A personal diary keeping people abreast of what I am working on writing-wise.

Friday, June 30, 2006

PERMANENT RECORDS: AND YES, MY HEART WAS BEATING...OR WAS IT JUST REPEATING?

Permanent Records is a year-long project. Each Friday (or thereabouts), I will post a new entry about one specific album, chosen due to its significance to myself as a fan. Though the list is numbered, a particular record's placement should not be considered a ranking. There will be 52 albums in all.

This endeavor is based on a concept started by Chris Tamarri at Crisis/Boring Change. It has since been expanded as a concept, as Neal Shaffer takes on a study of album covers over at Leftwich.

27. LOVE - DA CAPO (1967)
Personnel: Arthur Lee, vocals, harmonica, guitar; John Echols, lead guitar; Bryan Maclean, rhythm guitar; Ken Forssi, bass; Michael Stuart, drums; Alban "snoopy" Pfisterer, organ, harpsichord; Tjay Cantrelli, flute, saxophone
Producer: Paul Rothchild / Label: Elektra



From Wikipedia: Da Capo is a musical term in Italian, meaning from the beginning, often abbreviated D.C.. It is a composer or publisher's directive to repeat the previous part of music. In small pieces this might be the same thing as a repeat, but in larger works D.C. might occur after one or more repeats of small sections, indicating a return to the very beginning. Sometimes the composer describes the part to be repeated, for example: Menuet da capo. In opera the repeated piece is often adorned with grace notes.

It's an interesting choice for a title for a second album. What did Arthur Lee, the main brain behind Love--a band name so simple and so flower-power it's amazing it was available in the mid-'60s for this whacked-out Sunset Strip psych band to adopt for themselves--intend to say when he settled on it? Was he intending to tell us it was business as usual, or that he was starting everything over from scratch?

To modern ears, I'd say whatever the intention, the result is a little bit of both. Love hadn't gone so far away from their eponymous first album that they were no longer recognizable to their fans, and there was enough of a sense of growth that there were already signs that they would morph into the band who would release Forever Changes, their finest slab, later that year. The case I will make is that the things that do happen on Da Capo, these intermediary songs bridging album one and album three, are revolutions in their own right, indicative of a time when just about anything could go and often did. Da Capo is what happens when you convince artists they are libertines. Tell them they can do whatever they want, and they will likely try to meet that bet.

"Stephanie Knows Who" opens Da Capo. The first sound we hear is Snoopy Pfisterer's harpsichord tinkling serenely before an onrush of drums stampedes across the scene and Arthur Lee unleashes his gravelly howl. Amusingly, the song was written for a girl who had been dating Bryan Maclean and then switched over to Lee, and the resulting lyrics were Lee's taunt at his guitarist. Only, as the anecdote goes, Stephanie had already turned back to Maclean before the recording was finished. Given that Lee's vocal insistence on the track has about as much frustration as it does pomposity, perhaps he subconsciously knew it was not to last.

The second song immediately establishes the main dichotomy of Love. Following the raucous pounding of "Stephanie Knows Who," Maclean's "Orange Skies" is more pastoral. Its colorful references suggest it is from the softer side of psychedlia, inspired by the drugs that keep us mellow rather than the ones that inspire us to rage and party. Love was good at both sides, and their best work tosses up both with equal aplomb. "¡Que Vida!" is another example of this, a melancholy ramble that goes between the personal and the global. A verse like "I once had a girl/ She told me I was funny/ She said in your world/ You needed lots of money/ And things to kill your brother /But death just starts another" is perhaps a little portentous of the dark comedown that would end the decade of l(L)ove. Even as we lie together, we know death and violence await us from without--and perhaps is caused by what lies within. A couple of songs later, on "The Castle," Lee would dig around similar themes. The lyrics don't refer to anything like a castle, but more speak of leaving, of going to safer pastures. Leaving what is the question. Thus, the title looms over everything, this structure we must get away from. The tension of the music, between the baroque acoustic guitar and the low-end throb of electric bass lays the backdrop, playing out the central conflict.



"Seven & Seven Is" is another cracking rock tune (a minor hit, many know it now as a track in Wes Anderson's overrated Bottle Rocket). The choral yawp of "boom bip bip, boom bip bip, yeah!" should really be more iconic. Lee sings with anger and disappointment, broken promises and unfulfilled dreams, while the band stands behind him like a threat.

"She Comes In Colors" rounds things off, a classical romantic spirit evident in the mingling of organ and flute with a regular rock beat. It's a sweet song, tinged with love and regret. It is said to be where Mick and Keith nicked "She Talks to Rainbows" from. In fact, the Rolling Stones are alleged to owe a huge debt to Da Capo. A regular at Love's now infamous live shows, the Glimmer Twins were scribbling down notes in hopes of beating Lee and his cohorts to the punch--something they would manage by slipping out "Going Home" on their Aftermath album before 1966 was through.

"Going Home" was cribbed from what would be Da Capo's most audacious moment. It began life as "John Lee Hooker," a live jam that would sometimes go on for two hours, musicians coming and going from the stage, and something that would prove a bit tricky to reproduce in a studio. It ended up being the entire second side of the Da Capo vinyl, retitled "Revelation." By all accounts, it is nowhere near the glory of what it started out as, with producer Paul Rothchild regularly blamed for restructuring its bits and pieces to create the final product. Even so, with "John Lee Hooker" lost to the ages, it's worth examining this piece of musical hubris for what it is, not for what it might have been in other people's memories. Like I said, this is a product of anything goes, and in some ways, "Revelation," clocking in at just under nineteen minutes, turned it into everything went. Even the title tells us to expect something. Whatever it is, it will be revealed. (Make it plural, and it becomes a reference to the end of everything. Biblical.)

