Today’s birthday boy, Gene Clark, wrote three of the best songs by The Byrds; today’s song and “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” both appear on the band’s debut album, and “Eight Miles High,” which appears on 5th Dimension (1966) and gets co-writing credits with erstwhile bandmates Jim “Roger” McGuinn and David Crosby. In some ways, “Feel a Whole Lot Better” is the definitive early Byrds song and Clark was more or less the lead singer for the first two albums and those are the best Byrds albums, time has shown. At least before the change-over when Gram Parsons joined and made for another landmark album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968). Elsewhere, they were more or less under the helm of Roger McGuinn, and produced some memorable tunes, sure—like “(So You Want to Be) A Rock’n’Roll Star.” But let’s give Clark his due today and talk about one of his best tunes. Especially as Clark was one of those early doomed figures who, ousted by the band, more or less, or too withdrawn to deal with the requirements of rock stardom, had a solo career that, neglected at the time, has come back into attention, much as is the case with Gram Parsons. Clark would’ve been 70 today, but died in 1991.
“Here Without You” drips mid-Sixties melancholy. It’s a lovely little melody, that seems swept with fallen leaves and steely skies, in service to one of those songs dedicated to mooning about without one’s love. “Girl, you’re on my mind / Nearly all of the time / It’s so hard being here without you,” where the “here” gets the full Byrds’ harmony treatment, a Crosby speciality.
It seems a song of remembrance that’s based on the hope of seeing you soon: “Oh, I know this won’t last / I’ll see you someday / It seems as though that day will come never.” It’s like his girl is gone from home and he’s stuck behind. One maybe imagines—in twentysomething mode—being stuck around campus while his babe is off on some travel funds and the poor sap has got to wander these empty streets—“streets that were happy when I was with you.”
So, yeah, more of the poetry of pining for what once was. With that darkly announced opening figure and the lines “Daylight just makes me feel lonely”—who loves the sun?—“Night I can only dream about you.” It’s got ya comin’ and goin’, tiger. This is the sound of eating your heart out and the bridge—that hopeful “I know this won’t last” part—is a little surge that does nothing for this guy’s general moody mood. Sure hope he doesn’t get one of them “boots of Spanish leather” letters—“I’m not sure when / I’ll be comin’ back again.”
Clark was early a Hank Williams man and it shows in his well-crafted songs. As in the way the title and the main sentiment comes back with a kind of insidious intent to poison whatever the dude is up to: “Still with all the friends I know / And with all the things I do / It’s so hard being here without you.” The pageant is pretty paltry without your best girl by your side. And Clark’s tune sounds more darkly haunted that your typical “want to see my baby” blues. Nice use of the crashing cymbal synched with a Rickenbacker strum in the opening. And while the harmonies definitely seem to have learned their intertwining from The Beatles, the song holds its own with some of the latter band’s best from this period because of how the voices blend. And nice finish on the upnote.
And I wonder is it true / Do you feel the same way too?