Treble 100: No. 53, Love – Forever Changes

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love forever changes

“Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Though the book was released two years after Love’s transcendent album, Forever Changes, in my mind Arthur Lee is essentially the proto-Billy Pilgrim. At the time of this writing, 56 years have passed since the release of Love’s third album, and today seems both completely of its time and somehow totally anachronistic. It is gorgeously “unstuck” in time, as apropos and tragic as that may be. 

Perhaps it’s because the album itself, its gorgeous instrumentation and erudite, cryptic lyrics, is timeless. Perhaps it’s because, though Arthur Lee lived into the 21st century, and was quite productive—still playing with Love until his passing—it somehow feels as though he was a casualty of the 60s, like Jim Morrison or Janis Joplin. Perhaps it’s because the embedded ennui, pessimism, paranoia, anger, and anxiety of the album are present in every decade. Perhaps it’s because this album, unlike say Sgt. Pepper’s, goes through cycles of rediscovery as opposed to being omnipresent in the culture. 

Love occupies an odd assortment of rock tropes that don’t seem to fit into widely overlapping Venn diagrams. Love is the eclectic late-’60s Los Angeles rock band, forever associated with the Whisky A Go Go as much as they are associated with The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. Love is the band with competing singer/songwriters, a la The Beatles, The Band, Eagles or Fleetwood Mac. Love is the Salieri to the more popular and successful Mozart they would help foster, The Doors (Side note: in a bit of poetic justice, Rolling Stone’s Top 500 albums of all time placed Forever Changes at 40 and The Doors’ debut at 42). Love is the band with the doomsaying, drug-affected, enigmatic lead singer/songwriter. Love is the band with arguably the most cliché name of a 60’s outfit ever. And yet, they not only pull it off, they transcend it. They make the name slyly ironic and cutting. 

Forever Changes is the type of album that every critic considers a classic but somehow still isn’t mentioned in the mainstream. Sure, you may hear musicians talk about it—its influence, its eclectic nature, its brooding and sinister tone. Occasionally, you may hear “Alone Again Or” on a classic rock radio station, either the original or a cover, like The Damned’s from 1986. Most of the time, however, and this is just my perception, Love resides somewhere between Captain Beefheart and The Kinks in terms of a spectrum of popularity and respect, the former being the refined taste that very few obtain and the latter an incredibly accessible band, but one that still takes a backseat to more popular British Invasion acts. Hell, I am a massive fan of the band, Forever Changes being one of the first records I obtained on vinyl when I started collecting again, and I forgot that I wrote the original review of the record on Treble in 2004. In my defense, that was near 20 years ago and sometimes I can’t remember my own ATM PIN. 

So, why am I writing this again? Upon rereading, that first review is not bad at all, if I do say so myself. I cover the great Lee lyrics that captured the rebellious, anti-Vietnam zeitgeist. I cover the Tijuana brass horns and Spanish guitar that make the band’s release a true Angeleno cultural mélange. I find more modern comparisons to show the band’s lasting influence. So why? Because the spirit of this project is to write about the 100 albums we here collectively couldn’t live without. Forever Changes is one of those albums, whether because we’re “critics” or just lovers of the greatest music of all time, is essential. If some of us had been old enough, it would have been a record we owned on vinyl, and then 8-track, and then cassette, and then CD, and then vinyl again because it just sounded better. 

Everyone will have their favorite track(s), but each song has some hook or snippet that sets it apart, whether it’s Hal Blaine’s incredible drum sounds on “The Daily Planet” or the sneering, foreboding nature of “The Red Telephone.” Most will cite “Alone Again Or,” one of two songs written by Bryan MacLean, and rightly so, the song’s a classic, but don’t sleep on the horns in “Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale.” “Bummer in the Summer” sounds gorgeously influenced by the then-most-recent Bob Dylan albums, because who couldn’t have been? And though “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This” is as stereotypically as ’60s as it gets, the stutter-step fade-out feels proto-hip-hop, again giving it that “unstuck in time” vibe. Every track has something to offer, making it repeatedly listenable. 

As an English teacher, one of the things I appreciate about language is its flexibility and ambiguity, and not just for the humor of making such retorts as “OK, you’re a sandwich.” That’s the reason I love the title Forever Changes. Though I’ve heard the story of the reason behind the title, which actually removes the ambiguity, I still prefer to think about it beyond its intention (and as I write this, I suppose this is what we should do with the album as well, and all other examples of art). The original intention was to treat it as a noun and verb. The idea of “forever” is in flux. It could also be an adjective and noun, implying that the only thing that is constant is instability. It is this latter meaning that I feel best characterizes the album and epitomizes its longevity.  

And I’ll admit here that I am a bit biased about the album, having spent a number of years living in Los Angeles, especially during some of my more formative years of expanding my musical horizons. I later moved to Delaware and my friend Christine, an Angeleno from birth, wrote to me to tell me she had just seen the movie Swingers and that I should probably avoid seeing it as it would make me miss L.A. Well, it didn’t. I would say it’s because I wasn’t a swing dancer and didn’t have whiskey sours at the Dresden, but I also wasn’t around the Whisky in 1967 and Forever Changes DID make me miss Los Angeles. It made me miss not only Sunset Boulevard, but also day trips to Melrose or even winding up Mulholland for no reason. It made me miss tacos on Olvera Street and Dim Sum in Chinatown. It made me miss the sunshine as it hit Santa Monica Pier and the June gloom of Venice Beach. I didn’t live there anymore and haven’t since 1996. I could go back and visit, but I suspect that a lot has changed. I have changed. Ironically, Forever Changes is stalwart and remains a reminder of everything I love about Los Angeles and music in general. 

best albums of the 60s Love

Love : Forever Changes

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