No Other: The Story of a Forgotten Album
Written by Emily O'Brien on February 7, 2023
The history of rock and roll has seen many dark tragedies, both in the form of untimely deaths of important figures and in the form of neglect and disregard for musicians who’ve made significant contributions to the genre. Despite the impact these musicians had on the genre, they often go unrecognized or receive little credit for their work.
The British invasion in the 1960s, led by The Beatles, had a huge impact on the American music scene. There was a desire among American record labels and producers to find a domestic response to this new musical phenomenon. This led to the search for American bands and artists that could compete with the Beatles and other British groups in terms of popularity and musical influence. While never reaching the same level of fame and prestige as The Beatles, one band went on to become nearly as influential: the folk-rock group, The Byrds.
The Byrds were one of the most popular groups in the mid-60s. What made them noticeable at first were their distinct harmonies formed by founding members Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, and Gene Clark. Their debut album in 1965, Mr. Tambourine Man, sported several Bob Dylan covers and a handful of original songs by Clark, such as “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better.” He was their primary songwriter, as well as their best in that regard. He went on to write one of their most renowned and well-known songs, the psychedelic and sly “Eight Miles High.”
As the Byrds were reaching the height of their fame, Gene Clark abruptly left the band. His reasons for doing so are still unknown. While many claimed it was due to anxiety and an ironic fear of flying that prevented Clark from touring with the rest of the band, Clark himself denied this in an interview.
Whatever the case was, Clark ignored the rumors and began focusing on his solo career in 1967. His first solo records, the self-titled Gene Clark and White Light, were a showcase of his masterful songwriting. Sound-wise, they were reminiscent of Tambourine Man, but with a more solemn side of Clark that the public wasn’t used to. The two albums received generally favorable reviews from critics (Bob Dylan cited “From A Spanish Guitar” as one of the greatest songs ever written). Contrary to the general public’s positive response to the albums, they were both commercial disappointments.
In 1973, The Byrds reunited, which scored Clark some well-earned income. With this and his reputation garnered from songwriting with the Byrds, he was signed to Asylum Records in early 1974. He was essentially given free will to make whatever he wanted (on the condition that it would sell) and he took this seriously. He spent long periods at the window of his California home, looking out at the Pacific Ocean and writing diligently in his notebook. He was set on making something powerful and worthwhile. Something as immense as the ocean he looked out on for inspiration.
The album that burst forth was No Other, a tour de force from Clark. He poured his heart (and his wallet; allegedly spending about $100,000 on its production) into the album. With just a cursory listen, it’s apparent that No Other is his magnum opus. The intricate, richly layered sound contrasts heavily with Clark’s earlier work, showing that he could produce far more than just folk music. The songs wash over you, fully immersing you in Clark’s world. This is the kind of music that grips you and doesn’t let go.
No Other starts almost unsuspectingly with the jaunty “Life’s Greatest Fool“. The song begins somewhat playfully but then moves into a surprising but effective country-gospel blend with lush backing vocals. From there, the album moves into uncharted waters. The songs become deeper and more profound. “Strength of Strings” is a triumph of emotion, “From a Silver Phial” is a desperate tortured plea, and “Some Misunderstanding” is an eight-minute epic of heartbreak that nonetheless seems to pass all too quickly.
The album fades out like receding waves with “Lady of the North.” This haunting closer is the perfect end to an incredible album. It’s a gentle goodbye; a world-shattering embrace followed by a hand trailing away from your own. You start to miss it just as soon as it’s gone.
Despite the album being a fan favorite, No Other was a commercial disaster. While it is now a cult classic, recognized for its mastery of sound and lyrics, at that time, it simply wasn’t heard. When Asylum Records heard this album, they were confused and upset. No Other wasn’t a radio-friendly Byrds imitation, it was something entirely new. It wasn’t what they had wanted. They refused to spend any money on marketing it, so it simply didn’t sell or get any airplay.
Having put everything he had into this record, its failure was world-shattering for Clark. He continued making music, but the frustration of No Other weighed on him forever. His marriage—to a wife who had inspired the majority of No Other—crumbled, as did his health. He was plagued by substance abuse and depression and died in 1991, at the age of 46.
Gene Clark’s story is a tale that we have heard too many times in Rock and Roll. We’ll never really know how many remarkable albums remain lost in the past until they are brought to light. How many projects have gotten shelved because they were different and not desired by a record label? It’s almost impossible to say. Although there is sadness in this story, there’s nothing more thrilling than stumbling upon a record like this for the first time—something beautiful yet unknown.