He said “I’m leaving you.”
She said “You can’t leave. You said you would love me forever.”
He said “Yes, well. Forever changes”
When Arthur Lee heard this story, he decided to name Love’s third album “Forever Changes”.
Forever changes. I’ve loved this album for over fifty years, since I first heard it in Peter’s house in 1968 but I’ve never really thought about the title. Things we thought would last forever, do in fact change. The pandemic has brought this sharply into focus. I thought that I would be going to watch Brighton home matches with Dave forever, even when they drop into The National League. I thought I would be drinking at least ten pints of Harvey’s a week forever. I thought I would be going to watch cricket matches with Andy forever. On the other hand, I thought I would be phoning my parents every week forever and that stopped twenty years ago. Yesterday’s post was about birth and death and the phrase “till death us do part” springs to mind. Bob Dylan wrote a song called “Death Is Not The End” but he’s wrong. It is the end. A Christian belief in heaven and hell or a Buddhist belief in reincarnation would provide solace but, sadly, I’m not a believer. There’s not a trace of doubt in my mind about that. There’s no such thing as forever. One day the sun will burn out and the human race will have to leave the planet or become extinct. If Donald Trump hasn’t obliterated us all before that. Forever changes.
It’s quite common for music magazines to produce a list of the best albums of all time. The New Musical Express (NME) did this five times over the course of forty years and “Forever Changes” has come 52nd (1974), 14th (1985), 18th (1993), 6th (2003) and 37th (2013). UNCUT produced a similar list in 2016 and this album came 6th. John Leckie, who has produced albums by The Stone Roses, and Radiohead amongst others, named this album as his favourite album of all time. It is excellent and, more importantly, it stands the test of time. What sounded magical in 1967 still sounds amazing in 2020. It will sound good forever. There’s not a trace of doubt in my mind.
Arthur Lee was the driving force behind Love and he wrote all but two of the songs on this album. “Alone Again Or” and “Old Man” were written by Bryan MacLean who was the half sister of Maria McKee – she was later in Lone Justice and even later she was on a poster on the wall of John’s office after we had been to see her.
Arthur Lee was born in Memphis, moved to Los Angeles when he was five years old, gained a reputation of being the toughest kid in the neighbourhood, formed Love (1963-1974), had a solo career amid unsuccessful attempts to reform the band, served over five years in prison for the negligent discharge of a firearm (1995-2001), reformed Love and performed “Forever Changes” in its entirety (2003-2005) (including at Glastonbury in 2003) and died in 2006. Although “Forever Changes” was the best of the eleven albums they released, there were some great songs on the preceding two albums. Sadly, there were few high points after “Forever Changes”. My favourite pair of songs not on this album is “7 And 7 Is” which was a single that got into The Billboard Top 40 and whose B side was called “No. Fourteen”. (No. stands for Number. 7 + 7 = 14. It’s not funny if you have to explain it.)
One of the great things about “Forever Changes” is the dark nature of the lyrics within the context of a great West Coast sound from a Los Angeles band. Arthur Lee never bought into the hippy ideal and would probably have been happier hanging out with Lou Reed on the East Coast rather than the hippies on the West Coast. For example, on “A House Is Not A Motel”, he wrote about how blood turns grey when mixed with mud which was a story he heard from a Vietnam veteran. This track features manic drumming from Michael Stuart-Ware and a great guitar blast from Johnny Echols.
The first track on the album is “Alone Again Or”, written by Bryan MacLean, inspired by time he spent waiting for his girlfriend. Blimey. If I wrote a song as good as this every time I waited for Roo, I’d be giving Paul McCartney advice about song writing. It’s a beautiful song, with acoustic guitar but supplemented by a strings and a mariachi band. I’m never quite sure about the line “you know I could be in love with almost anyone”. Is this a sign that the singer is an especially loving person – he is capable of loving everybody? Does it mean that he really just wants to have sex and he doesn’t mind who with? Or is it that he doesn’t really know what love is and it’s not important to him? The song was used in the film “Bottle Rocket”, Wes Anderson’s first full length film.
“The Red Telephone” starts with Arthur Lee sitting on a hillside, looking down on the death and decay below him. He feels disassociated from the rest of the counterculture. “I don’t know if I am living or if I’m supposed to be.” The end of the song is magical or ridiculous or very dated or profound depending on your point of view. He repeats the following phrase three times: “They’re locking them up today. They’re throwing away the key. I wonder who it will be tomorrow, you or me?“. He follows this with “We’re all normal and we want our freedom“. The word freedom is repeated 5 times. Finally, “All of God’s children gotta have their freedom“. What can it all mean? I guess it’s something to do with feeling constricted by the expectations of the culture at the time. Maybe.
My favourite track on the album is “Live And Let Live” and not just because the first line is “Oh the snot has caked against my pants”. There’s a great melody, a lovely acoustic guitar, some really emotional singing and two absolutely red hot electric guitar solos.
Sadly, the band split up soon after the album was recorded. Bryan MacLean signed a solo deal with Elektra and Arthur Lee sacked the rest of the band. Ken Forssi, the bass guitar player and Bryan MacLean both died in 1998 when Arthur Lee was in prison. They leave behind an album that is a mixture of mystery, melody, magic, moodiness and magnificence. An album that has not changed in its impact, intensity, ingenuity and intelligence over the last 53 years. Nothing changes.