365 Days of Songs (1967)
Love: "You Set the Scene"
There are a lot of songs I could write about on Forever Changes, but for me it’s a toss-up between this song—the album’s closer—and “Alone Again Or,” which opens the record. “Alone Again Or” has been done to death, relatively speaking—go listen to the original, or amazing covers by The Damned and Calexico.
I love “You Set the Scene” because it’s one of the great true closing statements, musically and lyrically, on any record. It’s expansive but not grandiose; it has big lyrical ideas, but they’re out across with powerful directness. It’s serious and playful; it’s epic and intimate. (If it sounds like Arthur Lee felt a need to sum up things, consider that he was convinced, at age 22, that he was going to die soon.)
I try not to focus too much on lyrics when I analyze music, because great lyrics only carry the day as far as their melody, song structure, and arrangement can take them. (Keep an eye out, because in a couple of days I'll be posting about a classic song with stupendously nonsensical lyrics.) But this record is full of great lyrics, and one line from this song stands out: “For everyone who thinks that life is just a game, do you like the part you’re playing?”
One of the all-time album closers on one of the all-time great records. Yes, I’m linking to it here, but honestly, you should just listen to Forever Changes. It’s not only a classic, but it’s really the best way to hear this song for the first time—as the exclamation point at the end of one of pop music’s greatest statements.