Some records loom over your life with the ferocity and personality of a Madonna or an Axl. These records are great records, but they never let you forget it, and they have the ability to swamp lists like this. Hell, I’ve mentioned several.
Then there are the greater records that are subtle, that sneak into your life and stay there, beckoning on rainy days and Mondays, saying to you “But are you really in the mood for Appetite For Destruction today?”
Forever Changes is one of those subtle albums. It is widely considered one of the greatest albums ever- Rolling Stone, NME, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, Mojo, Channel 4, Q , and the British Parliament have all considered the album to be a masterpiece.
And it is. The late, great Arthur Lee, along with his band, created the definitive Summer of Love album, acid psychedelia laced with acoustic guitars and a full orchestra, with one of the single greatest collections of songs ever recorded. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you make an unforgettable, but truly subtle, record.
The band itself was drugged out, undisciplined, and losing their way. Previous album Da Capo was, save the legendary ” 7 and 7 Is”, was a bit of a mess, not helped by the overwrought second side song “Revelation”, which is in need of a good edit. Under the guise of producer Bruce Botnick, they managed to get it together long enough to produce this gem before falling apart. Love would never be the same after this album, and the drugs would disrupt Arthur Lee’s genius.
The album has a strong folk rock undercurrent, broad and beautiful orchestrations, some gorgeous songs, and the character imbued by Lee in the lyrics and vocals. It’s telling that the album was a minor chart success in the U.S., but a much bigger hit in the U.K. While it’s an album of meager sales, it looms large over music. I hear them in the Stones Roses and Primal Scream, two of my favourite bands of the late 80s-early 90s. Like many other bands that played better over there than over here, Love benefitted from being the outsiders. They were cooler than the Byrds, and they had to pay for it. By 1967, after all, the Byrds were faltering, and the Doors were taking over. As a musical bridge between the two bands, Love had to not be the successful one. Life sucks.
When you hear songs like the simply lovely “Andmoreagain”, or the flourished ” The Red Telephone”, you can’t help to be carried off to the summer of ’67. I have a tendency to sit alone in my room, headphones on, eyes closed, letting the music wash over me. There is a sweetness in the music- it’s not raucous. It’s also not unnecessary. There is an economy in the songs, even with the strings and orchestrations. This wasn’t a record about bombast. It was an album about creating sonic beauty. It’s also an album I cannot stand to listen to on digital files or CD. The vinyl of Forever Changes has a vibe oozing out of the grooves that cannot be replicated.
Arthur Lee, the brilliant musician and lyricist that led one of the most underrated bands in history, would try to go solo in the ’70s and ’80s. Drugs played a part in his faltering, as did some jail time. He was notoriously sentenced to 12 years in prison on gun charges in 1996, under the California Three Strikes law. He managed to get the conviction overturned. When Lee died of leukaemia in 2006, he had performed once again with Love, and bringing back that voice and those songs was probably the greatest thing ever done.
Love still tours- they’re playing a venue in Calgary this week. I’m not going. Because there is no Arthur Lee. As fine a band as original guitarist Johnny Echols probably put together might be, I can’t believe it would be what I want it to be. That said, if you are going, enjoy Echols guitar work, particularly on “A House Is Not A Motel”.
This album is an essential to any serious music lovers collection. If you don’t have it, what’s wrong with you?