Cinema Never Saved Anyone’s Life… It Is Only An Aspirin. (Luc Besson)

Luc Besson, the French film-maker, currently has a couple of franchise titles on the go. He is filming “Taken 3” for a 2015 release. Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), I’m guessing here, won’t know who you are but he will find you and he will, no doubt, fuck you up. Also, after a 6 year break, 3 more installments of the “Transporter” series have been announced. If up & coming Brit Ed Skrein adds to his rep before the release of #4 then the apotheosis of charisma, Jason Statham, may not be missed behind the wheel. These are no-frills action movies, uncluttered by symbolism or psychology. They run the gamut of emotions from A to B & this is why they are so successful.

Our man will not be directing any of these films. Nowadays he is a movie mogul. Luc Besson’s company owns 62% of Eurocorp, an independent studio that integrates all aspects of the motion picture business & makes serious money. The new “Taken” & “Transporters”  use characters created by Besson. He will be credited as a producer, executive or otherwise & has become an international player. Luc Besson has always known the constituents of  a good movie.

The “Cinema du look”…remember that ? A new wave of French film directors in the 1980s with their slick, stylish modern ways. Jean-Jacques Beineix made “Diva” (1981), operatic bootlegging shenanigans, our first view of Dominique Pinon as a cool & deadly thug. Leos Carax’ “Mauvais Sang” (1986), sci-fi but still gangster. Denis Lavant acrobatically caroms down the street to Bowie’s “Modern Love”. Luc Besson’s debut, “Subway” (1985), mobsters in Le Metro but much more than that. Très, très chic, the wonder of Isabelle Adjani, inventive & a little chaotic the film did the trick. In France President Mitterand was as implacable & as divisive as Thatcher & Reagan. These films were Gallic Punk, gobbing at the forces of reaction.

Next time in the director’s chair, in 1988, Besson made “Le Grande Bleu” (“The Big Blue”), a fictionalization of an actual lifelong rivalry between 2 friends. This is an international movie in French, Italian & English, an epic rather than a blockbuster. Who knew that free-diving, a personal voyage to the bottom of the sea, could be so emulous, so engrossing. The submerged environment furnishes a mystical, beautiful element for the movie. I saw this film at an all night showing of “Blue” movies along with “Betty…” & “…Velvet”, heavy hitters but it still made  a lasting impression. This montage includes Jean Reno, with Besson since the beginning, as the diver Enzo. The casting of too nutty for Hollywood, Rosanna Arquette, a talented & striking film star,  is a right stroke. There are dolphins, being rescued, in dreams, all over the place. There is, also, the affecting, appropriate  music of Eric Serra, Luc Besson’s composer of choice. Serra’s overture is absolutely in on Besson’s attempt at modern classicism.

In the USA the distributor wanted a happier ending where one of our heroes survived. They replaced Serra’s score with one by an American composer too. What is wrong with these people ? It is only a French film, it is only art. There is nothing to be afraid of.

Obviously I checked for Besson’s films after this. I found a video copy of his first film “Le Dernier Combat”, (The Last Battle, 1983) where Reno is madder than Max in a black & white, non-verbal, post-apocalyptic wasteland. “Nikita” (1990) was everything you needed in a stylish, intelligent action movie. Anne Parillaud a beautiful state-sponsored weapon of mass destruction. Besson set the standard for designer violence, pre-empting  Tarantino by 2 years. I loved “Reservoir Dogs” but I wasn’t shocked by it. I had seen “Nikita” mate. For his next film Luc Besson inevitably went to Hollywood.

Leon: The Professional” hits the spot. The odd couple of Leon (Reno) the killer & the girl Mathilda (12 year old Natalie Portman) are brought together by a drastic brutality, their alignment sealed by revenge & justice. Besson’s characters are often rather broad, almost caricatures but their recognition of the value of love in a dissonant world shows a humanity which charms & stays in the memory. The slaughter of Mathilda’s family by Norman Stansfield, the sadistic, drug-addled, Beethoven-loving DEA agent is choreographed mayhem. A tightly structured set-piece which places Gary Oldman high on any list of screen villainy. Again composer Eric Serra steps up to add value to a scene which is quite over the top already thank you.

