When you hear Love’s pinnacle album, “Forever Changes” for the first time it will change you. As a true psychedelic music lover, I had my reservations as to the possibility that this cult album could live up to the hype. Rolling Stone magazine had “Forever Changes” at #40 out of the 500 albums of all time! It does. It totally does. I prefer to stay on the sunny side of the street but this music ain’t from there. But it’s REAL and it’s haunting. Like looking at artifacts from the Civil War. Nobody’s smiling. That is how this snapshot of the Summer of Love sounds. That didn’t make sense and neither does this review. This is dark music born of drug use & the implications of idealism. It’s Spanish guitar flourishes. It’ has beautiful ethereal string and brass sections. It’s epic scuzzy psych rock guitar freak outs. It’s music for psychedelic matadors. It isn’t like anything you’ve heard or will hear. Just dig in and see for yourself. A spooky yet spellbinding piece of the puzzle that was the late 1960’s. I had to leave this album alone for over 10 years after wearing it out from repeated listens but now it’s back in my life again for another period of obsession. While hippies were going to San Francisco with flowers in their hair, Arthur Lee, the centerpiece of the band Love, reflected the romantic wonderment of writing songs for an album that those who were close to him thought “Forever Changes” was going to be his last will and testament. “Forever Changes” made only a minor dent on the charts when it was first released in 1967, but years later it became recognized as one of the finest and most haunting albums to come out of the Summer of Love. The result was a bunch of contradictions. Gentle and lush production paired with dark and foreboding lyrics. It’s an album caught in the tension between serenity and insanity, with every pleasant note masking an underlying darkness.
Arthur Lee’s voice is gentler and has a higher pitch than you might imagine. He was a hippie with a street gangster attitude, offering mellow vibes and menace in equal measure, waiting for the Woodstock generation’s dream to turn sour. The LA riots, the Vietnam war, the murder of Meredith Hunter during the Altamont rock festival in 1969 – there are intimations of all these nightmarish events on Love’s first three albums: the classic Love, Da Capo and Forever Changes. This is the man credited not just with forming the first multi-racial rock band in Los Angeles, but with pioneering the outrageous “ghetto dandy” look that Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone would later make their own.
Forever Changes is the perfect soundtrack to chaotic times. Perhaps that’s all anyone can do while living through a life-threatening pandemic; especially nowadays. Every morning I scroll through the headlines about mass shootings, political scandals, and melting glaciers and I wonder how long the center can hold. A certain amount of this reflects the angst of a group undergoing some severe internal strife, but Forever Changes is an album that heralds the last days of a golden age and anticipates the growing ugliness that would dominate the counterculture in 1968 and 1969; images of world violence. The masterful songs on Forever Changes manage to accept and transcend the sound of the era. In a Los Angeles scene where the Byrds were absent heroes and the Doors would shortly become immensely more popular, Love was and will remain the coolest, bad-ass group from this time and place. Despite Forever Changes’ frequent inclusion on all-time-greatest lists, it’s easy to be unfamiliar with arguably the greatest album ever made in Los Angeles, the city’s emblematic band. Overshadowed by marquee records from already established artists, the Elektra Records release slipped through the cracks as the summer of love failed to successfully merge into the fall. Radio shunned it, both then and now.
Founding member and guitarist, Johnny Echols.. has been overseeing much of the Love business as of late… Epix Pictures has just released a biopic pic called “Laurel Canyon” and he served as the film’s consultant.
Echols met Arthur Lee in Memphis, TN… and “reconnected” with him here in L.A at Dorsey High School.
