Rich Kamerman's Kamer Tunes Blog is a wide ranging music blog with lots of Van material. Basically he takes an album by album approach. Here he takes on the Van Morrison: Bang Masters album.
The Big “Bang”
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 catalogue.
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 linchpin, 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.
Dina - 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!
DanicaPiche - I’ve never thought about Van’s “ability to vamp”, but your phrase describes his talent perfectly. Your article also made me realise that I haven’t heard Brown Eyed Girl in a while. Strange….
DanicaPiche - 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?