“Maybe someone knows what fate is, maybe someone just knows why,” Gene Clark posited in a wistful melancholic meditation that makes “Some Misunderstanding” one of the climactic moments and centerpiece of his 1974 album No Other. Looking back the singer seems to be sharing the most intimate and vulnerable details of his complex character, the private ruminations of someone whose star rose and fell when it circled too close to the bright lights. Never comfortable with adulation and fame, Clark tragically passed away in 1991 at the young age of 46.
Now the album No Other is getting a lavish re-issue by 4AD, the grandeur of which is a seeming statement and attempt to establish the historical significance of an album that was largely overlooked but widely regarded as a masterpiece. No Other was a bridge between the late Sixties country psychedelia and the heydey of the singer-songwriter era of the early Seventies, genres Clark helped pave the way for ever since he came on the scene with the Byrds a decade earlier singing his own “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better.”
“It was like wow, wow and more wow,” recalled journalist, musicologist and Long Ryders frontman Sid Griffin in Paul Kendall’s documentary film The Byrd Who Flew Alone: The Triumphs and Tragedy of Gene Clark. The film is included in a lavish box set that includes a remastered version of the album, two cds of sessions outtakes and a book Gene Clark No Other The Making of a Masterpiece featuring essays by biographer Johnny Rogan, Martin Aston, Griffin and others. A two-cd version of the remastered album and session outtakes and booklet (an abbreviated version of the book) is one of the editions also being made available.
Griffin, who writes that he was too nervous to speak to Clark when he came upon him shopping in Los Angeles in the late Seventies, eventually sang with him on the Long Ryders’ “Ivory Tower.” Speaking to Paul Kendall in the documentary, he likened No Other to epic landmark albums like Love’s Forever Changes and the Beach Boys’ Smile. Now for the reissue Griffin went into the vaults to review and remix all of the studio outtakes, generously providing a song by song look that deconstructs the arrangements and provide insights into the making of the record,
An anomaly for it’s time in cost and ambition, No Other is an atypical solo album and makes White Light a few years earlier seem merely conventional. Clark brought in an all-star ensemble and cream of the crop session players such as bassist Lee Sklar, drummer Russ Kunkel, keyboardsmen Craig Doerge and Bil Cuomo, guitarists Jesse Ed Davis and Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar and drummers Butch Trucks and Joe Lala among many others. They created diverse and diffuse sounds that draw from country, folk, R&B and rock but are pluralistic and never locked in to one genre. Even the opening track “Life’s Greatest Fool” which might be another mid-tempo country rocker that anticipated alt-country, suddenly transports you with vocal harmonies by Ronnie Barron, Cindy Bullens, Claudia Lennear, Vanetta Fields, Clydie King, Shirley Matthews and Carlenea Williams that are transcendent.
The lush, layered mesmerizing guitar intro and vocal arrangement of “Strength of Strings” that’s more of an overture before it becomes a reflective song over six minutes. Clark painstakingly recorded the album over months spending a reported $100,000 that is close to a half million in today’s dollars. In Griffin’s notes for the session outtakes, we learn that it took a week to construct a basic track for the title song. We also learn that the vocal was double tracked by Clark and overlaid with his voice on the studio telephone line, giving what Griffin describes as an other worldly sound.
One of the great attributes of the project are how the curators pulled together a group of black and white photos by John and Linda Dietrich. They put you inside the sessions at the Village Recorder, the studio that was later home to Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac. The portraits of the players and the sessions help immerse you in the listening experience and era. Looking back No Other still feels contemporary forty-five years later and like the best music something where you can discover something new each time.
But as a period piece it taps into the sound of its time. In “From a Silver Phial,”the gospel church piano has the feel of an outtake from a session from the Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street. The extended ensemble playing in “No Other” evokes the frenetic energy of early Seventies Stevie Wonder and the Stones who toured together a few years earlier. (In the book Clark reveals he was listening to both Wonder’s Innervisions and influenced by the Stones’ Goats Head Soup.)
But it’s the expansive arrangements and extended song lengths that provide a mesmerizing listening experience. Just immerse yourself in the vocal ensemble of “Strength of Strings” and “No Other” and the build that carries through “Lady of the North,” Clark’s dreamy love letter to his wife that culminates in a dazzling swirl of keys, cello, and violin.
No Other’s place was helped cemented when it was performed in its entirety in 2013 concerts by members of the bands Beach House, The Walkmen, Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes. Griffin writes in his notes that it has long been thought that No Other was planned to be a double album. After searching through the vaults, he declares that is false. Griffin and producer John Wood are responsible for remixing the outtakes and early song versions.
That No Other stopped at eight songs reportedly irked Asylum Records head David Geffen. At the time Asylum was the hottest label with artists like Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, the Eagles and Bob Dylan. It would have seemed that Clark was positioned for a breakthrough with No Other. But Clark’s reluctance to promote himself and the label’s issues over the cost of the record contributed to the lack of commercial success. In an infamous moment recalled in the documentary, Clark approached Geffen at Dan Tanna’s restaurant in West Hollywood, grabbing him and reportedly picked him up by the throat. As Clark’s brother noted in the documentary, it certainly didn’t help matters any.
No Other Versions
Limited Deluxe Boxset
Silver Boxset Containing No Other LP (Pressed on Silver Vinyl with Poster), Exclusive 7”, Three SACDs, Blu-ray & An 80 Page Hardbound Book. Multi-layer SACD Version of Album Presented in an Exclusive Japanese Ichikudo Vinyl Replica Sleeve. All boxset orders from the 4AD store include two exclusive bonus flexi 7”s.
Limited Double CD
The Original Album Remastered, Plus Bonus Disc of New Session Mixes by Sid Griffin & John Wood. Hardbound Book Cover.
The Original Album with Poster, Remastered at Abbey Road
The Original Album, Remastered at Abbey Road
No Other (Remastered) (Available on CD, LP, 2CD, Box)
- Life’s Greatest Fool
- Silver Raven
- No Other
- Strength Of Strings
- From A Silver Phial
- Some Misunderstanding
- The True One
- Lady Of The North
No Other (Sessions 1) (Available on 2CD, Box)
- From A Silver Phial (Version 4)
- Silver Raven (Version 2)
- Some Misunderstanding (Version 3)
- Life’s Greatest Fool (Version 2)
- Train Leaves Here This Morning (Version 2) 6. Lady Of The North (Version 2)
- The True One (Version 2)
- Strength Of Strings (Version 2)
- No Other (Version 2)
No Other (Sessions 2) (Available in Box)
- From A Silver Phial (Version 1)
- Life’s Greatest Fool (Version 1)
- No Other (Version 1)
- Lady Of The North (Version 1)
- Some Misunderstanding (Version 1)
- Silver Raven (Version 1)
- Train Leaves Here This Morning (Version 1)
- The True One (Version 1)
- Strength Of Strings (Version 1)
- Life’s Greatest Fool (Single Version)
- Silver Raven (Single Edit)