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Watch Arthur Lee perform ‘Everybody’s Gotta Live’ in 1990

Arthur Lee is responsible for this writer’s favourite album of all time. It boasts a series of baroque overtones, every orchestral passage laced in bucolic subtext, every guitar riff brimming with punk-like passion and energy. Lee’s songcraft spoke of a fading America, torn at the edges by war and worried generations witnessing the collapse of their values. 

With Love, Lee had the perfect outlet to exhibit his vignettes and unscrambled thoughts through a blinding collection of hooks, fills and detached chords. His work crossed race, gender and age, culminating in a work that pivoted between genre and generation. 

“People say I was a strict leader with Love,” he once reflected. “But a rhythm guitarist has no right to do anything but play rhythm guitar if that’s all he knows how to do. I write, produce, sing and play guitar, drums and piano, and I wouldn’t attempt to do anything I couldn’t cut. If you’re just a rhythm guitar player, don’t tell me what to put in my song”.

Lee and Love were synonymous with one another, as the backing group formed around their leader’s vision, completing his painting with a convoy of taut, thrilling hooks and bellowing drum patterns. Typically, Lee considered the arrangements his and his alone. 

“I have everyone’s part all planned out,” Lee elaborated. “Some people disagree with their parts. But I want what I wrote. And if there’s something wrong with that, then I’m strict. That’s why I’ve changed groups so many times. I try to get cats who want to participate in things I’ve written.”

He may have unintentionally invoked the caterwauling of a maudlin Andrew Lloyd Webber musical with his comment, but his work was bolstered by a group of talented musicians. Johnny Echols demonstrated fusion through his double-necked guitar, a model Jimmy Page would use for Led Zeppelin. At the same time, Bryan MacLean matched the effort of his leader through a selection of angelic harmonies and guitar histrionics. And then there was Michael Stuart-Ware, all bass drums and cymbals, who decorated those dream-like lyrics with a collection of immersive drum exhibitions, anchoring Lee’s idiosyncratic work with stealth that was hard-hitting and immensely listenable. 

Arthur Lee, the man who wrote one of the most essential albums of all time: ‘Forever Changes’

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By the time Love recorded their fourth album, Lee had opted to reboot the band, bringing an added dimension to the work that cemented his trajectory into the 1970s. Featuring the eminently lyrical ‘Always See Your Face’, Four Sail proved a more confessional affair to the album that had come before it, and Lee started imparting more of himself into the work that followed. And by the time he recorded Vindicator, his desire to record a solo album wasn’t just sensible marketeering but well-earned planning. 

Amidst these probing rockers and jazz-tinted elegies stood ‘Everybody’s Gotta Live’, a chiming acoustic number that made its way into his solo work, showing his commitment to educating the world in living as one voice. Love were one of the first bi-racial outfits, but their brilliance was in their exercises, wherein they rarely acknowledged the racial aspect. What audiences were watching were musicians, and the race didn’t make an impact on the songcraft. And why should it? 

Lee performed a more raucous version of ‘Everybody’s Gotta Live’ in 1990, pivoting focus onto the acoustic guitar. Caught in the immediacy of the work, the former frontman of Love created a more urgently crafted meditation on harmony in a world determined to bring buildings faster than the time it takes to set off a bomb. From the moment he plays those pulverising opening chords, Lee means business, pushing himself into the ferocity of the sentiment and his desire to present it to the world. 

From the blind man struggling to lace his shoes to the sunsets that faded behind the Los Angeles skylines, the singer exposes the beauty of the world in a series of damning strokes. Sunlight must always follow darkness, as a densely lit street must one day make way for a brighter, more beguiling crossroads where lovers part company and companies pay dividends to the customers they unintentionally wronged. Death, destruction, life, levity: there isn’t as much of a distinction between the properties, but in the way, they are perceived by the people enduring them. 

The composition remains one of Lee’s most evocative and impactful, growing in popularity like the canon it represented. Lee’s arguably more popular in death than he ever was during the course of his physical life, and through one of his more impressive choruses, he demonstrated the inhibitions of the planet through a collection of remarkable aphorisms. 

In 2019, the song underwent another change when it was used in Taika Waititi‘s Second World War drama Jojo Rabbit. Suddenly, the emotionally coiled lyric took on a new form, as audiences got to absolve themselves from the war that claimed 75 million lives.