The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs: #16, “If You’re Gone”

“If You’re Gone” (2:45)
Written by Gene Clark
Produced by Terry Melcher
From “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” Columbia Records, December 6, 1965

The Byrds’ debut album, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” was widely and enthusiastically hailed for pioneering the folk-rock sound. Many songwriters and musicians hopped aboard the folk-rock bandwagon and even the Beatles and Bob Dylan took note and changed musical course due to the extremely influential LP.

With their sophomore album, “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” the Byrds continued their folk-rock sound, although with some of the sparkle missing from “Mr. Tambourine Man.”

Along with two other songs, Gene Clark contributed “If You’re Gone,” what the album’s Wiki article calls “a poetic confession of emotional insecurity.” Yup, there’s a lot of “ifs” in this song: 14 total. Talk about insecurity! Clark sings an excellent lead vocal. Another notable element of this tune is the distinct vocal sustain/droning that producer, Terry Melcher, later credited to band leader, Jim (later Roger) McGuinn. Stated Melcher, “McGuinn had this good idea for using a fifth harmony to create a droning effect, like that of a bagpipe or drum. On the album it really does sound like another instrument.” Rock historians note that “If You’re Gone” was the first among many later tunes to use a vocal sustain effect. McGuinn’s chiming twelve-string Rickenbacker provides a lively counterbalance to the vocal drone. While “If You’re Gone” was considered one of the better cuts on the album, it was too slow and melancholy to be seriously considered as a single release.

I certainly liked the “Turn! Turn! Turn! LP, although I agree with McGuinn that it wasn’t at quite the same level as the band’s debut album. But I really liked “If You’re Gone” for its emotional honesty/rawness and for that very distinctive vocal sustain, for which it earns the #16 spot in our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown.

This is Gene Clark’s third song in our countdown. He has two more coming up, including song #1.

We’ve already reviewed 10 songs in our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown and have yet to encounter one of the band’s popular hits. Well, next week we’ll be featuring a Byrds tune that you baby boomers definitely heard on AM radio back in 1967.

15 thoughts on “The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs: #16, “If You’re Gone”

    1. Thanks, David! I appreciate your support throughout this series, especially given the fact that the first ten songs are largely unfamililar except to Byrds fans. Seven of the upcoming fifteen songs received a lot of AM airplay back in the day.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Well, I like the instrumentals but what does this song mean?
    “If I know you, I may never know your name
    If you’re gone, then there is nothing that remains”
    Almost sounds like a one night stand. 🤔
    Thanks for another round of Byrds, looking forward to #15!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Lisa Beth. I agree the lyrics are vague and largely undiscernable except for the general feeling of angst about his girlfriend leaving him. As I recall, folkies used to spend hour after hour attempting to decipher Dylan’s enigmatic lyrics and Clark was definitely trying to walk in Dylan’s footsteps.

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    1. Thanks! Only a nerdy Byrds fan would focus on a song element like this drawn out vocal sustain. But I remember when I first listened to the song (maybe 48 years ago) and that drone struck me as distinctive. I was surprised to learn while researching this post that “If you’re Gone” was the first rock song to employ a background vocal sustain.

      Liked by 1 person

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