Arthur Lee’s Futile Hipness, Reissued

‘Hey, listen, money is time,” Arthur Lee says after Love make a sweet, half-embarrassed stab in the direction of “Wooly Bully.” This being August 1967, the song was already ancient history, but so was Lee’s black Angeleno version of Anglophile folk-rock—almost. Newly reissued, with a disc comprising an alternate mix and various backing tracks and outtakes, Forever Changes captures the futility of hipness like no other record of its day. Lee’s lyrics now sound less like jive double-talk (which they are, and which Lee clearly intended them to be) than a series of profound meditations on time, violence, stardom, and the Sunset Strip. Enlivened by David Angel’s glorious orchestrations and the band’s Latinized rhythms and creepy fingerpicked guitars, the result is folk-rock as apocalypse and mariachi ellipse.

Along with “Wooly Bully” (which suggests that Lee could’ve used his Memphis roots and soul predilections to make his own Wild Honey) and the previously available 1968 tracks “Laughing Stock” and “Your Mind and We Belong Together” (on which Lee invokes Robin Gibb’s unnerving falsetto), the bonus disc offers a remix that nicely complements the original. Lee’s vocals are often a little higher in the mix, and you get to hear him rapping off of the top of his head during “You Set the Scene.” Perhaps the most telling variation occurs at the conclusion of “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This”: The original version takes the song’s curious, sprung orchestral figure and makes it skip, as if thought itself had somehow gotten stuck; the alternate ends like conventional folk-rock.

Lee himself seems stuck—high on his own temporary fame, but impotent—in the brisk, amazing “Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale,” which describes the Sunset Strip scene Lee had helped set in motion, back when Love was the next big L.A. rock group after the Byrds. A four-bar stutter-step guitar riff frames the song and continually interrupts Lee’s sentences; “Look up and see me on the/Moon’s a common scene around my town,” he sings. “Here where everyone is painted brown.” A trumpet plays one note for five measures before taking up the melody. Like the rest of Forever Changes, the song swings like summertime but feels like death, and makes any number of reasonable observations that Lee probably figured would fall on the world’s deaf ear.

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