If you spent the weekend diving deep into Mac Miller’s posthumous album ‘Circles’ – and what better way to spend a bleak 48 hours in January tbqh – then you will have heard the piano-led ‘Everybody’, with its pathos-packed “Everybody’s gotta live/And everybody’s gonna die” refrain. The record’s only cover version, it’s Mac’s largely faithful take on ‘Everybody’s Gotta Live’, which first featured on Arthur Lee’s 1972 debut solo album, ‘Vindicator’, but just who is Lee?
Only one of the greatest songwriters of all time. In 1965 the charismatic but notoriously difficult Memphis-born Lee joined forces with Byrds roadie Bryan MacLean and formed the band Love in Los Angeles. Sometimes the best band names are the easiest ones, right? The folksy rockers released their debut album the following year but it was 1967’s outstanding ‘Forever Changes’ that really set them apart. Though it didn’t quite get the rabid recognition it deserved until a few years later, it’s now considered one of the best records of all time; a sumptuous, psychedelic wonderland that influenced everyone from The Libertines to Tame Impala. We ranked it at a pretty decent 37 in NME’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2013. And it wasn’t just us, in 2002, Lee visited the House Of Commons in London, after British Members Of Parliament voted ‘Forever Changes’ the greatest album of all time and Love “the world’s greatest rock band” in a motion proposed by Labour backbencher Peter Bradley MP. So it’s official, then. Legally binding, in fact.
Calling himself “the first black hippie”, Lee’s role heading up a multi-racial rock band only a few years after the end of segregation in the US was a powerful, pivotal thing. So was his cross-genre sound. “I wanted to put so-called symphony orchestrated riffs in with hard rock, blues, funky, spunky boogies. I don’t have any favourite types of music. I think I’m capable of doing just about everything I’ve heard. I want to blend all of those things I’ve heard,” he said.
Yet it wasn’t all plain sailing; Lee’s heroin addiction was a major factor in the band’s destruction and when they should have been at the height of their powers, the group collapsed. A 1972 NME interview with Lee explained things further, with the journalist Danny Holloway writing: “Arthur was supposedly a pain in the ass to his record companies, too. Always demanding money and blowing it, and returning for more.”
Lee remained the only original member of the band and Love went on to release further albums of varying quality, but all of them shot through with personality, soul and spirit, showcasing the dark underbelly of the hippy dream. Following his solo debut he cobbled together another version of the band to release the final Love album, ‘Reel To Real’, in 1974 which featured another version of ‘Everybody’s Gotta Live’.
Lee essentially checked out of the late 1970s and 1980s, but returned to music in 1992 with a new solo album and a slot supporting Liverpool indie heroes Shack, who idolised the singer and took him on tour across Europe. However, Lee’s revival hit another problem when, in 1995, he was imprisoned for six years for firearms offences.
On his release in 2001 he was a man reborn; while inside he’d found god and came out of jail with a new purpose. Touring as Love with Arthur Lee he played prestigious venues like the Royal Albert Hall to rave reviews and, in 2004, won NME’s Living Legend gong at the NME Awards.
After cancelling his 2005 tour with no explanation, Lee died the following year at age 61, revealing a private diagnosis of leukaemia. But thanks to Miller’s heartfelt cover, Lee’s music is still reaching out to new generations. That’s the power of Love.