Van Morrison and the World’s Strangest Album?
There’s a lot of strange stuff out there in the music world. Captain Beefheart, Scott Walker and Lady Gaga are all resplendent in their oddness, but rarely have they produced something so downright odd as Van Morrison’s contractual obligation album.
The steely eyed Celtic singer has made a name for himself through the years as a pugnacious, if brilliant, soul singer. Always a solitudinous soul, Van Morrison has carved a unique career path singing songs about his hometown of Belfast, the capricious nature of love and people with brown eyes. On one New York evening in 1967 he stretched himself to tracks about ring worm, blowing your nose and a particularly acute existential crisis: whether to have a Danish or a sandwich. These tracks were the result of a particularly bad career decision in the mid-sixties.
After a brilliant stint with musical pronoun Them, Morrison signed as a solo artist for Bang Records in 1965 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 with the truly terrible title of Blowin’ Your Mind!
The Celtic minstrel was not happy and his arguments with Bang Records would continue after Berns’ death in 1967. Morrison wanted out of his deal. The label refused and insisted he deliver them some more short snappy pop stuff like “Brown Eyed Girl” (a song Morrison claims Bang never paid him royalties for).
Unable to record the music he wanted with the band of his choice, Van became understandably distraught. His state of mind wasn’t helped when Ber 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 36 songs for his old label who would also continue to earn royalties off everything he released for a year after he left them. 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.
The subject matter of the songs were as diverse as they were ridiculous. As well as the aforementioned songs about ring worm and sandwiches, there were a number of digs at a guy named George and a song about saying the word France.
Surprisingly, 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 names in the mid-90s (including, but not limited to, Celebrities at their Worst Volume 3.1) and remain some of the strangest and funniest songs in rock history.
Morrison waited exactly one year before recording his first album with Warner. The rambling, jazz-influenced poetic music on Astral Weeks would go on to be regarded as perhaps the greatest of his storied career and one of the finest of the era.
The whole album can be found on Spotify