Prepare yourselves for the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love and the endless eulogies to Sgt Pepper and Swinging London. But The Beatles were not the only group in the summer of 1967 to capture the essence of those times with baroque, orchestrated psychedelic rock music. Swap the marmalade skies of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds for the smog-filled orange skies of Los Angeles. Love’s Forever Changes may not match The Beatles in their pomp but it still sounds just as strange and dreamy half a century on.
Love were vying for the title of the hippest band in Los Angeles with The Byrds at the time. Forever Changes was not their first album of the year. Da Capo, also on Elektra, had attracted attention in Britain with a couple of its six tracks on side one, Orange Skies and The Castle, the latter becoming the theme tune for a travel programme. But the single track on side two, Revelation, is the type of self-indulgence that would later give prog-rock a bad name.
Love needed an album of memorable songs and Forever Changes was it. It doesn’t quite stand the test of time, even if tracks such as Andmoreagain and The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This are still easy on the ear. The likes of Live And Let Live, though, are merely crass and certainly wouldn’t have found their way on to a Beatles album. Forever Changes doesn’t so much reflect the sunny life of Laurel Canyon in 1967 but the sour aftermath of the Sunset Strip riots of late 1966. The opening track, however, is a timeless classic.
Alone Again Or never reached the singles hit parade in Britain and Forever Changes only made it to No24 in the British album chart but to anyone of a certain age this one song has a magic of its own. Written by rhythm guitarist Bryan MacLean, a one-time roadie for The Byrds, the song was inspired by his memory of a forlorn romance, and its Spanish guitar sound is supposed to be a tribute to his mother, a flamenco dancer.
The orchestra gives it a light, airy feel and the producer Bruce Botnick has admitted the Tijuana brass influence was down to him; Botnick was working with Herb Alpert at the time. Alpert’s Tijuana Brass were fantastically popular in the Sixties (who could forget hits such as The Lonely Bull and Spanish Flea?) but they certainly weren’t hip.
MacLean and the group’s leader Arthur Lee share the vocals. The LA-born MacLean was protective about the song, the writing of which pre-dates the group, and wasn’t too pleased with Lee adding the word ‘Or’ to its title. But he was delighted with the use of brass: 'That was the happiest I ever was with anything we did as a band – the orchestral arrangement of that song.'
Love were effectively to break up after Forever Changes, which oddly didn’t quite crack the home market, but Alone Again Or is beautifully produced, even if it is at odds with the darker, counter-culture themes of much of the album. ‘You know that I can be in love with almost everyone, I think that people are the greatest fun,’ sings Lee. ‘And I will be alone again tonight, my dear.’
Various live versions of the song still abound on YouTube. My favourite is from Glastonbury in 2003. The mariachi trumpet frills and the joyful violins are all there, transporting a sun-drenched crowd back to 1967.
The Memphis-born Lee, who had continued to head various incarnations of the band into the 21st century after serving a jail term for ‘negligent discharge of a weapon’, died at the age of 61 in 2006 from complications of leukemia. MacLean, who had earlier joined a Christian ministry, died in 1998 after a heart attack in an LA restaurant while his former bandmate was still incarcerated.
Lee inspired new generations of musicians. He is mentioned in the Lloyd Cole And The Commotions song Are Your Ready To Be Heartbroken and by Half Man-Half Biscuit in Mate Of The Bloke. Lee retains his mystique after famously putting his ‘Or’ in. MacLean, who penned Love’s greatest song, is largely forgotten.