Reviewed on this page:
Love - Da Capo - Forever Changes - Out Here - False Start - Studio/Live
Love is a famously obscure 60s relict, but their work is unique - especially on Forever Changes - and they deserve to be remembered. One of the very few major rock groups to then feature a racially mixed lineup (but see Hendrix and Sly Stone), Love was led by productive singer-songwriter Arthur Lee. After cutting three albums, the band fell apart. A year later Lee put together a new group and turned out several more LP's under the "Love" banner.
The original lineup's three albums are said to be the best, and they're certainly the most historically relevant: this is a group that began as crass imitators of the Byrds, competed with the Airplane and labelmates the Doors, and then metamorphosed into something much more, all within the space of less than two years. At times, they perfectly capture the naive-but-revolutionary sounds that were floating around L.A. in the mid- and late 60s. Give them a listen.
I'm missing the first late-period Love record, and I'm keeping my eyes open for it. And there are some later "Love" and Arthur Lee solo records, although they're so obscure that I doubt I'll ever find them. Finally, there's a nice new CD box set (Love Story) that includes most of the first three records and the better tracks from the later ones, plus a detailed booklet. This would be a good deal for anyone who's willing to take my word about Arthur Lee being a genius - unless you're a completist like I am; it omits the famous "Revelations" jam from Da Capo, and five of the 14 tracks from Love.
Very special thanks to Andrew Rogers for providing some really useful historical information. Rogers maintained what I think was the only full-blown Arthur Lee homepage on the net. Unfortunately, it seems to have disappeared from the web. An Australian Love page seems to be the only other really substantial Love or Lee site. (JA)
The original lineup: John Echols (guitar); Ken Forssi (bass); Arthur Lee (guitar, vocals); Bryan MacLean (guitar, some vocals); Alban "Snoopy" Pfisterer (drums). Pfisterer moved to keyboards, replaced by Michael Stuart (drums), Tjay Cantrelli (flute, sax) added, late 1966. Cantrelli and Pfisterer dropped, early 1967. Group disbanded, late 1967. Forssi died of cancer, January 1998; MacLean died of a heart attack, Christmas Day, 1998.
The late-period lineup: Jay Donnellan (guitar), Frank Fayad (bass); George Suranovich (drums). Donnellan replaced by Gary Rowles (lead guitar), late 1969. Noony Ricket added for False Start, 1970.
At this point, Love sounded amazingly like the Byrds, right down to the drumming (not to mention vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, and tambourine!). It's as if they had been dropping acid and listening to a copy of Fifth Dimension over and over again for a month solid. And they probably had been; tracks like "No Matter What They Do" are produced, arranged, and performed to sound exactly like "Eight Miles High," and there's even a Byrds-esque cover of "Hey Joe" (better than the unlistenable Byrds' version, of course) and a rewrite of "The Bells of Rhymney" ("Gazing"). Despite their early derivativeness, Love at this point already had something that the Byrds had long since lost with the departure of Gene Clark - a visionary songwriter, here in the person of Arthur Lee. The record's big hit ("My Little Red Book") is a cover, but Lee has full or partial songwriting credit on 11 other tracks, all of them good (Bryan MacLean sings on his cheesy-but-clever "Softly To Me"). (JA)
Da Capo (1967)
Love was the first of many 60s bands to ruin a record by devoting an entire side to a rambling jam ("Revelations"); the year before, the Stones' Aftermath had come close with "Goin' Home." But "Revelations" is clumsy, boring, and a ripoff of the improvised, low-voltage Chicago blues sound of "Goin' Home," with its blaring harmonica, rambling vocal expectorations, and shuffling beat. Lee even interpolates a snippet of "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love," which the Stones covered in 1965. Only the song's chaotic, Roger McGuinn-inspired guitarwork and arabesque sax solo set it apart.
What a shame - the rest of the album is really good.
New addition Tjay Cantrelli wasn't brilliant, but his contributions on sax (the careening 3/4 time "Stephanie Knows Who") and flute ("Que Vida!") interestingly transmute Love's Byrds-based sound. Only "The Castle" clearly points towards Forever Changes, with prominent harpsichord and gentle, arpeggiated guitar. Still, the sound is always interesting, and Lee's goofy word play and sure-fire melodic sense result in two masterpieces: a fantastic flower-power love song ("She Comes In Colors"), and a solid A-side that became the group's only Top 40 hit - "Seven & Seven Is," a grinding, near-manic psychedelic surf-rocker released in mid-1966. (JA)
Forever Changes (1967)
By this time Lee seems to have been most inspired by the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, flying in the face of every contemporary rock band's obsession with the loud guitar work of Hendrix's Are You Experienced? and the bizarre sound effects of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Like Pet Sounds, this record is dated but oddly brilliant: don't make the mistake of laughing it off.
