1967: Love / Forever Changes
by J A Gray
In late 1984 it was my turn to leave home and I went to study in Birmingham. Sometime during this period, or maybe early the next year, I went to London to visit Marcus, who was briefly a Muswell Hillbilly. Marcus was trying to establish himself as a music journalist, so it almost goes without saying that he was in a permanent state of financial distress. On the agenda one afternoon was a trawl round the second-hand charity shops of Muswell Hill. In one of these Marcus lighted on an LP going for pennies that he said he had always wanted to hear. We got back to his flat and he stuck it on. It was Forever Changes*, the third album by Arthur Lee’s group, Love. Marcus played the first side through and then announced that he didn’t like it. I, on the other hand, was an instant convert. I’d not heard musical textures quite like this before. The brass sounded a bit Mexican. The usual lead singer**, a black American, sounded almost like a posh English white boy. The songs kept going off on weird musical tangents. The lyrics were odd, quirky and, at times, seemingly random. Banks of strings would leap out from the speakers, or a stuttering unhinged electric guitar would suddenly let rip. And then all would go quiet and serene again, just the curious singer and an acoustic guitar, bass and drums, yet the tracks all dovetailed into each other creating one continuous mood. Hell even the song titles were fascinating – some of them took up two lines on the sleeve’s track listing. Most importantly, for me, the songs were filled with hooks and terrific melodies. Not that all of this occured to me during this first cursory listen, but some of it did and the rest would soon enough.
I’m not sure when I bought my own copy of Forever Changes, but I certainly had it by late 1986. I do know that I took a while to get a copy because all of the new pressings in the shops had the ‘wrong’ back cover. They had subsituted the beautiful full colour original group shot with a black and white picture of just Arthur taken some years later and evidently sporting a wig. I don’t know how I knew it was wrong, but I did. Possibly because Marcus’s copy had been an original. Trivial perhaps, but this sort of things mattered to me, damn it. So I bided my time until I too found a second-hand copy with the ‘proper’ sleeve.
In another flat just two buildings along from where I was living was my college friend Lorna. Lorna was lovely – a really nurturing and kind young lady. She was a bit of a substitute mother for me during my first period away from the family nest. Or at very least a big sister. I haven’t crossed paths with her in an age. I hope she’s doing alright. Lorna lived with her partner, Paul. Paul and I got on like a house on fire. We would be incredibly silly in each other’s company and Lorna would just smile benignly or roll her eyes towards the heavens. One time somebody found a small chunk of dope and decided we should get stoned, but we had no cigarette papers and there were no 24 hour garages in the area that might sell us some. Either Lorna or Paul hit upon the idea of using the paper wrapper from one of Lorna’s tampons. Great, but what the hell would you stick that together with? Rooting through drawers and cupboards, Paul finally declared that he had found the very stuff. Marmalade! It was by far the strangest doobie I have ever seen. I’m not sure that this story is particularly relevant to anything, but I always remember it when I remember Lorna and Paul.
What is relevant is that either Lorna or Paul also had a copy of Forever Changes. They had a copy with the ‘wrong’ picture on the back of the sleeve. I recall being quite alarmed and intrigued when I was listening to their copy and the track A House Is Not A Motel was playing. On my copy, the song faded out with the guitar solo. On their copy the solo went on quite a bit longer and then ended really abruptly. It sounded pretty cool actually, but it was very curious that two different versions of this track had made it out there. Another song that ended pretty weird was The Good Humor Man, He Sees Everything Like This. The staccato brass finale jumped and skipped all over the place. At first I thought my stereo had stripped a gear or that I had a faulty pressing, but their copy did the same thing. It was obviously intentional. How strange. They must have literally cut out come pieces of the master tape to make it sound like that. A jarring note at the end of what is a pretty and bucolic song. Clearly there was an interesting mind at work here. Eventually I got used to hearing this weird ending and I’d probably miss it if someone was to suddenly play me a copy that didn’t skip in that way.
Paul and I used to dance to Forever Changes. Now Paul was only in his early 20s in those days but he already had pretty chronic arthritis. He was studying to become an actor and they always gave him old man roles. He moved like an old man. Lorna often had to help him out of bed in the mornings. Paul could get sulky and petulant on occasion (who would blame him?) but most of the time he bore all this with an exceptional good grace. He too was a good humour man. He had a twinkle in his eye and was always ready to laugh. And he also liked to dance. Paul danced by doing this rather amusing jiggle motion where his upper body would keep a double-speed rhythm but with only the tiniest of movements. His feet meanwhile would do no more than shuffle from one to the other. It was so compelling a dance style to watch that I invariably ended up mirroring it and doing the same. I didn’t intend to, it just happened. Every single time. Paul never once accused me of taking the piss. Maybe he didn’t notice I was dancing like him. Maybe he didn’t know he danced like that. Maybe he knew full well and just thought it was funny. Sometimes if others joined in the dance then we’d all be doing it. Paul had unwittingly started a dance craze rooted in his arthritis. That always makes me smile.