We are lucky enough to have Johnny Echols answer a couple questions………
Johnny Echols:Arthur didn’t form the group that became LOVE. Billy Preston, Henry Vestine (later of Canned Heat), and I formed the group while we were still in high school. That group was a fixture on the local club scene as well as playing frat parties throughout Southern California. We were already very successful before Arthur came on board, having played with Little Richard, and Jimi Hendrix and many others, we’d even opened for the Rolling Stones at the Shrine Auditorium. So we were on our way well before Arthur Lee asked if he could join the group. As a matter of fact, I had known Arthur my entire life and wasn’t even aware that he could sing. I knew that he was a fantastic poet and wordsmith, but the fact that he was such a fine vocalist was a surprise. After Billy left to pursue a gospel career, we were pretty much a straight-up R&B group until Bryan MacLean joined us. Everything just seemed to click, after that, unfortunately, Bryan doesn’t receive anywhere near the credit he deserves. I delve into this in detail in the book I’m currently writing, I decided to write the book in an effort to clear up the reams of misinformation and misconceptions out there.
As I mentioned Arthur Lee was a world-class poet and wordsmith, as well as an amazing vocalist, but he didn’t want to spend the requisite time necessary to become a musician, he only knew a couple of chords on the guitar. Bryan, Kenny, and I put the music to Arthur’s words, and Michael Stuart-Ware created the rhythmic counterpoint, much like the way Elton John put music to Bernie Taupin’s words. However, Arthur was a bit more involved than Bernie was. He would sing us the melodies (often without words) and Bryan and I would figure out the proper chords. He would say I like that, or I don’t like that, and after days of experimentation, (sometimes months) the song would develop. In my experience, that’s pretty much how most rock music is created. Before hooking up with Arthur Lee, Echols did studio work with Glen Campbell and Billy Preston… While in London he backed up the late Little Richard and that was when The Beatles were just getting traction.Together they created a rock band that was not in the mainstream and that is what makes Forever Changes timeless.
Rock Bands of L.A.com: This is going to be interesting. I’ve watched interviews and for being “wet behind the ears” you were very savvy about the music business. Example: Own Your Music! What would happen if Love had all the access to social media as rock bands do today? imagine all the hysteria about how many YouTube and Spotify “hits”.. Shit… You don’t even need a record company anymore.
Johnny Echols: We are obviously living in a very different reality, however, all things considered, if we “LOVE” had been privy to all of the technological advancements available today, i.e. if we could magically take today’s technology back to 1967, In my not so humble opinion, the resulting recordings would be simply mind-blowing. By current standards, recording technology back in the day was primitive, yet we were able to turn out some of the finest music ever produced. By the way, Forever Changes was recorded on a four-track tape recorder.” It boggles the mind to think what groups back in the day could have done with unlimited tracks, as well as the ability to digitally edit.
Rock Bands of L.A. com: You’re a wise man…. What suggestions can you offer to young rock bands here in L.A.? Do you go see local bands? Are there any bands you dig?
Johnny Echols: My suggestion for young musicians trying to navigate the minefield that is the music business is to take care of your business first. One of the main reasons successful groups wind up breaking up is because of money, and how it’s shared. I’m of the opinion that songwriting credits should be shared equally because songs are usually created by the entire group, everyone has input, i.e. they write their own parts and that input should be rewarded. Often the finished song sounds nothing like the “original” song.We often have local bands open for us when we’re on tour, so we definitely get to hear a lot of young up and coming bands. I love a group called “The Fast Camels,” I think they’re great. I also like Gary Clark jr. as well as a local group called “Pop Vision.” There are lot of excellent young groups in the queue.
Rock Bands of L.A.com:It’s unbelievable to think that “Forever Changes” continues to be on every journalist list for being the best albums.. #1 in L.A.? #1 psyche album of 1968… I meet Kids and they ask about the album and tell me how much it has meant to them.
Johnny Echols: Due to the continuing popularity and longevity of the album “Forever Changes,” (which by the way, has never been out of print since the day it was released), the music of LOVE is continually exposed to new audiences. We did an extended tour of the UK last summer and at the Sefton Park music and arts festival, in Liverpool, we played to an audience of well over ninety-thousand people. And the vast majority of people in attendance were under thirty, which is simply amazing and gratifying to be considered relevant after all these years.”