Almost everybody knows The Doors, but few know off the top of their heads who the band Love was. Listening to Love’s second album Da Capo, particularly the opening track “Stephanie Knows Who”, you may think you’re hearing a band influenced by the Doors. But this album came out before the Doors first album! In fact, a recommendation from Arthur Lee helped The Doors land their record deal with Elektra. One of the key elements in the sound of this album is the production of Paul Rothchild and engineering of Bruce Botnick. They are more known for their work on The Doors albums.
Arthur Lee was the lead vocalist, guitarist, and principal songwriter of Love. He was not only a notable vocal influence on Morrison, but also an influence on Jimi Hendrix. He created a new sound that drew freely from other genres (blues/soul/rock/pop) before Jimi had The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Interestingly enough, Jimi’s first appearance on record was as a guitarist for R&B singer Rosa Lee Brooks on the Lee composition “My Diary”. Also, Jimi started to adopt what became his signature (fashion) look/image after he came to Los Angeles and saw Arthur Lee with Love. From the colorful flowing clothes to the electric frizz hairstyle, Arthur Lee made the claim:
“Some people dress up to go on stage. This is how I always look!”
Unfortunately, Arthur was not too interested in performing outside of Los Angeles. It was this reason that Love record sales never reached the heights of other albums, even though Da Capo and Forever Changes should be commonly regarded among rock’s great masterpiece albums.
Da Capo contains Love’s only Top 40 hit “Seven & Seven Is”. One fascinating aspect of this song title and every song on “Forever Changes” is that the title is not mentioned as a phrase within the song lyrics. The titles are more often descriptive of the mood or interpretation of the song. “Seven & Seven Is” can be considered “early or proto-punk”, and as such is a stand-alone track, perhaps with more in common in sound to their first, self-titled album. Aside from the additional aggression of “Stephanie Knows Who”, the remaining tracks on the first side have a refined, mellow, unique sound to them. Particular standouts are “Orange Skies” and “!Que Vida!” which feature flute.
Another great song is “She Comes in Colors”. Stone’s fans should note that this album was released in November 1966, and “She’s a Rainbow” from Their Satanic Majesties Request was released in December of 1967. That wasn’t the only idea The Rolling Stones stole from Love. Side Two of Da Capo is one of the earliest examples of a single song taking up the entire side of a record. “Revelation” was a 19-minute jam piece that allowed the whole band to improvise freely alongside each other, while also taking their own spotlights, including an acapella harpsichord intro and outro. According to Arthur:
“The song “Revelation” was a long jam we did so the musicians could express themselves. The Rolling Stones saw us play at the Brave New World, and they recorded a long song on their next album. [“Going Home” from Aftermath] After our album came out, I got the blame for copying them!
Forever Changes is considered by many to be Love’s masterpiece. Though it features full orchestral arrangements throughout, it’s foundation is one or two acoustic guitars. With the exception of Bryan MacLean’s flamenco-inspired album opener “Alone Again Or” and “Old Man”, the remaining compositions are all by Lee. While the song title phrases are nowhere to be found in the lyrics, by no means are the lyrics shallow or disposable, as would be perfectly acceptable for the time, or in rock music in general. They are quite intense and profound. There is some stream-of-consciousness, but all of it fits into the story. The story unfolds throughout the album, with the peaks at the end of the first side with “The Red Telephone”, and the album closer “You Set the Scene”.
While the song titles and lyrics invite deeper interpretation, the same can be said for the title of the album itself. Lee was certainly fascinated with word play, and he claimed the title Forever Changes came from a joke. It was an answer from a girl who had been broken-up-with. The question was “I thought you said you’d love me forever?”. Lee also claimed since the band’s name was Love the full title was Love Forever Changes. These statements regarding the title, however, are not sufficient in describing the depth of the music on the album. Many themes and contrasting sections in lyrics and music are explored in single songs. In other words, the songs have a lot of changes. Different musical sections, modulations and rhythm changes match the mood or “scene” changes of the lyrics. This is probably while the album holds up so well over repeated listenings over many years.
Lack of the well-deserved success, and personal differences led Arthur Lee to continue to change the line up of his band. He was finally happy with his band in 1970, recorded an album, which would be called Dear You. Columbia Records rejected it, which led to the material being re-worked with other musicians, and another three albums split between two labels: Elektra (Four Sail) and Blue Thumb (Out Here and False Start). Lee continued with different versions of Love until the end of his life. Finally, in 2009, the lost Dear You album was finally released under the title Love Lost. It is nearly unbelievable that these performances remained unreleased for so long. Actually, many of the songs were recorded on Love albums and, six of the songs appear later on his Vindicator album. Though the earlier recordings from Love Lost are without exception far superior to the later versions. If you can get past a few technicalities (like occasionally out-of-tune guitar), the performances on the whole are superior. In particular, Arthur’s voice has a power and command that is missing from the later recordings. It’s tough to find a bad track on the whole album. Production and arrangements are a return to the guitar-based songs of their early years. No flutes, no keyboards, no orchestration, just good funky rock n’ roll.
Some highlights include “Everybody’s Gotta Live” and “Product of the Times”. Acoustic stand-outs (among the five solo-acoustic demos) include “Sad Song” and the album opener “Love Jumped Through My Window”. The album sounds a lot like Band of Gypsys era Hendrix, and in fact, there is a quote from “Ezy Ryder” in Lee’s “Trippin’ and Slippin’ ”. It is interesting to note that Jimi and Arthur did collaborate in the studio on one of Lee’s tunes “The Everlasting First”. There were rumors that they recorded an entire album together, but there has only been one tape reel found. It included “The Everlasting First” which appeared on the Love album “False Start”. Also on the tape was a beautiful, flowing, mood-changing/altering ten-minute jam (“Loon”), which features Jimi soloing with great focus and fluidity with an outstanding rhythm section of Arthur’s old friends Frank Fyad (bass) and George Suranovich (drums), as well as Gary Rowles on lead guitar holding his own weaving leads behind Hendrix, and stepping out when Jimi briefly laid back. The tape includes two takes of “Easy Ryder”. The track on Love Lost is titled “Trippin’ and Slippin’/Ezy Ryder”, and probably demonstrated what could have come of a true collaboration on the tune with Arthur singing the first verses, and Jimi singing the last verses.
Despite his great talent, and much critical acclaim, Arthur Lee remains an obscure under appreciated cult figure.