This month, Rhino released a 50th anniversary boxed set of Love’s Forever Changes, an all-time classic of ‘60s psychedelic rock and a cracked-door view into the psychology of its main architect, Arthur Lee. Much ink has been spilled about the record’s backstory, centered around a bunch of jaded rock n’ roll boys holing up in the Hollywood Hills writing weird, winding folk songs about the degeneration of the hippie dream. Even so, what led up to the album is wholly inessential to absorb the shimmering, lovely and chilling music that resulted.
Love had been perfectly decent garage-rockers prior to Forever Changes, even scoring a minor hit with the great 1966 rocker “7 and 7 Is.” But something flipped. His bandmates had been camped out at Bela Lugosi’s mansion, lighting up their brains, and — whether due to exposure to that drug-addled scene, the turbulent political climate or his own fears of mortality — Lee began writing labyrinths rather than pop songs. Whether lyrically or musically, every song on Forever Changes operates in disconnections, trapdoors or oracular inquiries about the future.
This was due to Lee, who was “evolving,” as Forever Changes co-producer Bruce Botnick put it to Billboard. “Arthur was always into his head. Getting loaded, being on the street, taking advantage of the scene, of the politics, love and his relationships. He was an incredibly prolific and romantic figure with an amazing sense of humor.” Listening to it, you’re just as likely to hear maximum-spooky meditations on mortality as you are tongue-in-cheek lines about merry-go-rounds, children’s pigtails and snot caking on pants.
In honor of the album’s 50th anniversary, Rhino released an immersive box set of the album, containing alternate mixes, demos, studio banter and other oddities that shed further light on the development of a classic. Here are five highlights from Forever Changes’ outtakes and alternate mixes.
With “Alone Again Or,” It’s The Singer, Not the Song
During Love’s heyday, singer-guitarist Bryan MacLean was the McCartney to Lee’s Lennon, penning sophisticated ballads like “Orange Skies” that mixed appealingly with Lee’s harder, jazzier rave-ups. For the Forever Changes sessions, MacLean brought in another original, “Alone Again Or,” an elliptical love ballad hung on a melody partly nicked from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije Suite. (Digging around in the classical record bins for inspiration — another McCartney move!) However, it was Lee who sang lead on the song, feeling he could interpret it in his own way. Says Botnick, “Arthur felt that the vocal should have been him. The song wouldn’t have had the same message and interpretation. In the end, Bryan was very happy.” In this alternate mix, you can hear MacLean’s vocal presence more strongly.
The Good Humor Man Goes Missing
Whether claiming “I don’t need the times of day / Any time with me’s okay,” or layering color names over each other in vocal tracking (“Paint me white/yellow!”) many cuts on Changes cleverly flip hippie claptrap to see if there’s anything underneath. “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This” is no different, and its instrumental demo “Hummingbirds” is lovely on its own. It reminds you of how few electric guitars pop up at all on the record in favor of long, languid streams of twelve-string guitar — to such a soothing effect you barely realize how baldly they’ve abandoned traditional chord structures.
The Guys Take a Shot at “Andmoreagain” Before the Wrecking Crew Steps In
By all accounts, the guys in Love weren’t initially up to the task of recording Forever Changes, often lingering in a drugged-out haze in Bela Lugosi’s mansion instead of woodshedding material. Hence, two Changes cuts — “The Daily Planet” and “Andmoreagain” — feature The Wrecking Crew, the legendary ‘60s collective of studio musicians who backed up everyone from Elvis Presley to the Byrds in those days. On this revealing bonus track, you can hear a rather scrappy take on this delicate ballad before drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Carol Kaye, a string section and more would give the track the sweetening it needed. Says Botnick, “[The Wrecking Crew] turned out to be an inspiration for the rest of the band, who were not up to task at that particular time. They got their shit together and we have the album.”
Love Record Their Monumental Death Song, Get Their Sillies Out
If a rock song ever doubled as a serpent eating its own tail, it’s the shivering, lovely “The Red Telephone.” It’s plainly the greatest song Love ever penned and a masterpiece of the ‘60s — if you don’t get at least a little chill when Lee sings, in his perfect deadpan, “I believe in magic / Why? Because it is, so, quick” over that feather-light, mystical harpsichord, then psych-rock may not be your thing. That said, it’s kinda weird to hear this softly sung paeon to mortality and destruction descend into fart jokes. In a track of “Telephone” studio banter, Ken Forssi hits a clinker on the bass in the intro, then the twenty-somethings just can’t help themselves. “What’s that high pitched f—in’ noise, man?” someone giddily protests. “We were rolling along just fine there, and all of a sudden Bryan farted!” Someone — probably Lee — waxes on the song’s “time”-related verse — “Come on guys, you’re wasting my time. And you know my time is money. Hey, give me my money, time! OK, time! Let’s have the money!” It’s all pretty silly and drives home the band’s relative youth — the band were all between 20 and 24 years old at the time — but thank heavens it all resulted in a tune like “The Red Telephone.”
Hattie Told Mattie…
Eventually, the guys abandon trying to nail “The Red Telephone” altogether and burst into a spirited version of Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs’ daffy 1965 hit “Wooly Bully.” Bryan MacLean cannot stop giggling. Arthur Lee keeps encouraging the guys to get serious and return to “The Red Telephone” — “Money is time!”