One of the things that made Forever Changes such a marvel was the interplay between Michael Stuart’s drumming and Bryan MacLean’s acoustic guitar.
Like, check the opening of “A House is Not a Motel:” MacLean starts with a rolling roiling half-strum half-pick, and instead of finding the beat in the middle of it, Stuart focuses on duplicating it with his drum kit. What this does is give the song an almost unsettling lightness, like it could just float away at any time.
Which would fit quite well with the unsettling alienation that Arthur Lee is singing about throughout.
You are just a thought that someone
Somewhere somehow feels you should be here
And it’s so for real to touch
To smell, to feel, to know where you are here
And the streets are paved with gold and if
Someone asks you, you can call my name
Despite all that, “A House is Not a Motel” is probably the most conventional rock song on Forever Changes, as Stuart alternates his aping the rhythm guitar with double-times and rolls and occasionally even a straight beat for a bar or two at time. Which gives Johnny Echols space to crank out a pair of excellent guitar solos.
The first one is relatively normal: ringing out crystal clear for a couple of bars after the second verse and in case you missed it, after a quick drum roll, the same solo once again. Then after a prescient verse where Lee observes that “the news today will be the movies for tomorrow” and then tops that with
And the water’s turned to blood, and if
You don’t think so
Go turn on your tub
And if it’s mixed with mud
You see it turn to gray
And you can call my name
I hear you call my naaaaaaammmmmmme
And with that, it’s just Stuart for a hot second, playing the rhythm guitar on his drums setting the scene for Echols to come roaring in with a scary, loud solo that then devolves into a whole slew discordant overdubbed solos amid chattering and cackling and screaming and of course drum rolls that keep going until the fade.
Because it was much mellower that most of the other music I was listening to at the time, I used to put on side one of Forever Changes when I went to bed, knowing that there was always the possibility that the frightening ending of “A House is Not a Motel” would freak me the fuck out if it came on just as I was falling asleep.
“A House Is Not a Motel”
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