“The Fifth Element” (1997) has more than an odour of overconfidence about it on first viewing. Besson’s 23rd century adventure is a bombardment of sights and sounds some of which are bound to fall on stony ground as the next novelty pushes forward for attention. Us Baby Boomers, despite an early diet of B-movie trashy delights, take our science fiction very seriously. “2001”,  “Blade Runner”, “Alien” & others, the futurist pantheon, have been beyond challenge for too long. Even films made for children, “E.T.” & “Star Wars”, are considered significant. Allowing Gary Oldman  greater licence to overact than in “Leon”,  encouraging an even more excessive performance from Chris Tucker is asking for trouble from the Guardians of the Galaxy Far Far Away.

This film gives up a lot on repeated viewing. Bruce Willis’ cracking wise John McLane-in-space, getting the girl & saving the planet, will always work for me. Milla Jovavic’s Leeloo has her attraction, Ian Holm, off of “Alien” & “Brazil”, tips a hat to the Tradition, the shape-shifting Mangalore goons are fun &, oh yeah, here comes Oldman & Tucker again. “The Fifth Element”, (& “Twelve Monkeys”) may play fast & loose with science fact but has all the inventiveness & imagination that you need. The Diva Plavalaguna is a brilliant extra-terrestrial entertainment. Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” segues into Serra’s “Diva Dance sung by a technologically enhanced soprano, Inva Mula while Leeloo kicks alien butt..strange, camp & memorable.

Next Besson directed a big budget, unrestrained biopic of a great French icon. No not Napoleon, the other one, Joan of Arc. The film got some terrible reviews. The Dallas Morning News wrote “The English are uniformly and broadly portrayed as villainous louts”…how dare he ! He took a break from directing to develop his production company. The films were still action packed but some of the scripts seemed to be no more than sketches. I rented “Wasabi” (2001), Besson’s name on the box as writer/producer, Jean Reno as a rogue cop in Japan…mistake. The films changed while the price of admission remained the same. If his company made 10 films a year & 2 were hits then money was made. He has produced some good movies, “Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” (2005) is one of the best films of this century. “Bandidas” is a western starring Penelope Cruz & Selma Hayek…say no more. Maybe “Transporter 6”, whenever it is made will be a favourite too, maybe not. I doubt that Luc Besson will again direct films as significant as those from the beginning of his career but those he did are enough.



Taking Care Of Business (Jerry Ragovoy)

It took Jerry Ragovoy 10 years to find a place where his talents as a songwriter, arranger & record producer were appreciated & put to proper use. In 1963 Ragovoy, initially an R&B guy, was working in Philadelphia for Chancellor Records, a label struggling to replace anodyne fading teen idols with novelty dance records.After contacting Bert Berns, a dynamic freelance producer working in New York. he helped Berns finish “Cry Baby”, a song which sold a million copies when recorded by Garnet Mimms & the Enchanters.The following year another of Ragovoy’s songs, “Time Is On My Side”, gave the Rolling Stones their first US Top 10 success. A man’s reputation can be secured by such a double whammy. New York gave Jerry his ticket to ride. As you know, if you can make it there…

Jerry was set to work with Garnet Mimms & the partnership recorded a string of emotional soul-gospel ballads which kept the singer around the R&B charts until 1966. Garnet was a  proper talent. In this fantastic clip he is introduced by Otis Redding to sing “I’ll Take Good Care of You”, a Berns-Ragovoy tune that crossed over to the Top 30…this is pure soul satisfaction, enchanting.

