Fun fact: The title of Love’s Forever Changes album, according to Arthur Lee himself is actually Love Forever Changes, inspired by a story that Lee had heard about some guy who had broken up with his girlfriend. She told him “You said you would love me forever!” and he apparently replied, “Well, forever changes, baby, forever changes.”
As anyone lucky enough to have seen Arthur Lee live in concert can tell you, it was a very special experience. I saw Arthur in performance three times myself, including an early 90s gig at the fabled Palomino Club in North Hollywood with Baby Lemonade where the electricity went out and he did an intimate candle-lit (literally) “unplugged” set without the group. Pure magic. The entire audience was grinning from ear to ear. To this day it remains one of the very best shows I’ve ever seen.
The second time I saw Arthur Lee play was even more memorable. After spending 5-1/2 years in a federal prison as a result of California’s harsh “three strikes, you’re out” sentencing guidelines, Arthur was released and in 2003 he began a tentative series of performances around Los Angeles playing Love’s classic 1967 album Forever Changes in its entirety, again with the members of Baby Lemonade.
The night I saw him do that set, at a packed Henry Fonda Theatre, Lee looked tiny, frail, old, and just plain scared. He stood in the wings as the band started playing, but he was visible to me where from I was standing and I could see the “oh shit” look on his face as he sized up the audience. When he walked onstage his long fringe suede jacket looked way too big for his slight frame. Everyone was pulling for him, we all wanted this to be amazing and triumphant, but frankly it didn’t look very promising. Within seconds however, he had strapped on his big hollow body electric guitar, smiled broadly, stood straight up and he became the great Arthur Lee before our very eyes. It was like watching Clark Kent turn into Superman and it was another truly magical musical event. Lee’s voice had lost none of its beauty and range during his prison stint; the songs none of their power over the decades. Audience members were moved to tears. It felt like a holy moment, it really did. (Of the third occasion, a tragically ill-fated show at UCLA in front of an audience that included some major celebrities and rock stars, the less said the better.)
Around that time, a friend of mine told me that Arthur ate nearly every day at a Mexican restaurant in Studio City called Casa Vega, which was near where I lived and sure enough when I walked in one day, curious if this was true, there he was sitting at the bar by himself. There were only two other people in the place. I told the waiter to please tell the gentleman seated at the bar that I was a huge fan of his work and that he should bring Arthur’s tab to me. The waiter informed him and Lee swiveled around on his barstool, held up his water glass and nodded to me. When I left I went up to him to pay my respects and said some fanboyish things—among them that Forever Changes was my #1 favorite album of all time and it was the album that I had played the most in my lifetime. He told me that an English tour was being set up and humbly how he was just so grateful that people still cared so much about him and his music. Before it got awkward I said goodbye, but believe me when I tell you that I was thrilled to have met him. Just to thank him for what he’d given to me. How often do you get a chance to do that?
And it’s true what I told him about how Forever Changes being my favorite record. I’ve played it in the thousands of times. Not hundreds, but thousands of times. I’ve probably played it over a dozen times so far in 2018. It’s an album for virtually any mood. One that never loses its power after that many listens. It’s one of the best albums to drive around Los Angeles listening to ever made. It’s a masterpiece of a ridiculously high caliber and it’s being feted by Rhino in a new deluxe box set which features a new digital remastering by the original co-producer Bruce Botnick which is on CD, an LP cut by Bernie Grundman and on a DVD as a high resolution 96/24 file. Additionally the little heard mono mix of the album is present, along with a host of alternate versions, non-album cuts and the video for “Your Mind And We Belong Together.”
One of the things included in the new box set that I wanted to point out is the alternate version of the Forever Changes’ closing number “You Set the Scene.” If this is my favorite album, this is my favorite song on my favorite album. First heard on the 2001 CD release of the album, the alternate version, which clocks in about fifteen seconds longer, contains a sort of shouted/sung proto-rap skat singing double-tracked call-and-response section at about the six minute mark. If you know this song well already, and have never heard this alt version, be prepared to be stunned. A song that is already soaring so high and then it soars A LOT HIGHER at the very end? The first time I heard it was like a mental orgasm (not trying to be arch here, but trying to describe a sincere mental explosion of pure “Holy shit!” psychedelic righteousness the song’s extra moments engender. Can it really be as good as I say? You’ll just have to listen below won’t you?)
But WHY did they not release THIS version on the album? I think it’s better than the canonical version. It’s certainly not worse, that’s for sure. The only reason I can think of is length, that it was edited for time constraints on a 33 1/3 rpm record album. First pressings of the album are known for their excessive surface noise. At 42 minutes, Forever Changes had to be mastered very quietly due to its length, dynamic range and stereo separation. Fifteen seconds might have made a real difference at the end of side two. It’s just speculation, but I’m guessing that the reason for the “alternate version” being jettisoned for the classic version—which isn’t exactly inferior, of course, I don’t want to imply that—probably came down to a compromise like that. Really, how else to explain not using this amazing version??? Imagine an extra section section of “Hey Jude” or “I Am the Walrus” or “Good Vibrations” or something like that that had to be cut out.
You will notice the difference just after six minutes in. Love Forever Changes 50th Anniversary Edition is available starting today.