The Infinite Jukebox: Love’s ‘Alone Again, Or’

If you were around in the Seventies, you couldn’t help knowing this oddly-titled song from West Coast band Love, the opening track of their legendary 1967 album Forever Changes. Like Todd Rundgren’s ‘I saw the Light’ it was one of those singles the record company kept determinedly releasing, Radio 1 kept gleefully playing and the Great British Record-Buying Public kept resolutely turning their collective back upon. You cloth-eared idiots. In a better organised Universe, ‘Alone Again Or’ would have been released just as often and would have been top 5 on every one. Bliss it would have been in that dawn to be alive.
The thing is that if ‘Alone Again Or’ didn’t capture the British ear in 1967, when it was wonderfully, beautifully of its time, there is no evidence in the song that it might do so in the sun-less Seventies.
Forever Changes was Love’s third album and ‘Alone Again Or’ the opening track, written and sung by Arthur Lee, one of two songwriters and singers the band was blessed with. After pursuing a crisp, electric pop style, containing occasional flashes of proto-punk, the band adopted an almost entirely acoustic approach for this album, apparently without prior intent, but in response to the songs and the arrangements that best suited them.
‘Alone Again Or’ has an unusual structure, one that you might think would mitigate against its appeal as a single. The song is a stop-start affair. It opens with a solo acoustic guitar, a complex melody picked out by Lee (or Bryan McLean if it was him) with a mere brush of chords beneath, before the drums enter with a skip beat and the band is there in full, supporting Lee’s voice, eager and enthusiastic. I’ll come back to the words later, but as the verse spins out there’s an accelerating energy, leading to the almost desperate “And I will be alone again tonight, my dear”, a line decorated with trumpet, before the music abruptly ends, and the acoustic intro returns, fading up out of the music.
We run through the intro again, the drum beat skips and we’re back with the band for the second verse, leading to the same climactic line and trumpets.
The intro is played through again, the drum skips, but this is now the solo, and it’s the trumpet which plays the melody Arthur Lee has been singing, supported by sweeping but slightly removed strings, up to that line again, without words.
And yes, we go through the intro and the second verse a final time and when the song dies away to leave that acoustic guitar in place, there is a change of note, a slowing down, and a final dying away to an end.
I love the song, and it’s sound is the sound of Forever Changes, and if you like ‘Alone Again, Or’ and are wondering, the album is indeed worth it. But there’s no denying it is a bit of an oddball, like a miniature song played four times over in the course of three minutes.
And the title leads nowhere. It isn’t sung, and Lee, as I’ve already said, only sings about being alone again, my dear. Who’s he addressing? The first verse is sung to a girl, a woman, a perhaps partner who lets him down, leaving him waiting patiently for her to turn up. He asks how she can do what she chooses to do before announcing that, impliedly yet again, he’ll be alone again tonight.
But the second verse is completely unrelated to this set-up. Someone tells Arthur a funny thing, that he could be in love with almost everyone. He thinks that people are the greatest fun. But once again he’ll be alone tonight…
What gives? These are the whole of the lyrics, a neglectful girlfriend in one verse, a hippy appreciation of humanity in the other. Has Lee dropped acid during the second guitar intro?
Who knows? But though some remember 1967 for psychedelia and all things related, and others recall it as the year of Engelbert Humperdinck, Love and Forever Changes and ‘Alone Again, Or’ were also something that could only have been that year, but which is not only of that year but forever.
Whatever the reason, you know where I’ll always place the blame. There was a lot of bloody good American pop and rock music of all kinds in the Sixties that never stood a chance over here. They stand proudly in the Infinite Jukebox.

4 thoughts on “The Infinite Jukebox: Love’s ‘Alone Again, Or’

  1. Pretty sure it was Bryan doing the guitar intro. Arthur was more of a rhythm player. I never saw this classic lineup, but I did see the Four Sail lineup.

    1. There are so many Sixties bands I wish I could have seen play, but I was just too young. As soon as a commercially viable TARDIS comes on the market…

  2. I lived at the corner of Page and Masonic (two blocks from Haight and Ashbury in 1967 while attending SF State U. One or two concerts at the Fillmore or Avalon every weekend were the norm, and I saw Love perform a number of times. I bought their LPs as they came out. “Forever Changes” was a seminal recording; intellectual, and musically complex. Lee was a genius, no question, and challenged listeners. I remember cracking up when in the song “The Red Telephone”, if I’m remembering accurately, he quotes a line from “Marat/Sade”, “We’re all normal and we want our freedom!” Who’s normal? What freedom? There’s not a bad track on the entire recording. Thanks for writing the article!

    1. I envy you. The whole album is brillint. There was a time, last year, when I was playing it on YouTube practically every day. There’s a post every Monday about different songs and what they mean of themselves and to me. Glad you enjoyed this!

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