Love is never a band that you will hear of on the radio, or even in a conversation among most people about “1960’s bands”. In this author’s opinion though, they were the best 60’s band to come out of America. They were underground for their time simply because of under exposure, one thing that in the 21st century, is often more easily gained. Arthur Lee was always the main force behind the band, and is one of the finest pop songwriters ever to grace rock n’ roll using his mix of odd, demented sounding chords with haunting, biting lyrics. Along with him, Bryan Maclean brought a sense of calm and regularity to the band with his traditional Irish singing voice and beautiful accompanying harmonies. The players, Stuart, Forssi, and Echols, of course made Lee’s vision possible. Lee has had several incarnations of the band since the original line up disbanded in 1967 (after Forever Changes), and even though those first three albums are the best the band ever did, Lee’s influence changed rock ‘n roll forever.
Band Members : (classic line up)
Arthur Lee – Guitar, Vocals
Bryan Maclean – Guitar, Vocals
Michael Stuart – Drums
Ken Forssi – Bass
John Echols – Guitar
Best Album: Forever Changes
Biggest Influences: Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, The Who
1966 – (5 / 5) – Love
1966 – (5 / 5) – Da Capo
1967 – (5 / 5)+ – Forever Changes
1969 – (4.5 / 5) – Four Sail
1969 – (2.5 / 5) – Out Here
1970 – (3.5 / 5) – False Start
1974 – (4 / 5) – Reel to Real
Love – (5 / 5)
You know from the first notes of “My Little Red Book” that this is no normal sixties record. The mysterious tone mixed with great melody defines a totally unique band, led by the totally unique Arthur Lee. Though that first song is a cover tune and like the later album track and 60’s standard “Hey Joe” (my personal favorite version of it, yes better than Jimi Hendrix’s), this band has its own style and take on it. Psychedelic music that is very melodic, but also very demented. Another striking thing about this album is that except for the instrumental in the middle “Emotions”, there is not a bad song on here. Whether they are bemused takes on living in the 1960’s like “Mushroom Clouds” and “A Message to Pretty”, or simply pop gems like The Who influenced “Can’t Explain”, “You I’ll Be Following”, or the closer “And More”, there is not one tune that is boring. The music is kept fresh by being this combination of Lee’s lyrical fantasies (“Chinese time now!” he screams on “Gazing” or the suicidal ponderings of “Singed D.C.”), on instrumental flourishes (the bass lines of “My Flash On You” and “You I’ll Be Following”), and Bryan McLean’s contributions (the grand ballad “Softly to Me” and co-writing on “And More” and “Mushroom Clouds”).
With Love’s debut there is often negative criticism attached because people say it sounds like The Byrds (“Mushroom Clouds”) or The Who (“My Flash on You”), which is true, but it does not rip off any of their songs specifically and for 1966, it is more consistent than anything those two bands had done yet. What people often forget to mention is how everybody has been influenced by Love, from The Moody Blues ripping off “Singed D.C.” for their “Nights in White Satin” single, or everyone from The Doors, Rolling Stones, and yes the later Byrds being influenced by this great band. Love are very much a band of their time and finding their won sound, but their penchant for a great melody makes them stand out from the crowd. My point is please forget what they look like or sound like and just enjoy the great songs. This is the band’s debut and it is a fabulous debut; there are not many that could match it song-for-song. If you enjoy laid back pop music, I highly recommend as it never gets old to me and sets a high standard for consistency.
Greatest Songs: Gazing, A Message to Pretty, Signed D.C., You I’ll Be Following
Da Capo – (5 / 5)
Love’s second album expands on their sound by making it more complex. Still, there is that mix of hard rockers and sweet melodies that there has always been. What is…odd… about this record, is that there is a 19-minute song at the end. That’s as long as the first six songs put together! This was the first album to ever have one song devoted to one vinyl side, not that I care about those kind of things or effect the music in any way. The first six songs are complex, bewildering and insightful: ”Stephanie Knows Who” is blistering soul meets hard rock like Otis Redding got a wasp stuck up his shirt and couldn’t get it out, with a time signature that would be hard to replicate; “Orange Skies” is pure psychedelic with a touch of flute that send it flying high; “She Comes in Colors” again uses flute and also harpsichord to great effect owing much to new members Tjay Cantrelli and Alban Pfisterer and their magical arrangements; “Que Vida” is a nursery rhyme of sorts that could have easily been a hit on the radio of the mid-sixties, perhaps there is a bit of satire mixed in too with lyrics such as “my mind is not made of gravel/am I in your times?”; “The Castle” is more folk oriented but also very dark and dreary in tone, and strangely the song tend to start and stop several times which works but can be a little distracting. Overshadowing all of these ditties is “Seven and Seven is”, which some consider the first punk rock song. Well, it sounds that way, and it is the fastest song I have heard as of November 1966 when this album was released. To label it as just a punk song overlooks the awesome ending though, which depicts a nuclear fallout of sorts.