For the rest of the decade Jerry spent a lot of time in a recording studio making a lot of music. His trademark was a slow fuse balladry, solid songs with lush imaginative orchestration. He brought gospel Uptown but he liked his vocalists to be impassioned rather than overwrought. For some time it was his records that defined New York soul music. He was hooked up with the right guy. Bert Berns was a real Record Man whose street smarts got songs written, recorded, released & knew that the music business was as much about the business as the…you get me. He got deals made where he got paid. Bert replaced the legendary Leiber & Stoller as staff producer at Atlantic Records before making a mark running Bang, an Atlantic subsidiary. That first hit, “Cry Baby”, was credited to Bert Russell (Berns) & Neville Meade (Ragovoy). Sometimes, when big money is being made fast, it is better to cover your tracks.

Jerry made his own move in 1965 when he took over Warner Brothers’ East Coast operations releasing tracks on the Loma label. He recorded with Mimms, now solo, his old backing group the Enchanters, Lorraine Ellison. With  Howard Tate the partnership created a run of bright, bluesy R&B hits. Ragevoy’s artists benefitted from his arranging talents & the use of the best of the New York session players including Richard Tee, Eric Gale & Chuck Rainey. On one fortuitous occasion a Frank Sinatra no-show left a full orchestra at a loose end. Our man put them on to “Stay With Me” by Lorraine Ellison for a one take, all guns blazing, instant classic. It is not my favourite of his productions, epic Spectoresque ballads may have been the current thing but…I’m being too critical. It’s the histrionics of less talented singers that have clouded my view of this great record.

There was some great work for Loma. Check for the 3 singles by Carl Hall. Listening to “You Don’t Know Nothing About Love” is a great way to spend 3 minutes & 15 seconds. Deep Soul that doesn’t quite let it all hang out & is probably the better for it. In 1967 he produced a Top 20 hit for South African singer Miriam Makeba. “Pata Pata”, sung in the Xhosa language, was originally recorded by Makeba 10 years earlier. The writing credit was now Makeba/Ragovoy, so it went in the music industry.

Dusty Springfield, the Queen of British Pop, was sent to New York to record with the master. It was an idea before its time. “What’s It Gonna Be” was released as a single by Phillips but not before smearing the song in some incongruous orchestral additions. When Dusty signed for Atlantic she was back in a US studio, smashing it with “Dusty In Memphis”. Most of her LPs had included a song by Jerry & this cover of a Garnet Mimms song from 1965’s “Ev’rything’s Coming Up Dusty” is the best example I have seen of just why this woman was a cut above.

One of Ragovoy’s songs, “Piece Of My Heart” failed to hit with Erma Franklin, Aretha’s sister, then became a stand-out track for Big Brother & the Holding Company. When singer, Janis Joplin, left for a solo career her music moved from hard rock to blues-soul. Janis’ individual voice provided the blues, the soul came from the 5 Jerry Ragovoy’s songs she recorded. 3 are on “Pearl”, the posthumous LP, 4 on the “Greatest Hits” which sold 7 million copies. The Ragovoy Music Corporation received some serious royalty cheques in the early 1970s as poor Janis’ small body of work was re-hashed & re-released.

In 1969 the CEO of RMC  built his own studio, the Hit Factory, in New York. There were 2 more facilities opened the next year. Me & Karl Marx guess that when the ownership of the means of production is in the hands of the producers then things are both hunky & dory. Jerry Ragovoy was his own boss now, he stepped away from that day-to-day recording process & took some time to enjoy his new circumstances. He kept his hand in, working with the Staple Singers, Bonnie Raitt & Dionne Warwick.His reputation was made by the durability of his work in the 1960s. Anyone with any interest in soul music could not avoid his name on so many great records. It was 30 years later that an opportunity arose for closure on some unfinished business.

Ragevoy & Howard Tate were a fine partnership. The singer’s ability to handle emotion & wit brought the best out of the arranger. The 1966 LP “Get It While You Can” is as good a soul collection as there was at the time. The pair worked together in 1972 when Jerry’s songs were less sharp though the Dylan & The Band covers were interesting. Tate never found his audience, struggled with personal tragedy before drifting out of music into addiction & homelessness. After his recovery he was preaching around Philadelphia then found in 2001 by a DJ. Howard’s legend had grown &, wonderfully, his agile voice was intact. In 2003 Jerry Ragevoy joined with his old favourite for the LP “Rediscovered”.

