KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

VAN MORRISON Part 2 – The Big “Bang”

The earliest Van Morrison “album” I own is Bang Masters (Epic/Legacy 1991). The reason I placed “album” in quotes is that these recordings were never designed to be a proper album. By 1967 Van had left his R&B group Them, and at 21 years old he found himself at a crossroads. He recorded numerous songs for Bert Berns’ Bang Records label in New York, including the immediate hit single “Brown Eyed Girl.” Some of these were released in the ‘70s as the Blowin’ Your Mind and T.B. Sheets LPs, but Bang Masters was the first time all of the recordings were included on one collection.

Until I revisited this CD, my recollection was that these were recordings of then-current Brill Building songs using sessions musicians, so I was surprised to discover that all but one of the songs were written by Van himself (although I was right about the session musicians). On first listen, it sounded like half the songs were covers, as they didn’t have many elements of what I’ve come to expect from Van Morrison. However, after several listens in the last week, many of the songs grew on me, and I could hear his style in a somewhat embryonic state.

One of the things I love about Van’s music is his ability to vamp, either lyrically or musically. He can take a phrase and repeat it, altering it slightly as the song progresses.  He’ll coax new feeling or meaning from the lyric, or let the power of the groove build slowly. In years to come he could take this to extremes of 10+ minutes. The song “The Back Room” is an early indication of this approach, and it’s the first song that really stood out for me as I began my reappraisal of his catalog.

[Van Morrison – “The Back Room”]

Story songs like “T.B. Sheets” and “Madame George” (which he re-recorded for Astral Weeks, to be re-appraised later) are also standouts for me, although it’s clear that the musicians took the party atmosphere a little too literally on the latter. Even the seemingly tossed-off songs like “Ro Ro Rosey” and “Chick-A-Boom” grew on me with each listen. Van was clearly not in charge of these sessions, but he wasn’t quietly following everything the producer said (as most artists at the time were inclined to do) either. Supposedly these songs were all recorded in a few sessions over a short period of time, but it sounds to me as though the last batch of songs (starting with “T.B. Sheets”) were done later than the initial recordings. Van seems to be leading the musicians as opposed to playing along with them.

And then there’s “Brown Eyed Girl,” a song played so much on the radio, at your local bar, at nearly every sporting event, party, wedding, and possibly funeral. Many people probably claim to hate the song, mostly because it’s “overplayed.” I’ve always thought that a great song continues to be a great song, even if you get tired of hearing it. And to be honest, I’ve gotten tired of hearing it and often change the station when it comes on. But in the context of this collection of songs, it’s the anchor, the lynchpin, the perfect introduction to a young artist who’s just finding his way. Most artists would kill for just one song this good, yet this was only the beginning for Van Morrison. It would’ve been a hit no matter when it was released.

I originally planned this post as an overview of Bang Masters and the 4 albums released after Astral Weeks, but I found there was a lot on my mind regarding Bang Masters and decided to present this separately. It’s clear to me now that these recordings were an important part of his development as an artist, as opposed to my initial perception of them as mostly unimportant artifacts of his early career.

My next step is the cluster of albums he released between 1970 & 1972, which I’ve been checking out for the last week. I will post on these shortly, as I’m already enjoying the albums immediately succeeding them.

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24 comments on “VAN MORRISON Part 2 – The Big “Bang”

  1. Kevin Goins
    April 6, 2011

    Next time you are on Facebook, look up Al Gorgoni – he played guitar & was the contractor on Van’s Bang sessions.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dina
    April 15, 2011

    Though “Brown Eyed Girl” may be “overplayed”, it always brings a smile to my face. As a little girl, I felt that my brown hair and brown eyes were ordinary. But, when I first heard that song, it made me feel pretty and special. I could swear Van was singing about me!

    Like

    • KamerTunesBlog
      April 15, 2011

      Dina, I have no doubt that Van was singing to you on “Brown Eyed Girl.” That’s the brilliance of a great songwriter & singer, to make the listener feel a direct connection. I’m glad the song made you feel special. Thanks for the feedback
      Rich

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  3. DanicaPiche
    July 7, 2015

    I’ve never thought about Van’s “ability to vamp”, but your phrase describes his talent perfectly.
    Your article also made me realize that I haven’t heard “Brown Eyed Girl” in a while. Strange….

    Like

    • Hi Danica. A lot of people I know would grimace at the mere mention of “Brown Eyed Girl.” It’s one of those ubiquitous songs that are often described as “overplayed,” but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. I should probably write a post about this phenomenon, since so many of my friends dismiss classic songs simply because they’re sick of them. I even have a friend who scoffs at The Beatles because they’re overplayed…even though he hasn’t played any of their records in 30+ years. Anyway, I’ve gone off on a tangent here. If you gave “Brown Eyed Girl” a spin after reading this post, I hope it made your ears perk up.

