Sombre beauty

By Sergio Ariza

Arthur Lee and his group Love are responsible for one of the best albums of all time. Forever Changes is a monumental work in which Lee colours the 11 songs, all acoustic, with wonderful string and wind arrangements. For this reason he spent three weeks with the arranger; singing and humming just as he wanted it to sound. Whether it is called folk-rock, psychedelia or baroque pop what is clear is that Forever Changes is one of the most beautiful records of all time. If Lee is the main architect - 9 of the 11 compositions are his and he sings 10 of the 11 songs - then Bryan MacLean is ‘the hero in the shade’, because he composed the most famous song on the album: Alone Again Or. Of course, behind all that beauty lay a group that was disintegrating, as well as the shadow of all the violence and horror that was about to occur in the counter-culture and hippie movement.      

This album could almost have served as a warning to the violent turn that the end of the 60s was going to take, as if Lee was already able to glimpse the future in the middle of Summer of Love; because after the magical kaleidoscope of love, music and peace came the violent awakening that Charles Manson and his 'Family' represented. Despite all its beauty, its dazzling arrangements and its incredible melodies, Forever Changes is a dark record, a pessimistic view, of a man who was on the verge of suicide (Lee has recognized that this album was almost a farewell note). The lyrics leave it clear: in A House Is Not A Motel he sings "And the water’s turned to blood / and if you don’t think so, go turn on your tub" or, in a prophetic way, "the news today will be the movies of tomorrow" (anticipating all the films that would arrive about Vietnam). In Live and Let Live he writes "there is a bird sitting on a branch, I guess I'll go get my gun" or in The Red Telephone "Sitting on the hilsidel watching all the people die / I'll feel much better on the other side". A phrase that can also be seen as a nod to
the Doors, a group that adored them and who they recommended to their label, Elektra. 
It is true that despite their little commercial impact at the time, Love had many fans among the royalty of rock. Both Lee and Johnny Echols were personal friends of another black person in a white world, Jimi Hendrix; Robert Plant was in love with them from England and would end up making several versions of their songs. The Rolling Stones would borrow their She Comes In Colours for She's a Rainbow and Neil Young considered producing this album.      

But, beyond their connections, the music of this band continues to sound as good as ever; mainly their first three albums with their classic lineup, Lee, Echols, McLean, Ken Forssi on bass and Michael Stuart-Ware on drums. It is this group who were responsible for recording this marvel that opens with its best known song, McLean's Alone Again Or who sings it with Lee, this last one was also responsible for adding the enigmatic 'or' to the title. It's a huge song with Spanish touches and an incredible mariachi trumpet solo. Few records could better such a powerful start, but Forever Changes is not any album. 

A House Is Not A Motel
benefits from a great job by Echols’ 52 Les Paul Goldtop to give a few electric touches with a double tracked solo that helps uncover all the anguish trapped behind its acoustic shell. This is one of the best moments on the album. Of course Forever Changes is a succession of great moments, a perfect album from start to finish, built on beautiful acoustic guitar parts, including several Martins and a 12-string Gibson.

was the first thing that was recorded; however from the group it is only Lee who appears with members of the Wrecking Crew – such as Hal Blaine on drums and Carol Kaye on bass. This was due to various problems within the group, such as McLean’s anger over seeing their material cut (the band wanted to record a double album) and the problems over Echols’ drug issues. Even so, seeing session musicians recording their parts served as an incentive to the band, and all the members put whatever energy they had into finishing the job in the best way.

Old Man
is McLean's second song, a good folk piece, sung with a delicate voice, and accompanied by a Gibson Hummingbird. The ‘first side’ closes with The Red Telephone, a strange psychedelic piece with a good arrangement of strings and some very interesting changes. The ‘second side’ opens with a song with an infinite title, Maybe the People Would Be the Times or between Clark and Hilldale, including another arrangement that fits like a glove, with wind instruments and acoustic guitars mixing perfectly; however despite its brilliant melody the song is a pessimistic perspective on 'flower power' (with great work on the main guitar by Echols). In Live And Let Live there is a great electric solo at the end by Echols, possibly with the Les Paul, on a song with multiple changes that could be defined as progressive folk. You Set The Scene is a masterpiece and puts the finishing touch to a record that does not have a song that is less than very good. It is another example of the incredible changes that Lee gave to his songs, and it also benefits from an orchestral arrangement of almost Wagnerian force at the end.

The album was called Forever Changes because of an anecdote relating to the leader of the band. After breaking up with one of his girlfriends, the woman reproached Lee for telling her that he would love her forever, to which he replied "Forever Changes." Maybe it was an anecdote, but it hits the nail on the head for an album that always changes... for the better.