Forever Changes – Deluxe Edition
4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
To quote Marty Balin, lead vocalist for the Jefferson Airplane/Starship, “’67 was heaven.” A generation of young musicians was asking questions about life and love in their music. The Beatles had launched the era of self-examination with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” their latest in a long line of masterpieces; Traffic, with wunderkind Steve Winwood, had made their debut with the eclectic “Mr. Fantasy;” Cream had revved up their image with “Disraeli Gears;” and the Lizard King’s mojo was rising with the release of The Doors’ first L.P. In San Francisco, a group of pessimists with the ironic name of “Love” was preparing to record their third and best known album, “Forever Changes,” a balance of flower power beauty and ominous dread.
Forty-one years later, listening to the acoustic/orchestral flavor of “Forever Changes” will still make you believe in magic. I recently stated in a review that some albums singled out for the deluxe 2CD treatment don’t deserve the attention. Ten hut! The deluxe edition of “Forever Changes” released by Rhino Records is a fitting tribute to an album that can still awe and inspire. It’s a reminder that the 60s wasn’t just bad acid, beads, and bongs; there were artists who’d lowered their rose colored glasses and were examining an unpopular war, racial injustice and sketchy politicians (sound familiar?).
At the center of Love’s universe was enigmatic guitarist/vocalist/composer Arthur Lee. Lee was one of the first black musicians to front a rock band, releasing the group’s self-titled album in 1966. (Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Miles and Jon Butcher would follow in Lee’s wake.) Lee’s writing foil was Bryan Maclean, a fragile and immensely talented guitarist. The rest if the band was comprised of lead guitarist Johnny Echols (the west coast Hendrix), bassist Ken Forssi and drummer Alban “Snoopy” Pfisterer. For the jazz/classical sound of “De Capo,” the group’s second platter, Lee added Tjay Cantrelli on sax and flute, brought in drummer Michael Stuart and sent “Snoopy” to the doghouse, where he played harpsichord. (Cantrelli and Snoopy were axed before “Forever Changes.”)
Lee should have had the L.A. music scene by its collective cujones. Love’s self-titled first album (with an amphetamine-paced version of Bacharach and David’s “My Little Red Book”), had put Elektra on the map, and it was Lee who suggested producers Paul Rothschild and Bruce Botnik check out a group called The Doors. “Da Capo” was an overstep (I have to say it, it was “Da Crapo”), but still yielded a top 40 single in “7 & 7 Is.” The album’s sales were curtailed by the ambitious “Revelation,” which took up the entire second side of the album and at best was categorized as being over indulgent. It didn’t help the group’s fortunes that Lee hated to tour, retarding Love’s national and international recognition.
Lee composed the projected songs for “Forever Changes” on acoustic guitar out of necessity. The other members of Love were too busy enjoying the trappings of fame to bother making music. Processed of a sarcastic and caustic personality, as well as being chronically impatient, Lee decided to use studio musicians after listening to Maclean and Echols struggle through four seriously out of tune takes. Ironically, it was Echols who’d taught his life long friend Lee how to play the guitar – now Lee was telling him he couldn’t cut it. The group was relegated to the status of consultants on their own album as famed session bassist Carol Kaye, superstar drummer Jim Gordon and other rock luminaries took a stab at playing out Lee’s ideas. Realizing their jobs and paychecks were in jeopardy, Stuart, Forssi and Echols quickly wised up, sobered up, and reclaimed their positions.
By producer Botnick’s estimate, “Forever Changes” cost a mere $3,000 to make and was completed in a marginal number of sessions over a four month period, including two dates for the orchestra. It was released in November 1967.
What separated “Forever Changes” from Love’s previous albums was its sophisticated orchestration, which made it sound as if it had been crafted by years of concentrated deep thought, rather than constructed from a handful of ramshackle sessions. Bryan Maclean’s flamenco-flavored “Alone Again Or,” remains the album’s most recognizable cut. According to Maclean, the lead track was a fortuitous mistake. Maclean said in an interview after leaving the group that the album version was far different from what he’d envisioned. Lee and drummer Stuart sang harmony to McLean’s lead vocal. But Lee felt Maclean’s performance was weak, so without consulting Maclean, Lee and Botnick mixed Lee’s vocal upfront, burying Maclean and Stuart in the mix. The shimmying strings of the Los Angels Philharmonic Orchestra build the song’s tension, blending with the peaking horns: “Yeah, I said that it’s all right, I won’t forget, all the times I’ve waited patiently for you, and you’ll chose just what you chose to do, and I will be alone again tonight my dear.” “Alone Again Or” contains the best toreador trumpet solo you’ll ever hear this side of Procol Harum’s “Conquistador.”
