A Tale of Two
Top: Love, Arthur Lee third from right in 1967 Bottom: Love Revisited with original guitarist Johnny Echols second from left
Above: Forever Changes (1967)
Favourite albums often have to be personal, the relevance being gained from non-musical threads; father, childhood, Summer performances (maybe a seminal Glastonbury outing of future classics), inspirational backstory. But then again, the music itself can sometimes be enough, or merely a heaped on and beautiful extension, and that is the case with this album: The Forever Changes Concert at the Royal Festival Hall.
Frontman Arthur Lee’s Love in this sense is actually the neo-psychedelic LA band Baby Lemonade, whom he hired immediately upon watching a barnstorming performance in 1993 (thus making his then-current band suddenly unemployed). Decisive praise indeed, and upon your first listen you will amply see why (not to denigrate the unfortunate former band who I am sure went on to further successes of their own).
But the Love who wrote these magical songs, 11 of which form the live album and the original 1967 release, Forever Changes, were young and dedicated musicians who clamoured around the LA club scene of the mid-60s; that which formed the cradle of local bands such as The Doors and The Byrds (another personal favourite).
Whereas San Francisco was steadily becoming the Flower Power capital that the curious and disenfranchised alike migrated to right up until the end of the 60s, LA remained a somewhat strange and tougher bigger brother down South, hardened by historical experience and the giddy mish-mash of cultural influences. Love were holed up in a semi-rural household called The Castle at this time, writing and playing a folk pop tinged with the urban milieu of LA’s black and Hispanic contingents.
By the end of the 60s, these intermingling worlds of West Coast peace and love and genuine urban disenchantment would explode in various riots and the emergence of the Black Power movement in nearby Oakland. Arthur Lee once remarked that as a young man of this time he saw, thought and wrote not of flowers and peace but death and decay, as the city and strange world around him grew edges far harder than previously thought. Love’s music is often pretty and soulful, their baroque pop masterpiece Forever Changes mingling melodic guitars and lone Spanish horns with Lee’s bold and yet somewhat detached lyrics concerning street life, unburdened romance and strange urban fables.
Put to the later line-up’s harder, louder and I think more complete sound, Lee’s LA wanderings and characters seem to be transposed to a rollicking Morricone-like soundscape. There seems to be more violence here, the imagery more vivid and pronounced, the lyrics spat and hollered, as opposed to Lee’s Johnny Mathis-lite delivery which perfectly suits a Summer of Love aesthetic. However, the later live album is unshackled from these 60s conventions, and is more than likely infused with Lee’s own disparate and hard experiences after the Summer of Love, involving drug addiction and a jail stint. The performance seems more personal. You get the feeling that as Forever Changes was the last release of the original and traditional line-up, in 1967, they had seen all they could of the promised land the 60’s counter culture had to offer, and from 1968 onward things took a decidedly darker turn, for the band, the city and the nation.
The live album feels like it is addressing this second part of the story, as the hippie dream soured in the baking Californian sun; Lee may be singing about ‘streets paved with gold’ and that ‘I could be in love with almost anyone’, but The Red Telephone’s ‘sitting on a hillside, watching all the people die’ and that ‘the news today will be the movies for tomorrow’ while ‘the waters turn to blood’, from A House Is Not A Motel begin to creep in at the quieter moments in the music, as if the freaks of the great Love parade of the mid-Sixties are starting to notice the world around them for what it is. By a few months after the album’s release, the nation was aghast at the scene of political assassination, almost constant race riots, drug casualties and the increasingly grotesque war in Vietnam. It would have been hard to keep the party going, or at least to sing about it, with all of that on the TV. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the album is darker. It is just more open and honest about the underlying things Lee was obviously singing about. Lee’s lyrics themselves, when read out loud, can appear very cryptic. One might get the gist of what he’s singing about, but he will twist words and phrases to suggest something else, an almost schizophrenic effect. ‘And if you see AndMoreAgain, then you will know AndMoreAgain, for you will see you in her eyes’ is a simply beautiful refrain, with none of its bewitching quiet lost in the live album thirty years later, but you feel no closer to understanding or knowing AndMoreAgain.
It doesn’t seem to matter. Melancholic guitars and strings guide these musings to the horn-infused bridges, with this quieter song still packing a punch, and again, a Morricone orchestral flourish to round off AndMoreAgain.
When I first listened to this album, years ago with my Dad, I assumed the band were either from Mexico or were descended. This comes largely from the sound of the live album and its newer band, though there are strains in the original sound too. As mentioned, there is a Spanish flavour to the instrumentation, pace and imagery, feeling as if it comes from the Latino streets of the metropolis. But the style itself changes between the original and the live album. The first is more of the subtle Spanish guitars, a flamenco vibe even, while the latter has searing guitar solos, movie soundtrack sized string sections and rip-roaring trumpets, as if blasting from the Alamo. The theme here is drama, as the band have now discovered drama, and in the case of Arthur Lee been living it for some time.
He was sentenced to a 12-year stint for a 3rd strike firearms offence in 1996, only reclaiming his band the former Baby Lemonade once his sentence was overturned halfway through. By then original members Ken Forssi and Bryan Maclean had died, and Forssi and guitarist Echolls had both been ravaged by drug addiction in the intervening decades. Echolls rejoined Lee and the new band a year before the frontman passed away from leukaemia. The coming show marks the ten-year anniversary of his passing and is a celebration of the band’s life and achievements. Echolls and Love will surely bring the house down as they did on the remarkable album, one which I play on repeat frequently and have loved and wondered over for years. If you haven’t listened to it, and the original LPs, you must, and if you have then why haven’t you bought a ticket yet? If you have done both of those, I will see you there, with my father.
Article written by editor Sean Powell.
Love Revisited performed at the Cheese and Grain on Thursday, June 30th.
Below: The Forever Changes Concert (2003)
Love with Arthur Lee perform You Set The Scene on the Other Stage at Glastonbury Festival 2003