may 2008


Released at the end of 1967 to the sound of almost no hands clapping (even Rolling Stone appraised it in tepid terms), Love's Forever Changes, the third and final album from the original band lineup led by the late Arthur Lee, has gained an Olympian stature in time, brooking favorable comparisons to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (released earlier in the same year as Forever Changes) and the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds (released in 1966) for its daring compositional, structural and production appropriations from various non-rock sources and its articulation of the prevailing, increasingly splintered, post-Summer of Love zeitgeist, when the Vietnam War came home with a vengeance. Both "The Red Telephone," with its pronounced Renaissance flourishes, sinister, nursery-rhyme-like spoken word passages, and disjointed lyrics; and the angry "A House Is Not a Motel," driven by a military beat and guitarist Lee's vocal and instrumental howls (one virtually indistinguishable from another in the swirling mix), reflect an oncoming crisis born of a generation's refusal to advance an illegal, immoral conflict abroad. Another 1967 album, the Jefferson Airplane's masterpiece, Surrealistic Pillow, clearly affected Love's approach too, in feel, and in particular in the speed-rapped "Bummer In the Summer," widely pinpointed as a Dylan homage because of the way Lee drew out words with drawled, extra syllables, although the entire exercise sounds heavily indebted in tempo, sound and style (almost to the point of copyright infringement) to the Airplane's "Plastic Fantastic Lover." On the other hand, two beautiful, plaintive Brian MacLean ballads ("Alone Again Or," with close-harmonized verses and choruses, shifting tempos, a vibrant mix of acoustic and electric textures, "Lonely Bull" horns and idealistic but oddly resigned lyrics; and the winsome "Old Man," sung by MacLean in a tiny, fragile, affecting falsetto over a surging orchestral arrangement keyed by strings, woodwinds, horns and acoustic guitars) are more indebted to the pop majesty attempted by The Association on the Bones Howe-produced LPs, Insight Out (1966) and Birthday (1967). And at several junctures the arrangements quote from the pop-classical fusions of the Left Banke, who debuted in 1966 with "Walk Away, Renee" and "Pretty Ballerina." So there is much to chew on here, in the original album as well as a second disc offering an unremarkable alternate mix of the album and bonus material notable for the inclusion of "Hummingbirds," an early version of one of Lee's weirdly sunny musings on the official album, "The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This." So rich in so many ways, and so open to continuing debate about its proper place in the hierarchy of ambitious, late '60s rock experiments in form and substance, Forever Changes remains—dare it be said?—forever young, and ever fascinating. Mark this reissue essential.—David McGee


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