Classic Music Review: Forever Changes by Love

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Forever Changes has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and the National Recording Registry. Rolling Stone ranked it #40 on its Best 500 Albums List.

Number fucking forty. Higher than The Doors, Electric Ladyland, Sticky Fingers, Moondance, Purple Rain, Odessey and Oracle, Aqualung and (gasp-choke) A Love Supreme.

Better than John Coltrane at his moment of spiritual ascension? This I gotta hear!

I was completely unfamiliar with Forever Changes before I began this series because it isn’t in my dad’s collection. He traded in his copy a few months after he bought it but didn’t remember much about it. The only thing I knew about Arthur Lee and Love is that they produced one of the greatest garage songs ever, “7 and 7 Is.” The quality of that song led me to overcome any skepticism generated by Rolling Stone’s opinion (they have so much weight with me) and the “uh-oh” feeling generated by the Grammy induction. I really looked forward to listening to Forever Changes.

I have now listened to Forever Changes intensely and completely six times just to make sure that the reaction I had after the normal three spins was an honest, thoughtful and considered reaction. It was: in fact, I had the same reaction after the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth time around and the reaction not only remained stable but increased in intensity. I will now share my statistically valid response to Forever Changes.

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

I can’t believe anyone in their right minds would think this record had much value, much less try to tell me that it’s better than anything The Kinks ever did, better than The Stones’ best album or in the same league as A Love Supreme. I began to wonder if this was one of those situations where a mover-and-shaker decides it’s a great album, so everyone says it’s a great album, like Pet Sounds and Astral Weeks. After reading the review on iTunes, I began to wonder if even the people reviewing the album had actually listened to it. The review opens with the line, “One of the psychedelic era’s most pleasing albums . . .”

Oh, yes. It’s so pleasing to hear lyrics like, “Oh, the snot has caked against my pants,” and “Sitting on a hillside, watching all the people die.” Ian Anderson used the word “snot” on “Aqualung,” and while I think it’s a great song, the adjective “pleasing” hardly applies.

Well, I did listen to Forever Changes and it’s anything but pleasing. Bland is more like it. It’s not psychedelically ear-shattering, noisy or cacophonous; it’s simply boring. Every song begins with acoustic guitar, and the repetition becomes quite annoying. Arthur Lee’s decision to overdub horns and strings may have worked had he possessed the musical talent of a George Martin, but he didn’t, and the overdubs sound more like the music that accompanies television commercials than credible artistic contributions. What I hear on Forever Changes is an American band trying very hard to sound like a mid-60’s British band and failing miserably. The back story of the recording describes a chaotic environment with drugs, conflict between Arthur Lee and contributing songwriter-member Bryan MacLean, band members replaced by session musicians, band members coming back and giving it a go . . . rather like a precursor of Let It Be. Arthur Lee dealt with the chaos by imposing his will, and while Forever Changes does have a sense of unity, there’s nothing underneath the hood.

That is because is large part Arthur Lee abandoned his original vision, as described in the Wikipedia article on Love: “However, after viewing a performance by the Byrds, Lee became determined to form a group that joined the newly minted folk-rock sound of the Byrds to his primarily rhythm and blues style.” Had Arthur Lee accomplished that, we might indeed have something here, but there’s hardly a hint of rhythm and blues on this record, and none of the songs make you want to get up and boogie.

Forever Changes opens with “Alone Again Or,” a composition that has been lauded by critics despite the fact that the tune was ripped off from Prokofiev. Critics were also deeply impressed with the contrast between the happy music and the sad lyrics. I was not, and I found the introduction of stereotypical Mariachi trumpets a superficial and offensive attempt to integrate Latin sounds. As for the lyrics to what one reviewer called “the best pop song ever,” well, read them for yourself:

Yeah
Said that’s alright
I won’t forget
All the times I’ve waited patiently for you
And you’ll do just what you choose to do
And I will be alone again tonight my dear
Yeah
I heard a funny thing
Somebody said to me
You know that I could be in love with almost everyone
I think that people are the greatest fun
And I will be alone again tonight my dear

Yes, the lyrics could have been written by a precocious eleven-year old who had heard almost all of these lines in other pop songs. This isn’t poetry: it’s a collection of fragmentary thought focused on a trivial issue.

“A House is Not a Motel” is Arthur Lee’s first contribution, a cascade of gibberish culminating in the disconnected rock cliché phrase, “You can call my name.” His vocal begins in a low register that slowly builds into intense passion (source unknown) and a screamed “all right now” that in turn leads to a shitty guitar solo. Forced is a good word for this song. “Andmoreagain” is Love trying to be The Left Banke; the vocal sounds like a Brit with his pants on too tight and the strings are pure Ray Conniff. Tiring quickly of the Left Banke, Love turns into The Bee Gees on Bee Gees’ 1st, producing harmonies that are eerily similar to “Every Christian Lion-Hearted Man Will Show You.” The lyrics are classic drug-induced nonsense: empty words imbued with meaning only to someone whose brain is incapable of processing complete thoughts.

In “Old Man,” MacLean drags out the wise old man who either speaks in parables or gives you a magic trinket to aid you on your quest. The trinket here is a tiny ivory ball, which begs the question, “If he’s a wise old man, why is he aiding and abetting the slaughter of elephants?” The wisdom the old man dispenses is the same “wisdom” The Beatles dispensed in “She Loves You”: get your head out of your ass and check out the hot babe in front of you:

Now it seems
Things are not so strange
I can see more clearly
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
You are so lovely
You didn’t have to say a thing

MacLean’s efforts to sound British here echo my dad’s description of how every American boy affected a British accent after watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

“The Red Telephone” is where you’ll find the line about watching people die. You’ll also hear more drug-induced neurotic ramblings. It could be describing a descent into madness, but I don’t think Arthur Lee had the negative capability of a Keats to pull off the necessary level of detachment. The one good thing about this song is the line “We are normal and we want our freedom,” a line lifted from Marat/Sade which the Bonzo Dog Band put to much better use in the opener to The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse (Urban Spaceman to you Yanks). It’s followed by another insult to the Mexican people, “Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hillsdale,” which faithfully adopts the artistic dogma of the times that your song or your movie must have a very long title that no one can possibly remember.

Still waiting for a glint of originality, I’m certainly not going to find it in a song with a cliché for a title, “Live and Let Live.” This is the snot song mentioned above, and surprisingly, this one has at least a germ of an idea before Arthur’s ADHD kicks in and he goes a-wandering. He seems to be satirizing the American propensities for gun violence and conquest, but never really comes up with the killer line to clinch the deal:

Oh the snot has caked against my pants
It has turned into crystal
There’s a bluebird sitting on a branch
I guess I’ll take my pistol
I’ve got it in my hand
Because he’s on my land
And so the story ended
Do you know it oh so well
Well should you need I’ll tell you
The end, end, end, end, end, end, end, end

And
Yes I’ve seen you sitting on the couch
I recognize your artillery
I have seen you many times before
Once when I was an Indian
And I was on my land
Why can’t you understand

“Why can’t you understand?” or some version thereof was a common theme of the 60’s generational wars: the same theme you hear in “She’s Leaving Home,” in various teenage angst songs and, more gruesomely, in the movie If. To borrow a phrase from the times, it’s a total cop-out, a rhetorical question used by a bunch of whiners who couldn’t express themselves well enough to make them understood. They really didn’t want an answer to that question, because that would have required them to engage in dialogue with people they’d already judged as hopeless straights.

