Thursday, March 15, 2007

Love - Reel To Real Again

I don't usually post on the same album twice, but I wanted to follow up briefly on my previous post about Love's 1974 album, Reel To Real. In that post I focused mostly on my own initial negative reaction to the album and how differently I reacted to it upon hearing it again. Some of the questions that this album raises for me are central to what I think I am trying to accomplish with this blog in general: Why do we like certain kinds of music and not others, and why do our preferences change over time? Why do certain albums achieve "classic" status and remain in print for years, while others are discarded and forgotten almost immediately? Is there anything worth recovering in the things we have discarded? How does music affect our memory of the past, and how does our memory of the past affect the way we listen to music? Of course none of these questions have definitive answers, I see them as merely jumping off points for discussion.

In writing my original post I had to consider the possibility that my judgment might be clouded by the fact that I paid a lot of money to obtain the album. I think on the whole I assessed it as honestly as I could, and I stand by that assessment completely. I have been listening to the album regularly for the past couple of weeks. I've enjoyed it, and so have my wife and son. While I do not believe that Reel To Real is a consistently great album like Forever Changes, I do think it is pretty good with some excellent tracks. It is also far, far better than its critical reputation suggests. It sounds like what could have been an exciting, and potentially commercially successful, direction for Arthur Lee. Unfortunately that was not to be; the album tanked commercially and within two years of its release he was earning his living painting houses with his father-in-law. It would be six years before he released another album, and he would never again record for a major label.

So just how bad is Reel To Real's critical reputation? In short, to the extent that it is not forgotten completely, very bad. Colin Larkin, editor of The Encyclopedia of Popular Music lists Reel To Real as one of the 80 or so worst albums of all time, in the company of The Country Side of Pat Boone, Merry Christmas With The Smurfs, Telly Savalas' Telly, a Milli Vanilli remix album, and LaToya Jackson's From Nashville To You. Of course Colin Larkin has as much a right to his opinion as I do to mine, but I would strongly argue that the album does not belong in company like that, and that the negative critical reactions to the album are colored by preconceptions about what a Love album is supposed to sound like and not by the music itself.


Anonymous said...


A few years back, The Jayhawks released a record called "Smile." It was obviously an attempt to both broaden their sound and, more importantly, their audience. Produced by Bob Ezrin (!), the record was a straight-ahead, 70s AM Pop-style rocker with mild country tinges. Some of the songs would not sound out of place alongside numbers by The Dixie Chicks, Tom Petty or John Mayer. I think "Smile" is absolutely fantastic and I wonder why it didn't sell platinum (or, at least, gold.)

When this opinion is presented to die-hard Jayhawks fans, they often become agitated. Some will even suggest that folks listen to the band's "other, better" records to get an idea of what their sound is "really like." I have not had this experience, myself, but good friends who also champion "Smile" have. Man, that's cold.

Some people just have it in their heads what they want albums to sound like before they even listen to them. We've all done it, but some people will always do it. The size of the gulf between the preconceived notion and the actual sound determines whether the disc is a failure or a success.

"Loaded," by The Velvet Underground, is another good example.

Keep writing, Pete.

Pete Bilderback said...

I love The Jayhawks Smile, and IMO has some of their best songs: "Somewhere in Ohio," "Mr. Wilson," "In My Wildest Dreams," "Better Days," etc. Ezrin did a great job. As wonderful as Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass are, I think it would be boring to make the same record over and over again.

gongmaison said...

Thanks a lot for sharing these tracks : the self-titled Arthur Lee lp from 1981 & the Love "Reel to Real" lp from 1975 seems really impossible to find so if you want to share more tracks, please do it !!!

marsIANin said...

May be it is too difficult but can you make a lossless rip from this vinyl? It is still not avialiable on CD...(((

Pete Bilderback said...

Hi, sorry, I do not post entire albums or lossless audio.