soundstreamsunday: “Maybe the people would be the times or between Clark and Hilldale” by Love

love1967In 1966-1967 Los Angeles was Arthur Lee’s dark kingdom.  Brian Wilson owned the sun, Jim Morrison traveled the other side, and while the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield gave L.A. its folkie hippie face, Lee’s band Love fashioned a punk muzak masquerade that fifty years on will still not relent.  Their capstone album, 1967’s Forever Changes, is one of the handful of perfect rock records, but it is a difficult masterpiece, borne of a drug-addled band falling apart on the heels of some minor pop success (thanks to their cover of Bacharach/David’s “My Little Red Book” and the blazing protopunk of “7 and 7 Is”), as their chief admirers and competitors the Doors were surpassing them in popularity, commercially beating them at their own game.  Forever Changes is not instantly recognizable for what it is, and its easy melodic beauty — indebted to the Tijuana Brass, smooth jazz, and surf instrumentals — supports a poetry far more complex and subtle than anyone else in rock was writing at the time, save perhaps Van Morrison.

Forever Changes really began with Love’s second album, Da Capo (1966), its first side moving away from the Byrds influence so evident on their first LP (as good as that record is), towards a baroque fusion of Spanish-inflected pop jazz mixed with fierce punk aggression.  By the time they came to record Forever Changes in the summer of 1967, Lee had refined this sound to create, with the band’s other songwriter, Bryan MacLean, a seamless set of 11 songs beginning with the plaintive loneliness of “Alone Again Or” and concluding with a rumination on the album’s title in “You Set the Scene.”  Engineer and co-producer Bruce Botnick (known primarily for his work with the Doors, labelmates to Love on Jac Holzman’s groundbreaking Elektra Records), who had produced the band’s two previous records, has been credited with motivating the band to record, and in creating the album’s sonic consistency.  The airy breeziness of the tunes and Lee’s at times affected vocal approach are often in stark contrast, and yet ultimately work with, the grim lyrical themes — mortality, war, racial division (Lee and guitarist Johnny Echols were black men in a very white rock scene), broken love — and the words are so deftly written and rendered that there is no belaboring the evident point: the Summer of Love is bullshit.  These kind of dynamics create a layered masterwork that sustains prolonged discovery.  Forever Changes is a slow grower, it reveals itself over time, but once its hooks are in it will not let go.  I think it’s interesting that while the album tanked in America it hit #24 in Great Britain in 1968, and can be seen as being influential on both British progressive and punk rock.  It’s no mistake that it was in London that Lee so successfully revived the album as a live performance in 2003, the recordings from which demonstrate the undiminished power of the songs (and, surprisingly given his rough life, Lee’s chops).

“Maybe the people would be the times or between Clark and Hilldale” opens side two of Forever Changes and contains in its three and a half minutes a snappy, bass-and-brass driven portrait of the transience of life — the comings and the goings and the intersections — surrounding the Whiskey a Go Go and the Sunset Strip, the heart of Love’s Los Angeles.  Others feel more confident in their interpretations of the song, but it makes me feel good because wrapped inside this sunny tune, where at one glorious moment in the break Lee doubles the trumpet as if he’s Tony Bennett, there is room for thought and contemplation, and even if I can’t say for certain what was going through Arthur Lee’s mind when he wrote the words, perhaps that’s what makes this and other of Love’s songs feel so universal.

*Above image: Love, the Forever Changes lineup, in 1967. (l-r) Michael Stuart-Ware, Ken Forssi, Arthur Lee, Bryan MacLean, and Johnny Echols.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.

This is Prog. This is Love. This is Yes. PROGENY (2015)


PROGENY (Rhino, 2015)
PROGENY (Rhino, 2015)

As I’ve mentioned a number of times, I was born in the summer of love, 1967.  The youngest of three boys (eight years younger than the oldest and five years younger than the older), I inherited my music tastes at a very early age.  Our house always had music playing—whether classical, jazz, rock, or pop.  I especially loved the first three, though I could belt out most of the words to Three Dog Night with the best of three year olds.  Crazily, I was able to sneak out of the crab, crawl downstairs (duplex), and put my favorite records on the turntable at 3 in the morning.  No, I’m not exaggerating.  I wanted the entire house to listen!

