Saturday, 11 October 2014

World's Strangest Album

There’s a lot of strange stuff out there in the music world. Tiny Tim, Captain Beefheart, Marilyn Manson, William Shatner and Lee Marvin have all added their own oddness to the wonderful world of contemporary music.  But the oddest collection of songs of all time has to be Van Morrison’s contractual obligation album.

After his few years fronting Them, Morrison signed as a solo artist for Bang Records and recorded eight songs, originally intended to be released as four singles. The songs and band had been chosen by Bang boss Bert Berns, but Morrison was unhappy with the sessions. Ignoring the singer’s protestations, Berns instead released all eight tracks as Morrison’s first solo album called Blowin’ Your Mind.

Van and Berns were at war with each other from that point and Van wanted to leave the label.   Berns died at the end of 1967. Morrison began to negotiate out of his record deal.  The label refused and insisted he deliver them another album of songs, preferably commercial pop like Brown Eyed Girl.    

Unable to record the music he wanted with the band of his choice, Van became understandably upset. His state of mind wasn’t helped when Bert Berns’ widow (who blamed the argumentative Irishman for her husband’s heart attack) tried to have him deported. A quick marriage to his U.S. girlfriend Janet Rigsbee ended that problem.

Finally, Van found himself a musical saviour. Warner Music stepped in and bought out his deal with Bang Records. There was still one problem, though. Morrison had to record one more album of songs for Bang. 

A true professional, Van did the only thing he could: swallowed his pride and recorded more than 30 songs in a single recording session on an out of tune guitar.  Most of the songs are 90 seconds or less. The subject matter of the songs were as diverse as they were ridiculous. They included ring worm, sandwiches, a number of digs at a guy named George (Van's real first name) and a song about saying the word France. 

The album is pretty much young man Van beating on his guitar and slurring out these spoken words that occasionally sound a little bit like singing. Now and then there’s some real vocalising that makes you think he’s about to do something serious. It sounds a lot like Dylan in places. A little before the halfway mark he starts taunting the listener, calling you Freaky if You Got This Far.  Unsurprisingly, the bizarre set was deemed unfit for release by Bang Records who seemed to think that they were somewhat below Van Morrison’s regular output. They eventually saw the light of day under a range of different titles beginning in the mid-90s and remain some of the strangest and funniest songs in rock. Sometimes the songs are repackaged on albums alongside the other Bang recordings. 
Morrison waited exactly one year before recording his first album with Warner. The rambling, jazz-influenced poetry of Astral Weeks would go on to be regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time.  

I think Van made a mistake making the contractual album for Bang.  At the time it seemed like a good idea. However with the constant reissues of this material people are judging the stuff as representative of Van Morrison.  My own brother said "I don't know how you could like Van Morrison so much.  Songs like Nose in Your Blow are terrible".  

Why doesn't Van just buy the rights?  Save all these embarrassing compilations using the material.  I also have an idea that the songs could be reworked into an interesting album. That would be a challenge for Van as seeks ideas to prolong his recording career.

The Songs 
Stomp And Scream
Scream And Holler
The Wobble
Hang On Groovy
Twist And Shake
Shake and Roll
Wobble and ball
Jump and thump
The Wobble
Drivin' wheel
Shake it Mable
Just ball

Hold on George
The Big royalty check
Ring worm
Savoy Hollywood
Freaky if you got this far
Up your mind
Thirty two
All the bits
You say France and I whistle
Blow your nose
Nose in your blow
La Mambo
Go for yourself
Want a Danish
Here comes dumb George
Chickee coo
Do it
Goodbye George
Dum dum George
Walk and Talk

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