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Best Arthur Lee And Love Songs: 10 Mind-Bending Psychedelic Classics
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Best Arthur Lee And Love Songs: 10 Mind-Bending Psychedelic Classics

Defining the psychedelic era more than arguably any other band, the best Arthur Lee and Love songs continue to inspire countless musicians.

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Arthur Lee was the lead singer and guitarist for Love, a truly pioneering 60s psychedelic band who were the first rock group to sign to Elektra Records, the iconic record label set up by Jac Holzman. Music was in the blood of Lee, a man born Arthur Porter Taylor in Memphis, Tennessee, on 7 March 1945. His father, Chester Lee, was a trumpet player, and the young Lee took up the accordion, piano and organ before moving on to the guitar. “I never had lessons,” Lee told Jools Holland in 2003. “I created it all myself.” The best Arthur Lee and Love songs helped define music in the late 60s, and Lee later said: “I was the first so-called black hippie, maybe the first hippie.” The band’s third album, Forever Changes, inspired countless musicians, including Jim Morrison and Robert Plant.

Though Lee’s later life was full of troubles – he survived drug addiction problems and spent time in prison for firearm offences – his death from leukaemia, on 3 August 2006, prompted an outpouring of tributes from music fans around the world. To celebrate this rock innovator, we pick his ten best songs.

Listen to the best of Love here, and check out our ten best Arthur Lee and Love songs, below.

10: My Little Red Book (from ‘Love’, 1966)

After disbanding a group called Grass Roots, Lee formed a new band, Love, in 1966. In a 2002 interview with Mojo, he explained the choice of name: “Everybody is Love, that’s the way I feel about it. I’m part of everybody. Everybody is Love. It’s a great name.” The first single from their 1966 self-titled debut album was a cover of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David composition Little Red Book, which provided a minor hit for a band who were already the toast of Los Angeles after playing sell-out concerts at the famous Whisky A Go Go club. Love were always quintessentially Hollywood.

9: Hey Joe (from ‘Love’, 1966)

Love’s line-up for their debut album comprised Lee on lead vocals and harmonica (he also played drums on four tracks), Johnny Echols on lead guitar, Bryan MacLean on rhythm guitar, Ken Forssi on bass and Alban “Snoopy” Pfisterer on drums. Though Lee was the main singer, MacLean took lead vocals on Hey Joe, a stirring version of the seminal 1965 rock song, released several months before Jimi Hendrix issued his own cover version. Lee and Hendrix were friends, and the celebrated guitarist joined the band – then with an entirely different Lee-fronted line-up – in the studio for a guest appearance on the song The Everlasting First, in 1970.

8: Revelation (from ‘Da Capo’, 1966)

Eight months after recording their debut album, Lee and Love were back in the studio, in September 1966, to record their second album, Da Capo. The core band remained the same, though drummer Michael Stuart and saxophonist Tjay Cantrelli were added to the mix. The most ambitious track on the album was the 19-minute tour de force Revelation, written by Lee, MacLean, Echols and Forssi. Evidence that the best Arthur Lee and Love songs could take extraordinary shapes, Revelation was an extended jam that began as a live showcase number, and it features some intense musicianship that captures the psychedelic rock feel of the era.

7: She Comes In Colors (from ‘Da Capo’, 1966)

As well as having a rich voice and deft arranging skills, Lee was also a talented songwriter. His sweet love song She Comes In Colors, penned for his then girlfriend Annette Ferrell, and part of the Da Capo album, was released as a single in December 1966. It includes a line about the rain in “England town”, though it would be years before Lee would visit this country. “She Comes In Colors was written for another one of Arthur’s girlfriends, this lovely young lady was named Annette. She would always wear bright, colourful clothing, hence the title,” recalled Echolls in 2017.

6: 7 And 7 Is (from ‘Da Capo’, 1966)

The song 7 and 7 Is, which reached No.33 in the Billboard singles chart in July 1966, confirmed Love’s status as the darlings of the alternative scene. Easily one of the best Arthur Lee and Love songs from a particularly prolific period for the singer, it drew inspiration from Lee’s high-school sweetheart Anita Billings, and was about the frustrations of teenage life. The hard-driving rock song, which took more than 30 takes to get right under the production hand of Jac Holzman during the making of Da Capo, has been covered by numerous bands, including Deep Purple and Rush. The song has since reached deep enough into popular culture to feature in the closing credits for an episode of the hit TV show Entourage.