With the group lacking an outstanding singer or electric guitarist, the tunes are mostly carried along on intricate, riff-crazy, unpredictable orchestration; a melodically strummed, almost classical acoustic guitar; and a plodding, Pet Sounds-like rhythm section (great cuts like "Alone Again Or"; "Andmoreagain"; "Maybe The People Would Be The Times..."; "The Good Humor Man..."; and the epic "You Set The Scene").
And Lee also breaks with most of his competitors by trying honestly to emulate Sgt. Pepper's whimsical, obliquely topical lyrics ("Daily Planet") - although sometimes he gets downright silly ("The Red Telephone"). Despite this, there are also a few good, straightforward rock songs: "A House Is Not A Motel" - you can just see the go-go dancers; the hippie anthem "Live And Let Live"; and especially the foot-stomping "Bummer In The Summer." (JA)
Four Sail (1969)
The first appearance by the reincarnated lineup, with Lee the only original member. The tracks were handed over by Lee to finish his contract with Elektra, who had the pick of the same crop that got turned into Out Here. (JA)
Out Here (1969)
I'm reviewing this record based on the Studio/Live compilation, which omits a long jam ("Love Is More Than Words"), a drum solo edited out of the middle of one song ("Doggone"), and several other minor works. Originally a double LP, Out Here was released just four months after Four Sail and was derived from the same recording sessions. The old Love had been out of commission for more than a year at this point, explaining why Lee had so much material ready to record.
Typically of Arthur Lee, every track instantly jumps out and grabs you with its melodocism and inventiveness. However, the recording is primitive by any standard - "Listen To My Song" sounds just like a demo - and there's none of the orchestration or overdubbing of the original lineup's records. Instead, Lee gets his mileage with occasionally loud, distorted guitar parts, although much of the record is downright mellow. He's fully in control, and the songwriting is strong, especially on ballads like the masterful, attention-grabbing "Willow Willow." Still, this is the most raggedly recorded LP "Love" ever put out. (JA)
False Start (1970)
Lee was working on this in London when he had the good luck to jive Jimi Hendrix into making a guest appearance ("The Everlasting First"). Next to Stephen Stills, this is perhaps Hendrix's most famous guest spot. It's him, all right, but his frantic efforts are wasted - the song is an unrehearsed mess.
Meanwhile, lead guitarist Rowles puts across a Hendrix imitation that completely fooled me on "Slick Dick" and "Ride That Vibration."
The rest of the record is a lark, with Lee veering between funky sludge rock (the live cut "Stand Out") and flaky soul harmonies ("Keep On Shining") - it's almost like the Jefferson Airplane meets the Temptations. Lee had retained all of his clever pop sensibility up to this point, and it's too bad he'd been completely forgotten by the public; this record barely dented the Top 200... the extra guy on the cover is Noony Ricket, who played on several tracks but isn't credited on the CD release. (JA)
Vindicator (Lee: 1972)
I've read more than once that this is better than most of the late-era "Love" records. Unfortunately, it's out of print in the US and I've never seen it for sale. (JA)
Reel To Real (Lee: 1974)
This and the following three records are out of print and hard to find. I'm not even sure if they've ever been released on CD. However, I may get my hands on some tapes, so watch this space for more info. I've read that the album is full of covers and re-recordings of earlier Love/Lee tunes. (JA)
Arthur Lee (Lee: 1981)
Apparently this is a hodge-podge of some old out-takes and new recordings, including a bunch of covers and remakes of old Love songs. The "new" material includes four tracks from a 1977 EP released only in Britain. (JA)
Love Live (1981)
Of the original members, only Lee and Bryan MacLean appear on this reunion record. Some of the late-era Love members also appear. This is a Rhino records product. (JA)
This is a rip-off of sorts, but I'm listing it for two reasons: first, it's much easier to find than Out Here, which is the source of the studio tracks. Second, the story is kind of complicated, so it's worth recounting. What's going on is that MCA took eight of the best tracks from Out Here, added four live numbers from a mostly unreleased Fillmore East concert, and gave it a fancy cover and a new title. The live "Stand Out" is the same take as the one on False Start, and "Keep On Shining" also appeared on that record in a studio version. So only a fanatic would want this for the three "new" live numbers, which sound disappointingly like the late-era Byrds ("Singing Cowboy") - but since the tracks cut from Out Here (including a long jam) supposedly aren't that great, you'd do just as well to pick up either this version of the record or Love Story, which duplicates it in large part. Got that? (JA)
ifyoubelievein (MacLean: 1997)
This is a set of 16 demos recorded by MacLean mostly (or perhaps entirely) during his tenure with Love in 1966 - 1967.
Despite the large number of these demos, only four of the tunes ever made it to a Love album, apparently because Lee objected to including MacLean's material.
The reviews I've seen are mostly very positive, and I hope to get my hands on it eventually. (JA)
And more again?