But when it came to Forever Changes we’d do the old Pan’s People routine. Pan’s People were the young ladies who used to dance on Top Of The Pops, the BBC’s flagship popular music show. Every week there’d be one record that wouldn’t feature the act in question miming, but would instead feature these dancers. This was back in the days before many artists made videos, and usually it was because the song was by an American artist who wasn’t going to schlep all the way over the Atlantic to mime for British telly. Or they might be dead. Or lazy. Anyway, Pan’s People, bless ’em, would often do this style of dancing wherein they’d literally interpret the lyrics of the song. It is interpretive dance in its most prosaic form. Many people of my generation remember the routine they did for Gilbert O’Sullivan’s song Get Down. “Get down, get down, get down” sang Gilbert as Pan’s People pointed at the floor. “You’re a bad dog, baby” sang Gilbert as Pan’s People pulled vexed faces and wagged their index fingers in an admonishing manner…..at some actual dogs sitting on the studio floor. Hilarious.
Doing the Pan’s People routine to Arthur Lee’s lyrics for Forever Changes could be a strange journey for even the most gifted of interpretive dancers. Paul and I would stand there, doing Paul’s signature jiggle. Arthur would sing “and the water’s turned to blood” and we would pretend to wash our hands and then look suitably horrified. Or Arthur would sing “but my things are material” and we would indicate our clothes. Arthur sang “I believe in magic. Why? Because it is so quick” and we would by turns look entranced and then extremely alert. Arthur sang “oh the snot has caked against my pants” and we…well, you get the general idea. All of this whilst maintaining the upper body jiggle. We’d be in hysterics. Lorna would smile an indulgent smile. I’d say maybe you had to be there, but really I suppose you had to be us.
As with Lorna, I haven’t seen Paul for many years. They separated soon after I lost touch. That made me sad. I always thought they were a great couple, whatever problems they had. I also heard he’d had to abandon his acting dreams because of his physical limitations. I looked him up on the internet a few months ago and found out he was doing work for others with chronic arthritis. Good man, Paul.
I’ve bought other Love albums over the years. Some I like a lot and some I don’t much care for. None come even close to the majesty of Forever Changes. It’s one of a select few albums that I never consider skipping tracks when I’m listening. Some songs are slighter than others but they all sound part of this wonderful whole. And those words that I first found random, and later (with Paul) found oddly amusing, I now often find poetic and inspired, though they’re still playful and sometimes silly too. You can hear Los Angeles in the 1960s in the words. You can hear the Vietnam War. You can hear Arthur’s very real sense of his own mortality – he often said in interviews that he was convinced at the time that the album was going to be his farewell note. And you can hear a man who liked to play with words. I really like how he would arrange some of the vocal parts so that different words are sung at the same time, adding to the mystery of the songs. On the whole I think it’s pretty much as close to perfect as an album can get.
I’m still meeting friends who also have a much prized copy of Forever Changes in their collections. And I meet others who have never heard it before I either nag them into doing so, or stick a CDR copy of it in their hands. I don’t recall anyone saying they didn’t love it. Maybe even Marcus has changed his mind by now.
* I always think of the album’s full title as being Love Forever Changes. Even though Forever Changes on its own does make a kind of sense (in a gnostic sort of way), I would suggest that Arthur at least allowed for the possibility of the band’s name being part of the title. He repeated the trick with the next Love release which was called Four Sail. Again the band name could arguably be part of the punning title, ie Love Four Sail.
** Arthur Lee doesn’t sing all of the songs on the album. Two songs, the terrific opener Alone Again Or and the reflective Old Man, were written and sung by Bryan MacLean. It’s another tribute to Forever Changes‘ cohesion that it’s not immediately apparent that there are two very different songwriters at work here. The orchestral arrangements by the very talented David Angel really help to achieve this integration. As does Arthur arguably apeing Bryan’s more whimsical songwriting style on tracks like Andmoreagain and The Good Humor Man, He Sees Everything Like This.
N.B. Forever Changes is currently available, in remastered form, as both a single CD with bonus tracks, and as a ‘Collector’s Edition’ double CD pack with yet more bonus tracks (mostly consisting of alternate mixes). Depending on how committed you are, either of these are just fine, and both contain the album itself, the pretty cool outtake song Wonder People, and both sides of the subsequent 45rpm release Your Mind And We Belong Together, backed with Laughing Stock. That single is a great companion piece to the parent album, and those two tracks are the last recordings made by this incarnation of Love. Sometimes though you may want to hit stop after track 11 and just hear the original album as it was. All CD releases are in stereo, complete with the drums-in-one-channel syndrome I mentioned in the Revolver chapter. It’s a minor niggle though, all things considered. Plus it probably won’t be long before some bright spark decides to reissue the CD again with its rare mono mix included. I’ll be one of the suckers putting their money down. Again.
My other nominations for 1967 albums of merit:
The Who Sell Out
The Beatles / Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Byrds / Younger Than Yesterday
Buffalo Springfield Again
The Doors / Strange Days
Songs Of Leonard Cohen
Phil Ochs / Pleasures Of The Harbor
Something Else By The Kinks
Roy Harper / Come Out Fighting, Ghengis Smith
The Velvet Underground & Nico
Pink Floyd / The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn