DiscoverA History of Rock Music in 500 SongsEpisode 161: “Alone Again Or” by Love
Episode 161: “Alone Again Or” by Love

Episode 161: “Alone Again Or” by Love

Update: 2023-01-13


Episode one hundred and sixty-one of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Alone Again Or", the career of Love, and the making of Forever Changes. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.

Patreon backers also have a twenty-minute bonus episode available, on "Susan" by the Buckinghams

Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at and


I refer to Bach's Partita No. 1 in B-flat minor in the episode. It's actually in B-flat major, but Amazon wrongly tagged the MP3 copy of Glenn Gould playing Bach's Partitas that I bought from them.


As usual, I have created Mixcloud mixes of all the songs excerpted in the episode. This episode's mixes are in two parts -- part one and part two.

My main source for the episode is Forever Changes: Arthur Lee and the Book of Love by John Einarson, and I also referred a lot to Arthur Lee: Alone Again Or by Barney Hoskyns.

I also referred to Pegasus Epitaph: The Story of the Legendary Rock Group Love , the autobiography of Michael Stuart Ware, and to the 33 1/3 book on Forever Changes. 

This documentary is a very good look at Love's career.

And this double-CD contains almost every track anyone other than a serious completist could want by Love. It has Forever Changes in its entirety, plus eleven of the fourteen tracks from the first album, every track except "Revelation" from Da Capo, both sides of the "Your Mind and We Belong Together"/"Laughing Stock" single, the non-album B-side "Number 14", and five of the better tracks from the second version of Love.


This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?


Before I start, I should just say that this episode involves some discussion of drug addiction, mental illness, and racism.

In this episode and the next one, we're taking what is almost our final look at the LA pop music scene of the sixties. The story over the last ten episodes or so has been about how the Monterey Pop Festival precipitated an end to LA's dominance in music on the West Coast of the US, and how it was replaced by San Francisco. There will of course be LA artists turning up over the next thirty-odd episodes, especially as we see the Laurel Canyon scene, which is a separate but connected thing to the pop scene, take off towards the end of the sixties.

We haven't seen the last of several of the artists from LA we've already looked at, but here and in the next episode we're going to look at the last gasps of the scene that had built up around Sunset Strip and the Hollywood recording studios, the one that encompassed proto-punk garage rock, jangly folk-rock, and modern jazz style harmonies. The influence of that scene would reverberate for decades to come, but the scene itself was largely at an end by the middle of 1967.

This episode is an unusual one in some respects, because we're looking at a band who we *have* seen previously, but who haven't had an episode to themselves. Normally, when we've seen a band before, I'd just do a "when we last saw X" intro, but while about half an hour in the middle of the episode on "Hey Joe" was devoted to Love, and to how the band formed, we left the group before they'd even made their first album, and the story was being told in the context specifically of their relationship with that song.

So I'm going to do a brief recap of what we covered there, so some of this may sound a little familiar to you. It'll be a much briefer version of the story than I told there, but will include different details.

The core of the band that became Love was two Black men born in Memphis, Arthur Lee and Johnny Echols. Both had been neighbours in their very early childhood, but Lee's family had moved away to LA when he was small. But then Echols' family had also happened to move to LA, and the two had reconnected when Lee was seven and Echols was eight.

They both grew up surrounded by musicians -- Echols was neighbours with Ray Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, and Ornette Coleman, and Adolphus Jacobs of the Coasters taught him guitar, while Lee was one of the kids who Johnny Otis involved in his pigeon-breeding club -- leading to a lifelong love of the hobby in Lee's case.

Echols formed a group as a teenager, and when Lee joined it was renamed "Arthur Lee and the LAGs" in homage to Booker T and the MGs. Lee would say later "I was playing the organ at these gigs. Johnny Echols was playing the guitar and he was playing some of the best R&B guitar I ever heard. Not only was the playing the best but he was upstaging all the other guitar players in town, too. Johnny was playing behind his back, through his legs, behind his head, and even with his teeth. Talk about putting on a show … and this was before Jimi Hendrix made it big doing all that [and here Lee used an expletive]. That was Mr. Echols, the man with the guitar. I really did admire him."

