Oh, the snot has caked against my pants,
It has turned into crystal…
This was meant to be IT for Love. It was, after all, 1967, “The Summer of Love”. On Los Angeles’ legendary Sunset Strip a billboard was erected telling the psychedelically charged hippies below to “watch for the third coming of LOVE.” And emblazoned across this billboard was “that” iconic image, the members of Love formed into the shape of a human heart, suitably painted in mind bending colours. After claiming the L.A. club scene from the now highly successful Byrds, and following this success with two well received but poorly selling albums, Love were surely about to make it big…
They had already suffered the ignominy of having their former support band The Doors hitting the Number One spot on the Billboard charts, a band they themselves had introduced to their record label Elektra, and now Arthur Lee, lead singer/songwriter of Love, was determined to make this album the bands magnum opus.
Lee had originally gotten the idea for the title of Forever Changes from a friend who had just dumped his girlfriend. The jilted lover had exclaimed “You said you would love me forever!” to which friend replied, “Well, forever changes.” Lee noted that since the name of his band was Love, the full title of the album would therefore be “Love Forever Changes”.
Things began badly during the initial recording sessions in June 1967. Although the band had been gigging extensively, they had not been in a recording studio together since October ’66. Large scale drug taking and squabbling also paid its toll on the bands ability to play. On the first day some of the band members couldn’t even tune their guitars. When the band were finally tuned ready, and started to play, the effect was cacophonous – even the band members cringed. Lee, sitting in the control room in his role as producer, called the band together.
As drummer Michael Stuart would later recall “We all climbed out from behind our [studio] baffles and walked over to where Arthur was standing. ‘Look, we’ve been talking. This could go on forever, so here’s what we decided. Elektra’s willing to pay to hire studio cats to come in here and lay down, not just the string and horn tracks, but the foundation tracks as well. It could save us a lot of money in the long run, and it’s not like you four won’t be on the record, because we all have vocal parts, and there’ll be some instrumental overdubs on a lot of the cuts, which you guys will do. What do you say?’” With few alternatives the group agreed to this plan.
In the musicians defence, Lee was attempting something quite daring and musically challenging for the time: the songs were ambitious, with a dizzying array of chord changes and non-repeating sections, all bundled together with Lee’s trademark hooks, lines and catchy, accessible tunes.
It took three days for the new session musicians to record two of the seminal tracks from the album, Andmoreagain and The Daily Planet. A month of gigging later, a suitably chastised and, most importantly, drug free, the band returned to the studio and proceeded to work at a frantic pace. The desire to ingratiate themselves showed: on the day they returned they matched the session musicians miserly output of two songs in three days with a blistering five songs in one.
Over the next 63 hours the band produced what was to become Forever Changes. However the final album was not destined to be the success everyone had hoped and assumed it would be. Although praised by critics, it only reached 154 in the Billboard Charts. The original band line-up soon disbanded, more due to the ravages of drug taking than anything, and many different line-ups have since come and gone and continue to gig. Lee himself headed many of the line-ups right up to his death in 2006.
So, why would I write about such a seemingly unsuccessful album now?
Despite its lack of success at the time Forever Changes has since become regarded as an inspirational and iconic album. In fact, in many ways, with its sparse backing, effective and tight string and brass arrangements and dark overtones, it has succeeded in being more challenging, more psychedelically drenched, more lyrical and more ‘meaty’ than its more successful Summer of Love stable mate, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Although the lyrics and little ‘tricks’ (such as the shouting of alternative lyrics, extended segues and songs where a word implied at the end of one line begins the next) can seem a little naïve to modern listeners, the music is powerful, demented, challenging and deeply personal.
The influence of Forever Changes can be felt in the early hard rock scene: Led Zepplin lead Robert Plant cites the album as his all time favourite. It can be felt in the Punk scene of the 70s with The Jesus & Mary Chain, amongst others, citing Forever Changes as a major influence, as have British indie acts like Primal Scream and The Stone Roses.
List upon list of the top albums of the last forty years name Forever Changes as one of the best/most successfully executed/most influential albums of all time. It remains a classic example of an album overlooked in its time, a giant on whose shoulders you had forgotten you were even standing.
Suddenly I’ve found my way
I know the old man would laugh
He spoke of love’s sweeter days
And in his eloquent way
I think he was speaking of you…
(Originally written for the May 2012 edition of The Wexfordian. Posted with kind permission.)