Music

Gene Clark: Two Sides to Every Story

During a time when country was serious, large and in charge, Clark jokingly thumbed his nose at the appearance of genuine. Or not.


Gene Clark

Two Sides to Every Story

Label: High Moon
US Release Date: 2014-11-18
UK Release Date: 2014-11-11
Amazon
iTunes

One of the nastiest things you could say about country music during the Jimmy Carter era was that it was hokey. Country music had become popular and relevant. Willie Nelson played the White House, Urban Cowboy was an earnestly hot movie, and New Yorkers wore cowboy boots. Gene Clark originally released Two Sides to Every Story in 1977, and it can best be described as hokey. Clark embraced contrived corniness and rebelliously expressed its superficiality. During a time when country was serious, large and in charge, Clark jokingly thumbed his nose at the appearance of genuine. He understood that authenticity was just as manufactured as any product.

Which is not to say Two Sides to Every Story doesn’t have its share of sincerity. It’s there, buried under thick production and clueless arrangements. Now one might suggest that Clark and producer Thomas Jefferson Kaye were not consciously trying to achieve this effect. But if one carefully listens to Clark’s rendition of the classic murder ballad “In the Pines”, and then the cheery and cheesy smiling banjo and fiddle licks that accompany him, one realizes this must be on purpose -- like when The Jesus and Mary Chain would put out precious pop songs on one speaker and nasty feedback noise on the other. The juxtaposition makes something larger than the individual components.

After all, the backing musicians on this record include some of country’s greats: Doug Dillard, Byron Berline, John Hartford, Emmylou Harris, and Jeff Baxter. As lead vocalist of the Byrds, Clark wrote such important songs as "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better", "She Don't Care About Time", and "Eight Miles High". Kaye was a noted producer, responsible for Loudon Wainwright III’s “Dead Skunk”, among other highlights. This strangely congealed set of 10 songs must be a master recipe, so that when we hear James Talley’s tale of a coal miner dying of black lung serenading his love over violins instead of fiddles, and a grand piano instead of guitar, we need to appreciate the delicacy of the moment.

Or not. You could say this is one royal mess of an album. It went out of print not long after release because of record label problems. Its resurgence in a very handsomely packaged reissue by High Moon, a deluxe hardbound item that comes with a full color 24-page book and an e-card that enables one to download 90 minutes more, is certainly welcomed by Clark fans who remember his 1974 magnum opus No Other, also produced by Kaye and known for its expensive and expansive instrumentation. But this album is very different. These two artists were heavily into drugs when recording Two Sides to Every Story and the eccentric aspects of this album are the result.

So while one may not be able to grasp the genius of this album, because it doesn’t have any, one can value it as an artifact. Clark grittily wails to the sound of a train on “Kansas City Southern” until he’s out-sung by the back-up singers, while an electric guitar lick chugs down the tracks. What does it all mean? What about the boppin’ banjo that turns “Home Run King”'s nonsensical lyrics (re: “there’s a 10-year old in the alley that throws a hot dog against the wall and that’s the truth”) into a conventional feel good song? Well, the album was just dressing the part of country during country’s heyday in American popular culture. Sometimes buying in is just another way of selling out. Clark discovered and promoted country music before country was popular, certainly he deserved to reap some rewards.

5

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less
Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

The Force, which details the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts, is best viewed as a complimentary work to prior Black Lives Matter documentaries, such 2017's Whose Streets? and The Blood Is at the Doorstep.

Peter Nicks' documentary The Force examines the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts to curb its history of excessive police force and systemic civil rights violations, which have warranted federal government oversight of the Department since 2003. Although it has its imperfections, The Force stands out for its uniquely equitable treatment of law enforcement as a complex organism necessitating difficult incremental changes.

Keep reading... Show less
6

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image