The year of the Summer of Love, 1967 saw the release of several now-iconic rock and pop albums, among them "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" by the Beatles; Bob Dylan's "John Wesley Harding"; Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You"; the Jimi Hendrix Experience's "Are you Experienced?" and "Axis: Bold of Love": "Velvet Underground & Nico"; and "Forever Changes" by Love. "Forever Changes" was home to one of the great rock singles of the 60s and beyond: "Alone Again Or."
The album opener, "Alone Again Or" was composed by band member Bryan McLean, and not the group's most celebrated member Arthur Lee (who wrote every other song on the disk). McLean, who died in '98 at age 52, was born in Los Angeles, Love's home base. As a child, he lived next door to composer Frederick Loewe, who encouraged his interest in music. Later, he dated young Liza Minelli, became a roadie for the Byrds and tried out, in vain, for the Monkees. He joined Lee's band, which changed its name to Love in '65.
"Forever Changes" was the group's third album. It marked its zenith and its end: Crippled by internal strife, the band recorded it in fits and starts; at one point, Neil Young was scheduled to produce some sessions. Recording began in June '67, but ended abruptly. Sessions musicians were brought in. When the members reconvened, they cut the remainder of "Forever Changes" quickly, creating a psychedelic folk-rock masterpiece with strings and intriguing vocal harmonies. It turns up regularly on lists of best-ever rock albums.
"Alone Again Or" opens with a knotty folk-guitar figure. As the voices enter, the strings stir as if awakened. Mariachi brass blares, then fades as the song seems to restart. With the weighty sincerity of the folk-based music of the time, McLean sings, "I could be in love with almost everyone/I think people are the greatest fun." A single trumpet takes a mighty solo, with the string section, arranged by Lee, rising underneath. Again, all drop out but the folk guitar. After three-minutes and seventeen seconds, the joyous, troubling, curious bit of magic ends.
"Alone Again Or" seems to have a special place in the hearts of many young musicians. Calexico and Nicolai Dunger recorded a faithful version together, and other artists who covered it include the classically trained Sarah Brightman, the goth-rock band the Damned, alt-rockers the Boo Radleys, and the power pop duo Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs. The original tops them all.
Do you remember "Alone Again Or"? If not, give yourself a treat: Go to Spotify, the iTunes store or some such and revel in its splendor. Without precedent, it really is magnificent.
What are some of the other songs you recall from the Summer of Love? Are they still among your favorites?