This new version of “Get It While You Can” is so, so great. Not even the Reverend Green’s pipes were in this shape at 64 years old. Howard is doing what he was born to do & it’s a beautiful thing. Behind him, unseen until the end, is the veteran producer/songwriter, now 72. That piano progression strips the song to a solid foundation. The little push before the last chorus is all you need, a horn section would be cool, the song stands up without it. Jerry Ragovoy, who passed away in 2011, as did Howard Tate, was a great American songwriter.

Groove On Brother For We Will Not Harm You (Parliament/Funkadelic)

“Say Brother” was a TV programme out of Boston which concerned itself with social & cultural issues in the Black community. The 1960s becoming the 1970s was a tumultuous time for African-Americans. Black Power & Pride endorsed the progress made by the Civil Rights Movement, personal & political futures were negotiable, everything was open for discussion. Imaginative often scattergun stuff got said about serious issues but debate about racism, sexism, apartheid, things like that, is never wasted breath. In 1969 “Say Brother” opened their studio for the musical equivalent of these strident voices. A wild crew eager to sample & explore the possibilities on offer to black people in the USA. It produced amazing, landmark music TV.

George Clinton formed a doo-wop vocal group with his teenage friends in the late-1950s. The next decade included a stint with Jobete, Motown’s publishing company. George worked out of the New York office run by Berry Gordy’s estranged wife Raynoma. She had bootlegged copies of a Mary Wells hit & trousered the dosh. The label’s head honcho was not well disposed towards any of her proteges. The Parliaments did hit big in 1967 with ” (I Wanna) Testify”, a stomping soul shout but the hits did not keep on coming. In fact their small label hit the rocks & George even lost entitlement to his own group’s name. One thing Clinton did was to keep his friends close. 3 of the 5 Parliaments  were there at the beginning, the 2 who joined in 1965 were still around when George was ready to make his big move. “Testify”‘s success meant that he could employ a 5 piece backing band for gigs. In 1969, those legal wrinkles temporarily smoothed, he convened a new, expanded Parliament. A 10 member collective which intended to tear the roof off the sucker.

Rock Dreams: Chairmen of the BoardGuy Peellaert’s magnum opus “Rock Dreams” imagines the new aristocracy of African-American music as directors at a boardroom table. Established superstar artists were limited by the primacy of the demand for hit singles. Marvin, Stevie & Curtis wanted to make albums despite, in the case of the first 2, label opposition. Stax Records were shafted by the small print of their contract with Atlantic & lost the rights to a wonderful catalogue. Isaac Hayes stepped up with “Hot Buttered Soul”, 3 million reasons to believe that the future was already here (a nod to Sly Stone too). 1969, as Soul was moving to Funk, was time to take care of business.

George Clinton was bang on to that idea. His deal was with Invictus, the label founded by the Holland Brothers & Lamont Dozier after leaving Motown. With his vocal group brand in legal limbo those same musicians became Funkadelic who had a separate deal with another Detroit label, Westbound. Parliament/Funkadelic had a thing, a new thing, they were  “ready to get up and do their thing (yeah go ahead!)… get into it, man, you know”. They were a busy crew. In 1970 3 LPs were released in as many months.

These clips are just dynamite. The primped & pompadoured Parliaments have been replaced by a wild & woolly swarm of boys from the hood. George has a haircut from the future, is drenched with the acid sweats. As the young people say he is “tripping balls” & enjoying the ride. “Soul is a ham hock in your corn flakes”, man, that’s still as strange & as funny as George knows it to be. Thanks for the reassuring “we will not harm you” too because these brothers are not here to dick around. This is authentic “Psychedelic Soul”, not the orchestrated monuments of Norman Whitfield & the Temptations but a magical mystery expedition which leaves no turn unstoned in the search for the Funk.

