Arthur Lee :: Everybody’s Gotta Live

(Sevens, a new feature on Aquarium Drunkard, pays tribute to the art of the individual song.)

If icons of ’60s-era psychedelic rock were counted, Love probably wouldn’t be among them. Certainly, even casual music fans would recognize “Alone Again Or” and “Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale” (and to a lesser extent, “Seven & Seven Is“). But they’d most likely not be able to name them outright (with those song titles, who can blame them), and further, they’d probably not be able to name the group who performed them.

Love’s short career–just two recorded years as the original band–drifted through fuzz rock, folk and psychedelic rock. They often arrived at these elements separately on their first two efforts, 1966’s eponymous Love and ’67’s more notable De Capo, before finally blending the three perfectly on their second release of 1967, and third record, Forever Changes. By Forever Changes, frontman Arthur Lee’s thick, smoky garage soul found occasionally on Love (e.g. “Signed D.C.”) had thinned into a clean, even wisp of harmonized psych-folk. Together with Bryan Maclean’s distinct composition and supporting vocals, Forever Changes is nearly as perfect a record as a band could produce. Though many believe, not entirely incorrectly, that Love continued to record, it wasn’t exactly so. Drug addictions, infighting and weak record sales forced disbandment after their landmark third LP. Any Love records subsequently released (Four Sail, Out There), weren’t actually Love, just Lee and a group of fill-in musicians looking to fill contractual obligations with Love’s label, Elektra. And while Love’s short catalogue is impressive, it remains largely obscure, with precious few exceptions. That might explain, in part, why those casual music fans, and many others, can’t immediately identify the creators of arguably one of the greatest top-to-bottom rock records ever cut.

So, even though we here at AD HQ celebrate Love’s contributions to music, it’s not altogether surprising that we hadn’t heard as much as a whisper about Arthur Lee’s solo career given the under-appreciation of Love. Thanks to friends in other realms, a late-night car ride introduced us to “Everybody’s Gotta Live.” The song is the standout track from the troubled singer’s solo debut, 1972’s Vindicator. Granted, we only know it’s the standout track because (a) it’s the only one that’s easily accessible and (b) an alternate, acoustic campfire version was released on the Fake Love’s 1974 Reel to Real. We haven’t actually heard Vindicator in its entirety yet. But even though we’re still waiting to hear the full record (an import, in the mail as of this week), we’ve adequately absorbed “Everybody’s Gotta Live” over (and over again) the last month.

Listening to it, you’d be hard pressed to identify Lee’s vocals as, well, Lee’s vocals. They’re familiar enough, but only in the way that one thing hints of another that you can’t quite put your finger on. His voice occupies the meatier range of early Love, but is more passionate than “My Little Red Book.” It has the somewhat tidier aesthetic of Forever Changes, but with infinitely more soul. Plainly put, Love were a rock band, and this is rhythm and blues.

As for the lyrics, standing alone as words on a page, they’re just OK. It’s Lee’s insistent delivery that breathes life and honesty into this parable. And “Everybody’s Gotta Live” is exactly that, a parable. Each verse is a vignette in a narrative on the meaning of life–that is, that maybe life has no inherent definition, it means only what we make it mean while living it. Or, as he closes, “You gotta live before you know the reason why.” | j. crosby

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15 thoughts on “Arthur Lee :: Everybody’s Gotta Live

  1. Great tune. I think we’ve pinpointed one of Gene Ween’s vocal influence’s…You know other than scotchgaurd.

  2. Thanks for the tune, it’s quite good, and certainly one that many folks would never have stumbled across, which is really unfortunate.

    OK, I’m going to eat crow for this, but I think the reason that Forever Changes doesn’t garner as much widespread respect is that it really isn’t that good. I know that it’s a critical favorite and a shibboleth in some camps, but I’m always been flummoxed by the devotion and hushed tones that it inspires. I’ve tried to like it. Seriously, I’ve tried. I’ve read countless articles dripping with hyperbole and superlatives. I’ve watched documentaries. Every few months I give it a spin, and I still can’t get into the songwriting or the textures. It always sounds of a piece with other indulgent, late-60s music to my ear, drunk or sober. Listening to music, like reading, should be, above all things, pleasurable. If something is boring, there’s too much other music out there to expend too much time on it trying to “get it.”

    To be sure, “7 and 7 Is” and “Alone Again Or” are undeniable classics, but I don’t feel the rest of the output, with some exceptions, always delivers on those innovations. It’s the same feeling you get when you expect every tune by the 13th Floor Elevators to kick as much ass and emit as much energy as “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” So, in sum, a breakthrough, certainly. Influential, yes. Important, without a doubt. But, Top 10 or 20 of the late 60’s, nope.

    It’s kinda funny, when I come across other music obsessives, and Forever Changes comes up, they seem almost relieved that they’re not alone in the world in not immediately worshiping it. I think that today’s track is kinda ironic in that it highlights Lee’s obvious talent with R&B, which really could have benefited his earlier watershed work.

    If you hold the contrary opinion, any insights about what you hear in the music, aside from Lee hagiography or The Importance of Love as an Historical Multicultural Entity, etc. etc. please pass along. I’m totally open.

  3. Any coincidence that this track is featured in American Oxford’s 10th Annual Southern Music Issue?

  4. @ notrust
    Just a coincidence. Is the Oxford American’s pick the “Love” acoustic version from Reel to Real?

    @ dan
    No crow-eating necessary. If you don’t dig, you don’t dig. But I’d definitely agree that his R&B talent was largely neglected in Love. Something we may discuss within these pages once the whole of Vindicator has been paid its due in my speakers.

    @ j. crosby
    Why are you commenting on your own post?

  5. never heard either version of this gem before, thanks once again ad. it was a welcome addition to my walk to work.

    in a related note – i saw the sadies a few weeks ago and they do a mean cover of ”a house is not a motel”. it’s almost as great as their flaming groovies cover.

  6. When playing this song live Arthur Lee used to seemlessly introduce a chunk of John Lennon’s Instant Karma in the middle section.

  7. I own almost all of the Love albums as well as a copy of Vindicator, in original vinyl, bought many many years ago.
    You failed to mention that Hendrix appeard on one of their albums. They had a much greater following in England than they did in the U.S.
    And yes, the later albums are backup players, but Arthur Lee pulled all of it together into one wonderful groove. Truly great stuff, and I’m glad that you posted this on the blog. You’ll like Vindicator I think, one of the songs totally cracks me up although I found it very offensive when I was in high school, I’m sure you’ll know which one it is when the album arrives!

  8. the link doesn’t seem to be working. I can’t play the songs/ download the file? anybody else can’t hear these great tunes?

  9. Forever Changes, despite the criticism it’s getting from several bloggers, is (from the tracks I’ve heard – have it on my iPod so a full listen will occur soon) a phenomenal album – a superb remnant of the late 60s Los Angeles music scene. An overlooked track from Forever Changes is “Maybe The People Would Be Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale”. Something draws me to this track, and it is frequently listened to. Love – along with the Byrds – defined the music scene in Los Angeles in the late 1960s.

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