5: August (from ‘Four Sail’, 1969)

The inclusion of Jay Donnellan as lead guitarist on the 1969 album Four Sail gave Love a new impetus, and Donnellan’s fiery, technically assured playing blended well with Lee’s voice. They were both on top form on the song August, written by Lee and a great example of how the re-formed Love created mesmerising psychedelia. For all its raw jamming and ringing chords, August retains a melodic grace.

4: A House Is Not A Motel (from ‘Forever Changes’, 1967)

A House Is Not A Motel was written by Lee for Love’s masterpiece 1967 album, Forever Changes, ranked by Rolling Stone magazine at No.180 in their 2020 list of the best 500 albums of all time. The song was in part inspired by Lee’s conversation with a Vietnam War veteran and contains the prescient lines, “By the time that I’m through singing/The bells from the schools of wars will be ringing/More confusions, blood transfusions/The news today will be the movies for tomorrow.”

One of the best Arthur Lee and Love songs from an album full of worthy candidates, A House Is Not A Motel is also notable for two superb guitar solos by Johnny Echols which were recorded despite technical difficulties preventing him from hearing his fellow-musicians through his headphones. “Arthur came up with the novel idea of giving me hand signals from the booth,” said Echols. “He raised his hands when the first guitar was playing in the upper register and lowered his arms when I needed to play lower on the neck. This turned out to be some of my best work, and the resulting guitar interplay sounds great.”

3: Always See Your Face (from ‘Four Sail’, 1969)

Always See Your Face, a song that appeared on the soundtrack of the popular 2000 film High Fidelity, was written by Lee for Love’s fourth album, the punningly-titled Four Sail. The gentle song, a plea for love and understanding, has more of a dreamy folk-song tone than some of the band’s other hits; Lee had an eclectic range of influences, including The Byrds. “When I saw them, it all just clicked in terms of my own creativity,” he once said. When Lee recorded Four Sail, which was released in September 1969, the band featured a new line-up that consisted of Donnellan on lead guitar, Frank Fayad on bass, and George Suranovich and Drachen Theaker on drums.

2: You Set The Scene (from ‘Forever Changes’, 1967)

Lee described his song You Set The Scene as “a classic”, and, more than half a century after it was released, it remains one of the best Arthur Lee and Love songs. Recorded on 12 August 1967 at Sunset Sound Recorders in Hollywood, You Set The Scene demonstrated the band’s ability to combine interesting lyrics with urgent, jangly guitars, all wrapped up in a blend of sophisticated pop featuring deft horn and string arrangements. The album it featured on, Forever Changes, influenced 80s bands such as The Monochrome Set, The Teardrop Explodes and Echo And The Bunnymen. Lee was sure of his place in music history. “Without me, there’d be no Jimi Hendrix, no Sly Stone,” he once commented.

1: Alone Again Or (from ‘Forever Changes’, 1967)

Bryan MacLean, a former roadie with The Byrds, was only 52 when he died of a heart attack in a restaurant on Christmas Day in 1998. Perhaps his greatest musical legacy is the song Alone Again Or, which he began writing in his late teens, and which was inspired by waiting forlornly for a girlfriend. MacLean eventually finished this brilliant song in 1967 and it was used as the opening track on Forever Changes – a record that still stands as one of the best albums of the 60s. Lee and MacLean shared lead vocals on the track, which features a distinctive Latin-style trumpet break that was played by Roy Caton, a member of the celebrated Wrecking Crew session-musician pool. Topping our list of the best Arthur Lee and Love songs, Alone Again Or is a wonderful pop song that has been covered by musicians as diverse as The Damned, Calexico and Sarah Brightman. It is one of the many reasons that Love have had such a wide and lasting influence.

You’ve heard the best Arthur Lee and Love songs, now find out where ‘Forever Changes’ ranks among our best 60s albums of all time.

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