1967 is one of the most celebrated years in music history. The Summer of Love brought with it albums such as The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Jimi Hendrix’ Are You Experienced, both released just in time for that memorable season. Another great album was Forever Changes by Love, recorded during that summer but released only in November. If there would have been The Autumn of Love in 1967, that album would be its proper soundtrack. But the term was never coined and the band never made it to the pantheon of famed artists, where many of the band’s contemporaries have been long accepted. While the album was not a commercial hit when it came out, over the years it became a well-known example of the psychedelic music that swept the US west coast in the later part of the 60s. It was a period of music experimentation fueled by chemical substances that drove artists to break from conventional molds and try to sound different in any way possible: feature instruments that expanded beyond the standard guitar/bass/drums, mix in ethnic influences from around the world and most importantly spend more time in the studio crafting their art. All that can be found in the three perfect minutes of Alone Again Or, a song that puts the listener’s mood on a pendulum, swinging between cheerfulness and despair.
Love was signed to Jac Holzman’s Elektra Records in 1966. The label specialized in folk and blues music throughout the 50s and early 60s and started looking for talents playing a different kind of music that emerged in the mid 60s. Their first foray into the amplified realm was Paul Butterfield’s Blues Band, with which they had a great run of albums in the 60s. Their second signing was Love, a move that took the label to the west coast in search of other bands.
The members of Love and The Doors knew each other well in the psychedelic LA scene of 1966 and 1967. The Doors were signed to Elektra through a recommendation of Love’s leader Arthur Lee, who urged Jac Holzman to check them out. Holzman was not impressed to start, but after a few more visits to the dark and musty clubs the Doors were playing at in LA, he decided to sign them. Probably the best business decision he ever made. While Love was reluctant to play live unless they had top billing, the Doors played everywhere. The avoidance of live performances played a crucial factor in Love’s elusive search of success. On June 2nd 1967 the two bands shared a bill at the Civic Center in Pasadena, a concert the Doors cancelled at the last minute. A month later Light My Fire topped the Billboard chart and took The Doors to the stratosphere. Love would never be listed on the same bill with them again .
Drugs took a toll on many bands in the 60s, and Love was no exception. The intake was high enough to have a negative impact on their ability to focus when they started recording the album Forever Changes in June 1967. Bruce Botnick, the album’s engineer and co-producer, had to cajole them into getting their act together: “I took them into the studio to produce this album, and they couldn’t play, basically. Arthur Lee was quite upset about it. I did a little shock value, and I said: look, I’m going to bring in Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew. Let’s try and record a couple cuts with them. And I did it intentionally, to shock the band into getting serious, which – it did work. I remember Bryan MacLean sitting there crying during the session”. Two tracks, Andmoreagain and The Daily Planet, were recorded with the Wrecking Crew musicians. The shocking humiliation worked, and the band came to the next session prepared and energized, and during August and September did a fantastic job playing their instruments on the remaining tracks.
Alone Together Or was recorded in the final sessions for the album in September 1967. John Ecols, lead guitar player, remembers: “It was a very very rough song when we got into the studio. It was hardly even written. Bryan went and wrote some more words after we’d done the instrumental track and after he’d heard what (arranger) David Angel had done with it.” The song was written by Bryan MacLean who also plays the beautiful acoustic guitar intro, influenced by flamenco, the Spanish dance his mother used to dance to in his youth. I love that guitar part, which opens each of the vocal verses, and also the snare drum pattern that enters with the vocals. Interesting use of a stereo mix, with the opening guitar part all the way to one side and the drums coming in on the other side.
Arthur Lee had the idea of adding strings and brass, and Botnick found David Angel, a jazz musician who worked in Hollywood and arranged for film and TV (remember Bonanza and Lassie?). Lee sang the strings and brass lines to Angel, who scored and arranged them for a seven-piece string section and a five-piece mariachi band that played on a recent Tijuana Brass album, also engineered by Bruce Botnick. The use of strings and brass throughout the song is tasteful, and the cherry on top is the short trumpet solo, coming straight out of those Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass albums that were so popular at the time.
In the highly recommended documentary Love Story, David Angel has high praises for the band: “I never heard any other group reach that level of art. I mean the Beatles had a wonderful combination and they had the right stuff. Everybody had a role and they did it right. But as far as a group that just created a kind of abstract rock art, I never heard anything like this group and that album”. Here is that excellent song.
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