Love’s 1967 album Forever Changes was the undisputed high point of Arthur Lee’s original version of Love — which is saying a lot, since the band started out great and just kept getting better.
Differing markedly from their first two albums, this album benefits from some of the most consistently strong, adventurous songwriting on any rock album, as well as an exhilarating mix of fast rock and soaring strings.
Love — Forever Changes: Track-by-track review
1. “Alone Again Or”
Arthur Lee had an apparent life-long fascination with giving songs two different titles, separated by “or” or “and”. There was “Love Is More Than Words or Better Late Than Never”, the single “Your Mind and We Belong Together”, and, later on this album, “Maybe The People Would Be The Times or Between Clark and Hilldale”. I like to think it was because he was bursting with ideas and thoughts, and sometimes had to squeeze two in one space to get them all out.
That idea takes a devious little turn on the opening track of Forever Changes (actually written by Love’s Bryan MacLean). “Alone Again Or” leaves the listener hanging, wondering what the latter half of this thought might be as the music, at once sophisticated and immediate, rushes through the speakers. Or what?
Each verse ends climactically with the plaintive, but resigned, cry, “I will be alone again tonight my dear!”, and, just like the title, the music suddenly stops. In the space that follows, as the music gathers its heart back together and carries on, it becomes apparent that this is a simple lost love song, but one wrapped in a musical package quite unlike anything heard since, and certainly up to that point in rock.
If Love can do so much with such a, let’s face it, mundane concept, what will they give us when the band’s songwriters’ attention turns to matters more unique to their surroundings?
2. “A House Is Not A Motel”
The paranoid adventure continues, on this, perhaps the best song on the album, and one cited by Robert Plant as one of his favorite 10 songs in all of rock and roll.
Restrained (barely) acoustic guitar occasionally erupts into a stinging lead electric guitar line, and the band frantically keeps pace with the pulsating, swelling moods that lurk beneath this brooding howl of a performance.
A titular update of “And More” from their first album, this is another Bryan MacLean song, and the beauty of the melody sets a tone for much of the rest of the album, a height to which the other tracks are dared to aspire.
4. “The Daily Planet”
A more conventional rock song, this is Arthur Lee commenting, without bothering too much to judge, on a typical day’s events. The wonderful vocal phrasing is a prime example of his songwriting genius.
One line is broken up over two or three musical passages — just where you expect the line to end, regular-pop-song style, it doesn’t. Lee keeps going, breaking up the words to fit with the music but otherwise floating lazily down the stream of his own consciousness, careless of meter or restraint. He’ll just sing until the thought is finished, damn the song.
And for a laugh there’s
she’s real fancy
with her children
they’ll go far, she
buys them toys to
keep in practice
waiting on the war.
5. “Old Man”
This reflective song has some of the strong, beautiful melodicism that Love circa 1967 was so comfortable with. Listening to this track, one gets the sense that the melody just came naturally — Love didn’t write it, they found it. (David Gilmour’s comment about Syd Barrett could apply here: “He never had to search for a melody; there was always one there when he needed it.” [paraphrased])
Lyrically, the song is similar to Neil Young’s song of the same name a few years later. A young man addresses an old man, reflecting on what the man has to say after his lifetime of experience.
6. “The Red Telephone”
One of the more psychedelic songs on the album, “The Red Telephone” gets its lysergic soundscape not from strange (or even unconventional) sounds, but from a melody that repeatedly turns subtly, and ominously, darker. “Sitting on a hill-” begins the first line, before the melody suddenly drops, followed by the strings: “siiiide”.
Lyrically, the song professes unawareness of what’s going on around the singer, and a wish to not be included anyway. This is the dark side of psychedelia, full of voices from beyond, the abandonment of ones psyche, and the paranoia that that abandonment might not be temporary — or reversible.
Like the dual-title idea mentioned earlier, Lee here puts two things in one: vocal lines end sometimes with two different words, overdubbed on top of each other. “Paint me white” vs. “paint me yellow”. It’s like John Lennon’s “don’t you know that you can count me out — in”. Choose one; the narrator certainly isn’t going to help.
7. “Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale”
This song features another insistent musical backing, with powerfully strummed acoustic guitars and a flurry of instruments winding around like ivy. Arthur Lee finds room for yet more lyrical genius here, as throughout the song, the last word in a couplet (you know, the expected and obvious rhyming word) is left off, instead forming the beginning of the next stanza. “If you just can’t make the room / Look up, and see me on the / (musical bridge) / Moon’s a common scene around my town…”
These touches, on this song and on the whole album, never even hint at being overly clever or pretentious. This is why the album is held in such high regard so many years after its release: it all seems so organic and — well, necessary. No matter how inventive a melody or complex a song structure, Forever Changes liberally peppers everything with simple, heartfelt moments that tie it all together.
8. “Live And Let Live”
A legendary song. Passionately sung and played, this is perhaps the most exciting of the tracks on Forever Changes (though “A House Is Not A Motel” gives it a run for its money).
This is thanks in large part to the wailing lead guitar lines, that always seem to stay on one string at a time, straying far from blues-based guitar wankery and more toward a piercing, hyperactive psychedelia. One feels for the poor guitar, which must’ve had to endure an awful thashing on its strings.
9. “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This”
Gentle and blissful. More complex, yet effortless, melodies wind around each other.
Lyrically sparse, this track is a showcase for the music. The synthetic-sounding, Mellotron-like orchestra wash in the background, which became a part of psychedelia through artists like Donovan, Strawberry Alarm Clock, and the Orange Bicycle, manages to sound far more organic here.
This is a musical comment on the ending of a day, when everyone is too tired/out of it to do anything but experience the warm flow of time.
10. “Bummer In The Summer”
Funky, groovy acoustic-guitar based frenzy. Lee lets loose on his vocals here, jumbling a billion syllables into each line and exposing his amazing half-gritty, half-vulnerable voice between carnivalesque musical peaks.
11. “You Set The Scene”
A mini-suite, this song starts out as a groovy little rock song, but hints at a slower melody, one which eventually takes over as the original piece disintegrates.
Arthur Lee’s lyrics on this song are among the deepest on the album, and the operatic sweep of the song, as well as its knowing placement as the last song of Forever Changes, give it a slight self-consciousness. Or, to put it another way, Lee and the band were clearly proud of the work they had done here, and felt this grand song was a fitting dénouement.
All this, along with its stateliness and lack of hurry, make it one of the more cerebral and engrossing tracks on the album.
Forever Changes by Love
“Alone Again Or”
“A House Is Not A Motel”
“The Daily Planet”
“The Red Telephone”
“Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale”
“Live And Let Live”
“The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This”
“Bummer In The Summer”
“You Set The Scene”