“A House Is Not A Motel” has Byrds-like acoustic beginning picked up by Stuart’s drummer boy beat and cymbal splashing. The gloves are off. This has none of the positive pabulum associated with the time. Echols goes riff happy near the end, letting out a shrieking solo that’d scare Pete Townsend and his gggg-generation. “A House Is Not A Motel” is a bitter taste of Lee the revolutionary, the pessimist. Life is pain: “By the time that I’m through singing, the bells from the schools of walls will be ringing. More confusions, blood transfusions. The news today will be the movies for tomorrow, and if the water’s turned to blood, and if you don’t think so, go turn on your tub. And if it’s mixed with mud, you’ll see it turn to gray. And you can call my name. I hear you call my name.”
“…And you feel your heart beating bum…bum…bum…bum,” croons Lee, and the sweet strings gently bounce in response in “Andmoreagain,” proving the bellicose headmaster had a soft side and a way with San Francisco baroque n’ roll. The title is a cute play on words – when Lee’s singing about the woman he loves, his phrasing makes it sound as if he’s saying “Ann Morgan.” “Andmoreagain” is one of Lee’s more sentimental moments, dark, but regal, like Lancelot attempt to woo the married Guinnevere, knowing their forbidden love will condemn both of them. “And if you see andmoreagain then you might be andmoreagain for you just wish and it will appear…”
“The Daily Planet” is unadorned Love without the string section cushion, an electric workout with Lee, Echols and Maclean in six-string overdrive. More dated than the other songs, this has little to offer except a gentle middle eight. This is Lee at his most verbose -- and he could be as difficult to understand as Timothy Leary on Four-Way Windowpane. Stuart’s timekeeping packs a wallop, but Lee messes this up with too many lysergic images that melt together.
You can sense Bryan Maclean’s insecurity in his hesitant, shy vocal for “Old Man,” the second song he penned for the album. By now Lee was aware that Maclean was every bit the songwriter he was. A loner seldom embraces a perceived threat, and rather than encourage Maclean, Lee pulled a Stalin, giving Maclean just enough crumbs to feed his creative appetite. Flexing his leadership muscles, Lee told the guitarist he would only be allowed to showcase two songs per album. Maclean picked two of his finest for “Forever Changes.” Maclean sings “Old Man” like Lee would, with a trembly delivery. He mews a bit more, but it’s easy to understand how he and Lee blended together so well on harmonies. The strings, Forssi’s bold bass lead and the concert piano give this short story an “Eleanor Rigby” elegance.
“The Red Telephone” is “Alone Again Or” with the flamenco drained from it. It’s as close to a boldface protest song as Lee gets on the album. The strings slip and slide like a supernatural roller coaster ride: “They’re locking them up today they’re throwing away the key, I wonder who it will be tomorrow, you or me.”
Don’t be fooled by the elongated title “Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark and Hilldale,” its one of the album’s highlights, a crisp, a thumping mariachi rocker with a regiment of horns, sharp acoustic accompaniment, and a trumpet solo that owes a lot to Herb Alpert (who Botnick was producing at the time). Lee does something bold and unusual – often stopping the lyrics in mid sentence and continuing them in the next line. “And here they always play my songs, and me I wonder if it’s….Wrong or right they come her just the same. Tellin’ everyone about their games, and if you think it’s obsolete, than you go back across the…street.”
One of the best songs (“Maybe the People…”) is followed by the albums outright death trap, “Live and Let Live,” which opens with the lines, “Oh, the snot has caked against my pants, it has turned into crystal. There’s a bluebird on my branch, I guess I’ll take my pistol.” A very literal composer, Lee passed out in the studio, slobbering on himself. When he woke up he noticed his spittle had crystallized on his jeans, so he decided to write about it. Guess he also wanted to blast a bird too. Ah, sweet inspiration. He was so impressed with the image he repeated it in the last verse – which he really didn’t need to do. The snot line proceeded Jetho Tull’s more palatable (is that possible?) “Snot is running down his nose” lyric in “Aqualung” by four years. The strings are missing again, which might have reined this twisted mess in. Nice to hear Echols let loose until you realize he was an assassin on the guitar. “Live and Let Live” is the brown acid you were always warned about -- A bad trip, man.
