Before I Forget
A review by Göran Nilsson

We highly recommend the remastered version of Before I Forget, available from Purple Records.

Before I Forget was Jon Lord’s fourth solo album and the only one he did as a member of Whitesnake. Jon was a member of Whitesnake from August 1978 to April 1984, a period of Jon’s life where I think it is fair to say that he didn’t make himself heard very much.

With two guitarists as well as a singer who probably didn’t want the instrumental parts of the songs make anybody doubt who the star in the band was (after all, the most merited member was Jon Lord), making oneself heard might not have been the easiest task. The name of the record, Before I Forget, hints at the fact that most of the songs are built around different memories of Jon’s. My thought when I first saw the title, however, was that this was Jon taking the chance to put out a solo record and to make him heard again before he forgot how to do it. The cover of the record has the head of an elephant with a knot on its trunk, a creature that isn’t very likely to forget, unless of course it dies from suffocation.

The music is very different from Jon’s previous solo albums in two respects. First of all, it does not have an orchestra and the instrumentation on the album is that of a rock band. Also, it is not in the form of a concerto or suite but consists of separate songs with no connection apart from the memory theme. The songs are divided on two sides, as they usually where in the good old vinyl days, with the first side consisting of four more uptempo songs and the second of four ballads. Starting with the first side I will make some comments about each song.

The record starts with a song called Chance on a Feeling in a sort of AOR style. It starts very sudden. In fact, when this record first came out I recorded it from a friend (please don’t tell anyone!) and I thought that I had missed the beginning and decided to record it again! The line up for the song is basically Whitesnake without DC and with Bernie Marsden handling the vocals. It has a nice groove, powerful drumming by little Ian and some funky synth bass. The song is ok, but perhaps not overly exciting.

The second song Tender Babes is when things are starting to happen. It begins with a very nice soft renaissance like intro played on the Mini-Moog. And when you are really starting to enjoy these subtle sounds an earthquake in the form of Cozy Powell comes thundering in. Jon has speculated that Cozy, being aware that Simon Phillips also was going to play on the record, set out to prove who was the best drummer of the two. Together with Billy Cobham, Phillips is my favourite drummer but I have to say that this game goes to Cozy! The best way to describe the rest of the song is probably the way David Palmer described one of the songs of Jethro Tull; "Imagine if King Henry VIII had had a rock & roll band – it would have sounded something like this"! Accompanied by Cozy and Neil Murray, Jon plays some nice harpsichord on the Polymoog and lets loose a bit on the Hammond. This is a very good song, apparently based on a traditional song with the same name by Thomas Tallis.

Hollywood Rock & Roll is in the same "California music"-style as Chance on a Feeling. Jon is in Bad Company on the song, except for Tony Ashton who is handling the vocals in his typical talking/singing fashion. He also gets some help by backing vocalists Sam (daughter) & Vicki (mother) Brown, who are responsible for most of the actual singing on the track and their effort definitely improves the song. Just like Chance on a Feeling, this song is as good as most songs on the Whitesnake album that came out later the same year (Saints and Sinners), but it is not of the standard that you might expect on a Jon Lord album. The ending is cool though.

Bach onto This, a rock version of Bach’s very famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor, is much better. Jon plays the well-known intro on the Polymoog before the band, which is Marsden, Murray and Simon Phillips, comes in. Especially Phillips does a very fine job with his virtuous and almost melodic playing. This is also the track that has the most extended soloing by Jon, who stretches out on the Hammond with some nice baroque jamming and some occasional hints at the blues. Admittedly, covering this peace might seem like a too obvious choice and a blatant attempt to seduce the masses, an edited version was released as a single, but who cares when it is so damned good?

The second and calmer side is like the first quite varied in musical styles, but not when it comes to the quality of the songs. It starts with Before I Forget which was first intended as a song sung by David Coverdale, but ended up as a wonderful instrumental. Almost anyway, since the backing vocals by the Brown ladies are still there, "befooore I forgeet" they sing very soft with the most beautiful, fragile voices. Otherwise the arrangement is, not surprisingly, keyboard dominated, with piano, synthesisers and strings from the Polymoog mingling in the air. The bass playing by Neil Murray deserves a special mentioning and Ian provides some very tasteful drumming. This is an excellent track!

