Mechanical Bliss cover
(click on cover image
for larger version)

Also, see notes on Artwork below)

Mechanical Bliss
an attempt to reconstruct
Van Morrison's unreleased 1975 album

by David Chance

Side A
  1. Joyous Sound (2:23)
  2. Mechanical Bliss (3:46)
  3. Much Binding In The March (4:34)
  4. The Twilight Zone (7:56)
  5. Naked In The Jungle (3:46)
    Total time: (22:25)
Side B
  1. Flamingoes Fly (6:08)
  2. Foggy Mountain Top (5:25)
  3. When I Deliver (6:10)
  4. I Have Finally Come To Realise (4:55)
    Total time: (22:38)

Total play approximately 46 minutes with 7-second blank song-separations

Title | Songs | Musicians | Album | Artwork

In mid/late-1974 and throughout 1975 there was mention of a soon-to-be released album from Van Morrison, following Veedon Fleece. This album never made it to the public, for reasons unknown. Here I am attempting to reconstruct what that album may have been, with as many clues as I have been able to find. Acknowledgement goes to many, especially David Walker, Kevin Sheets, Art Siegel, Scott Thomas, and Joost Van Erkel for their opinions and information.

Please bear in mind that what follows is comparable to swiss cheese...lots of holes in it... dcat...

Up 1. The Title:
Possibilities: Mechanical Bliss, Stiff Upper Lip, Naked In The Jungle, Not Working For You.

It is generally agreed that the album was to be called Mechanical Bliss. Van and Tom Donahue state this several times throughout the KSAN '74 radio interview. There, Van indicates the release date to be in February 1975, only 4 to 5 months after the release of Veedon Fleece, an announcement that even Tom Donahue found astonishing ("Hard on the heels, I would call that.").

In Johnny Rogan's book Van Morrison (1984), on page 126, it is noted that this working title was, "retitled, at least briefly, Stiff Upper Lip, the work was twice scheduled for release in 1975 and during the year the lengthy "This Is Not The Twilight Zone" and "Mechanical Bliss" were aired on American radio". The second release date Rogan mentions would be September 1975, as noted _____?_____.

Detouring briefly, mention should be made of some other "unreleased" albums rumoured at this time. One would be an album called Highlights, as mentioned in the KSAN interview, just after playing the song "Just Like A Woman":

"That's gonna be on an album called Highlights, which is gonna highlight, ya' know, various things over the years that I've done that I haven't, ya' know, gotten on an album, you know, like uh, historical things like uh, you know, um, a live performance with John Lee, and there's a couple-a things from this performance, and uh, maybe some other kinky stuff..."

This is re-stated in the coffeehouse interview done with Van (by Donahue) in the video production of the 1974 concert at the Orphanage in San Francisco, California (39 minutes into the tape).

From "Reliable Sources", the press-release pamphlet, circa spring 1974, from Caledonia Productions, page 12: "He is currently interested in video and is expected to do a soundtrack for a major film soon." And on page 14: "Van has instrumental material with himself on horn and piano without vocals which may turn into an album quite different from his past albums." The unreleased song (but played during the KSAN interview) "Much Binding In The March" may have been a likely candidate for this project, as well as the instrumentals known as "Buffyflow" and "Heathrow Shuffle" played in concerts during this period.

In "Reliable Sources", on page 173: "I've definitely got a country and western album planned," he says. "It will have songs like 'Wild Side Of Life', 'Crying Time', 'Banks Of The Ohio' and stuff like that." [In some observations on this project, David Walker {Internet Nov. 9, 1997} brings up the point that Van was performing such C&W songs as Hank Williams' "Hey, Good Lookin'" and Merle Kilgore's "More and More" in concert {The Troubadour Club, Los Angeles CA, May 7, 1973}. David also notes the unreleased studio songs in circulation among collectors, Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene", and W. Warren & A. Carter's "Wild Side Of Life", which sound to be recorded around or before the time of the Tupelo Honey album.]

"One of these years, he's going to release a Christmas album. "We tried to do one in 1972 but we were under too much pressure. You have to start making a Christmas album on January 1 if you want to get it out in time. We'll probably do some originals and a few of the old things like 'White Christmas' and 'Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire'. All that romantic stuff."