A romantic close sister to “Andmoreagain,” “The Good Humor Man” has sunny horns and angelic, plucked strings. A stuttering blast of horns at the song’s conclusion, sharper than electric current tripping a circuit, will leave you checking to see if the CD is skipping, but that’s the way Lee planned it. He couldn’t create something pretty without giving it dark undercurrent.
The title for the very wordy, topsy turvy “Bummer in the Summer,” is on target. Echols country-rock solo is straight from the Buffalo Springfield’s “Go and Say Goodbye,” but at least he follows the song’s intended melody, instead of venturing down unsafe and unlistenable psychedelic sonic side roads. “I ain’t got no papers on you. I ain’t got no papers on myself.” That’s right, Artie, you don’t. Apparently ’67 wasn’t heaven for Mr. Lee.
You wouldn’t know it from listening to the finished product, but “You Set the Scene,” the album’s majestic closing number, was stitched together using unfinished snippets. It’s California Camelot. The cellos tremble reverently during the verses, and the horns prance smartly during the chorus. The effect is simultaneously chilling, exhilarating and haunting. Lee’s lyrics present a paradox that asks the listener to take a close look at themselves: “Where are you walking I’ve seen you walking, have you been there before. Walk down your doorsteps, you’ll take some more steps, what are you walking for?” “You Set the Scene” is one of the most poignant closing numbers you’ll ever hear.
The album has been reissued in increasing increments. In 2001, it was re-released with seven outtakes. Now you get an alternative mix of the album, outtakes, backing tracks and studio highlights in which you can hear Lee’s dripping sarcasm. Altogether there’s 77 more minutes of Love to love…And yes, the band’s hazy version of Sam the Sham’s “Wooly Bully” has to be heard to be believed.
An acoustic, instrumental version of “The Good Humor Man…,” “Hummingbirds” has the finished version’s vitality. Lee concludes with, “I just had a groovy idea. The best idea of the day.” We don’t find out what it is -- probably to set some horns and strings to this! Maybe come up with some lyrics? Did he say groovy? Yeah he did. (Bryan Maclean once said Lee talked like a jazz musician, virtually in parables. Groovy would have actually been rather tame for him.)
With horn charts a bit like Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual,” “Wonder People (I Do Wonder)” is breezy and hip. It’s a bit too upbeat for “Forever Changes” weary view of the world, as evidenced by Lee’s psychedelically sappy “la, la, la” chorus, but it’s a fully realized period piece.
You also get “Take 22” of “Your Mind and We Belong Together” which after an out of the box bad chord quickly becomes “Take 23”, 24, 25, 26 etc…” Echols is having a bad day. “C’mon Echols, you’re playing too hard on the strings,” Lee admonishes. “Listen Echols, I don’t understand how you can stay in one range through the whole thing. You’re the one who says you can blow in the studio, man.” You feel for these guys by the time they get to take 36, but it’s not hard to understand why Lee bounced the whole band after this album, especially Echols, who’s showy, but as Lee suggests, transparent. The finished product is an improvement, but it’s hardly worth effort.
During the period the album was recorded, Lee couldn’t shake the feeling he was going to die by the age of 26. He was 22 when he wrote the material for “Forever Changes.” It was his career, not his life that was virtually over by time he hit his target date. He managed one more notable album, 1969’s “Four Sale” (3 ½ out of 5 stars) with an entirely new band. Soon after, inertia, drug and alcohol addiction, and several gun charges had left Lee an embittered, paranoid shell. He was nabbed on a gun charge in 1996, and served six years. Sober and focused upon his release, he managed to stage a comeback in 2001, performing “Forever Changes” live in its entirety to appreciative crowds on the west coast and in England.
“Forever Changes” is by no means a masterpiece – the snot line takes care of that. It’s not a classic of the love generation along the lines of (insert your favorite psychedelic masterpiece here…), but it does contain at least half a dozen of Lee’s best songs, “Alone Again Or,” “Andmoreagain,” “Between Clark and Hilldale…,” “You Set the Scene,” “The Red Telephone,” and “The Good Humor Man.”
Listening to the expanded edition of Love’s classic third album will leave you forever changed. You’ll definitely to play it Andmoreagain. So pick up “Forever Changes,” and feel the love.