Clinton recognised & encouraged the abilities within his troupe. Clarence “Fuzzy” Haskins had been a trusted partner since the beginning. Here he leads the congregation, sharing the band’s new vision. In the backline Billy “Bass” Nelson & guitarist Eddie Hazell thrived on the freedom. They recruited Tiki Fulwood, house drummer at the Uptown Theatre Philadelphia, & the heart of a great band was beating.

There were 2 LPs in 1970. “Funkadelic” began the P-Funk myth-making, asking “What Is Soul ?” & “Mommy, What’s A Funkadelic ?”. The music emerged from sprawling, exploratory jams. The vocals were raw, reaching back to the field hollers of the plantation. The acid logic of “Free Your Mind & Your Ass Will Follow” expresses a credo which continued through the decade as the Mothership Manifesto gained momentum. The band spent a lot of time in the Invictus studio. They hooked up with Ruth Copeland, an English blues-folk singer & made 2 LPs with her which include couple of grandstanding Stones covers as good as this version of “Play With Fire”. This blaze of creativity tempered the sound, they discovered which of their experiments were worth pursuing, which elements of their new music was worth keeping. The 3rd LP “Maggot Brain” opens with a 10 minute long mind-melting title track where Eddie Hazell plays it like he means it. The influence of Jimi Hendrix was everywhere at this time, Eddie got that technique without emotion is just playing with yourself. “Maggot  Brain” is a classic of our music.

It took years of solid touring & recording to finesse this lysergic blend of soul, rock, what ifs & why nots into a noise that a lot of people wanted to buy. When that happened George Clinton was ready with a 3-ring Greatest Show On Earth stadium spectacular. Success brought its own problems as a big band wanted to get paid. The hits just kept on coming for Parliament/Funkadelic & the P-Funkers. George’s vision stayed crazy & encouraged collaboration with other talents. That time at the beginning though, when the new rules were that there were no rules, when you took acid then went into a recording studio just to see what might happen, produced some raw, funked-up, gutbucket music. Just like George had heard that time in “Keep Running Mississippi” that “way back yonder funk”.

Continental Drifters (Part Two)

Pete & I woke up in the truck at the side of the “Autoroute du Soleil”, on the way to Lyon. our 2nd full day in France. It’s 754 miles from London to Florence  if you are a crow, longer if you’re taking the pretty way. A run for the sun, a long day in the saddle, remember to turn left before Spain & we should be eating our evening meal in Italy. This morning, a Friday, our Tour de France took us along the Rhone Valley…lovely. We put the miles in before breakfast, best to get some work done now because anything could happen today & that’s the way I like it…ah-ha, ah-ha !

We were making good time & having a good time too. It felt like we were heading for the weekend. Things got more interesting when we picked up 2 German women who were hitch-hiking to Avignon (of course we did). Our new friends were happy to get a long lift in the right direction, happy to talk. The one scrunched against me was attractive when she entered the cab & getting lovelier by the mile. We chatted, flirted, gave it the Cockney big potatoes charm. I was passing our contact details across for when they visited London. This was fun. Then Pete made a schoolboy error. He reached into a compartment above the windscreen, located our lump of hash, asked if they would like to smoke a doobie. That was that then…I do not want to stereotype anyone but… I had met German Green Party members before. “Atomkraft, Nein Danke !” serious types. These women were not impressed that they were travelling in (too) close proximity to a couple of wide boy pot smokers. The bonhomie suffered for the final part of their journey. We dropped them off, wished them luck &, ah well, pass the Rizla, on to the next.

That left turn, north of Marseilles, brought us to the coast road in the late afternoon, the sun behind us, Les Alpes Maritimes ahead. What an impressive road this is, bridges across the valleys, tunnels through the mountains. This is the E80, the Trans-European Motorway from Portugal to Turkey. We were part of  international trade here, moving stuff from one place to somewhere then some other stuff to somewhere else. In Turkey you can hook up with the AH1 & drive to Japan. Right now that seems like a plan. I’m feeling a good connection with my friend Pete the driver & with our mobile home from home.”Sal, we gotta go & never stop going ’till we get there”.