      As for Van’s ability to vamp, that’s one of the key things I love about his music. He’s like jazz musician or conductor, using his voice to push the songs in unexpected directions.

      Liked by 1 person

      • DanicaPiche
        July 8, 2015

        The phenomenon of the “overplayed” song/artist would make an interesting blog post or series. I’d have to agree that “Brown Eyed Girl” has been played and played and then played some more. If I was ever at a music/dance venue and this song was played, I’d have to stop whatever it was that I was doing and dance with my friend — who was, of course, a brown-eyed girl. If I couldn’t find her in the crowd, I’d just go to the dance floor where she’d be waiting :). How can you not love a song like that?

        A jazz musician or conductor — I like your insight. His songs have a whole new dimension when listened from that perspective.

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      • I’m glad we have a similar approach to “overplayed” songs. In the right situation, you’re reminded of why they became the classics that they are. I love your approach to finding a brown-eyed girl to dance with. If I can’t find the one I’m looking for, there’s sure to be another one to take her place. Haha. As Stephen Stills sang, “if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.” Maybe not the perfect analogy but you get my drift.

        Liked by 1 person

      • DanicaPiche
        July 8, 2015

        Another great song selection! “Don’t be angry, don’t be sad / Don’t sit crying over good times you’ve had / Well there’s a girl sitting right next to you / And she’s just waiting for something to do” — It must be a key to happiness. Accidental Buddhists or something 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think Stephen Stills had a giant ring full of “keys to happiness” in the early ’70s and took full advantage. I can only imagine what life was like for him and his rock star buddies back then.

        Liked by 1 person

      • DanicaPiche
        July 9, 2015

        To clarify my story a bit, it was my friend who loved this song and had to dance anytime it was played. When I was out with her, that meant I had to stop whatever I was doing and find her (or she, me) if necessary. If we couldn’t find each other in the crowds, we met on the dance floor. It was the unwritten rule and kind of like a fire drill :). I liked it and we had a lot of fun, but she was the brown-eyed girl and it will always be “her” song.
        I like your interpretation too and it made me smile, so I almost didn’t clarify.

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      • Thanks for clarifying this, Danica. It sounds like any time you spend with your friend is a “wild night” (Van-related pun intended).

        Cheers!
        Rich

        Liked by 1 person

      • DanicaPiche
        July 9, 2015

        Haha 🙂

        Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        July 9, 2015

        “I think Stephen Stills had a giant ring full of “keys to happiness” in the early ’70s and took full advantage. I can only imagine what life was like for him and his rock star buddies back then.”

        No need to imagine it when you can read what Robert Plant remembers:

        I think that later that night I stood in a tree and declared I was the Golden God because Moonie and Roy Harper had driven a car between two palm trees and couldn’t open the fucking doors to get out. George Harrison had karate chopped Bonzo’s wedding cake or 30th birthday cake or 25th birthday cake at some party and Bonzo decided it was time for George Harrison to go into the swimming pool. We were children! And there was some vaginal relaxant for cows somewhere being inhaled by somebody. You want to know about what it was like? It was fantastic! Insanely gorgeous!

        And you thought that sniffing glue (or, like Brian Wilson, whipped cream out of a spray can) was heavy. 🙂

        I saw Planty last summer in a club with about 250 people, all seated, as a surprise guest at a Fairport Convention gig. I later learned that his current love was the opening act, a gorgeous twenty-something. Plant is still living the dream. I’m seeing him at a concert (more than 250 people) on 29 July.

        This Saturday, it’s Ritchie Blackmore in a club with maybe 500 people. His oldest child, Jürgen (Blackmore lived several years in Germany and 2 or 3 of his 4 or 5 wives are German), is the age of Rich and me. He is now married to the singer in his band, who is 30 years younger. They have two young children, Autumn Esmerelda and Rory Dartagnan. (Dartagnan is certainly a nod to his long-standing but for the past 20 years main interest in medieval and renaissance music; maybe Rory refers to Gallagher.) Some mourn the fact that he is no longer playing hard rock, but I think his current stuff is good as well and it is nice to see someone doing something he loves. As his wife Candice said, “he used to be evil; now he’s medieval”. 🙂

        Do catch Blackmore’s Night in concert if you can; they put on a very good show.

