Arthur Lee and his band Love made their name as the hottest band on the Sunset Strip after it was vacated by the Byrds. A scuffling musician burning to succeed, Lee had seen the Byrds and discovered the way forward. The name of the band led to its signing by Elektra’s Jac Holzman, and Elektra (home of Tim Buckley, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and the Doors) was the perfect label for them.
Exuding an aura of menace, drugs and psychedelic hipness, Lee led the band through three albums on Elektra culminating in the band’s 1968 masterpiece (recorded during the summer of 1967), “Forever Changes.” The album’s acoustic guitars are set in a lush orchestration that provides the context for Lee’s dreamy premonitions of death, as in “The Red Telephone” at the close of side 1:
Sitting on a hillside
Watching all the people die
I’ll feel much better on the other side.
Lee later explained: “When I did that album, I thought I was going to die at that particular time, so those were my last words. I was 26. [He was 22.] I’d always had this thing about when I was going to die, man, or physically deteriorate, and I thought it would be about 26….something like that. I just had a funny feeling.” The album was to be his testament: “‘Forever Changes’ was to be my last words to this life. And it’s like death is in there, so it’s definitely forever changes.” (I take the quotes from the liner notes of the excellent remastered recording on Rhino.) In the 2003 video below, Lee performs Bryan MacLean’s “Alone Again Or” — the song that kicks off “Forever Changes” — in the original orchestrated arrangement by David Angel.
On Thursday Lee died in Memphis at age 61 of leukemia, with which he had struggled for some time. Among the excellent obituaries are those in this morning’s Los Angeles Times and Washington Post. RIP. (Thanks to reader Thomas Nast for his message yesterday regarding Lee’s death.)