The LAGs released one single, "Rumble Still-Skins":

[Excerpt: The LAGs, "Rumble-Still-Skins"]

After that, Lee and Echols started to work a lot of sessions for small record labels. Lee would write and produce, while Echols played guitar -- though Echols has claimed later that he deserves a co-writing credit on many of the tracks. They would produce pastiches of Phil Spector hits, and of records by Curtis Mayfield, one of Lee's idols, like this track by Rosa Lee Brooks:

[Excerpt: Rosa Lee Brooks, "My Diary"]

The Mayfield impression on guitar there is by Jimi Hendrix, and the track is often claimed as the first Hendrix ever played on, though that's disputed and there's good reason to believe he played on a few before that.

Then Echols was taken by their schoolfriend Billy Preston, with whom he would sometimes play gigs, to see a show at the Hollywood Bowl by a band Preston had got to know in Germany:

[Excerpt: The Beatles, "She Loves You (live at the Hollywood Bowl 1964)"]

Within a few days, Echols and Lee had bought themselves wigs to make themselves look like they had long hair, and formed a new band with a white rhythm section, who were variously called the Weirdos and the American Four. Instead of trying to sing R&B, Lee was now trying to sing in the style of white singers, especially Mick Jagger, originally as a joke, but as he later said “What started out as a put-on materialized as something real and positive.”

The American Four also put out one single, which very much wore its influences on its sleeve:

[Excerpt: The American Four, "Luci Baines"]

At this point the group consisted of Lee and Echols on guitars and vocals, John Fleckenstein on bass, and Don Conka on drums. Incidentally, pretty much every book on the group spells Conka's name C-o-n-k-a, but I recently read an online article about him which stated that his name was spelled C-o-n-c-a, and that it has been persistently misspelled over the decades because Lee spelled it wrong and nobody ever checked with Conka.  As Conka's now dead and this is just something I've seen on a single website, with no way to check either way, I've spelled his name the standard way in the transcript of this episode, but thought it worth noting.

Lee was never a very good guitarist -- he'd started out on keyboards and only learned the rudiments of guitar -- and they decided that they needed to let him just be the frontman, and get in a second guitarist, copying the lineup of the Rolling Stones, and also of the Byrds, whose style the group had now decided to emulate. They also changed their name, this time to the Grass Roots.

This change in style was partly because there was another multiracial band on the scene doing Stones-type material, and rather than compete with the Rising Sons they wanted to stand out, but also because the Byrds had a large crowd of followers who would attend all their gigs, the same crowd of hipsters led by Franzoni and Vito who also followed the Mothers of Invention, and it would be a good idea to appeal to a devoted fanbase like that.

Lee also thought they needed a good-looking white man up front, and so they decided to get in someone from the circle around Vito and Franzoni. Initially they got in a good-looking young man who Lee quickly nicknamed "Bummer Bob", but Bobby Beausoleil was soon out of the band, and instead they got in Bryan MacLean, a former roadie for the Byrds who had been performing a bit with people like Taj Mahal. MacLean had a bit of a reputation as a spoiled brat -- he was from a very privileged background, and for example Liza Minnelli was his childhood girlfriend -- but he was also a good rhythm guitarist and singer, he looked a little like Brian Jones, he was a talented songwriter, though his writing was always more inspired by show tunes than by the music the rest of the band were playing, and he was friends with the whole Vito and Franzoni crowd, and he could get them to come along to the group's shows.

The new group were soon the hottest thing on the Sunset Strip scene, and started looking around for a record deal. They record
Comments (1)

James Savery

That was a great episode. I always loved that album and the story around it is a great one.

Jan 31st








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Episode 161: “Alone Again Or” by Love

Episode 161: “Alone Again Or” by Love

Andrew Hickey