Monday, March 15, 2010

Song of the Week: Love -- Your Mind And We Belong Together/Laughing Stock


Your Mind And We Belong Together
Laughing Stock

In the old Black and White westerns from the glory days of Hollywood, the innocent and earnest rancher who dug deep inside himself to find the courage he never knew he had, would get shot down in the penultimate scene of the movie. Often the rancher's children would bear witness. They would witness something about their father previously unknown to them. He had courage in his restraint. The rancher was never the hero. He was the consciousness of the cause and he embodied for what and for whom the hero symbollically fought. At this moment the hero would run to the rancher's side as the blood spills from said rancher's body, the blood mixing with the mud as it turns to gray. The rancher would choke out a few prophetic last words of motivation. The young son of the rancher would now stand over the hero's shoulder looking down past our hero at his dying father. The boy would shout out a pained "NO!" and the dying rancher would turn his eyes upward, and, with only those eyes, say everything important to that boy that he had never been able to say before. The vengeful hero would rise, and with righteousness and anger, cooly finish-off the gang who slew our moral pillar just seconds prior. And the sun would set in the West.

That is the story of Love. And that is the story of our song(s) of the week today, Your Mind and We Belong Together with a Flip-Side of Laughing Stock. It is the final song released from the original incarnation of Love, one of the most influential but overlooked bands in the history of American Rock-n-Roll.
Love was fronted by a young, handsome, lanky African American from LA named Arthur Lee. His high school chum, Johnny Echols, himself an African American, was on lead guitar. The rest of the band were white, also from LA. A racially diverse band being fronted by a black man was ground breaking when they were formed in 1965. But everything Arthur Lee and Love did was groundbreaking.


When Love burst on the Sunset Strip scene in LA in '65, they immediately became one of the two biggest acts in the city of Angels. The other being The Byrds. But unlike The Byrds, Love seemed more than content to live a life entirely within the smog walls of LA. Arthur Lee refused to tour. He refused to fly. He refused to even play shows in nearby San Diego. Instead he and his bandmates moved into a castle high in the Hollywood Hills where they allowed the party to come to them. The entire band lived in the Castle, rehearsed in the Castle and entertained in the Castle. When they were asked to headline the Monterey Pop Festival, nope, they stayed in the stone walls of the Castle. Their house had become a motel.

Meanwhile, The Byrds, The Mamas and Papas and one of Arthur Lee's many apprenteices, Jimi Hendrix, would go on to make history just a few hundred miles north of the Hollywood Hills. Arthur Lee and his bandmates, Ken Forssi, Michael Stuart, Bryan MacLean and the aforementioned Johnny Echols, holed up doing drugs and composing inward looking music that was quite different than that of their peers. Peers like The Doors. Love was largely responsible for The Doors being signed to Elektra Records and The Doors recorded their legendary 1st album with the same producers, engineers, and in the same studio that Love used.

But as the sun was rising on The Doors, it was setting on Love. Both bands released two of the greatest albums recorded in the entire decade of the 60s in the Summer of '67. The Doors went off and performed their album all over the globe and on every TV show they could find. But Love, finishing the work on their magnum opus, Forever Changes, retreated to the castle on the hill. The band was now too whacked on drugs to play music in the clubs.

Arthur Lee was more isolated than ever. Forever Changes was a commercial flop and often ridiculed by fellow musicians in LA who were turning to much heavier music. Arthur Lee considered the album a failure. In early '68, the original lineup of Love limped into the Sunset Studios to record two last songs. Two natural extensions of the brilliant but unsupported Forever Changes. One was a song called Laughing Stock. Jim Morrison allegedly is in the studio and sings with Lee in Lee's suicide note of a song:
I keep on hiding myself away from everything. What a thing to fix your brain, I guess I want to be where it don't follow me.
The other side of the single, is Your Mind And We Belong Together. It's a masterpiece. Perhaps the best song Arthur Lee ever wrote. Time and tempo changes, beautiful scat singing, etherial harmonies and a powerful gunfight at the end of this epic western. Lyrically, Arthur Lee reflects on his role as the proud rancher. He rose for the moment, but now the moment is over and others are moving on without him:
I'd Like to understand just why, I feel like I have been through hell, but you tell me I haven't even started yet. To live here you've got to give more than you get. That, I know. But they said it's all right. I'd like to understand today, then maybe I would know who I was when I was when it was yesterday. The seasons and the reasons are on display. And I know...
And then the music changes. The voice changes. This is not the same singer. This is not a calm, reflective singer. In these two verses the singer is mentally pained. You can hear it in the voice and the words:
So many people, they just seem to clutter up my mind. And if it's mine, throw it away. Throw it again. Once for my girl...friend. So many voices, don't let them stop between my ears. But it appears, that there they are. Though they are wrong, ten thousand strong.
In between those two alternate voice verses is the wonderful, lonely scat Arthur Lee sings to himself as he walks down the old dirt road into the heart of the fight. The noise of the gunfight, the screaming women and the snarling horses have been shut out.