A-hem !

To the right the the land sloped steeply away to the blue Mediterranean. Signs directed us to the Cote d’Azur, Cannes, Antibes, Nice, Monte flipping Carlo…”La Belle Vie”… Nah man, I’m more riff-raff than “rififi”. On our left the Alpine foothills were just as cool as. I was like a little dog, head out of the window, tongue hanging out, smelling the air, loving life on the road as we headed for the Italian border.

These days border controls between EU countries have largely disappeared. I feel oddly comforted when the Swiss (non-EU) customs keep you waiting for 5 days because your paperwork covering works of art worth £2 million is a bit dodgy. (This happened on another trip, an unexpected holiday on the Rhine…cracking). That’s the world I grew up in, love a stamp in my passport. Back then customs checks were more rigorous. We would not be cleared to enter Italy until the morning. It was Friday night, we showered, changed & successfully found the pasta & beer we were looking for. On later trips we developed a liking for a digestivo of espresso & grappa. It made the walk home more interesting. I’m sure that Ventimiglia is a choice spot but we seemed to be hanging around the armpit district. The exotic even bizarre arrangement of bottles at the restaurant was a product of the graft extracted from the passing freight. No matter, we sat outside in the warm night air listening to our music of choice for when the work of the day is done.

All the 5 members of the Band had virtuoso talent, 3 were outstanding vocalists. My preference is for Rick Danko’s lovely whine & this aching song of lost love (another one). The clip is the version from “The Last Waltz”, Martin Scorsese’s film of their last concert. Find a better sax break in a song & send it over.

Saturday started without me. This bottom bunk was getting more comfortable. Pete was out early, doing the necessary to clear us across the border. He woke me to get a pack of 200 cigarettes we had bought at the ferry’s duty-free shop. He was obviously having to sweeten the deal. I roused myself, considered getting upright. I could be of little assistance but I was awake & I was his wingman. Pete knew the score, which way the wind was blowing, he raised his voice, switched into a full Bob Hoskins (Jah rest his soul). .”Look ! You have had my fucking cigarettes. You are not having the fucking whisky! Now stop fucking me about and let’s get this done”. I jumped out of the cab, but Pete was away with the  blackmailing bandit. I thought that if these customs clippers reacted badly to that Cockney combustion we could still be here on Wednesday. When Pete returned he winked, said a word that I believe is banned on the Internet & we were ready to roll.

It was understood that part of the cash given to the driver by his employer was to be used to bribe the various customs extortionists we encountered. No grift and the driver was ahead. Pete was a bottle of whisky ahead. OK, it’s a sunny Saturday morning, it’s my first day in Italy & we are legal. I have a 3 o’clock appointment in Florence. Are we having fun yet ?

Jingle-Jangle Morning (The Early Byrds)

In the spring of 1965 the American record buying public was in thrall to the British Beat. In April & May there were #1 records for Herman’s Hermits (twice !), Freddie & the Dreamers, Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders &, of course, the Beatles. I know… the Stones, the Who & the Kinks were only just getting started. England was swinging like a pendulum do while the US of A didn’t yet know what time it was. In June there was a Motown led comeback. The Supremes had, wonderfully, their 5th successive chart-topper. That 4 Tops’ Sugar Pie & Honeybunch combination proved irresistible …still does. The Beach Boys were around too with their great songs about cars & girls & surfing. They were in that striped shirt phase, between the plaid Pendletons & the Good Vibrations.Well groomed young men, clean cut music. In the first week of July “Mr Tambourine Man” by the Byrds marked America’s coming to terms with the new Mod squad which had so entranced the youth. The first US group with hair over their ears to have a #1 hit.

