Blowin' Your Mind
Bang BLB 218
Review by Scott Thomas:
It's hard to think of an artist and a label more ill-suited to each other than Van Morrison and Bang in 1967. Van's new songs were anything but Top Forty radio fodder. Most went far beyond the 2:50 stricture of AM radio, the lyrics were self-consciously poetic, and the melodies were just about indiscernible. Bang, in a move of sheer perversity, did allow Morrison to record these uncommercial numbers and even let him borrow the house musicians. Unfortunately, the studio hacks simply treat the soul-oriented "It's Alright" and the elongated blues of "He Ain't Give You None" like longer, more droning versions of "Cherry Cherry." With a rhythm section that has all the sensitivity of a carpenter hammering nails, crude electric guitar sounds, and no compensatory melodic qualities, the results teeter near calamity. Meanwhile, blissfully unaware of the decimation, Morrison chants his heart out, lost in his spontaneous visions of rainy afternoons and Belfast street life. (Conversely, someone at Bang forced Van to write and sing the egregious "Chick-a-Boom," an attempt at a hit single which is sabotaged by both its idiotic lyrics and Morrison's "this song sucks but they have a gun to my head" vocal performance.)
As poor as many of Morrison's Bang recordings are, they represent the missing link between "Mystic Eyes" and the longer, impressionistic tracks on Astral Weeks. Here, on the more extended Bang cuts, Van seems to be striving for a pop music equivalent to The Sound and the Fury and introduces disconnected scenes and images, conversational rhythms, random logic, and personal and geographic references. On lesser tracks like "It's Alright" and "He Ain't Give You None" the result is diffusion, but when harnessed to a scene of personal drama, we get "T.B. Sheets," one of the most remarkable pieces of music in Morrison's canon. In "T.B. Sheets" the singer is visiting a friend, a sufferer of tuberculosis. The stream of consciousness technique gives the piece a sense of temporal cohesion so that the listener experiences every second of the harrowing visit from the stuttered and ineffectual words of consolation to the vain attempt at idle chit chat ("I'll turn the radio on for you") to the final, panicked escape. The agony is prolonged for nine minutes, half of which finds the singer caught between his desire to flee from the "cool room" and his fear of hurting the girl's feelings. In the end the subject of the song is not the T.B. sufferer, but the young visitor who suddenly finds himself face to face with the fragility of human life. Even the numbskull backing musicians seem to know what they are dealing with here and give the piece an appropriate Them-like blues backing.
Another place where Morrison, his producer, and the players find some common ground is in the ever-popular "Brown Eyed Girl." Its breezy melody, catchy guitar lead, and irresistible "sha-la-da" chorus make it a high point of Van's career and an indication as to where it might have gone had he chosen to become a pop star. The lyrics, like those of Astral Weeks, focus on a love affair that is no more. Unlike that latter work, however, in which reminiscences of the affair inevitably dredge up sad memories of the final parting, "Brown Eyed Girl" is jubilant as though remembering were as much fun as experiencing.
Original liner notes:
Born and raised in Ireland of mother and music and radios of stained wood and torn cloth speakers that touched upon him with few but precious fragements of South and Soul...a different introduction for the Belfast boy of typical destiny who counted thousands of picket fences, decayed; leading him to Conservatory and the brass future of sound and distance. His books; his cathedral-and one might have suspected no strange parallel within the cluttered floors and shelves of his library... Mother England and Muddy Waters...Land of Erie and Leadbelly... soldiers of bloodless legions and the endless army of notes whole and quarter skipping across the lines;the miles of his own battalions of music and music.
For Morrison no purpose of clouded lyrics promising jungles of purple birds or heavens of wish granting angels...for Morrison it was an infinite yearning, a hope to express the shape and smell of sheets embracing life and death...for Morrison it was and is the uncanny drive to hum of pain and women...to hum of small spaces between bed and floor...to sing of flesh and inflict...to toss darts at clouds of intangible super-structures and fantastic shapes and still hold tight to the real of dust of bottles and heartbreak.
"She comes to my room and sits on my bed and makes me feel so good." This from his pen, this from the group he formed "Them" and suddenly stardom, through the streets of London and recording studios all electric and surrounded by men of coin and dialect and repeating over and over "come on baby...once more, we got a hit" and Van blows and Van sings and Van screams and Van listens and Van says "up them all" and becomes Van and what the hell that's his friend and now he can live with himself. He's on the golden heels of success and his recordings are ubiquitous "baby please don't go" from the down home weed country of the United States of Negro America. This LP is Van Morrison.
We won't explain it to you. With this one, go for yourself.
Produced and Directed by: Bert Berns