Remember how Da Capo opened with the harpsichord on "Stephanie Knows Who"? So does "Revelation" begin. Again, it's a clash of the classic and the modern. Snoopy's noodling is reminiscent of the renaissance, but it is soon met by a blues guitar (early 20th century) and a skiffle beat (later 20th century). That's three ages of music in under a minute. At 1:25, the proceedings go into top gear, the pace speeding. The guitar gives itself over to chaos and random sounds, relentless picking as bells ring.

A minute later, we hear our first voice. (According to the liner notes, it's Echols, not Lee, doing the singing here; it's also the only song on the record with writing credits for all the band members.) The lyrics turn out to be one big come on: "So good...Get it on, Baby." Echols takes control as soon as he opens his pipes, dictating the pace of the sexual rhythm of the backing track. When he coos, the music does, too; when he escalates, the band escalates.

Lee joins on harmonica as we pass three minutes, moaning and thrusting through the appropriately nicknamed "mouth organ." At this point, the guitars take several steps back, maintaining a point position as an anchor wrapped up in blue, returning as a new, chiming instrument ninety seconds later. (Yes, I am mapping out the changes as "Revelation" plays; pen and paper in hand, stereo on.) This becomes the status quo until we reach the lucky 7th minute, when everything drops down, almost disappearing. Echols returns to the microphone, intoning "Everybody" over and over. "I said they need somebody to love, to love, to love...ALL THE TIME!" Is it an insistence? A lament? A pleading? From whispers to howls, "All the time I feel ALL RIGHT." Can we believe him?

Once again, Echols' voice eases the song back into sexual enticement, the up and down of his words mimicking the obvious connotation of my phrasing. In that sense, a climax is nearly reached at 8:50, as he bellows, "I wanna scream!," his vocal chords sounding as if they are rubbed raw--but before he does, he holds. It's only a momentary burst, he's got more to go. Delay brings pleasure. "I feel so good."

Ten minutes have passed and we're over halfway there. It's marked by an explosive, "YEAHHHHHH!" The music rises again, the tempo quickening, and it continues to rise and fall with more and more velocity, the lyrics and the instruments both starting to speak in gibberish. Minute eleven sneaks in a little French horn before the harmonica insists itself a second time, played high at first and then low, something akin to a cow braying. The horn holds back until around 13:00, bringing a buddy and striking out with a jazzy riff, dueling wind instruments twisting the melody of a snake charmer. Close your eyes and imagine this live at the Whisky A Go Go; see the rolling bodies, the sensual dance being acted out. It's all movement now, all physicality. There are no words.



Around here, I started to wonder who had done this first, Love or the Doors? A quick look makes it appear that "The End" emerged sometime in '66, as well, as it was August of that year that Morrison got his band fired from the Whisky for getting too dirty in a performance of that song--and it's no coincidence that it was Arthur Lee who had just gotten the Doors signed to Elektra. The reason I asked was because at 16:00, when the music of "Revelation" dipped back down, the bass taking over, the guitar reduced to a distant ring, I started to imagine Martin Sheen dancing to this in Apocalypse Now. Only this time his Vietnamese hooker is still in the room. Maybe Coppola and Bertolucci could have teamed up, made "Revelation" the soundtrack to mash-up of Apocalypse Now and Last Tango In Paris.

The rest of the instruments eventually halt, giving it all over to the drums. Michael Stuart doesn't attack his skins violently, yet he does play with a celebratory urgency. Where earlier Echols' guitar had succumbed to chaos, here Stuart captures that chaos and tames the unpredictable. And he does it for two solid minutes! He ends it all with the cymbals crashing at 18:17 before letting Snoopy come back on the harpsichord, and we have our true sense of Da Capo, right back to not just the beginning of the song, but the beginning of the entire record. Full circle. It's not a triumph of classicism, but a melding of everything. It's all the same: classical, blues, jazz, rock. It's the whole of music in nineteen minutes, it's copulation and emotion and dancing and man's frustration. You name it, it's in there.

"Revelation" is the revolution of Da Capo. It reaffirms Love's mission while tearing it down to start on a new patch of ground. Forever Changes would be next, but that title could have just as easily been applied to "Revelation," with its dense plot that took a twist at every corner. Just when you think you have a handle on it, it becomes something else.

It's hard to imagine any band getting away with this today. To sneak it by the critics, you'd already have to be considered off your head, such as when the Dandy Warhols did their "Fast Driving Rave-Up" on their first album, or Spiritualized's empiric "Cop Shoot Cop." But those bands were off the beaten path, they weren't necessarily making a major-label bid for mainstream success. Could you imagine Fall Out Boy returning with a new album that closes with a twenty minute track about sex and music? There's no ringtone to be had here.

Then again, that's also probably why Arthur Lee and Love pull it off. There is no precedent, no forethought. Nowhere do they accept even the possibility of failure. Da Capo as the life cycle of music, the band, the person: birth, death, birth.



#52 #51 #50 #49 #48 #47 #46 #45 #44 #43 #42 #41 #40 #39 #38 #37 #36 #35 #34 #33 #32 #31 #30 #29 #28



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Current Soundtrack: classic rock radio

Current Mood: indescribable

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[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2006 Jamie S. Rich

1 comment:

Richard said...

Jamie, thanks for this two-years-past but long overdue explication/defense of "Revelation." I never even began to figure this song out until, literally, last night. When some gear finally turned between my ears and I realized how much was actually taking place on the track I'd always treated as wallpaper. Your commentary assured me that I wasn't alone in my newfound appreciation. "Revelation" has gone down in history as a mistake, but once again Love was way ahead of us.