Sunday, August 06, 2006

FOREVER changed Pop Music

BY JIM DeROGATIS Pop Music Critic

The following is an excerpt from my history of psychedelic rock, Turn on Your Mind (2003, Hal Leonard).

After the Byrds, the most ambitious L.A. band to put a psychedelic twist on the folk-rock sound was Love, which thrived on the combination of two mismatched songwriters.

Born in Memphis, Tenn., singer Arthur Lee was raised in L.A.'s tough Crenshaw neighborhood. Strongly influenced by Mick Jagger, he presented what critic Lillian Roxon called "an amusing paradox," an African American singing like a white Englishman singing like an old African American.

His partner Bryan MacLean was raised on classical music and Broadway standards. "You hear more of my influence on Arthur than his influence on me," MacLean told journalist Alan Vorda in Psychedelic Psounds. "What you have [in Love] is a black guy from L.A. writing show tunes."

There was also a heaping dose of the Beatles circa "Rubber Soul," folk rock via the Byrds and the lush, orchestrated soundscapes of Hollywood film scores. (The band's use of beautiful orchestral flourishes is the most influential element of its sound today, with Love standing second only to the Beach Boys of "Pet Sounds" as the biggest inspiration for the so-called "ork-pop" or orchestral-pop movement.)

Love debuted in 1966 with a memorable self-titled album that opens with a snarling, speed-freak version of "My Little Red Book," a Burt Bacharach-Hal David tune from the soundtrack to the movie "What's New Pussycat?" Several songs are steeped in druggie imagery, including "Signed D.C.," a warning against heroin use; the foreboding "Mushroom Clouds," and the expansive "Colored Balls Falling."

The album also boasts a cover of "Hey Joe" inspired by the Byrds' rendition on "Fifth Dimension," but much punkier in its execution. Like the Byrds, Love worked hard to present a hipper-than-thou image, and the album cover features the quintet scowling like angry young poets posing before a broken-down chimney in a fire-gutted mansion that was said to have belonged to Hollywood's Dracula, Bela Lugosi.

By 1968, Love was starting to suffer from drug problems, turning from psychedelics to heroin. Lee contends that prejudice also kept the band from the heights achieved by some of its label mates. "I wasn't gonna go eat garbage like the Doors did," Lee told the Bob magazine in 1994. "And then, too, I wasn't white. The cold fact of the matter is birds of a feather flock together."

When Love recorded "Forever Changes," Lee was convinced that his life and his career were coming to an end. (The back cover shows the singer standing with a cracked vase full of dead flowers.)

Of the many lost classics produced during the creative explosion of the late '60s, the greatest may be "Forever Changes." In its startling originality, its elaborate use of symphonic orchestrations and its nods to the vast canon of music that preceded it, "Forever Changes" is everything that's been claimed of 1967's most heralded rock release, the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

Lee's failure to produce much worthwhile after 1968 has prompted some critics to put him in a class with cracked psychedelic geniuses Syd Barrett, Brian Wilson and Roky Erickson. While he emerged from the '60s bitter about the business and as eccentric as ever, Lee wasn't crazy or permanently damaged.

He largely dropped out of sight after the solo "Vindicator" (1972); though he and MacLean both became born-again Christians, that didn't bring them back together. Lee toured the U.S. in 1994, playing Love's old songs for a new generation of fans, but a short time later, he was sentenced to a 12-year prison term thanks to California's "three strikes you're out" legislation. Freed after six years behind bars, Lee returned to touring the rock underground in 2002.

Love's third album will likely remain his crowning achievement -- the enduring testament that he envisioned 35 years ago.

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