Say It’s All Right is the soul song where finally one of the Brown ladies, Vicki, is brought to the fore. The result is some of the best singing that you have ever heard! It also has some nice piano playing by Jon, a great rhythm section with Phillips and Murray and some simple but very tasteful guitar playing by Mick Ralphs. If you are one of those people who think that soul music is no good and women can’t sing, I suggest you listen to this one. This one might just blow you away!

Burntwood is the name of the house where Jon used to live at the time, and perhaps still lives. It starts off with some wind blowing over the English countryside and some horns from the Mini-Moog. It then becomes a piano ballad and Jon is only accompanied by string like synths and some exquisite fretless bass by the one and only Neil Murray, who makes the bass sing in the Jaco Pastorius patented fashion. The song is very beautiful in a melancholy way.

And that could also be said about the next song, Where Are You? Like Burntwood the arrangement mainly consist of piano and strings from the Polymoog. Instead of Murray, singer Elmer Gantry is keeping Jon company with a fantastic voice that sounds like he has tasted some good things in life (or perhaps some bad). There is also a very soulful solo by Jon from the Moog Source. The song has the feeling you might get when you wake up alone with a hangover, the taste of whisky still in your mouth, and you just feel so terribly lonely. Once again, this is a fantastic song and a very appropriate closer of a fantastic album.

Unless of course you have the CD from RPM or Purple Records where there are some bonus tracks. The first one, Going Home, is the B-side to the Bach onto This single. Once again Jon is in Bad Company and they apparently recorded it after returning home from the pub. The playing is not as tight as on the other tracks but they do sound rather happy!

The next three tracks are all demos and mainly consists of keyboards and drum machines. They all have great potential but still are just demos. The first one, Pavane, is said to be a cover of a piece by Debussy, but it is the second one, Lady, that is the most interesting. The reason for this is that a certain lady, Vicki Brown, is singing on it.

The final track of the album is actually an interview with Jon from the time when the record came out. Every time this track starts my girlfriend looks at me as if I am ready for the asylum, or maybe it is the guy who put the track there that she thinks ought to go. But it is actually really nice to hear Jon talk about the songs, and you don’t have to listen to it every time you put the record on. The only thing that annoys me is that they say "and now we are going to listen to…" and just go on talking. If they had made the track stop every time they played a song on the radio broadcast, you could actually go and listen to the songs when they originally played them and then go back to the interview. (Did that make sense?)

As you probably have figured by now, I think this is a wonderful album. It contains so much musicality and emotions that it is strange that people who don’t like it actually exist. It did not do very well sales wise and, as far as I understand, didn’t get much recognition for it’s artistic merits either at the time. People have speculated that this might have been because Jon left his old formula with orchestras and classical arrangements and therefore confused everybody since it wasn’t exactly classical nor exactly rock ’n’ roll. My explanation, on the other hand, has nothing to do with the album itself. I think it was the time that made this album an alleged failure. For several years punk and disco had ruled the charts, effectively killing any attempt to integrate artistic ambitions or emotions into music. The fact that synth pop and heavy metal was taking over probably didn’t help much either. Simplicity was the word of the day and those who tried to mix elements from different musical sources in a way that was sometimes described as ‘progressive’ were as fashionable as bell bottom trousers.

But I, who has been known to sometimes go against the tide, love it! Not only would I say that this is one of my favourite albums by Jon, I also think that it could be a very good introduction to those who are not familiar with his works. I think so because it is more in a rock format with shorter tracks played by keys, guitar, bass and drums. This is if you come from a rock background. If you already have an interest in classical music I would also suggest the Concerto or Sarabande, the latter also being a good choice if you like jazz. But if you haven’t got this record already and you are hesitating whether you should get it or not, I say that Vicki Brown’s singing on Say It’s Alright or Cozy’s drumming on Tender Babes are reasons enough to buy it. And that statement has nothing whatsoever to do with the sad fact that neither of those two is with us anymore.