We radically shift tempo and time again as Arthur Lee sings his last words with the original members of Love.
I'm locking my heart in the closet. I don't need anyone, no, no, no. You find me behind the door, and all of the far-out faces from long-ago, I can't erase this.
And then, the calm before the storm. The unspoken words the rancher seers into the eyes of his son. This fight, for him, is over. It is now the fight of someone else. The gunfight erupts to predestined closure without him. A door will open for someone else to walk through.

Until next time, we'll see you On The Flip-Side!

6 comments:

  1. Wonderful insights into this rich composition. I dig that calm before the storm: a sparse bass line (Beatles?) as guitar switches to lead (eliciting a buzz), and then a barely audible 'all right'. The guitar solo, which plays for a full one third of the song and is truly out of sight, displaces the calm.

    Do you know the actual recording date?

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  2. Jack,

    According to the liner notes of the Forever Changes reissue that includes 'Your Mind..." as a bonus track, the song was recorded January 30, 1968. That disc also includes some excerpts from the recording session where you can here Arthur practically taunting Echols to dig deeper for the solo.

    Morgan, great take on this song, which for me is the original Love at their peak, and is also sadly their last hurrah as you said. I think the song relates to Forever Changes much the same as Good Vibrations does to Pet Sounds, both coming right after brilliant albums and seeming to point to even greater things that were not to be .

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  3. Thanks for the Love. I think I've only really listened to their debut album but I enjoy it all the way through. A Message to Pretty is one of my all-time favorite songs. The tempo is so very appropriate to the lyrics. Lee's emotions come through his voice as if he picked up the guitar and sung himself through his struggle. He just nails it. I remember those exact feelings from days/love of old.

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  4. Love is one of my all time favorite bands and one that I have a real emotional connection with. It's odd it has taken me this long to write about them but I think I needed to wrap my head around it. They were one of the first (along with the Beau Brummels and Yardbirds) bands that drove my interest in 60s garage and pop. But Arthur Lee's music is much more personal, as you suggest, Serene, than the work of the others. As a result, I took to them more as "my own personal band" than the others. In all the years I played music, I've probably covered 15-20 Yardbirds songs. I could never cover a Love song because it seems to me to be stealing Arthur Lee's thoughts and feelings. The songs are too emotional and personal to be sung by others.

    Not too long after meeting Arthur Lee and Johnny Echols in 2006, I awoke from a dream in which I was the manager of Love and "saved" Love. I got them out of The Castle, off drugs, out on the road. Right then my son jumped in my bed and started listening to my iPod. I could hear the distinct bass line of the spooky song, "The Castle", coming from the headphones. Whoa, now that is a coincidence. My wife handed me the New York Times at that very moment and within two turns of the page I came across the announcement that the founder and leader of Love, Arthur Lee, had died. The maypole ribbons of coincidence were pretty overwhelming to me as I choked back tears.

    What opportunities were lost with Arthur Lee may never be known. Maybe he was done. Maybe not.

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  5. Corrections: LOVE- always underrated- as a band and individually- and truly belong in the R&R Hall Of Fame- ASAP! Both Arthur Lee and Johnny Echols were both black and white. Love toured occaisionally yet not enough to keep the spotlight where it should have stayed. Love refused to play: Monterey '67, San Jose '68, and Woodstock '69 only because the promoters failed to pay Love up front and in full prior to the 3 epic concerts that would have kept them L.A.'s #1 band! The whole band was not "always whacked out on heroin"- a negative and inaccurate exageration! Although the original incarnation of Love was almost everyone's favorite, the later versions of Love are also great, yet different, since they were as broad in scope to encompass the whole spectrum of R&R: from CSN to Jimi Hendrix. Unlike most bands, Love had at least 1/2 a dozen great, varied, and unique voices. Finally, the comeback kid, who was both very sensitive and callous, ran out of multiple lives. R.I.P. ! Looking to trade live and rare concert tapes. non-profit only! Steve stebreatty@hotmail.com

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