Yet another long title awaits us in “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This,” so I guess Arthur Lee saw a lot of movies during this period, a pretty easy habit to fall into when you live in Los Angeles. The ninth song in a row to begin with acoustic guitar, I tune out immediately when I hear the Herb Alpert trumpets which alert me that Dionne Warwick might show up at any minute. The song is the equivalent of a babbling brook with a heavy emphasis on the babbling. It’s followed by “Bummer in the Summer,” an Arthur Lee rap where the title describes the quality of the song. Thankfully, Forever Changes ends (hooray!) with what turns out to be the best song on a bad album, “You Set the Scene.” Yes, Arthur Lee overplays his Johnny Mathis tendencies and the strings go over-the-top in the middle and yes, the lyrics make no sense when taken as a whole . . . oh, fuck it. I’m tired of trying to make something out of nothing.

I am amazed that a dull album with such an obvious lack of originality could be rated so highly, but I’ve always had a tendency to expect more from the human race than it deserves. After I wrote the review, a Baby Boomer left a comment describing Forever Changes as a satirical look at the hippie movement and all the silliness going on at the time. I decided to give it another spin and listen to it from that perspective and . . . well, maybe it’s the blonde effect, but I guess I’m just too fucking dense to hear the satirical nuances. Maybe the caked snot line was an attempt at parody, but if that’s the case, Arthur was a very heavy-handed satirist.

No, I’m not buying it. Forever Changes does belong on a list: my list of seriously overrated albums. Arthur Lee and company have now joined such luminaries as The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd on my mythical “Seriously Overrated Albums List.”

Congratulations, guys, and have a wonderful Fourth of July!

GO TO THE NEXT POST IN THE SERIES: AXIS: BOLD AS LOVE BY THE JIMI HENDIX EXPERIENCE

20 responses

  1. Altrockchick – I f***ing love you!

    You described my thoughts and feelings about this album PERFECTLY. Probably the most disappointing album I ever heard and like yourself I gave it several listens thinking I must had been missing something but all I kept hearing was bland drivel with banal brass arrangements which were too Alpert-esque for my liking! I don’t “get” this album and I never will. It’s about as psychedelic as a pint of stale beer and reinforced yet again that most rock critics talk out of their backsides. This is why I love your blog – you don’t write like those overpaid idiots and tell it as it is. Seriously, this review should be made Global. to offer constructive balance against those who laud it as something special.

    In fact, it indirectly led to the split between me and my ex. Arthur Lee was gigging in our city in early 2004. My ex absolutely LOVED this albumso, as a Christmas present, I bought her a ticket. She asked if I would be going along with her and I didn’t have the heart to tell her I had no intention so fibbed, saying I was a bit skint so would get my own ticket nearer the time. She turned up at my place on the evening of the gig fully expecting me to be going along with her and she was well pissed off when I made it clear she’d be going on her own because I never wanted to hear anything from this lousy album again. She stormed off to the gig and lets just say, things were never the same between us again. Arthur of course died the following year and I have zero regrets about choosing not to catch him live though regret how he got in the way of me and my ex.

    Only track by Love I genuinely like is “7 and 7 Is” – now if there were some things like that on this album, it might had made it more tolerable, but sadly that was already history.

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    1. Thank you again! The most disturbing trend in music criticism today is the lack of diversity in opinion. Since all the big review sources—Rolling Stone, All Music, Pitchfork, NME—are paid off by the music industry in the form of advertising or joint concert sponsorship, they tend to follow the industry line. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is industry-sponsored, which explains many of their inexplicable decisions about who’s in and who’s out. In this case, I’m sure Jann Wenner decided that Forever Changes is a great album, so anyone working for him had to toe the line or start looking for work.

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  2. This is how legendary status gets in the way of listening, and hearing, fully. The weight of expectation pushes up a wall of rocks over which it is very difficult for music to traverse. I knew very little (nothing) about Forever Changes until I bought it when it came out remastered in the 2000s. I connected with it immediately, and find that I continue to when I listened to it again and again. Sometimes, time can change perception and allow what is actually there to become available again, once the rocks have melted away. It might be that you’ll hear a track and not realize what it is, and find yourself enjoying it, and then when you find out what it is say “maybe I’d better go back and listen to that again”.

