Sunday, July 25, 2010

January 11, 2010: The Nuggets Record Buying Guide: Love

With the exception of Hawthorne natives The Beach Boys, Love was the greatest group ever to sprout in Los Angeles. Before shouting “What about The Byrds?”, who surely had more international influence (unlike Love, The Byrds did not refuse to tour outside their hometown) and released more great albums, I’d like to point out that Love had their share of far-ranging influence (particularly on The Rolling Stones) and released three albums that stand as a greater LP-run than any triad of Byrds albums. The Byrds vs. Love issue is of particular relevance considering what a profound influence The Byrds had on Love’s debut album, which is rich in jangly twelve-string folk rock and features a song that cops the oft-copied “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” riff. But whereas The Byrds’ sound evolved gradually— only changing radically on Sweetheart of the Rodeo, their marvelous 1968 exploration of bluegrass and C&W— each of Love’s greatest albums was a jagged departure from their previous record, and each one took both their personal style and Rock & Roll as a whole in a completely new and electrifying direction.

Even Love novices know that the reputation of their album, Forever Changes, looms over everything else the band did previously and subsequently. Forever Changes is, indeed, Love’s masterpiece, a sumptuous, poetic, and straight-up weird monument of folk-rock and light-psychedelia; a must-listen cult classic that can sit proudly alongside The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle and The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society. But is it the best place to form a Love habit?

On Rhino’s recently released Where The Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968, Love are represented by “You Set the Scene”, the winding, mysterious epic that served as the climax of Forever Changes. Yet they also make an appearance earlier in the set with “You I’ll Be Following”, a raw power-pop number from their eponymous debut album. Eleven years earlier, Rhino tossed Love’s most well-known song, the jittery, acid-rush “7 and 7 Is”, into the stew of its first Nuggets box. These three tracks from three different albums sound as though they were recorded by three different bands, and each is a fine representative of the album from which it was picked. Certainly the most demanding of these is “You Set the Scene”, and it accurately indicates Forever Changes’ lack of immediacy.

Forever Changes was the first Love album I heard, and with that first listen, I wasn’t quite sure what the hype was about. It seemed to be a pleasant enough collection of acoustic folk. Lead-Lover Arthur Lee and cohort Bryan Maclean had pleasant enough voices. The string arrangement were certainly nice, but the record didn’t exactly knock my stockings off. It was only with multiple listens that the brilliance of Forever Changes—it’s intricate structures, hauntingly bizarre and morbid lyrics (Lee convinced himself he only had a short time to live, and his obsession with his erroneously eminent demise drives his strange lyricism), and utter uniqueness—fully emerged for me. As a result of the long gestation of Forever Changes, I did not snatch my next Love record for several years. Had I begun with either Love or Da Capo I might have wholeheartedly fell in Love a lot sooner. Both albums are immediately appealing in ways that Forever Changes is not, yet both have their own unique sound—and their own unique flaws that may affect which one will be your best doorway into this essential group.

Love (1966), the band’s catchiest, simplest, poppiest record, suffers slightly from derivativeness. Da Capo and Forever Changes sound quite unlike anything else that preceded them. Love sounds a whole lot like The Byrds and The Rolling Stones. On “Can’t Explain”, Lee nicks the main riff from The Byrds’ “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” and much of the lyric, rhyme-scheme, and melody of The Stones’ early LP-cut “What a Shame”. Now, as far as heavily derivative albums go, Love is one of the greatest. Each of its 14 tracks is bracing and infectious, and the moments of quiet, insightful, acoustic folk keep the proceedings from sounding excessively samey. And if you’re a Byrds or early-Stones fanatic, you’ll find much to love about Love.

Da Capo, however, sounds like no other band on this or any other planet. Its fusion of baroque complexity, amphetamine tempos, lysergic noise, jazzy experimentation, and vivid lyricism makes it one of the hardest rocking pure-psychedelic albums of psychedelia’s zenith year of 1967. The Stones were certainly dazzled enough to return Love’s petty thievery by stealing elements from “She Comes in Colors” for their own “She’s a Rainbow”.

Lee also contended that The Stones ripped off his band with “Goin’ Home”, the centerpiece of their 1966 LP Aftermath. “Goin’ Home” is a lengthy, bluesy improv that bears a resemblance to Love’s “Revelation” that could hardly be coincidental. Lee said that Jagger and his cronies saw Love perform the marathon-length “Revelation” live in ’66 before The Stones cut the allegedly derivative “Goin’ Home”, but his timeline doesn’t jibe: The Stones recorded their number in late ’65. Regardless of who is the true author of “Revelations”/“Goin’ Home”, neither is a high point of either band’s respective career, and “Revelations” is the one major flaw of Da Capo. On the flip of what is probably the most superb side of music on any Love album is the side-long, 17-minute, excruciatingly dull “Revelations”. Had Lee and company been able to put together another six songs as revelatory as the ones on Side A of Da Capo for its second side, the album surely would have been the band’s masterpiece. Still, that first side remains more instantly gratifying than Forever Changes, so I’m going to recommend getting your Love-affair started with Da Capo.

Following the release of Forever Changes, Arthur Lee disbanded the original Love line-up and put together a group of less individual musicians, most significantly losing Bryan Maclean, who wrote some of Love’s most enduring songs, including the gorgeous “Softly to Me” on their first album, “Orange Skies” from Da Capo, and “Alone Again, Or”, the most well-known track on Forever Changes. Historians and critics tend to dismiss the second coming of Love outright, and although the group lost some of its delightful quirkiness in favor of a less imaginative acid-rock path, I recommend you also check out Four Sail, the group’s first record from their second incarnation. Four Sail may not be as consistently dazzling as Love’s first two-and-a-half albums, but “Robert Montgomery”, “Your Friend and Mine – Neil’s Song”, “Nothing”, and several other tracks still show off Lee's mastery of tangy chord structures and outclass much of what his contemporaries were doing in 1969. Definitely deserving of a listen.
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