Joost Van Erkel notes that an album called Manchild was announced as about to be released in The Netherlands around this time, though it never was. He remembers seeing an advertisement for Manchild, for sale, in the New Music Express in July 1979, but is unclear as to when this album was first announced in Holland, perhaps as early as 1972.

Up 2. The Songs:
In issue #8 (Nov. 1992) of The Van Morrison Newsletter, it is noted that in an interview with John Tobler in the late-'70s that Van "talked about the album, recorded in Holland in 1974 which has never been released. It came about because a promoter pulled the band out of a gig with a number of other artists and paid them for the concert. He [Van] hired a studio and went in and laid down 8 tracks in an afternoon."

This event is what Joost Van Erkel remembers as an open air concert on June 24, 1974 in Hilversum. His words: "On June 24, 1974 Van was supposed to perform on a one day open air festival at Hilversum. I don't remember all the acts performing that day, but in the afternoon a Canadian singer performed who was not on the original schedule. Because the municipality didn't allow music to be played after 6 or 8 PM (I forgot the exact time) and The Allman Brothers Band (top of the bill) for contractual reasons had to perform a 2 hours show, there was no time left for Van. There is a short story (in Dutch) by Bert Jansen describing this event (Van fighting with a woman photographer while leaving the scene). It was rumored then (music papers and radio) that Van recorded in Holland the day before the festival."

These 8 tracks are most likely the following songs recorded at Wisseloord Studios in Hilversum, Holland: Twilight Zone, Foggy Mountain Top, Flamingoes Fly (all 3 noted so in The Philosopher's Stone notes), Mechanical Bliss, Much Binding In The March (both aired on KSAN '74), Naked In the Jungle (version 1, not The Philosopher's Stone version from 1975), Buffyflow (?), and Heathrow Shuffle (?). [Or possibly Caldonia and What's Up Crazy Pup?, though as Joost points out, "Caldonia and What's Up Crazy Pup? sound like these were performed with the Caledonia Soul Express, who according to Wavelength no. 12 performed in Amsterdam on April 8, 1974; see also Brian Hinton's Celtic Crossroads page 167."]

In the KSAN interview Van says the album will be released in February 1975. This did not occur. More studio sessions took place in June 1975 (see below). I suspect these were to alter the, at that time, track listing of the album, i.e. to add a few and lose a few. So, we are probably looking at 2 possible incarnations of the album, the first one to be titled "Mechanical Bliss" for a February 1975 release, and the second one "Stiff Upper Lip" for a September 1975 release.

I use the KSAN interview selections and notes from Howard A. DeWitt's book (1983), Van Morrison: The Mystic's Music, as reference points in the song selections ("Definite" and "Probable"). In the later, on page 72, it is noted:

"Best Unreleased Van Morrison Album
Recorded June, 1975 at the Record Plant in Sausalito, California
Songs in Order of Recording:
I'm Not Working For You
You Move Me
When I Deliver
I Have Finally Come To Realize
Joyous Sound
Naked In The Jungle
If The Street Only Knew Your Name"

Definite:

  • Mechanical Bliss [stated in the KSAN interview]
  • Twilight Zone [so said prior to singing it in Frankfurt, W. Germany, July 8, 1974]
  • Naked In The Jungle [there are 2 versions of this, one recorded in Hilversum '74 and the other in Sausalito '75 --this song was also performed in concerts during this period]
  • Much Binding In The March [KSAN interview] [this song, an instrumental, is sometimes erroneously titled "Much Binding In The Marshes" among collectors, a title taken from a song by the English comedian Richard Murdoch; according to one source, the copyright records show it as "March", which is clearly the title given in the KSAN interview]

Probable:

  • Foggy Mountain Top [performed in concerts at the time, and at The Orphanage concert 1974, prior to singing this song Van says, "This is a new song. It's gonna be on an album sometime when they get around to crankin' 'em out."]
  • When I Deliver
  • I Have Finally Come To Realise Joyous Sound Flamingoes Fly [performed on the Don Kirschner's Rock Concert in 1974] The Street Only Knew Your Name

Possible:

  • Not Working For You
  • You Move Me [these 2 songs have a very similar sound instrumentally, both very charged "rockers" complete with stinging electric slide guitar--although it isn't known who the guitarist is performing here, I would guess it to be Elvin Bishop, with whom Van performed at The Keystone in Berkeley CA, Dec. 30, 1974]
  • Down To Earth
  • Don't Change On Me [as David Walker suggests, these 2 songs have a very similar "feel" to them musically as the other songs recorded in Sausalito; and to my ears, Van's occasional fit of scream/singing in these songs also links them--see {hear} also the concert performance from the G.A.M.H. in San Francisco @April 21, 1975 where Van rips his lungs out on a medley of "St. Dominic's Preview / Walk On The Wild Side / You Can't Always Get What You Want"]
  • Western Plain [Sausalito CA 1975]
  • Buffyflow [live & studio? 1974]
  • Heathrow Shuffle [live and studio? 1974]
  • Caldonia
  • What's Up Crazy Pup?
  • There There Child [performed live in 1974]

There are a number of other songs from circa 1973-75 that are possibilities, but I feel the above may be the strongest. I also omit "(I'm) Not Working For You" for the reason that due to the lyric line, "What the fuck do they care", it is unlikely that Warner Brothers would have allowed it to appear on an album, censorally (and future release elsewhere is also doubtful, for the same reason). "You Move Me" is sparse lyrically and seems an unlikely candidate (to my ears) for inclusion on an album; it sounds like more of a workout to loosen up the band.

Up 3. The Musicians:

Mercury Studios, New York, New York circa March/April 1974 (?):
[this is noted in the KSAN interview, and Van was playing in this area in mid-March 1974, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This may be the studio source of Caldonia and What's Up Crazy Pup?]

Wisseloord Studios, Hilversum, Holland circa June 1974:
Van (acoustic guitar, sax, piano, harmonica), Peter Van Hooke (drums), Pete Wingfield (piano), and Jerome Rimson (bass). [At the Montreux Jazz Festival in July 1974, Dallas Taylor is on drums in place of Peter Van Hooke.]

March 24-25, 1975 at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco:
Bernie Krause (keyboards) and David Hayes (bass) [the other backing musicians are not readily known].

April 21, 1975 at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco:
Van (sax and harmonica), Mark Jordan (keyboards), John Blakely (guitar), Tony Day (drums), and David Hayes (bass).

The Record Plant, Sausalito, California June 1975 session:
Van (sax, harmonica), Mark Jordan (piano), John Allair (piano), Smith Dobson (piano), Bernie Kraus (moog synthesizer), John Blakey (guitar), Tony Day (drums), David Hayes (bass), Judy Clay (backing vocals), Elvin Bishop?? (slide guitar).

Up 4. The Album:
Keeping in mind the format of vinyl recordings in the mid-'70s (with a playing time of approximately 40-45 minutes), the notes above, and a lot of (perhaps erroneous) intuition, I place the track and side listing of this album as shown above...

Up 5. The Artwork:
Thanks to John Miller for spotting this tidbit; could Van's 'abandoned project' mentioned in the quote have been Mechanical Bliss?

In The Complete Guide to the Music of Steely Dan there is the following information regarding the cover art for Steely Dan's 1976 album The Royal Scam:

Royal Scam cover "Another superb cover showed a man asleep on a Boston bus station bench as skyscrapers and angry skies towered above him. Each building had a different animal's snarling head superimposed onto it. At the center of the cover was a king cobra about to strike at a mongoose on the neighboring edifice. The skyscrapers had been painted by Zox for a Van Morrison album cover. When Morrison abandoned his project, photographer Charlie Ganse and Ed Caraeff came up with the idea of using Ganse's photo of the vagrant with the Zox painting. They took the photo to a Hollywood specialist and succeeded in matching the tone of the painting."
The (completely speculative) artwork shown above was sent in by Van fan Volker Klar, who modified the artwork of the Steely Dan album. To further fan speculation on Van's "missing album", Volker also notes encountering a reference in a German book Rock Lexikon (Schmidt-Joos/Barry Graves, Rowohlt) from February 1975: "there is a chapter about Van Morrison with a list of albums in it. On page 244 you can find '[...] Stiff Upper Lip (1975)'."

Part of the van-the-man.info unofficial website

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