The paranoia of the 60's is beautifully realized in a lot of songs of the day and Love's "The Red Telephone" is no exception. Less specific than Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth," "The Red Telephone" shows the sense of confusion, the possibility of the end of days and the apathy of the youth culture at the time are perfectly found on this song. The song can be found on the transcendent album Forever Changes. Just like Astral Weeks, Love's Forever Changes is something that will change you... forever. The album has a mystical psych-folk vibe with lots of strings and flamenco guitars. Arthur Lee's words are very poetic and lush with interesting images and even interesting structures. Words overlap to give more meaning and add another element of confusion to "The Red Telephone." It's a fairly simple song, but it is a summation of the minds of the counter culture of the 60's in a different way than other "protest" songs. I wouldn't say it's protest as much as observation.
Where the song truly hits me is the lyrics of the first verse. "Sitting on a hillside/Watching all the people die/I feel much better on the other side/I'll thumb a ride." Apathetic, dark yet optimistic. Violence and aggression and tumult were the signs of the times and while some people got into the thick of it, some losing their lives in the conflict, Lee's lyrics show how maybe it's better on the other side of the conflict as an observer. The rest of the song doesn't really stand by the opening statement and I feel it's intentional. Sure, it's good to watch from afar and say "things are better here." This is summed up in the bridge:
"Life goes on here
Day after day
I don't know if I am living or if I'm
Supposed to be
Sometimes my life is so eerie
And if you think I'm happy
Paint me (white)(yellow)"
It's contradictory to being happy away from the violence, but at the same time, he's unsure if he's supposed to even be alive. Maybe he should take a stand. It's a very interesting statement in a time where everyone had an opinion. Arthur Lee wasn't sure. It's an awesome song of confusion and uncertainty in a time of that same feeling and it doesn't decide what side of the coin it should be on.
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