It was a simple plan quite beautifully executed. Bob Dylan, the folk singer,that’s the man, had “gone electric” earlier in 1965, an act of treason according to the keepers of folk’s traditional beards. You know. old people, like over-25s. Me, I was a new teenager when I bought my first Dylan LP. “Another Side of …” may have been an acoustic record but we knew that the 23 year old was writing rock & roll songs. John Lennon’s “I’m A Loser”, on “Beatles For Sale” showed the influence he was already having on pop music. “Mr Tambourine Man” is from the “folk” side of “Bringing It All Back Home”. The addition of a 12-string Rickenbacker jangle & some harmony vocals, the cutting of 3 of the 4 poetic verses, made for an instant pop classic. On the Byrds debut LP producer Terry Melcher applied this formula to 4 Dylan tunes &, I guess, invented folk-rock. They helped to make a quality record.

Master publicist Derek Taylor attempted to manoeuvre the Byrds into the centre of Los Angeles/Hollywood cool but these were different days. The group were quickly swept up by the “America’s Beatles” tag. They were teen idols, smiling their way through TV appearances & photo shoots. Guitarist Jim McGuinn wore his “granny” glasses, David Crosby had his cape. Blonde drummer, Michael Clarke was the best Brian Jones lookalike in the country while bassist Chris Hillman’s straightened moptop still makes me laugh. Another Dylan song “All I Really Want To Do” was chosen as the follow up despite Cher’s version having a head start. Ms Sarkisian had probably pinched the Dylan cover idea but she had the biggest hit. Maybe the Byrds should have gone with this B-side because it does kinda rock.

Gene Clark was the other singer in the group. He was a songwriter too. There were 5 of his songs on that debut LP. “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” ,well, as the song goes “probably”, shows that the Byrds did not rely exclusively on Dylan for a folk foundation to their rocking music. “Feel…” became another classic tune. The Flamin’ Groovies & Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers both recorded good, respectful covers, versions that will get you singing along, that aim for but just don’t hit that Spirit of 1965 bullseye. However Jim sang lead on the Dylan songs & on the title track of the follow up, Pete Seeger’s folk anthem “Turn, Turn,Turn”, another #1 hit. Jim took centre stage among the frantically frugging go-go girls, in front of the screaming fans, while Gene was out on the side, the tambourine man.

“Turn, Turn, Turn” included 2 more Dylan covers & 3 songs by Clark. The Beatle-y “She Don’t Care About Time” made only the B-side of  the”Turn…” 45, not the LP. “Set You Free This Time” was the Byrds first single of 1966 & it failed to reach the Top 50. Within a month Columbia were promoting the flipside, “It Won’t Be Wrong”, a McGuinn song. Gene wrote songs about a sad & beautiful world, gentle, poignant things that added substance to the group’s LPs. It seemed, & was perhaps confirmed over the next decade, that his individual voice & talent did not appeal to a mass audience.

It was around this time that the Byrds finally got paid for their success. Young men who, 18 months earlier, were just glad to hear their record on the radio learned some things about the music business. Gene wrote the songs & he was the guy arriving at the studio in a red Ferrari. Both McGuinn & Crosby were beginning to assert their own strong personalities & to find the pop treadmill a little old. Check the clip for that single, David in Jim’s glasses & Jim in the cape ! They were both beginning to write songs of their own too. It could have been jealousy which kept Clark’s songs off the LP, it could have been that there were just too many songs. Whatever, by the end of February 1966 Gene Clark was out of the Byrds. The authorised version was that his Pteromerhanophobia made travel too difficult. I didn’t buy that as a 13 year old kid & I don’t believe it now.

Gene went off & played a major part in inventing country rock. He & Doug Dillard’s “The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark” is a triumph. The now 4 piece Byrds knew that change was needed if they were to avoid the built-in obsolescence  of pop. “Fifth Dimension” was released in July 1966, the band were more involved in the writing & there were no Dylan covers. The LP covers a range of styles, folk, country. space rock, raga rock (gotta have a label). The pivotal song was written mostly by Gene on the group’s 1965 UK tour (where the press battered the Byrds for even presuming any comparison to our Fab Four). “Eight Miles High” moved folk-rock forward towards psychedelia, got itself banned on the radio & moved the Byrds into a new musical chapter.