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Byrd Lives: Cult Hero Gene Clark’s 21 Best Songs

With some of indie-rock’s brightest stars touring in his honor, we pick the former Byrds frontman’s essential tracks

gene clark

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Beginning January 22nd in Philadelphia, members of Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, Beach House, the Walkmen and Wye Oak are joining forces to play a series of concerts during which they'll cover Gene Clark's 1974 cult classic solo album No Other in its entirety. Not familiar? You should be. Forty years after the album was released it remains an awe-inspiringly majestic and moving listen. 

Beach House and Friends Plan Gene Clark Tribute Tour

But it also represents only a small sampling of Clark's immense skills. Born in the small town of Tipton, Missouri, in 1944, Clark was a founding member of folk-rock pioneers the Byrds, penning original material for the group before embarking on a solo career that encompassed heavily orchestrated, sadly underappreciated treasures like No Other and sparser, also underappreciated affairs like 1971's folk-focused White Light

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For all Clark's songwriting gifts – his music managed the feat of feeling both metaphysical and homespun – the singer-guitarist never found much in the way of solo success, and he struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, dying in 1991 at 46 years old. But his body of work has long found favor among those music fans and musicians who count themselves as seekers. Years before the No Other tour, Clark's songs were covered by Tom Petty, the Eagles, Yo La Tengo and Robert Plant, to name a few. So to celebrate this latest Gene Clark renaissance (a new documentary, The Byrd Who Flew Alone, is also making the festival rounds), we've chosen his 21 finest songs, taken from all eras of his career. 

By Andy Beta

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“Gypsy Rider”

So Rebellious a Lover, 1987

Clark enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in the 1980s, as bands in Los Angeles' Paisley Underground scene as well as Athens, Georgia, college-rock icons R.E.M. drew from his melancholy blueprint. Around this time, while hashing out a new project in a living-room session, Clark found himself singing duets with the Textones' Carla Olson, their voices naturally melding into a perfect whole. On the ensuing early alt-country effort, So Rebellious a Lover, the duo set their distinct voices to heartfelt mandolin and dobro. "Put your face into the wind/ find another road where you've never been," Clark sings in a world-weary voice on the album's autobiographical "Gypsy Rider," sounding resigned to his fate. So Rebellious a Lover would be the man's last studio album, as he succumbed to natural causes exacerbated by alcoholism in 1991 at the age of 46.