Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Albums That Never Were

Naturally Van is not fan of the bootleg craze that has grown up around his music.  However, unrealistically I think he might like this one.  A guy from Minneapolis calling himself Soniclovenoize (first name Jesse) has created the incredible Albums That Never Were site.  The intro to the site says he "has too much time on my hands and wastes it by reconstructing famous unreleased albums”.   Of interest to Van fans is his reconstruction of what he calls the ‘real second Van album’ using the notorious songs handed to Bang Records back in 1967.  The bootleg he created is downloadable from his blog.   


Van Morrison - Contractual Obligations

Side A:

1. Savoy Hollywood

2. Hang On Groovy

3. Twist, Shake and Roll

4. Stomp, Scream and Holler

5. Jump, Thump and Jive

6. Walk, Wobble and Roll

7. Freaky If You Got This Far

Side B:

8. The Big Royalty Check

9. Blowin Your Nose

10. Want A Danish?

11. Shake It Mable

12. Ring Worm

13. The Story of Dumb George

This is one of my more bizarre album assemblages, originally began as a joke by a friend of mine that morphed into a dare.  He jested that it couldn’t be done; challenge accepted!  Thus, this is my ”reimagination” of what could have been Van Morrison’s second album, recorded solo for the sole purpose of fulfilling his contract with Bang Records in 1968.  Aptly titled Contractual Obligations, I have taken the 31 “revenge songs” that Van Morrison recorded, organised them by musical key and lyrical theme, and edited the fragments together to create thirteen more-or-less complete songs and sequenced them into a semblance of a an album.   

Let Van Morrison be an example of the plight of young artists by the hands of corporate greed and exploitation.  Hastily signing to himself to Bang Records in 1967 in order to avoid literal starvation, Morrison recorded an album’s worth of material he didn’t feel amounted to an actual album.  He left the March 1967 recording sessions thinking that those eight songs—one of them his immensely popular hit “Brown Eyed Girl”—would be released as four separate singles.  Instead, Bang Records collected the songs and released them as Van Morrison’s debut album, Blowin Your Mind.  Not only was this done completely without his consent, but Bang promoted the album in full psychedelic fashion, an image Morrison himself detested.  To make matters worse, label head Burt Berns’ passing in December allowed for his widow Ilene to impose ridiculous performance restrictions on Morrison, all which were allowed by the contract that he himself signed.

Van Morrison’s salvation lied within a simple loophole in his contract: deliver 36 original songs to Bang Records.  And so sometime in early 1968, Van Morrison entered a recording studio and performed 31 intentionally half-assed bullshit songs in order to escape the clutches of Ilene Berns.  The songs were all musically simple--often I-IV-V progressions in E or G—and the lyrics presumably improvised, meaningless, random, inane.  Some were even gibberish.  Morrison had farted out over thirty nonsense songs that were all completely unusable in an act of musical revenge, which fulfilled his contract.  Bang Records refused to release them at the time but the collection eventually appeared as rare bonus material on legally-questionable international anthology releases throughout the years.

For my reimagination, we will postulate how Bang could have assembled these throwaway fragments into some sort of cohesive album.  A listen through the material will tell you that Morrison did not put much thought into the “compositions” musically and they follow similar chord sequences, all standard open chords within the same harmonic family.  We are thus able to easily group most of the songs together by key.  Even luckier, many of those musically-similar compositions share similar lyrical qualities, further identifying possible associations.  Although this was undoubtedly unintentional by Van, we can exploit this tendency and edit these similar fragments together, creating full songs from the fragments.  Using the 31 fragments I was able to create eleven complete songs, leaving two fragments to remain their own stand-alone songs. 