    A Robert Fripp aphorism is relevant here:

    Expectation is a prison.

    in fact…

    EXPECTATION IS A PRISON!

    Best,

    -bs

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    1. Good advice, but not applicable here, since I view Rolling Stone, The Grammies and the National Recording Registry selections with justifiable skepticism. Those decisions are politically or commercially motivated, and the reason for mentioning them was to establish contrast. Expectations are exactly what led me to decide to listen to any album three times before writing about it, because the first pass in particular produces a highly unreliable perception. In this case, I listened five times because I really wanted to make sure I wasn’t filtering the music through an anti-Rolling Stone bias. In the end, nothing in this record moved me in the least, legendary status aside.

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  3. Hi Altrockchick. Really love your site. Just joined. I can see we will be disagreeing quite a bit about your and my classic loves, likes and hates. I love and appreciate music from all eras, but started collecting in the late sixties. Obviously loving the music of that era. Love has always been one of my favourite bands. I love “Forever Changes”, although not sure why it rates so highly on the Rolling Stone list either. I hate ranking in general as it needlessly compares apples and oranges. Perhaps I am sentimentally in love with it, but I don’t find it boring at all. Also, my two fave Stones albums have always been Beggars Banquet and Exile. The first is great musically, the second just an atmospheric party album. ( I even like the stones doing their best imitation of dirty, boogie blues). Thanks for doing this.
    David

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    1. Thanks for writing! I completely agree on the uselessness of rankings; when I first started the blog I tried publishing a few “favorites lists” and found it a ridiculous exercise, so I deleted all of them.

      Generational attachment is the dominant filter through which we perceive music, but in my case it’s somewhat tempered because the quality of music in the 90’s and 00’s was pretty spotty and because I grew up hearing music that spanned the centuries. The Beatles, Kinks and Stones were just as much a part of my teenage years as Oasis, Nirvana and Rancid.

      Though I don’t care for Forever Changes or Exile, they’re just my opinions and I make no pretensions otherwise. You were very lucky to grow up when you did, because the late 60’s/early 70’s was an exceptionally strong, creative period for music, and that’s why the so many of my reviews are of albums from that era. You have much more reason to be nostalgic than I do, so go for it!

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  4. Interesting.

    I like Forever Changes (although, I admit, not as much as when I discovered it in 1980), and a few of the reasons why I like it are exactly a few of the reasons why you hate it, heh heh.

    I always liked many recordings by Herb Alpert, never caring if he’s “square”, “anti-rock” or any other suchlike “sin” – maybe it’s because I’m a Latino, or because Mexican music was always popular in Brazil too. I’m also a fan of Dionne Warwick and Johnny Mathis when they choose the right songs and arrangements. Anyway, I like much Mexican-peppered music, and to me these trumpets on Forever Changes aren’t nearly as indigestible as the hottest chili.

    I like the album’s melodies and somewhat subdued and mostly acoustic-wise arrangements – Love has been called “folk-rock’s answer to Jimi Hendrix”, and maybe Hendrix himself would agree; certainly he participated on a later Love album. I do agree that “Andmoreagain” sound like the Bee Gees, and to me that’s a compliment (I’m a Gibb Bros fan – and, if I remember right, you criticised the Bee Gees for sounding too “whitey”, but I take it for a fact that they became very “Negroid” circa 1974-5 by incorporating r&b influences (they didn’t ride on the disco bandwagon as many people think).

