It’s no wonder that a few classics got lost amidst all that activity—such as Love’s Forever Changes, which undoubtedly also suffered from group leader Arthur Lee’s refusal to perform at the Monterey International Pop Festival in July of 1967 or to tour to promote the album, which came out on November 1. Half a century later, at any rate, Forever Changes remains one of the most memorable records of the entire rock era. Like, for example, Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, it seems to occupy a world of its own and is not particularly reminiscent of anything else from its time. Moreover, it feels just as fresh today as it did upon its release.
The first rock group ever signed to the Elektra label—which had previously been known for first-rate folk acts like Tom Paxton, Tim Buckley, and Tom Rush—Love showed promise from the start. Their eponymous debut and its follow-up, Da Capo, both from 1966, include essential music; but it is with Forever Changes, their third album and the last with the original lineup, that they hit the ball out of the park.
The record represents one of the best blends of folk and rock up to that point and is also notable for its brilliant use of strings and sparing but extremely effective south-of-the-border horn arrangements. Moreover, the songs—nine by Lee plus two by guitarist Bryan MacLean, including the classic “Alone Again Or”—feature complex, absorbing melodies and intriguing lyrics that sound as engaging after a hundred listens as they do the first time around.
The participation of studio pros from L.A.’s so-called Wrecking Crew reportedly inspired Arthur Lee’s cohorts to do their best work.
Lee’s verses could be cryptic, to put it mildly. He did throw in occasional lines that made sense and reflected the times, such as “The news today will be the movies for tomorrow” and “They’re locking them up today, they’re throwing away the key / I wonder who it’ll be tomorrow, you or me?” More often, though, Lee’s impressionistic lyrics sound like the result of an LSD trip: “At my house I’ve got no shackles / You can come and look if you want to / In the halls you’ll see the mantles / Where the light shines dim all around you / And the streets are paved with gold / And if someone asks you, you can call my name.” No, I don’t know what he’s driving at here but the vocal and guitar-based music are delivered with such urgency that these lines have become imprinted in my brain; I didn’t have to look them up to write them down.
Bruce Botnick, who produced the album with Lee, apparently deserves much credit for its success. Botnick, who engineered Love’s first two albums and also worked with Buffalo Springfield, brought in session musicians from L.A.’s famous so-called Wrecking Crew. (He also tried to bring in Neil Young, who apparently wound up playing little or no role.) Forever Changes’ “And More Again” and “The Daily Planet” feature the Crew’s Carol Kaye on bass guitar, Don Randi on keyboards, Billy Strange on electric rhythm guitar, and Hal Blaine on drums. Randi also adds piano on “Old Man” and “Bummer in the Summer” and plays harpsichord on “The Red Telephone.” The participation of these pros reportedly inspired Arthur Lee’s cohorts to do their best work on the remaining tracks.
The handsomely packaged Forever Changes: 50th Anniversary Edition (a release limited to 15,000 numbered copies) does justice to this classic recording. The package devotes two of its four CDs to excellent remasters of the original stereo and mono albums. (I often find mono mixes superfluous but given the importance of the music and the extent of the differences between the two mixes here, I appreciate having both.) A third disc offers alternate stereo mixes of the original LP and “Wonder People (I Do Wonder),” an outtake from the session, while a fourth CD collects 14 related recordings, among them the single versions of “Alone Again Or” and “A House Is Not a Motel”; a cover of Sam the Sham’s “Wooly Bully” from the sessions; a demo called “Hummingbirds” that evolved into “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This”; and backing tracks for “A House Is Not a Motel,” “Live and Let Live,” and “Wonder People (I Do Wonder).”
The package also includes the original album on vinyl and a DVD that features a high-resolution version of Forever Changes plus a rare video of “Your Mind and We Belong Together,” a period single. An LP-sized 16-page booklet presents detailed notes about how the record came to be, track-by-track notes, and session credits.
For longtime fans, this should add up to a perfect package. For newbies, it will be a revelation.
P.S. After spending some time with the Forever Changes box, you’re going to want more. Start with the group’s self-titled, endlessly playable debut, plus Da Capo, which contains a self-indulgent 18-minute jam but also half a dozen instant classics; and the excellent Four Sail. Then move on to The Forever Changes Concert (both CD and DVD), Complete Forever Changes Live, and Coming Through to You: The Live Recordings (1970-2004). If you’re not a serious fan after all of this, you may need to see an audiologist. Here’s a taste of The Forever Changes Concert, featuring Lee and new accompanists, which was released around 2003: