Love – Forever Changes

Part 26 of a series that will run every Friday throughout 2012 as I discuss records that have affected me throughout the years – Flashback Fridays

The summer of 2002 was my first summer in the Seattle, WA area. Coming from the Philadelphia, PA region you could call this culture shock (to put things lightly). No unbearable humidity, heat that barely hit 90 for less than a week in August, and salt water that was about 20 degrees cooler than I was used to (both in Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean). It was also the 35th anniversary of what is known as “the summer of love” – 1967. That glorious year where every great album in the history of music came out (may be exaggerating a bit there). The Beatles, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and Love all released critically acclaimed albums (just to name a few household names – there are literally hundreds of great records from this time period). Articles proclaiming the brilliance of these bands / records seemed to be popping up in publications and though I was familiar with most, I hadn’t yet picked up Forever Changes by Love (though I had an old compilation which had some of the songs).

The article I was reading in the local city paper also added a curious tidbit – Arthur Lee, the lead singer and creative force behind Love, had recently been released from prison (due to California’s Three Strikes law he had served 5+ years of a 12 year sentence). He was touring with the band Baby Lemonade backing him up and was playing Seattle very soon. I did what any wannabe hipster in his mid 20’s would do – I went out and bought each Love CD that I could find and played them repeatedly until I knew each song as if I had been there in the 60’s. Though I also enjoyed the earlier (critically acclaimed) records as well as the later (not as loved), it seemed that the critics had gotten something right – Forever Changes existed (exists) in a time and space unaffected by its surroundings. It is an unsettling journey – a record seeped in paranoia and dread. It is not just one of the best records of 1967 – it is one of the greatest records of all time.

They’re locking them up today…

Alone Again Or – the album opens with one of the greatest opening tracks in the history of Rock n Roll. It’s also not written by Arthur Lee, this is one of two tracks written by guitarist Bryan MacLean. Acoustic guitar based with Spanish horns throughout giving it an otherwordly feel. The lyrics depict either a sarcastic response to the nature of people, or a heartfelt lyric praising the greatness of people – it is really in the eye of the beholder. Key lyrics:

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

A House is Not a Motel – Driving acoustic guitar with soft percussion. Arthur Lee sings in a lower register lending to the darker atmosphere compared to the opener. As the song progresses his vocals become more impassioned and there are several electric guitar solos. Arthur’s voice bears a resemblance to his friend, Jimi Hendrix in this song. The song breaks down into a guitar solo / jam session over the last-minute or so. Key lyrics:

At my house I’ve got no shackles
You can come and look if you want to
In the halls you’ll see the mantles
Where the light shines dim all around you
And the streets are paved with gold and if
Someone asks you, you can call my name

Andmoreagain – The tone lightens a bit, though there is a sense of melancholy in the vocals – primarily handled by Bryan MacLean here. There is a stark contrast in vocal stylings between MacLean and Lee. MacLean sounds like a cousin of Robin Gibb (whose beautiful warble is one of the greatest gifts in all of music). It is a nice change of pace. Acoustic guitars with amazing string accompaniment. Key lyrics:

And when you’ve given all you had
And everything still turns out
Bad, and all your secrets are your own
Then you feel your heart beating

The Daily Planet – A more straightforward song, though still featuring an acoustic guitar (almost in defiance of the earlier, proto-punk Love records). Galloping bass, a deeper album cut. Segues into a dark bridge, lending itself to the overall eerie feel of this record. Key lyrics:

I feel shivers in my spine
When the iceman, yes his ice is melting
Won’t be there on time
Hope he finds a rhyme
For his little mind

Old Man – Another Bryan MacLean composition. Neil Young was originally slated to produce this record, you do have to wonder if he nicked the title of this track for one of his solo hits (Neil Young’s is superior). This one is one of those deeper album cuts, featuring beautiful singing from MacLean with soft rock backing. Key lyrics:

But I remember that old man
Telling me he’d seen the light
Gave me a small brown leather book
Insisted that he was right
I only heard him slightly
’til I heard you whisper
Took you up all in my arms

The Red Telephone – For me, this is the best song of the 60’s – not something I say lightly. It embodies the darker underbelly of the hippie movement. The paranoia of the times sits front and center, the lyrics making the listener uncomfortable. 10 years later I am still in disbelief that I was able to hear this song performed live by Arthur Lee. The sound is eerie strings and acoustic guitar before breaking down into a rap / chant. During the concert I concentrated on Lee’s face – he seemed to be possessed by the knowledge that he had lived these lyrics (and unfortunately would be dealt more surprises with his losing battle with Cancer). I’ve listened to this countless times and it never fails to move me. During the show, the song ended in a noisy assault with Arthur Lee screaming “I WANT MY FREEDOM”. Key lyrics:

Life goes on here
Day after day
I don’t know if I am living or if i’m
Supposed to be
Sometimes my life is so eerie
And if you think I’m happy
Paint me (white)(yellow)

They’re locking them up today
They’re throwing away the key
I wonder who it’ll be tomorrow, you or me?
We’re all normal and we want our freedom
Freedom… freedom… freedom… freedom
Freedom… freedom… freedom… freedom

alla god’s chilluns gotta have dere freedom

Maybe the People Would Be the Times Or Between Clark and Hilldale – lighter tone after the dark masterpiece preceding it (this song actually starts side 2 of the original record). The title seems awkward and doesn’t flow off the tongue like Lee had hoped, I’d imagine. It is a catchy as hell pop tune featuring acoustic guitars and horn embellishments. The guitar solo sounds like something a Mariachi would play, it is played in tandem with a horn solo. Lee’s vocals are reserved, allowing the music to be the focal point. Key lyrics:

Wrong or right they come here just the same
Telling everyone about their games
And if you think it obsolete
Then you go back across the street
Yeah, street, hey hey

Live and Let Live – a Buffalo Springfield influenced song, a folk / psych rock masterpiece. It vacillates between a lighter acoustic section and a more incessant, hard rock section. Lee’s vocals are simply perfect throughout, playing the dark visionary and Hendrix’ish rocker simultaneously. Key lyrics:

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

The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This – Another song title that probably seemed like a good idea at the time, fortunately the music is superb. A light tone to this one featuring strings and Arthur Lee crooning over top of it – sounding like a more developed David Bowie song in his Deram Records phase. Key lyrics:

Summertime’s here and look over there, flowers every-
Where in the morning, in the morning
La da da, da da da da

Bummer in the Summer – The original summertime sadness song. Acoustic guitar while Arthur spits out verses in a rapid fire singing style. It is a simple formula but it works masterfully. The song breaks down into a jam session with finger picking guitar flourishes. Key lyrics:

All alone on the bone when I didn’t have a home
When I saw the way I was and I knew where I was supposed to be
I was twitchin’ so I turned and it’s really hard to learn
That everyone I saw was just another part of me
But you can go ahead if you want to
’cause nobody’s got no papers on you
(no, babe, it’s just a falsehood)

You Set the Scene – The concluding track attempts to bridge all the disparate elements of this record into one song – and it succeeds brilliantly. Dark folk passages, stunning string sections, horn solos, and eerie vocal turns by Arthur Lee – it all adds up to an amazing song. It perfectly encapsulates everything that this record is about. Key lyrics:

This is the only thing that I am sure of
And that’s all that lives is gonna die
And there’ll always be some people here to wonder why
And for every happy hello, there will be good-bye
There’ll be time for you to put yourself on

My relationship with this record is forever intertwined with that summer night in Seattle in 2002. Arthur Lee opened up the night by pronouncing from stage “It’s good to be back! It’s good to be black, as a matter of fact!”, which had the audience smiling and mesmerized. His lyrics on Forever Changes foreshadowed some of his troubles 20 years later in a way that was…well….unsettling. He had no idea that night in Seattle that his respite from life’s darkness was to be so short-lived (Arthur Lee was diagnosed with Cancer and passed away in 2006). I stood transfixed, hypnotized by a legend in his element. Forever changes, it is true – but we can hold on to the moments that thrill and inspire us in our hearts and memories. Join me next week as I discuss The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips.

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