Burt Bacharach Meets the Brady Bunch… on Psilocybin

[20 September 2012]

By Sean Murphy

Today, with summer not quite over, I have some thoughts about the great lost single from 1967.

Lost in that it was never found. It was, in fact, left off Love’s masterpiece, Forever Changes, for a perfectly understandable reason: Arthur Lee felt it was too upbeat and would have marred the fragile balance between solemn and stirring that the eleven song cycle achieved.

And so, it was not until the overdue but much appreciated (initial) reissue, in 2001, that we got the obligatory bonus tracks, false starts and works-in-progress. At long last, anyone interested could hear “Wonder People (I Do Wonder)”. Check it out:

That is a deceptively deep and evocative track. Yes, at first blush it may sound way too corny, too gamely grasping for that feel-good/up-with-people vibe. And to be certain, there is some feel-good/up-with-people vibe emanating here, but it goes further than that.

This has the Burt Bacharach stylings, which Love literall—and successfully—tapped into on their first hit, “My Little Red Book”. There they took a rather innocuous tune and made it edgier and darker; they removed the softer edges and narcotized it. This also has that happy-go-lucky Brady Bunch singalong thing (as did the big hit from ‘67, the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love”; in fact, play them one after the other and ask yourself which one sounds more fulfilling, and enduring).

But it has something more. First off, it has the same acoustic assault that propels Forever Changes. The acoustic backing does not merely provide the engine for the song’s melody; there is an extended, extraordinary acoustic guitar solo that recalls the Spanish stylings of album opener “Alone Again Or”. It is so tasty, at once aggressive and understated; this was the pleasant dissonance Love mastered on their first three albums. The strings sound too saccharine and the “Tijuana” brass too mannered, at first. But after the song has sunk in, they provide a wistful commentary that complements Lee’s vocals (and lyrics). There is something ephemeral going on, under the surface; there is that same nagging suspicion that all the free-love hijinx would come to an abrupt end. Forever was about to change.

“People come and go, and I do wonder, yeah.
Wander to and fro like you do.
And you know it’s true, just like I know you.
When will you realize the things you are doing,
I am doing . . .”

Like virtually all the songs on Forever Changes, one gets the impression (especially with the benefit of hindsight, and knowing how things broke down, literally and figuratively, in the months and years ahead) that Lee was among the first artists to sense there would not—and could not—be a happy ending (to the summer of ‘67, or to hippie dream, or to the average American’s dream). Even with his often angelic voice and the disarming beauty of the arrangements (think “Andmoreagain” and “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This” in particular), you can still smell the stale bong smoke, see the exhaust fumes from the cars stalled on Sunset Blvd., and hear the resignation of a thousand broken promises. And there, above it all, floats Arthur Lee, like a corrupted angel.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/163142-burt-bacharach/