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Monday, August 29, 2016


When it comes to '60s-'70s classic rock bands, Love is an example of a group that is respected more than loved. Aging boomers with gray ponytails know who they are, but they've sort of got shuffled out of the deck of great American rockers like Jimi Hendrix and the Doors, whom they inspired. They don't get much play, except for maybe "Little Red Book," which was written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach for the film What's New, Pussycat?, but Love turn it into something that sounds as if it emanated from the coolest kid on the block's garage.

In fact, Love had only two hit singles, so the album I've been listening to for the past couple of week is not called Love's Greatest Hits, but instead The Best of Love, 22 tracks from 1966 to 1969.

Love has one important distinction--they were the first integrated rock band. Arthur Lee, born in Memphis, raised in Los Angeles, was their hard charging lead vocalist. Listen to the way he barks out the words in "Little Red Book" and you hear a master of rock phrasing. Their greatest hit, which peaked at number 33 on the charts, was "Seven and Seven Is," which was an early example of garage rock mixing with psychedelia. It is one of the most blistering rock tracks ever recorded, with nearly frantic vocals by Lee and brilliant guitar work by John Echols.

Later the group eased more into psychedelics, with most of the songs written by Bryan McLean. Songs like "Orange Skies" and "She Comes in Colors" (vaguely reminiscent of the vocal riff in the Rolling Stones "She's Like a Rainbow") made Love the kind of band listened to in rooms of purple shag carpeting, lava lamps, and black lights. But they weren't self-parodying--it was too early for that. Their 1967 album Forever Changes, now a classic, went almost completely unheard, while the Beatles and the San Francisco sound defined the LSD area.

Love may exist as something of a museum piece now, but driving around with the stereo blasting is an enriching experience. As the liner notes point out, the '60s albums that are now hailed were busts back then, like The Beach Boys Pet Sounds and The Zombies Oddisey and Oracle. Remember, number one hits from 1967 included Frank and Nancy Sinatra's "Something Stupid," Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe," and the number one song was Lulu's "To Sir With Love." Hippies weren't the only ones buying records.

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