Side A begins with Savoy Hollywood which is a combination of the songs “Do It”,"Go For Yourself” and “Savoy Hollywood”.  The beginning tape wow opens the album up mid-song and prepares us for Van’s bumpy ride with strumming and vocal stutters.  Follows is Hang On Groovy which is a combination of La Mambo, Just Ball and Hang On Groovy, less a mockery of the classic songs La Bamba+ and Hang On Sloopy but more a mockery of Bang for expecting something more than pop-song contrivance for this album.  The next four songs gather together Morrison’s inane send-ups of movement-centric 1950s rock n’roll classics: “Twist, Shake and Roll” (a combination of “Twist and Shake” and ”Shake and Roll”), “Stomp, Scream and Holler” (a combination of “Stomp and Scream” and “Scream and Holler”), “Jump, Thump and Jive” (a combination of “Jump and Thump” and “Drivin Wheel”) and “Walk, Wobble and Roll” (a combination of “Walk and Talk”, ”The Wobble” and “Wobble and Roll”).  The fact that these song are all in a row should drive home how ridiculous this album is, and without the proper mindset is a very painful listen.  Van Morrison himself agrees, as the closing song on side A is the stand-alone Freaky If You Got This Far, which it truly is.

Side B starts with an explanation of the album itself: The Big Royalty Check, which is a combination of Big Royalty Check, Thirty Two and All The Bits.  Following is Blowin Your Nose, a combination of Blow In Your Nose and Nose In You Blow, a mockery of the first album that Morrison never approved of.  Want A Danish? (a combination of Want A Danish and Chickie Coo) is followed by more silliness in Shake It Mable (a combination of “Shake It Mable”, You Say France and I Whistle and Up In Your Mind).  The most noteworthy of the “revenge songs” follows, the stand-alone Ring Worm.  To end Contractual Obligations, I united all four songs about the character Dumb George and sequenced them in a logical and presumably chronological order, called The Story of Dumb George (a combination of Here Comes Dumb George, “Dum Dum George”, Hold On George and Goodbye George).  The icing on this distasteful cake is the original artwork by EAB, in which Bang Records’ contrived psychdelicism is literally consuming Van Morrison.

Is this a good album?  Oh, God no, this album is awful!  But intentionally awful, for good reason, and thus worth a listen.  It is an absurd album, especially knowing who this is—this is Van Morrison, a genius who combined folk, jazz, soul and pop on his legendary Astral Weeks album, recorded under a year later from Contractual Obligations’ horrific nonsense.  With this in mind, it is a fascinating look at the effects of big business on artists, relevant even today.  Sometimes, cause is more relevant than effect and the context of the music is more interesting than the music itself.  Contractual Obligations shows us this as it lies somewhere between pain and pleasure but as an album that never was. 

Reader Comments:

DD   -   Another excellent idea, Yours & Van's.

Pete   -   Thanks for this — I'd never heard the fragments, and this is probably the only way I'd want to. Do the Wobble, baby!

AEC   -   Well, you definitely put in more effort in this than Van did. When you had earlier mentioned you intended to put together a Van Morrison album, I assumed it would be Mechanical Bliss so this was a surprise.

TooBusyThinking   -   Wow. I wasn't aware of this "warm up" for Astral Weeks, or the history behind it. I haven't heard the 31 individual tracks, but I'd say you did an excellent job stitching them together, because this is fucking great! Why the hell wouldn't Ilene Berns release this? Definitely one of those late night, clear-out-the-room (but I'll stay here and listen) type albums. One of the best, I'd say. Thanks!

Edgar Fitzgerald   -   Excellent mix! What a charmingly insane album. 

Kwork    -   This is very cool. Thanks for the assemblage work on these fragments. Whether I'm a big fan of the original material or not, I always grab your reconstructions to hear what's behind the always interesting liner notes and history. Truly appreciated.

Dharma Bummer   -   Now you just need to overdub 3 or 4 guitars and Herb Lavelle on drums.  I just discovered this blog recently and became an instant convert - the Pink Floyd albums that never were are especially mind-blowing - amazing what some prudent contextualising and cross fades can do.

DFW Underground   -   Yr Blowin My Mind right now cause Astral Weeks is my favourite album and I've never heard of this crap.

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