My favorites, though, even as a little kid were the songs by Yes, the Moody Blues, and Jethro Tull.  Soon, of course, bands such as Kansas and Pink Floyd would join this august company.

Sometime in 1973, one of my brothers purchased YESSONGS on LP.  Three albums, complete with huge gatefold and lots of pictures (indeed, a really great book that came with it).  I loved every aspect of YESSONGS.  I loved the music, I loved the Roger Dean paintings, and I thought the pictures of the members of the band (including Eddie Offord) hilarious.

Yessongs 2

Not too many hippies hung out in central Kansas, so these guys looked really weird, mystical, and Tolkienesque to me.

Anyway, I spent a considerable amount of time as a small kid poring over the lyrics and the Dean images.  How did those islands float?  How did the deer get from one to the other.  Of course, it all had been written about in C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra, but I’d yet to encounter that brilliant novel.

I can state with certainty that the entire package of YESSONGS—from lyrics to music to image—shaped my own imagination fundamentally.

So, when I heard that Yes would be releasing a fourteen disk live set from 1972, PROGENY, I couldn’t resist.  I didn’t want the abbreviated version (the two disk highlights), I wanted the full thing.

Two things almost stopped me.  First, I’m no longer a huge Yes fan.  I was as a kid.  Obsessed for quite a while.  And, in college (1986-1990), too.  Admittedly, I’ve purchased every single album—live or studio—Yes has produced.  But over the last twenty some years, I’ve purchase the music out of habit more than out of love.  There’s no doubt that every Yes album has something good on it, but the goods—at least to my mind—have become increasingly sparse.  I don’t’ say this to ignite a flame war.  But, from my very subjective viewpoint, Yes just isn’t as good as it once was.  Some bands, such as Rush, get better and better.  Others simply fade, and still others merely linger.

Second, I’m generally rather skeptical about these kinds of packages.  If I’m shelling out over $50 for music, it better be amazingly good—music as well as art.  I have, however, spent lots and lots of money on Rush (R40) and Tears for Fears (the Steven Wilson box set of SONGS).   So why not for the work that really immersed me into prog.

“Dear God,” I thought as I hit the purchase button on amazon, “let PROGENY be worth the money.”

And, it is.  This is the mother lode.  This is the touchstone, the very source material, for YESSONGS.  It’s pure, it’s raw, it’s flawed, it’s genius.  At one point, during the beginning of a Wakeman solo, a local radio station playing Chuck Mangione, comes across the loudspeakers.  Oh, Spinal Tap, how wise you are.  Anderson makes a joke about it.  Anderson and Howe even get along, making jokes from time to time.

I mentioned on facebook that PROGENY is an “outrageous Yes overkill live package.”  It is.  And, I love it.  Pure over-the-top prog.  Seven concerts, fourteen disks, seven sleeves, a glorious booklet, a firm and tasteful box, and, of course, 10 hours/31 minutes/32 seconds of music.  Phew.

Despite a similar playlist for each concert, each performance is unique.  For those of us who have listened to YESSONGS so very much it’s been grafted onto our very DNA, PROGENY is a brilliant revelation.  Mistakes as well as fascinating solos (long, short, punctuated) predominate.  While at this point in my listening, I couldn’t state the guitar solo on Roundabout is better at the Toronto show than it is at the Knoxville show, but I certainly hear every difference.  This is a young, confident, happy Yes.  This is a Yes that wants to change the world and do so through love, not through corporate dominance and lawsuits and bitter relations.

This is the Yes that taught me to love prog.

This is prog.  This is love.  This is Yes.

[Corrected two things: It’s Eddie Offord not Eddie Jobson (thanks, Duane Day); and I was off on time.]