Love's "Forever Changes" Finally Gets Long Deserved First Class Vinyl Reissue

The late Arthur Lee exited a California prison in December of 2001, having served more than five years of a twelve year sentence for negligent discharge of a firearm. The long mandatory sentence resulted from California's ridiculous, now repealed "three strikes you're out" law.

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?

burnspbesq's picture

A first-rate job by all concerned.

Am I the only one who halfway expected to hear Scott Muni's voice cut in at the end of side two?

Billf's picture

Great review of this terrific remastering of a truly phenomenal album. Anybody who admires Forever Changes owes it to her/himself to listen to the live concert recording or watch the DVD of the 2003 show. The ovations that Arthur also receives from the reverential and knowing London crowd when the previously incarcerated composer proclaims, "I want my freedom" during The Red Telephone, and again during the inspirational closing verses of You Set the Scene, never fail to give me the chills. The thrill at finally having him back pulsing through the audience is palpable. The genius that he exhibited during that year or so that he toured before passing away only makes one wish that he could have better put aside the excess and bitterness during his MIA decades of the 70s, 80s and 90s. The Beach Boys only had a lost album--Arthur Lee misplaced a career after creating this masterpiece.

Bonus quiz question: Neil Young had been lined up to produce what became Forever Changes after exiting Buffalo Springfield, but, in a move that chillingly foreshadowed his sudden exits and reappearances for the next 45 years with C,S and good old N, abruptly split to pursue his solo career. One can only speculate what this would have sounded like had he stuck around. I always believed that the C&W guitar break in Bummer in the Summer was his uncredited contribution, positively Springfieldian in its style. Anonymous in those days of record company politics before everybody was credited on everybody else's record. Anybody else agree?

Martin's picture

on the basis of your reviews. Again, thanks for a great review.

Mike listens, considers, writes.

And very often, I send Email to Elusive Disc.

All too often in fact.

Why?  Because 95% of the time, Mike is on the money. Very, very occasionally I've found he flubs a bit where memory, emotion or whatnot are filling in the holes, but this happens to all of us from time to time.

What I appreciate here is the good news when there is good news and the bad news when it's bad news.

Question, Michael, now that the Beatles reissue is history, are you going to or are you willing to do a similar exercise on the MoFi Sinatra reissues now coming out on a regular basis? 

With "Where are You", "Swingin Session" and most important "Songs for Swingin' Lovers" coming out, it would be great to see something consolidated for the Sinatra reissues. You might even be able to get someone to pay you for writing the reviews??? 

wao62's picture

Upon reading the first review I was able to listen to the entire record on youtube!!!  Liked the album & immediately went up to Amoeba in Berkeley CA to purchase my copy.  Beautiful heavy card stock cover w/ nice reproduction of original artwork.  The 180 gram vinyl exhibited no defects or even the slightest dishing. I'm a fan of 60's groups but somehow passed up on Love (maybe it was the name).  Thanks for turning me on to Love!!!

Davetruestory's picture

After reading this I went and listened to my copy of  Sundaze Forever Changes and yes it is dark, it's a seductive darkness. Through my Grado 60, I didn't find it murky but some transparency in the darkness.

WaxtotheMax's picture

This Lp's astounding collection of songs and songwriting expertise are only trumped by the stunning sound of the Lp itself. Amazing..Really..Amazing

mikeyt's picture

After reading your initial write up of the album reissue, I did some googling and became really intrigued.  Then I went ahead and just bought the album at my local record store.  Blown away.  How I missed it is beyond me, but now I'm trying to spread the "love" around with my friends.  Thanks, Mr. Fremer!

jstro's picture

What is most appealing to me about MF reviews recently is how in sync they are with my taste. I had a hacked mono version of this LP years ago and for possibly many reasons could not relate to the music or the noise or ?. After reading this review I purchased at a local store and LOVE it (yes pun). Maybe it was time or simply a gorgeous clean copy but none the less I truly enjoy all aspects of this LP. thanks again

dimsengah's picture

It's All True. Magical

i heard this back in the day during winter of 67/68, turned on to it by some friends from NYC who were attending the same Midwestern college I was.  A lowlit room  with incense burning  and some controlled substances passed around. (Yes and a semester at this state college was under $300! There was Magic and you could still get cash back.)

Mikey gave the overview and there's nothing I can add to it. I will say that the words to the songs never really got to me, but they were very apt to the musical tapestry. And what a tapestry!  Love establish a mood at the beginning and never let up till the end. A year and a half later I bought Four Sail....and oh dear.

I also got a chance to see the original group in the spring of 68 on tour when they supported another act (like maybe Ten Years After) and it was disappointing, One of the guitar players seemed to be nodding out onstage and Lee was obviously in a bad mood. The performance of their various songs was a shambles and I'm making allowance for the fact that the FC songs couldn't really be duplicated. It was a mess.

But enough of nostalgia.

I bought the new LP and it is excellent. If anyone reading still hasn't made up their mind about acquiring this, I can only say 'Go'.

rosser's picture

My copy was flawless, and the sound quality first rate. The success of rock reissues has been uneven at best, but this one works. 

avrcguy's picture

Completely new! Never heard this before. Took a quick listen on Spotify, and am ordering it. Looking forward to spinning it when I return from vacation! Thanks Michael!

fab's picture


Thank you for this review which made me buy the reissue as soon as I read your lines.

Foverever changes is one of my top 3 albums, so finding a 1rst pressing, here in France, is quite challenging. This reissue is a good alternative. I got the reissue pressed in Europe. The sound is good but there is a hiss on quiet parts, which I am wondering if it comes from the pressing itself or from the mastering (I guess they used the original tapes which might have suffered with time). Do you have that "tape hiss" with your copies ?

Thank you for your website ! Cheers from France

jospin's picture

BRILLIANCE, Do I have to say more?
He was ahead of his time, creativity not truly appreciated or understood at the time.
The fans knew what they liked,(LOVED), and the generations since it's first release in 1967 are testament to it's lasting quality!
That people are still discovering and bathing in it's brilliance is something extraordinary.

Static's picture

Just got this. The only version I ever heard was via streaming. It sounded good. But I never truly paid attention like I am right now. I call myself a 2nd generation sixties fan...born at the end of the decade. That being said I was greatly impressed by this particular album/vinyl release. As a musician myself...I am very critical of production but also understand that sometimes over production is worse than underproduction. On this release they hit the mark. Its exactly where is needs to be for it to be timeless yet of the time. The songs seem to be personal yet "every man". The times were crazy...all times are crazy...its humanity. And this album speaks to me as a songwriter and musician and music lover. We all pour ourselves more or less into the music we create. And here...we have beauty..tragedy..desperation and humanity. All these aspects make this album important and timeless. And can still just listen to the songs and not be bogged down by any of those things. Wonderful production...great care to the sound...Im impressed.