Members*: Arthur Lee (songwriter, vocals, guitar), Bryan MacLean(songwriter, rhythm guitar, vocals), John Echols (lead guitar), Ken Forssi (bass), Michael Stuart (drums), Alan “Snoopy” Pfisterer (drums).
It’s difficult to break into music, and some extremely talented groups never had the success they deserved. That’s especially true when your songs are an eclectic mix that’s not easily categorized. Add to that internal strife and you have a recipe for failure. Love was never a big success in sales, but they produced one classic album.
The group starts with Arthur Lee. He was a black kid growing up in Los Angeles and an aspiring songwriter and musician. He started composing songs in his teens – surf music and the like – and several of them were recorded. When the Byrds came along, Lee was inspired, as he felt they were using the same sort of sound he was working for. He formed a small folk-rock group which he eventually named Love. In 1966, after being signed to Elektra Records, the group put out their first self-titled album.
It was certainly eclectic, with folk rock and what later to be called “garage rock” being featured. It received good reviews, but with only modest sales.
Once nice thing about the 60s was that record companies were willing to stick with an artist who didn’t become an immediate hit, so the group followed up with Da Capo. Like the first album, it was nearly all Arthur Lee compositions. Most notably, it was one of the first albums to have a track fill an entire side (and the first single album to do it) with the jam “Revelation.” Lee’s music was still evolving to add psychedelic and punk themes.
But there were tensions. When they came to record their next album, Lee and Bryan MacLean started out being backed by studio musicians. This caused the rest of the band to realize they were missing out, so they rejoined Lee and MacLean and started to be serious about their music. The result was their masterpiece Forever Changes. Here’s an example:
But Lee’s eclectic approach and complex melodies** wowed the critics, but didn’t help with sales, and the album was their worst seller yet.
Lee decided that they needed a new approach and fired the rest of the band. Their next album, Four Sail was a bit of a disappointment, and the various follow-ups never allowed for a turnaround. Lee moved to more of a hard rock sound, which probably alienated his older fans without attracting new ones.
Lee finally went solo*** but had no success. There were various attempts to get the old gang together, but they never came to much. Lee also went to jail for several years,**** during which Brian MacLean and Ken Forssi both died.
Love’s influence is vast, with many people listing Forever Changes as favorites, including Robert Plant and Jim Morrison. Many UK acts have also cited them.
Lee died in 2006. The remnants of the group, with a couple of the original members, is still touring as more and more people come to discover and appreciate them.
*Love was so much in flux that the number of musicians is hard to pin down. They went through almost as many drummers as Spinal Tap, for instance. These are the names listed in Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopedia – which also mentions two former members
**Just to get this out of the way: one of their songs on the album, “Red Telephone” has the line “We are normal and we want our freedom.” This line is also used in “We are Normal” by my favorite band, the Bonzo Dog Band. The two songs got the line from the same source: the play Marat/Sade.
***Which he was doing starting with Four Sail, anyway.
****The prosecutor on the case was later found guilty of misconduct.