Six Love Songs

I seldom need an excuse to talk about Love (not that Love, this Love).

I’m speaking, of course, about the great Arthur Lee and his band. In addition to the piece previously linked, there is an in-depth anlysis here. I have written in some detail about their masterpiece Forever Changes, and summarized the creation and impact of their first two albums. Still, more should be said at some point about their second, Da Capo. Here is what I had to say a couple of years ago:

Love quickly became the Kings of Los Angeles, with celebrities like Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane dropping by “The Castle”, the large house up in the LA hills the band shared. They immediately commenced work on the next album, partly to capitalize on the collective energy and excitement, but also (crucially) because the band was not interested in hitting the road to promote the first record. Da Capo is an album that most fans (including this one) consider a 50 percent masterpiece: the six songs on side one are stunning, and represent incredible forward steps, full of sophistication and inventiveness (The Stones happily stole/honored Lee’s words in “She Comes in Colors” for their own hit “She’s a Rainbow” and there is little doubt Robbie Krieger studied “The Castle”– a song that introduced flamenco guitar to rock music—before composing the music for “Spanish Caravan”).

Side two, notable as the first side-long track (an innovation that was embraced by other acts, much to the rock critics’ collective disdain when this practice reached its prog-rock apotheosis the following decade), was, according to Lee and Echols, a scorcher in their live set. They failed to capture the energy—or whatever it was that captivated the crowds—in the studio, and the result is a kind of half-assed blues romp with plenty o’ noodling that mostly goes nowhere. Nevertheless, the sum of Da Capo is far greater than its parts; or, perhaps, the parts, assessed one a time, constitute six songs out of seven that are homeruns, and no athlete (or artist) could ask for much more than that.

What strikes me about these six songs is how untarnished they remain, by time or trends. Certainly, there is a west-coast psychedelic vibe emanating, and no one would confuse these songs from any decade but the ’60s. The sound was –and remains– so unique; no one else did anything like this, which speaks both to other bands’ limitations but also the individual but expansive ground Love was covering circa ’66. More importantly, no one else really tried. The Doors, as mentioned above, did the flamenco guitar thing with “Spanish Caravan”, but that was legit since Krieger was a trained player and it’s unlikely The Doors were imitating so much as emulating (it is well documented that they admired Love and in the early days only hoped to be as big as the band they dug).

Tom Jones on a bad acid trip? Harpsichord and fuzz-tone guitar? Only Love. The opening barnburner, “Stephanie Knows Who” is like the entire Austin Powers series, only more badass and with better teeth:

The musicality is in full effect (the use of flute, by someone who could actually play it, no less, remains striking), and the compositions crackle with inventiveness and ebullience. Still, there is something more: these songs are ethereal without being facile, they are serious with being (remotely) ponderous, they are clever without being coy. Arthur Lee, who many people (including me) believe was a genius, was simply blessed with pipes of gold: you can’t beg, borrow or steal any amount of money to acquire a voice like that; it just happens. It has been noted (correctly) that Love’s refusal to tour ensured that the band never broke through, and other people have opined that the lack of hit singles sunk the band’s chances at commercial success. My feeling is that some bands are incapable of writing “hit” songs; they are simply too good for that (Think of Floyd’s Piper At The Gates of Dawn: don’t any of those songs on Side One sound better, especially in hindsight, than the vast majority of manure that made one-hit wonders millionaires? But the Top 40 was not worthy of playing those songs, and that is one reason they remain indelible to fans in the know, more than four decades later.) I’m not suggesting that Love was “better” than other bands because they could not –or would not– write singles; I’m asserting that they had other concerns, and their priority was giving voice (and sound) to the pictures they heard in their heads. Artistic integrity tends to ensure that consumer wallets remain closed, but it also obliges ears and minds to remain open, so the songs are impervious to fashion and compromise.

“Orange Skies” is, in some regards, a slight song (lyrically it is a second rate Love Song, literally and figuratively). But the music matches the words –and vocals– and the mood of innocence and yearning (a yearning innocence many of us might recall from our lovelorn formative years, or the giddiness we felt when we first fell hard for another person) is evoked to perfection.

Orange Skies:

“Que Vida!” is impossible to pigeonhole: it could only come from this band at this time, and it is a straight-up masterpiece. The drumming is a subtle tour de force (ba da bump bump) and every sound, from floating organ to the mouth-pops that open and close the song, is used to maximum effect. The mood is celebratory; the tune sounds like what it is: an exploration of life through the enlightened and enigmatic mind of a singer/songwriter operating at the apex of his abilities.

Que Vida!

Finally, “She Comes In Colors”, as noted above, was nicked by The Stones, the ultimate compliment and proof people around the world were picking up what these cats were putting down. Another infectious, irresistible groove, this is a pop song that combines brains, balls and Style with-a-capital-S. What the hell is Lee singing about? Who cares? This song nails the precocious wave of insight and abandon at the crest of the wave about to crash on the Summer of Love before the idiot winds blew the detritus to all corners of the cultural landscape. There are songs we cherish because they consistently provide us with joy and/or inspiration, other songs that we associate with our better selves and the lust for life we (all too seldom) can scarcely contain, and then there are songs that allow us to dispense with the material world altogether and go to that other place, which surpasses happiness and even peace: bliss.

She Comes In Colors:

Oh, and as a chaser? Love quite possibly invented punk (or at least thrash punk) here, with Seven & Seven Is. Surf music meets the mosh pit, an atomic explosion and the coolest blues fadeout ever, all in under three minutes: Boom bip bip boom bip bip YEAH!

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Comments

  1. As you’re clearly a Zappa fan, you just might like The Rondo Hatton Report (www.rhreport.net), if you don’t already know it. It’s a friendly little self-help site for anyone terminally infected with the FZ bacillus. We’re always looking for contributions, so if you felt so moved…

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