Thursday, May 4, 2017
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: VAN MORRISON - THE AUTHORIZED BANG COLLECTION
Who's a happy camper? Surprisingly, it seems to be Van Morrison, who provides a big essay for the liner notes and totally approved of this deluxe reissue of his very first solo album. For those unfamiliar, this is the 1967 set that gave us the immortal "Brown-Eyed Girl" and started his solo career after Them broke up. He must be glad to get control of this material after so many years of it being issued in all sorts of different ways without his permission. That goes back to the very start, when he thought he was making a couple of singles and saw it all put out as an album after his surprise top ten hit.
The story is told in Morrison's own words here, beginning with his meeting the renowned producer and songwriter Bert Berns in London, while still with Them. Berns gifted the band the hit "Here Comes The Night", but then headed back to the States. Later he got word to Morrison that he wanted to sign him up to his new Bang label, so Van, a fan, headed over. The two really clicked in the studio, and Morrison still speaks in glowing terms of those times, and Berns himself, calling him a genius. He also says it all went pear-shaped on further sessions, with Berns distracted. Then, a shocker, Berns up and died the very day they were supposed to write together.
They only did 16 songs together, but those include some gems, including the creepy, haunted blues of "T.B. Sheets", which includes Morrison coughing at the appropriate moments. There's the original recording of "Madame George", soon to become one of the most memorable tracks on the acclaimed Astral Weeks album. It's an interesting time for Morrison, as he was in the process of moving from blues to his own inspired vocal roots-jazz. So while there's a cover of "Midnight Special" and the somewhat raunchy blues of "He Ain't Give You None," there's also explorations such as "Who Drove The Red Sports Car" and "Joe Harper Saturday Morning".
This is a 3-disc set, so in addition to the 16 Bang masters, you get a few mono/stereo versions, with the stereo "Brown-Eyed Girl" especially fresh and spacious. There are also several alternate takes issued here for the very first time, with some significant differences such as backing vocals or instrumental approaches, and quite enjoyable studio chatter featuring Van's still-very thick Irish accent. Disc three is made up of the infamous Contractual Obligation session, which Morrison did to get out of the rest of the Bang contract. He owed the company several more recordings but had no intention of working for them without Berns, so he gave them a bunch of garbage. These are 31 songs of short length where he sings silliness off the top of his head, titles such as "Jump and Thump", "The Big Royalty Check", "Want a Danish", and several with the name George featured. He was mocking his own songs, and the Bang contract, with one called "Blowin' Your Nose", in reference to the Blowin' Your Mind album they released. It says on this set that it's the first time these have been officially issued, but they've certainly been part of previous compilations. It's interesting to hear them once, but they are only mildly amusing, a party novelty to play to unsuspecting Van fans.