is never less than pleasant listening and sometimes is so much more powerful than that, a true pioneering record delivered with a confidence and nous that few of Gram's fans could have been expecting. Merle Haggard should have been a bit nicer about it all: this album could only have helped his reputation, not hurt it.
'Still Feeling Blue' is a rattling country rocker with the fiddles up loud and easily the most Flying Burritos-like of Gram's latest crop of songs. Gram's lamenting anothert girl walking out of his life and wondering why time passes so slowly when it passed so quickly when they were together. Though bordering on cliche, Gram is on great form and the first time the world ever heard Emmylou, here one of a number of backing vocalists, was surely enough to make half the audience fall head over heels in love with her.
'We'll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning' is a full blown duet, a nice cover of obscure country writer Joyce Allsup (who was working full-time as a secretary when she began writing for a hobby in the early 1960s). Carl Butler and Pearl had the hit with this song in 1969 so nit would have been relatively well known to a country audience when Gram and Emmylou cut their version. Both singers sound great on a song about  a fire slowly going out and their mutual decision to go their seperate ways - but not yet.
Gram's 'A Song For You' is one of the album highlights, with a pretty yearning melody that's kind of the closest Gram ever came to writing a 'Wild Horses' of his own (it sounds like one of the Stones'  songs rather than his own). The lyrics are'tr quite as assured and inspired as the music ('My love is like a wild goose' is not a natural opening line to any song!) but Emmylou's beautiful harmony somehow makes up for any lapses in the words.
Bobby Bare's hit 'Streets Of Baltimore' is arguably the best known country song on the album even though it must be one of the most unusual country standards of the lot. The narrator moved to his wife's old home town when she gets lonely and slowly falls in love with the new town but while he 'feels proud to give her what she's longing for' the last verse has him moving back again, convinced his wife loves her old way of life more than him. A pretty melody, some wordy lyrics and another lovely use of harmonies highlight this standards interpretation.
'She' - no, not the Charles Aznavour monstrosity - is most definitely the album highlight. Many other Parsons songs are religious to greater or lesser extents, but somehow it makes sense that this rare song is his only one to feature the chorus 'Hallelujah'! Gram ducks the writing style of a lifetime by making an un-named girl the true hero of the song: she's no millionaire, either, or even 'that pretty', but a simple hard-working country girl 'nearly forgotten by everyone'. To Gram though she's an angel, who 'sure could sing' and whose simple faith and inner holiness brings out the best in him, allowing him to see new wonders in the world. Parsons has never sounded this inspired, although interestingly Emmylou is absent for this song about a girl who 'sure could sing'.
Alas with the very next song we're back into cliched country role. George Jones' 'That's All It Took' has a pair of lovers 'tremebling' at the mention of each other's name - first with love, then with fury. The fiddles screech, the pedal steel plays a solo of the sort pedal steels always seem to play and a chugging 12 bar bloues rhythm doesn't do this song any favours. However the words are clever, the chorus highly memorable (especially the unexpected key change on the title line, when the pair's feelings for each other truly changes) and Gram and Emmylou are in good voice.
'The New Soft Shoe' is another new Parsons ballad and another song quite unusual for Gram in as much as he sings in the third person about a new cast of characters 'from 50 years or so ago' (ie 1923). It's another pretty but not very memorable song that's got nothing whatsoever to do with shoes despite the title and chorus, it's more about hardship and hard work. The song is most important for a fascinating shimmering effect Gram gets on his guitar (not unlike the sound effect his good friend Clarence White got with The Byrds).
'Kiss The Children' is a Rik Grech song that sounds like a direct steal from Manassas' country-based 'Hide It So Deep' from the year before (something which must have struck Al Perkins in particular, who played a similar pedal steel part on both recordings). People say the narrator has an easy life and a perfect marriage but that so isn't true - Gram's been 'tasting tears and spilling whiskey on the floor', with his wife about to leave him for good. His last request, that she 'kisss the children for me before you go' is delivered with true country overkill and schmaltz on one of the lesser moments of the album.
Peter Wolf (later Grace Slick's co-writer in another AAA band Jefferson Starship) delivers the true worst moment of the album, though, with the chuggin saxophone blues 'Cry One More Time'. Never mind crying any more - this song is so slow and ponderous it makes time feel as if it's runnig backwards as it is. Gram is the wrong singer for this sort of song  and there isn't even Emmylou's presence this time around to make the most of a bad job.
Thankfully the album rallies at the end with 'How Much I've Lied', a one-off collaboration between Gram and David Rivkin, 'staff puiblisher' at Irving Music (who published most of Gram's songs across his career). Bizarrely the sleevenotes for the original record have him down as 'Pam Rifkin', something that isn't even corrected on the first CD pressings of the album! Rivkin later became Prince's main collaborator in the 1980s, although you probably wouldn't guess this from yet another traditional country lament. Gram's been a naughty boy, he's been 'living in sin' and told 'too many lies' so he decides to move on without even waiting for a reply from his revelations.
The end result, then, is an album with some very good material that deserves respect, but I do wonder if this record - a flop until a re-issue after Gram's death - would have been viewed as a 'classic' today had it not been taken as one half of Gram's last will and testament. This album would have been a cult classic, no doubt, with a couple of strong new songs, the recording debut of Emmylou Harris and a better production and backing than any Gram Parsons recording thus far. But at times 'GP' is just another Parsons 'LP', not really moving on that far from the ground Parsons had already covered with the Byrds and Flying Burritos.

  

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