The “Listen Again” series was popular enough that your favorite record reviewer has decided to follow the lead of some TV executives and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums BUT the platters we will peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) FIVE-STAR albums. This time we look at Love’s Forever Changes.
Love was an American rock band of the late 1960s and early 1970s. They were led by singer, songwriter and guitarist Arthur Lee and the group’s other songwriter, guitarist Bryan MacLean. Love was one of the first racially diverse pop groups and their tunes reflected different influences, combining elements of folk, garage rock, psychedelia and rock and roll. Formed in Los Angeles in 1965 the line-up at the time that Forever Changes was recorded included: Arthur Lee: (lead vocals, guitar, writer/arranger), Johnny Echols (lead guitar), Bryan MacLean (rhythm guitar, vocals, arranger), Ken Forssi (bass) and Michael Stuart (drums, vocals).
Forever Changes, released on Elektra Records in late 1967, was Love’s third record. Co-produced by Lee and Bruce Botnick, with orchestral arrangements by David Angel, was a light classic from the late psychedelic music era. At one point, it was the only album (out of approximately a dozen releases) to survive beyond that time.
Originally, the album was to be produced by Neil Young and Botnick but Young was unable to serve as co-producer because of his prior commitments to Buffalo Springfield. (Young did manage to get into the studio long enough long enough to arrange “The Daily Planet”.) At first, the plan had been to back Lee and MacLean with session musicians but after they had laid down a couple of tracks with this line-up the rest of the group was hurt enough to buckle down and finish the rest of the material in just 64 hours.
According to Botnick, the session musicians “sparked” the group, and they “realized they had blown it, got their act together and recorded the rest of the album”. The two previously-recorded songs, “The Daily Planet” and “Andmoreagain” were later overdubbed by the original members of Love who confessed “the tracks otherwise sufficed”. Although the multiple changes to the playlists and guest appearances on their albums is sometimes difficult to follow online sources indicate that there were other uncredited contributions to the album including the following: Jim Gordon (drums on this critic’s choice “The Daily Planet” and “Andmoreagain”; Carol Kaye (bass on “Andmoreagain” and acoustic guitar on “The Daily Planet” and Billy Strange: guitar on “Andmoreagain” and “The Daily Planet”. Don Randi played piano and the orchestra consisted of Robert Barene, Arnold Belnick, James Getzoff, Marshall Sosson, Darrel Terwilliger (violins); Norman Botnick (viola); Jesse Ehrlich (cello); Chuck Berghofer (double bass); Bud Brisbois, Roy Caton, Ollie Mitchell (trumpets) and Richard Leith (trombone).
Critics generally feel that most of the other albums by Love were harder-rocking albeit less worthwhile. In fact, their reputation as a band generally rests on only two of their platters: Da Capo (put out in 1967) and Forever Changes. Forever Changes, complete with 11 tracks and also released that year, is comparable to a soundtrack from an LSD film.
Lee provides some considered “bizarre compositions” and his song titles often revealed a great deal about the story of each song. Note such examples as “Bummer in the Summer”, “You Set the Scene”, “A House Is Not a Motel” and “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This”. Essentially the platter is a concentrated mini-suite of songs employing acoustic guitars, horns and strings that was recorded while the band was having internal issues due in part to various substance abuses.
Richard Meltzer, author of The Aesthetics of Rock, spoke of Love’s “orchestral moves” as “post-doper word contraction cuteness”. He also said that Lee’s vocal style served as a “reaffirmation of Johnny Mathis.” Of course, to add some variety, MacLean actually took the lead vocalist reins on a couple of cuts: “Old Man” and his “Alone Again Or” which was a modest hit off the album.
Although the previously-mentioned song titles might date the disc, the music has what Dave Marsh of Rolling Stone magazine once called “an exotic frothiness” and added that “the string settings are among the most gorgeous in rock history.” In fact, even the lyrics, while sometimes a bit demented, were generally too inchoate to be anything but somehow curious, passionate love songs. Lee sheds some light on the strangeness of some of the songs: “I thought I was going to die at that particular time, so those were my last words.”
Witness these lines from the number “The Red Telephone”: “Sitting on a hillside/Watching all the people die/I’ll feel much better on the other side.” Still, many discovered something special in this five-star album. The closing cut “You Set the Scene” went on to receive a significant amount of airplay from progressive rock radio stations.
At this point in their career, the band was far more popular in the UK, where the album hit number 24 as opposed to here in America where it only reached number 154. (Unfortunately, it would not be until after the band broke up that the record would truly be recognized as a masterpiece by critics.) Indeed, the band would not receive the best of their critical acclaim until years later.
In 1995 the platter made #11 in Mojo’s list of the 100 Greatest Albums Ever Made. The album was also important enough to be included on the 2-CD retrospective Love compilation Love Story 1966-1972, put out by Rhino Records that same year. In 1998, Q magazine readers voted Forever Changes the 82nd greatest album of all time.
The record was re-released in an expanded single-CD version by Rhino in 2001 and included outtakes, alternate mixes and the band’s 1968 single, “Your Mind and We Belong Together”/”Laughing Stock”, the last tracks to ever feature Johnny Echols, Ken Forssi, Michael Stuart and Bryan MacLean. In 2003 the British magazine, NME, rated Forever Changes number 6 on their list of greatest albums of all time. That same year, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Forever Changes number 40 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
In a special issue of Mojo magazine, the album was ranked the second greatest psychedelic album of all time. Additionally, Forever Changes was ranked 83rd in a 2005 survey held by British television’s Channel 4 in 2005 to determine the 100 greatest albums of all time. The CD was even inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.
Also that year a double-CD “Collector’s Edition” of the recording was issued by Rhino Records. The first disc is actually the original platter and the second disc is an alternate mix of it with the 2001 release bonus tracks. To this day, Love’s Forever Changes/Elek. 74013 remains an ambitious, classic indescribably indispensible, essential addition to any comprehensive collection.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.