Love's "Forever Changes" Finally Gets Long Deserved First Class Vinyl Reissue
Before being incarcerated Lee had resurrected his moribund career by teaming with a talented group called Baby Lemonade (named for a Syd Barrett song) much as had Brian Wilson with The Wondermints. Once out of prison, Lee took up where he left off, touring the world as Arthur Lee and Love.
Back in 1967 when Forever Changes was first released, Love did not perform the horn and string accented album live. It would have been difficult given the technical limitations of the day, the expenses and perhaps the musical difficulties involved.
The record was way ahead of its time thematically. Musically it is singular. It only got to #154 on the Billboard charts. Its recognition as one of the greatest albums of its time would come much later.
By 2003 Lee was ready to perform Forever Changes live. He hired the required horn and string sections and Lee, with Baby Lemonade, began performing the album in its entirely in the UK, where the album had been much better received when first issued.
If you know this magical record, you don't need a sales job from me, but if you don't, I wish I could play just the opening few minutes of the CD release of The Forever Changes Concert recorded at The Royal Festival Hall in 2003. Upon hearing the first few notes of the opening tune, the late Bryan MacLean's "Alone Together Or" the audience goes berserk—not with wild recognition, but with almost rapturous need. You have to hear it to understand, unless you already are a fan of the album. In that case you understand.
Lee's live appearances during the '80s and '90s were wildly uneven so when the tour hit New York City, headlining Town Hall with The Zombies, a friend and I went, not expecting much but just wanting to see Lee in the flesh.
The Zombies were okay on the hits but the breathy toned, much under-appreciated Colin Blunstone came off "lounge-y" slick and Rod Argent fiercely overplayed throughout. When they exited the stage it was a relief, though the hits were played spot-on.
Lee hit the stage to overwhelming, appreciative applause and when the ensemble played the first few notes of "Alone Again Or" the crowd's reaction was similar to that on the CD, though of course at the time I'd not heard it because it hadn't yet been released. When the song was over, I said to my friend "If the concert ended right now, I feel I've gotten my money's worth." He agreed. The rest of the concert was equally stupendous.
More than "Sgt. Peppers..." or any album from that era, Forever Changes doesn't just "hold up," it gains stature with every play. It's a record that weaves its magic every listen. You can play it, be mesmerized, and then immediately play it again and be equally mesmerized all over again as new facets take hold.
While the album has been called "psychedelic" that's not quite accurate. Overtly, the album is anything but. The psychedelia is more implied; more in an underlying mood aided by the studio setting created by producers Lee and Bruce Botnick. That the album doesn't scream "psychedelic" is part of the reason it has not only not dated but has grown in stature.
Musically, the album almost defies categorization. It's part Mexican Mariachi band/Tijuana Brass, part baroque, part Spanish classical, part epic soundtrack and only a very small part "rock". Lyrically Lee was singing to a great degree about his coming apart personally, but through that he predicts the disintegration of the hippie fantasy then in full flower during the "Summer of Love." That's why the somewhat dark, foreboding album could not possibly succeed when originally issued. The issues of race (Lee was a black rocker before Jimi) and justice lurk in the background throughout and only occasionally step forward.
When Lee sings on the first side ending "Red Telephone," "Sometimes I deal with numbers and if you want to count me, count me out" and "they're locking them up today, they're throwing away the key, I wonder who it will be tomorrow, you or me?" it's both heartbreaking and chilling every play and I mean every play and I have been playing this record constantly since 1967.
As a 1967 sign post marker this record is singular without Lee ever being specific or didactic and that's yet another of its wonders. The imagery is both chillingly personal—and Lee delivers it so—and worldly. Lee's most pointed political statement is in "Live and Let Live" which begins with the memorable line "Oh the snot is caked against my pants, it has turned into crystal." The song then moves into semi-abstract social justice ("you made my soul a cell") and does rail against war and injustice but it's delivered fatalistically not as protest. And when Lee sings "served my time, served it well" decades before being incarcerated, well, what was powerful then became more so later. The searing, emotionally distraught electric guitar solo on the song is among the more powerful and dramatic of that era.
Just when you begin to recover from that onslaught comes "The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This" with its pizzicato punctuated strings and seemingly mellow mood that ends with a bizarre, musical uprooting that sounds like recording tape unspooling or a skipping record.
"Bummer in the Summer" moves briskly with a Dylanesque, almost rap-like rhyme scheme, Bo Diddley rhythm break and a country and western guitar solo thrown in for good measure. It's Lee's only truly angry moment.
The album ends with a six minute epic that seamlessly links three songs (two years before Abbey Road) beginning with a section that simmers until the chilling, dramatic, urgently stated, idealistic anthem delivered with unabashed sincerity, wherein Lee declares "This is the time in life I'm living and I'll face each day with a smile" and "everything I've seen needs rearranging." Clearly a guy coming apart at the seams. The anthemic musical bravado filled with trumpet flourishes and string waves Lee's freak flag declaration high as the album fades out. It produces chills and watery eyes every play.
The arrangements by Lee, orchestrated by Davld Angel (MacLean's two tender tunes arranged by Angel and Bryan Maclean) are unlike any before or since in a rock album—though calling this a rock album really sells it short. When it's over you can only wonder where it came from and where it went because nothing like it existed before and nothing like it came afterwards. Lee wisely chose not to try to duplicate it or produce anything remotely similar. The group as it then existed broke up and Lee looked elsewhere for musical inspiration, hitting a harder, electric guitar edge from where he began on the first Love album.
This reissue mastered by Chris Bellman begins with a required fade-up, which is a good sign and then it explodes with transparency, dynamic slam and three-dimensionality that in some ways surpasses the original, particularly in the right channel's acoustic guitar and the left channel's snare drum. The bottom end is far more fully expressed than on the original.
You could argue that the original's somewhat more murky sonic environment is purposeful and that this more clarified rendering is too literal and sacrifices mood for clarity but I'm not complaining! This reissue easily betters the 2001 Sundazed reissue, which sounds even darker, murkier and distant than the original. Bob Irwin talked about a whole series of mastering moves required to reproduce what's heard on the original album, but honestly I don't know what those are and what I should be listening for that might betray what Lee wanted. I'm too busy luxuriating in the reissue as it exists. The forty five year old tape has lost just a bit of presence but overall this reissue is a 100% success.
I cannot recommend an album more highly and with more enthusiasm. How many albums can you call an adult life-long musical companion?