Rating this album correctly really is all what you think of the final song, “Revelation”. Not just “it is an important idea?”, but is the song GOOD and ENTERTAINING for all of those 19 minutes. Well, it is not the best blues song ever or anything, but I enjoy listening to the whole thing. Simple lyrics yes, but that whole idea of psychedelic madness and chamber instruments while maintaining a blues song structure intrigues me. The 11:09 mark scream is totally great as well, I don’t care what anyone says, it is an emotional attention grabber and as angry as Arthur Lee ever sounded. Da Capo is the Love’s most experimental release where they throw everything together in a lovely mess, it is not smooth but it is all encompassing.
Greatest Songs: Seven and Seven Is, She Comes in Colors, Stephanie Knows Who
Forever Changes – (5 / 5) +
Good music is very hard to describe, which is the case with Love’s third album Forever Changes. One of the greatest albums ever made, this music is life altering in every way. The first two albums by Love are pop masterpieces in their own right but Forever Changes is pure perfection. EVERY song is a new standard of gorgeous melody. The way Arthur Lee writes songs is indescribable with mere words: the music here is very complicated, but at the same time ever so satisfying. This is an album one could listen to for days without ever needing to reach for another. Have you heard better ballads then “Andmoreagain”, “Old Man”, “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This”, and “Alone Again Or”? Better pop songs than “The Daily Planet” and “Maybe The People Would Be The Times or Between Clark and Hillsdale”? More complicated song structures than “The Red Telephone” and “You Set the Scene”? A better album closer than “You Set The Scene” EVER?!?!?!? You get it. Well, I haven’t.
“Alone Again or” is a solemn hymn of an opener, very soul searching in its lyrics but hopeful at the same time: “I heard a funny thing, somebody said to me/said I could be in love with almost anyone/I think people are the greatest fun.” It also has this Spanish tinge to the guitar that is consistent with the album. “A House Is Not a Hotel” is spooky and scary, but still basically driven by acoustic guitar. Lee invites you into his world: “In my house i’ve got no shackles; you can come and look if you wanna”. The song is pretty hard rocking, especially for this album, and it ends with a total guitar freak-out after a drum break/guitar solo. Amazing. “Andmoregain” is a very uplifting ballad by McLean, and probably one of the most gorgeous songs you will ever hear. His Irish accented voice slowly sings: “And when you’ve given all you had, and everything still turns out bad, and all your secrets are your own/when you feel your heart beating, rumbumbum-bum.” It is a contrast that really works after the first two songs. “The Daily Planet” is a very traditional round sixties song, and probably my favorite pop song of all time. It is complicated though, like all of Arthur Lee’s work, and the bridge digresses almost into insane lyric territory: “I can see you with no face/eyes i need you/ feel my heart/face”. It all ends with the verse music and awesome drumming. “Old Man” is the final McLean song, and I don’t know how he wrote this; it is truly a flowing wonder to behold and the most folk thing on here. Lyrics flow out, “I know the old man would laugh, he spoke of love’s sweeter days/and in his eloquent way, I think he was speaking of you.”
From here on out, it is Lee’s album. “The Red Telephone” is a trip in song structure and mental instability. This is the most apocalyptic song lyrically: “Sitting on the hillsiiiiide, watching all the people die.” A commentary on war, or maybe just the end of the world, whichever it is, it’s great. “Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hillsdale” is another pop gem and still one of the best ever, returning with the horn section and its synchronized Lee vocals on the “badabada’s” and trumpet notes, “when I leave now, don’t you weep for me/I’ll be back just save a seat for me.” Fun, but also life changing. “Live and Let Live” starts again with the demented Spanish flavor as “House is Not A Hotel”, but to a happier/louder effect, and it is a longer more complicated song that predates progressive rock of the late 60’s. “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything like This” is probably my least favorite (if I haddddd to pick one) but I still love it, with its schizophrenic verses: “humming birds hum/why do they hum/ little girls wearing/pigtails in the morning/ in the moooring/ladada dadadada!”. “Bummer In the Summer” is a true folk/hard rock, pre-rap song that is a joy to hear and the fastest song on here, blending Bob Dylan and Little Richard. Finally, closer “You Set the Scene” is three songs in one with life altering lyrics: “This is the only thing that I am sure of/ and that’s all that lives is gonna die/ and they’ll always be some people here to wonder why/and for every happy hello there will be goodbye.”
The fact that not many people had heard of this band back in 1967 is another alluring quality about this album, but mystery is what helps make music great. In only two years, Love has produced 3 absolute masterworks, more than any other band has ever done that quickly, and Forever Changes is the best. Though people say this album is influenced by 1966’s Pet Sounds, it is totally on a separate plane of existence, predating many of the future genres of music including but not limited to: progressive rock, hip hop, power pop, alternative rock. The lyrics and music come together in astonishing ways creating a phantasmagoric balance of beauty and power. Most importantly as an album, it is the oldest example of perfection, as there is not one song on here that is not astonishing. Singer/songwriter Arthur Lee thought it would be his final gift to the world as he had visions of the end of his life (at 27 years old); luckily, it wasn’t.
Greatest Songs: every single song, but if I had to pick: The Daily Planet, You Set The Scene, Maybe the people Would Be The Times…, Alone Again Or
Four Sail – (4.5 / 5)
Love’s fourth album cannot compare to the ones that came before. The thing is, it shouldn’t have to, and does not aspire to; it is sloppier and has more of a rambunctious nature. Four Sail is instead, Arthur Lee with a new band and some new ideas (though the band still has the same name). Yes, his ideas are still masterful pop songs at their core: “Singing Cowboy ” is a tribute to Gene Autry and other child-like western heroes; “Robert Montgomery” is a emotional palace of falsetto vocals and guitar noodling; “Always See Your Face” is the last true Love classic, with a trombone to add flavor. On these songs, Love maintained the drive and focus as the first three albums, with great melodic songs that rivaled any other artists of the day.
Some things did change on Four Sail though. “August” is a great opener, but in many ways more traditional sounding than anything the original band attempted, with new guitarist Jay Donnellan making that guitar soloing sound so outlandish. “Your Friend and Mine”, “I’m With You” and “Dream” are great little pop ditties also, but not in the league of say “Stephanie Knows Who” or “A Message to Pretty” off of Love’s earlier works. The only falters are latter album tracks “Nothing” and “Talking in my Sleep”, which ultimately go nowhere as songs. Most of the change in sound works though, and this album is defiantly as good as most rock n’ roll records recorded in 1969. Four Sail proves Arthur Lee was always the force behind Love as he is the only remaining member, and that whatever Lee may do in the future, the world is a better place for his band being in it.
Greatest Songs: Always See Your Face, Robert Montgomery, Singing Cowboy, I’m With You
Out Here – (2.5 / 5)
As a double album and the second album released in 1969, it should be no surprise the songs of Arthur Lee finally have reaching a breaking point. The second album is far more consistent than the first, but it is the weakest release under the Love moniker.
Greatest Songs: I Still Wonder, Love is More Than Words…, Gather Round, Instra-Mental
False Start – (3 / 5)
Thankfully, this album is much briefer than the previous double album Out Here. Arthur Lee is proving to be super prolific once again, with three albums released in only two years. It is a double-edged sword, it does not have the high points that Out Here did but we are thankful that is does not have the lows either! The last four songs of the record trail off in a mediocre fashion but that should not take away from the triumph of the first four tracks which are all great additions to Lee’s canon. “The Everlasting First” is a terrific blast of blues rock that make you wonder what the lost collaboration with Jimi Hendrix would have sounded like (never released unfortunately); “Flying” is a piano driven rocker in the vein of The Allman Brothers or Grateful Dead; “Gimi A Little Break” is a traditional Love tune that could have gone on Four Sail, with beautiful background harmonies; “Stand Out” is a live version of the tune originally on Out Here but it is vastly improved here and a blues rock monster. “Anytime” also shows signs of life as the side two opening track and another beautiful example of the band’s unique blues rock, but it comes as too little too late as the rest of the album is very bland and offers nothing else in terms of interest. False Start is actually a very accurate title for this record: after starting off interesting, it quickly becomes a chore to wade through.
Greatest Songs: Stand Out, Flying, Anytime, The Everlasting First
Reel to Real – (4 / 5)
A different influence pops up on Love’s newest record: Al Green. While Lee may not be interested in creating genres anymore he surely can perfect some, as many of the soul and blues rock songs on this album prove. “Time is Like River” and “Stop the Music” are good atmospheric openers, that show how interesting Lee can be with a blues tune. “Good Old Fashioned Dream” is pure Al Green, even going as far as to copy the sound of his background trumpeters, and it is an endearing tune. “Which Witch is Which” is the only tune that could be mistaken for the Love incarnation of the 1960’s, with its psychedelic guitar effects, and it may be one of Lee’s best post-Forever Changes tunes. “Be Thankful For What You Got” is an oddity for sure, sounding about 20 years ahead of tis time with its infectious soul/funk groove and talks about “driving down the street with a gangster lean” (seriously). “You Said You Would” takes an odd jab at country music and some kind of thumping/door knock sound that becomes humorous as the song goes on. The live cover of Four Sail’s “Singing Cowboy” does absolutely nothing for me, and shows Lee is running out of ideas and hardly sounds revolutionary anymore with his lyrics. Interesting oddities is mainly what you get here, as the album does play like an odd b-sides collection that should really only be necessary for die hard fans of Arthur Lee. It is a lovely way to end the run of Love albums though, and remains a buried treasure to this day.
Greatest Songs: Which Witch is Which, Stop the Music, Good Old Fashioned Dream, Time is Like a River