Following yesterday’s unveiling of Jason Isbell’s ‘Southeastern’ as equal fourth in our ongoing top 10 rundown, today we can reveal the album that it is tied with. The voting was close throughout, and we will reveal the full chart and votes with our Number 1 on Friday, but these two were the only ones that AUK’s writers couldn’t separate. AUK’s deputy editor, Jonathan Aird, chose ‘No Other’ as his own personal Number 1. Here he tells us just why he made that call.
Gene Clark’s post-Byrds masterpiece ‘No Other’ did not exactly come out of nowhere. There had been the majestic collaboration with the Godsin Brothers which had merged chamber folk-rock with gospel-country vocals followed by a fantastical journey with Doug Dillard. There had been the glorious singer-songwriter perfection of ‘White Light’. That none of these albums had really gained the attention they had deserved in no way lessens their individual excellence – Gene Clark was a year or two ahead of his time. And that is very much the story of ‘No Other’ – one hears the opening bars of the title track and there is a majestic blend of a heavy groove with a hint of muscular menace which is metamorphosed into an irresistible deeply funky groove over which Clark and his backing singers layout a complex philosophy for life. There is nothing like it – not then, not now. To add to the album’s contradictions even some of those involved in the making have suggested that Clark added too many layers, that a stripped back album would have been superior. There has been an effort to downplay the mysticism of the lyrics, even the cover photo of Clark made-up to the hilt and perfectly matching the golden age of Hollywood glamour images that surround it has been blamed for the lack of sales. Nonsense – it wasn’t heard enough, it’s as simple as that. That Clark was a self-sabotager has a lot to do with that, but that doesn’t lessen ‘No Other’ one jot – it was and is an album that is note perfect from start to end.
It’s not an easy listen, lyrically: pain, mistakes and human folly abound. And yet ‘From a Silver Phial’ with its elements of compulsion and spiritual bondage “sleeping in the master’s room, seeing through his eyes for gain” floats on a sea of mercury, alliterating beyond the reasonable “said she saw the sword of sorrow sunken in the sand of searching souls”. Anywhere else this would be the album highlight – the ‘Ziggy Stardust’ or the ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. Here it is destined to be followed by the confessional ‘Some Misunderstanding’, simply one of the greatest songs written in all that heady Sixties and early Seventies period – no, simply one of the greatest songs written. And along with great songs it has to be acknowledged that across all of ‘No Other’ Gene Clark had never sounded better.
‘No Other’ is that rare thing – an album that cannot be overpraised, an album that never becomes cosily familiar, instead always offering new perspectives as great art should. Gram Parsons famously spoke of “Cosmic American Music”, and occasionally achieved it – ‘No Other’ is that concept fully realised over eight slices of musical perfection. How much harder must that lack of commercial success have been to take, when every playback just confirms that this is one of the most important records ever released.