Friday, November 9, 2012

#603: Isn't that interesting...?

I think I 1st heard classic mid-'60s psychedelic rock band Love when I was working at the record store back home in Boise, Idaho, around 1979 -- that's when I bagged an 8-track tape of their old Elektra best-of LOVE MASTERS for $3.99.
& tho my dying old 8-track player at home didn't always work right -- the sound was kinda mushy & the player's heads were slightly out of alignment so you couldn't always hear all the music channels -- still some of the music reached out of the speakers & grabbed me by the throat. Especially the best-of's closer, the epic don't-waste-your-life call-to-arms "You Set the Scene."
It was sorta like SGT. PEPPER with soul. Kinda. Definitely 1967, but with some intense feeling. Not all surfacey & flashy.
Thirty years later, I grabbed a copy of Rhino/Elektra's DEFINITIVE COLLECTION, 2 CD's of the best of Love, & I'm still trying 2 digest some of it -- like the psycho/punk "7 and 7 Is" or the really silly "Number Fourteen," or the disturbed & fragmented "Your Mind and We Belong Together." Or there's the band's 1st "hit," Burt Bacharach & Hal David's "My Little Red Book," in which Love-leader Arthur Lee tries 2 Do A Mick Jagger on 1 of those silly '60s pop songs you KNOW you've heard before. (But who did this 1 1st? Manfred Mann, maybe?)
The trax that work best 4 me on DEFINITIVE are the 7 taken from Love's magnum opus, 1967's FOREVER CHANGES, which over the past decade or so has been hailed as a forgotten psychedelic masterwork -- Lee's songwriting was at its strongest, weirdest & most melodic, & the string&horn arrangements are gorgeous.
Andrew Hultkrans' FOREVER CHANGES (2003) -- part of Continuum Books' 33-1/3rd series -- takes a look at the album & what behind-the-scenes happenings may have led Lee & fellow bandmember Bryan MacLean 2 write the songs.
But here's the thing: The book's not BASED ON anything. There R a few quotes from period interviews, but that's all. There is nothing in the book about the actual process of writing the songs & recording the album, very little about how the string&horn arrangements were chosen.
The rest is just supposition -- like an English teacher noting the similarities between Bram Stoker's DRACULA & the recent TWILIGHT series & then saying "Hmmm, isn't that interesting...?"
Well, maybe. MAYBE Arthur Lee based his lyrics on what he picked up from the Gnostic Gospels & Peter Weiss's play MARAT/SADE, but where is the proof? (But aren't the similarities intresting?) Certainly Lee must have been affected by the Watts riots -- he had to travel into Watts to check on his mother's safety while the riots were going on, according to Hultkrans. But where does this experience come out in his songs?
Hultkrans sez Lee thot he was dying at the time he wrote the songs for FOREVER CHANGES, & that therefore Lee felt called-upon 2 prophecize -- & Lee confirms in a period quote on Pg 6 that he really DID think the album was going 2 B his "last words." But not much is done with this. & Lee lived on in2 the 2000's. But the late '60s were an apocalyptic time....
Whatever inspired Lee, Hultkrans includes 1 great quote in which the songwriter sez he always writes about the people around him, his environment, "what I think needs to be changed and what I think shouldn't."  That 4 me is enuf to blow-off all the other theories about where Lee's inspiration may have come from.
There ARE some good things in the book -- mostly the quotes from interviews. Both Lee & MacLean (who wrote FOREVER CHANGES' gorgeous almost-hit "Alone Again Or") are dead now, so only the band's surviving members can set the record straight. Tho I think Hultkrans is on2 something when he writes about Lee's self-imposed exile in the Hollywood hills, I think most of the other theories about "influences" on his songwriting as outlined in this book R pretty-much hooey.
But if books like this get the word out about Love & their recorded legacy, that's gotta B a Good Thing. I just wish there'd bn more about the making of the album here. The rest is just mildly-intresting words, idle speculations. 1/2 the songs on the album R ignored.
(Ben Edmonds' liner notes 4 Rhino/Elektra's FOREVER CHANGES reissue R solid, detailed, & include a LOT more info about the writing & recording of the album than Hultkrans used -- so maybe Edmonds should've written the book...?)
Based on other reviews, I'd say Continuum's 33-1/3rd series is kinda hit&miss. Some of the books R supposed 2 B really solid, others a bit beside the point -- 1 book in the series, on Radiohead's OK COMPUTER, gets an average rating of 1 STAR at But I reviewed 33-1/3rd's best-of volumes a couple years back & found Good Stuff in each: Gillian Gaar on Nirvana's IN UTERO, Warren Zanes on DUSTY IN MEMPHIS, John Dougan on THE WHO SELL OUT, Dan Connelly on Phil Ochs' I AIN'T MARCHING ANYMORE, some others. Summa their other choices I wonder about, tho -- what new is there 2 say about PET SOUNDS at this late date? Or EXILE ON MAIN STREET? ABBA GOLD? LED ZEPPELIN 4?
Anyway, there R good things in this book. The postscript, which mentions the prison sentence Lee served late in life, & outlines the tour he went on in the early 2000's after his release -- during which he was hailed as a hero & a rock legend, especially in the U.K. -- is a positive, triumphant way 2 close. Hultkrans describes Lee's full-strength stage shows back then as "not preaching -- inciting to riot."
& Lee himself gives a positive, uplifting final quote -- a sort-of epitaph 4 him & a motto & goal 4 all of us. He went on working, he said, "because I have a lot more work, and I choose to do it."


R S Crabb said...

When I first heard Forever Changes, it was so far out left field that I didn't quite know how to take it but then again their Elektra albums had different personalites, the first album that could be mistaken for The Byrds, Da Capo does have the in your face 7 + 7 Is but The Spanish Castle song was my fave, moody and pretty at the same time, whereas the 17 minute Revelation on side 2 was an endless jam.

They never topped Forever Changes to which most songs are done acoustic with exception of lead guitar is seems. From start to finish a perfect album.

After that, Four Sail I didn't care much for, Arthur Lee going for a more harder rocking sound and the double Love Out There is even more schizophrenic with even longer jams and a song that 12 minutes long, 10 of it a boring drum solo. False Start was okay and their final Reel To Real was soul music.

Lee was visonary and good one at that.

TAD said...

Hey Crabby, thanx 4 commenting. You're right, "The Castle" is pretty nice -- sounds like The Byrds Go Baroque. "She Comes in Colors" is pretty too.
But if you're into the weird, "Your Mind and We Belong Together," "Laughing Stock" and "Singing Cowboy" are WAY out there, much farther out than "7 and 7 Is" or even "Number Fourteen." & "Your Mind" has Xcellent Hendrixy guitar!