“Forever Changes” by Love (1967)
When the Doors were getting their start in the mid-’60s Los Angeles music scene, their aspiration was to become as big as Love.
Of course, Jim Morrison and company reached that goal after their second single, “Light My Fire,” shot to the top of the charts in 1967. By comparison, the best showing by Love was “Seven and Seven Is,” a burst of garage-meets-psychedelia that peaked at No. 33 the previous year.
And so it went for the Elektra labelmates. The Doors remain one of the most readily identifiable bands in rock history, while Love is a footnote, albeit a well-respected one.
The story of Love starts with the late Arthur Lee, whose early musical credits include writing a song called “My Diary” that was recorded by an obscure singer named Rosa Lee Brooks; it would be utterly forgotten today except for the identity of her guitarist, one James Marshall Hendrix.
Lee formed his own band, the Byrds-influenced Grass Roots, but changed the name to Love after another band appropriated the first choice. Love was an early interracial band, with the black Lee and guitarist Johnny Echols joined by white musicians, including the late Bryan MacLean, also on guitar.
The band scored a minor hit with a cover of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “My Little Red Book,” which in a roundabout way ended up forming the basis for Pink Floyd’s instrumental “Interstellar Overdrive.” “My Little Red Book” appeared on the debut “Love” (1966), which generally featured a harder-edged sound than most folk-rock albums of the time.
Love’s sound gained more complexity on “Da Capo” (1967), which along with “Seven and Seven Is” also features such outstanding tracks as “Stephanie Knows Who,” later covered by the Move; MacLean’s introspective “Orange Skies”; and the LP-side-length “Revelation” (originally titled “John Lee Hooker”), based on a jam that Love had been doing since its early days.
“Da Capo” peaked at No. 80 on the billboard charts, a poor showing compared with the Doors’ debut album and “Strange Days,” both of which made the Top 3.
Sessions for Love’s third album began with some of L.A’s crack studio musicians backing Lee on his compositions “Andmoreagain” and “The Daily Planet,” a strong indicator that he was seeking an increasingly sophisticated sound for his material.
The rest of the band did play on the other tracks of what eventually constituted “Forever Changes,” but they were complemented by strings, horns and other flourishes that took the band into a whole new dimension musically, even if the musicians’ physical appearances were standard for the time. As John Einarson quoted Lee in “Forever Changes: Arthur Lee and the Book of Love”:
“I walked into the studio and took a seat in one of the chairs. I must have been there at least 45 minutes when one of the classical musicians said, ‘If this guy Arthur Lee doesn’t show up soon, I’m leaving.’ I said, ‘I’m Arthur.’ Most of them, if not all of them, couldn’t believe their eyes. This black hippie guy is Arthur Lee?”
When “Forever Changes” was released in November 1967, many listeners probably had to ignore their preconceptions, too. The album certainly has its basis in rock, but many of the songs veer into Baroque territory, with the extra instrumentation complementing Lee’s ambitious lyrics.
The opener actually is a MacLean composition, “Alone Again Or,” which also was released as a single. It sets the tone for “Forever Changes” with its highly orchestrated arrangement, including a section with a mariachi band.
Lee’s “A House Is Not a Motel” rocks out considerably more, with a churning riff backing such words as “And the water turns to blood, and if you don’t think so/Go turn on your tub, and it’s mixed with mud/You’ll see it turn to gray.”
Arthur also was imaginative with his titles, as evidenced by “Andmoreagain,” “Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale” and “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This.”
Perhaps the highlights of “Forever Changes” are the final two tracks: “Bummer in the Summer,” a two-chord rocker chronicling the demise of a Lee love affair, and “You Set the Scene,” a mini-suite of musical ideas that takes a less direct approach to encapsulating a relationship.
For all the later praise heaped upon “Forever Changes” – it, for example, has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame – it made a negligible impression on the American charts. As a result, Lee follow through on what he’d started during the album’s first session by firing the rest of the band and starting over in 1968.
Although the revamped Love had its moments, it never came close to reaching the creative heights of “Forever Changes.”
And for many listeners, neither did the Doors.