Saturday, October 14, 2006

Liner Notables #2: The Best of Love

Why, it seems like only yesterday [cue harp and wavy, out of focus visuals] when you could pore over an album's liner notes and not have to squint to garner an embarrassment of riches and a treasure trove of tidbits... 

I guess if you’re going to pontificate and opine about the late Arthur Lee and Love, it may be more de rigueur to delve into the 24 pages of commentary that accompanies the 2001 expanded "deluxe" reissue of Forever Changes from 1967, a classic blend of psychedelia-tinged folk-rock.

Trouble is, I don’t own a copy. But moreover, any Love album that doesn’t have the great and sonically astounding pre-punk adrenalin rush that is “Seven and Seven Is” calls attention to the fact that it doesn’t have the great and sonically astounding pre-punk adrenalin rush that is “Seven and Seven Is.” That it is, therefore, too unrepresentative and lacking.

That "Seven"-graced album of note would be Da Capo, from earlier in ‘67. But since The Best of Love incorporates that earlier synapse-singeing single with songs from Forever Changes and from such other albums as the self-titled 1966 debut (with its tragically catchy oldies staple, a cover of the Bacharach/David’s “My Little Red Book”), I’m going to go with the liner notes from the 1980 Rhino compilation, the one-stop Love shopping LP that addresses most of my multi-album needs.

The liner notes of The Best of Love are comprised of contributions from a few Love connections, plus Lee himself. First up, Bruce Botnick, engineer of most of Love’s first three albums and producer of Forever Changes (originally planned with Neil Young as co-producer) gets right to the heart of Lee’s eccentricities and their effects on the band and the music. “He was real unusual,” notes Botnick, “on acid 24 hours a day. In fact, everybody is the band was out of it.”

Botnick goes on to recount a psychological ploy he used to get the undisciplined and increasingly unfocused group motivated during the Forever Changes sessions, including but not limited to the move of bringing in prominent studio musicians such as Hal Blaine and Billy Strange. Before this strategy got too entrenched, however, Love rallied: “The band was so shocked, so put out, so hurt, that it caused them to forget about their problems and become a band again.” Stoned and spaced-out rock stars need love, too.

Unfortunately Botnick eventually came to see the band's decline, the lack of “the craziness and rawness” that was Love as their passion disintegrated to the point where Lee “eventually formed a new Love.” But Botnick did get in more than a few fondly-remembered Forever flourishes while he could, such as is described in his declaration that the mariachi feel on Bryan Maclean’s distinctive “Alone Again Or” was a carry-over inspiration from Botnick’s work with the Tijuana Brass.

Then Botnick concludes with an apt summary of those impulsive, make-it-up-as-you-go-along times:

    At that time there weren’t any precedents for anybody. There weren’t your star musicians of rock ’n’ roll that everyone felt necessary to conform to. So everybody just played. It was music from your brain, from your heart.That’s why it was so great.
It’s the kind of experimental, impromptu spirit that led to “Seven and Seven Is,“ which, as Botnick remembers, was a “hellish thing to play,” capped off toward the blues-based end with “an atom bomb blast which a friend of mine recorded in Nevada.” Jac Holzman, president of Elektra who first signed Love, goes on in his portion of the liner notes to recall other "Seven" innovations and problems, not the least of which was the unheard-of belief that “the song had almost too much energy.”

(It also had its share of surreal but evocative "float downstream" lyrics: "Through a crack of light I was unable to find my way / Trapped inside a night but I'm a day and I go
Oop-ip-ip oop-ip-ip, yeah!" But whatever quirks of the song and snags in recording, it was well worth the painstaking effort, and such a frenzied and frantic execution, unusual for the era, must be heard to be believed.)

However, such a casual musical camaraderie as Botnick describes can turn quickly competitive, as Holzman points out in his contention that more than a little resentment started to eat away at “the charming and uncommonly smart” but enigmatic Lee when he perceived other groups, such as the Doors, the Leaves, and the Music Machine, co-opting Love’s style and going on to have bigger hits.

But as Lee himself expands upon the notion, there were a lot of indoor fireworks causing Love to tear itself apart, and whatever success they gained was soon lost of their own accord, or disaccord, as it were: “After we started making money, the more we made, the less we worked, the less we were a unit, and Love deteriorated.”

The inevitable downward spiral kicked in when “People’s personal habits started to come before the music.” Big egos weren't left at the studio door, material possessions weren't left unimagined or unattained -- but Lee didn’t merely fingerpoint and leave himself out of the fray and fraying remnants: "Money spoiled them -- it spoiled me too. It was a strange time. I thought I was gonna kick the bucket. But you still gotta keep on.”

Something the erratic Lee did with uneven and sporadic results until dying of leukemia August 3.


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