    But I do agree with you in one point: the Forever Changes lyrics are mostly awful. They very seldom qualify as good non-sequiturs, good black humour, good gobbledegook, good risqué, good nihilism, good psychobabble, good something – Bob Dylan these people weren’t (although “Bummer In The Summer” sounds very Dylanesque). “Maybe the people would be the times [or Times]”? “I feel really silly when my name is Bill?” I wrote things like that when I started studying English as a 13-year-old in 1970… The album’s lyrics are the kind that makes me feel irked about not being a native English speaker but working my feet off to sound as much like one as possible – only to watch some native English speakers without such an excuse mistreating their language with such lyrics… Well, in such cases I do as you do when you listen to the Zombies’ “Hung On In A Dream”, I filtre out the lyrics – even with songs in my native Portuguese.

    Well, if I was to waste time with lists (I let the Lists Roll On, oops, Rolling Stone people do it for me), maybe I’d rate Forever Changes at 101th in a Top 100 1960s Albums. And I do agree strongly with you in that, good melodies (at least for me) notwithstanding, this album pales (no, it vanishes) in comparision to Village Green Preservation Society, Odessey And Oracle (the title’s misspelling is not only tolerable but also welcome in that it makes the album even more outstanding), Revolver et al (OK, I won’t include Pet Sounds since I know you don’t rate it very high, and let’s not make a fuss over it, but I’ll think you’ll agree in that, at least, the Pet Sounds lyrics make sense and don’t resort to “snot” and other unnecessary tasteless “shocking” attention-grabbing tricks).

    And guess what? Your review of Forever Changes urged me to reread your review of Odessey And Oracle and want to listen to it again. Now that’s an album who I also discovered in 1980 but still gives me a shiver and a sigh just by thinking about it and I can’t get enough of even with those multiple reissues…

    Now that’s even more interesting!

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  5. sorry; i listened years ago and must have missed the meaning of it all.

    arthur lee always struck me as a decidedly late 60’s west coast idea.
    don’t know anyone who admitted having any records.

    one song that got some play was “love again or ”
    the group seemed perfect for about one paragraph in a tom wolfe book.
    maybe hugh hefner nodded along with the group on some playboy after dark
    t.v. episode .

    that they were elected to the r&r hall completes their up the down staircase journey.

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    1. I love your pithy poetic economy! I have to admit that I will be very happy to leave west coast music fading quickly in my rear view mirror.

      Like

  6. “A Love Supreme” being on the Rolling Stone list strikes me as shameful tokenism by writers who wouldn’t actually listen to that album anyway, presented t0 readers who wouldn’t either. They picked an obvious title to lend the list ‘diversity.’ What I do not doubt is that “Forever Changes” landed there in much the same way. Some editor tasked to slightly rearrange the order of “Blonde on Blonde” “Sgt Pepper” “Pet Sounds” and “Exile on Main St” decided to throw in a ‘wildcard’ and Arthur Lee lucked out and thus began a cyclical and self effacing process: the next list comes around, and “Forever Changes” has got to stay there, because, damn it, we told everyone it was one of the best fucking albums ever, so it can’t disappear ! Just like we’ve been telling everyone for the last 25 years that Exile on Main St is the best fucking album ever. Why, imagine if we suddenly changed our minds, we’d look stupid. Thus tokenism becomes cannonology, and we get these ridiculous lists designed to reinforce all the worst aspects of unwavering boomer ethos.

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    1. I’m delighted you brought up tokenism, because it’s really the only plausible explanation. White guilt knows no bounds. In the case of “A Love Supreme,” I think it made the list because they editors thought, “Oh, we better bring in Coltrane to raise our cred and that’s what jazz critics say is the best.” They probably never listened to it. I hope to still be alive fifty years from now, and maybe then there will exist truly detached criticism that isn’t contaminated by Boomer mythology and norms.