        Like

      • Thanks for the Plant story, Phillip. Yep, these guys lived through times that we could only imagine. Your other comments imply that an older man being with a much younger woman is “living the dream,” but some people would see it as stunted adolescence. When I was in my mid-30s a friend of mine had a rule that he would never date anyone over 27 (he probably still feels that way even though he’s in his late-40s). Seemed like a ridiculous & arbitrary rule based on wanting to show off his arm-candy, and he didn’t have many long-lasting relationships. Does a 65-year-old rock star really enjoy spending time with a 25-year-old who has no shared experiences? I’m sure there are aspects about such a relationship that are wonderful (for the guy) but who knows what it’s like on a day-to-day basis. Just playing friendly devil’s advocate here.

        Would love to see Blackmore in any setting. I missed Deep Purple during their ’80s resurgence and never caught Rainbow in concert. I’ve heard rumors that he’s considering some ROCK shows in the near future. I hope it happens.

        Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        July 10, 2015

        Your other comments imply that an older man being with a much younger woman is “living the dream,” but some people would see it as stunted adolescence.

        I think that Plant might be living his dream. 🙂

        When I was in my mid-30s a friend of mine had a rule that he would never date anyone over 27 (he probably still feels that way even though he’s in his late-40s). Seemed like a ridiculous & arbitrary rule based on wanting to show off his arm-candy, and he didn’t have many long-lasting relationships.

        Personally, I wouldn’t have such a rule. I might be hesitant about a long-term relationship if the difference were several decades, mainly for practical reasons. I’ve had 5 girlfriends who are younger than I, usually by just a very few years but my current wife is almost 9 years younger, and have had 3 who were older, one a couple of years, one 8 years and my first wife almost 10 years. Personally, this is one of the least important aspects of a relationship for me.

        Does a 65-year-old rock star really enjoy spending time with a 25-year-old who has no shared experiences?

        I don’t know. I’m sure that they could have older girlfriends if they wanted to, and some do. (Then there are the guys in Rush, who have been together with their girlfriends since there teenage years, also fathering children as teens, and are still happily married today (except for Peart who married late in life after his long-time girlfriend and mother of his daughter had died); Alex Lifeson’s son Justin is just a bit younger than we are, and Alex and Geddy are grandfathers.)

        I’m sure there are aspects about such a relationship that are wonderful (for the guy) but who knows what it’s like on a day-to-day basis.

        Presumably for the girl as well.

        Would love to see Blackmore in any setting. I missed Deep Purple during their ’80s resurgence and never caught Rainbow in concert. I’ve heard rumors that he’s considering some ROCK shows in the near future. I hope it happens.

        I saw the revived Mark II formation once. I read that he and Coverdale were considering working together, but nothing came of it, and Coverdale brought out an album of Purple covers! With Blackmore’s Night there are a few rock-like numbers and usually a couple of Purple or Rainbow covers.

        Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        July 15, 2015

        “Yep, these guys lived through times that we could only imagine.”

        Here is Graham Nash describing David Crosby on tour in the 1970s:

        Often I would knock on his hotel door, which he kept propped open with a security jamb, and he’d be getting blown by both of those girls, all while he was talking and doing business on the phone and rolling joints and smoking and having a drink. Crosby had incredible sexual energy. It got to be such a routine scene in his room, I’d stop by with someone and go, “Aw, fuck, he’s getting blown again. Oh, dear, let’s give him a minute.”

        My only complaint in Crosby’s shoes would be that Graham gave me only a minute!

        I remember an interview where Blackmore claimed that extended guitar solos started when Ian Gillan, getting serviced by a groupie underneath Jon Lord’s piano during a guitar solo, kept signalling to Blackmore to draw out his solo. :.-)

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      • That’s a great story about Crosby & Nash, Phillip. Not that I needed confirmation, but the lyrics to Crosby’s song “Triad” were clearly not fictional. Interesting anecdote about Gillan as well. Thanks for sharing.

        Like

  4. DanicaPiche
    July 8, 2015

    Another potential blog post series?

    Like

    • What are you referring to, Danica?

      Like

      • DanicaPiche
        July 8, 2015

        I don’t see a category for Stephen Stills…or Buffalo Springfield, or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (with or without Young). I’m guessing you have a complete collection in some form? I realize you’re on a much-needed blog break now, so I can shelve requests too.

        Like

      • That’s not a bad idea. I’ve already done a Neil Young series but I have most of Stills’ & Crosby’s solo albums (as well as various Crosby-Nash records) and every CSN/CSNY album. Will keep it in mind. Thanks for the suggestion.

        Liked by 1 person

      • DanicaPiche
        July 8, 2015

        Neil Young is one of my all-time favorites so that will be my next stop.

        Like

      • Great. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on his discography, both good & bad (he’s got many songs at both extremes). That was a long but extremely enjoyable series for me.

        Liked by 1 person

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