      Like

    2. Lists Roll On, oops, Rolling Stone magazine was of significance until the 1980s, then it became a relic of the past in itself and masters of what I call “1.99 journalism”, as follows:

      100 All-Time Best Guitarists: Jimi Hendrix followed by 99 others
      100 All-Time Best Bands: the Beatles followed by 99 others
      100 All-Time Best Albums: Sgt. Pepper’s followed by 99 others
      100 All-Time Best Singles: anyone with “Rolling Stone” in the artist’s name or the track’s title followed by 99 others

      Indeed, they were forerunners of Facebook’s “pinned posts”…

      They should remember that “only fools never change their minds”. Well, at least once they did and hoped no one would notice. In 1983 they heralded Pink floyd’s The Final Cut as “Pink Floyd’s best LP”, headline on cover and all (the issue’s got Joan Baez on cover). Well, in 1987, to celebrate their 20th anniversary, Rolling Stone released a special edition of “the best 100 records of the last 20 years”. Indeed, Pink Floyd was included – but The Dark Side Of The Moon and The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, not their “best LP” as pronounced in 1983…

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      1. Forever Changes better than the Doors, Kinks, Hendrix and Coltrane’s best? As Johnny Mathis wouldn’t have it, snot for me to say I agree…

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  7. Indeed, it will be interesting to see the evolution of criticism as the baby-boomers decline. The average Gen Y or Millennial has no interest or has not even heard of most these sacred cows -and thus, they have no vested interest in preserving them as such. Right now, Jann Wenner is haunting a catacomb beneath the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, dressed in a gimp suit and fondling a copy of Pet Sounds while he frets about this very fact.

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  8. […] Forever Changes by Love, November 1967 […]

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  9. Great album I discovered a few years ago. I am 50, so I like this older music. I even used it for an independent film: http://youtu.be/_ZZhAoFokJw

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  10. 1967’s ‘Forever Changes’ was a sly, witty commentary on the whole “summer of Love” scene, with lyrics that mostly made fun of that whole surrounding atmosphere and its antics. There is also a somewhat obsessive preoccupation with personal death and a prediction of the chaos that would shatter the “’60’s dream” beginning the following year. These lyrics set against lovely, folk-rock melodies make for a fascinating and kind-of funny listening experience, and with each listen, one begins to realize that the songs themselves are pretty darn good. In fact, Arthur Lee was never better. I love the entire album, don’t find one weak song on it, and regard it to be one of the cornerstones of ’60’s rock works. And Jann Wenner has never had any influence on me.

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  11. I was only vaguely aware of Love until a friend put “The Red Telephone” on a mix tape for me in 1999. I had never heard anything quite like that song. It was spooky and mysterious, and emotionally it seemed to be pulling in a few different directions at the same time. The harpsichord was a brilliant touch, playing against type by being used for a haunting effect. So I bought the album. I loved it right away, and it remains one of my favorites to this day. I think its greatest strength is exactly what I liked about “The Red Telephone” when I first heard it. It’s that pulling of emotions in different directions. The Herb Alpert-like horns are contrasted with acid rock and jumbled, somewhat paranoid lyrics. I’ve always found it fascinating that this is how 1967 looked to this one group of people in their own little corner of the world.

    Maybe your assessment method made you hate this album more than you should. If you were to try a new food and not like it, you would probably wait awhile before trying it again, rather than forcing yourself to eat it several more times in succession. I understand that you are writing a blog, and readers want the big thumbs-up or the big thumbs-down. This one just doesn’t feel as lived-in as some of your other negative reviews of highly regarded albums. It has a bit of a drive-by shooting feel. Also, it’s very easy to read a list and play that game of, “How can THIS possibly be rated higher than THIS?” To which I say, it’s just a list, get over it.

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    1. Interesting perspective, but the process of evaluating the album was separate from my astonishment at its high rating. I usually listen to an album three times before writing, then listen to the album as I write. In the case of Forever Changes, I listened to it three times, couldn’t believe my ears, let it go for a while, then returned to it in a couple of weeks and listened to it three more times. Then, over a year later, I revisited it once again, and gave it three more spins. This resulted in a few minor edits that I haven’t posted yet but didn’t change my original assessment.

      Basically, I prefer Da Capo to Forever Changes, and that’s that!

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