Saturday, March 22, 2014

Van Morrison - Contractual Obligations

Van Morrison - Contractual Obligations
(soniclovenoize reimagination)

Side A:
1. Savoy Hollywood
2. Hang On Groovy
3. Twist, Shake and Roll
4. Stomp, Scream and Holler
5. Jump, Thump and Jive
6. Walk, Wobble and Roll
7. Freaky If You Got This Far

Side B:
8. The Big Royalty Check
9. Blowin Your Nose
10. Want A Danish?
11. Shake It Mable
12. Ring Worm
13. The Story of Dumb George

This admittedly is one of my more bizarre album assemblages, originally began as a joke by a friend of mine that morphed into a dare.  He jested that it couldn’t be done; challenge accepted!  Thus, this is my ”reimagination” of what could have been Van Morrison’s second album, recorded solo for the sole purpose of fulfilling his contract with Bang Records in 1968.  Aptly titled Contractual Obligations, I have taken the 31 “revenge songs” that Van Morrison recorded, organized them by musical key and lyrical theme, and edited the fragments together to create thirteen more-or-less complete songs and sequenced them into a semblance of a an album. 

Let Van Morrison be an example of the plight of young artists by the hands of corporate greed and exploitation.  Hastily signing to himself to Bang Records in 1967 in order to avoid literal starvation, Morrison recorded an album’s worth of material he didn’t feel amounted to an actual album.  He left the March 1967 recording sessions thinking that those eight songs—one of them his immensely popular hit “Brown Eyed Girl”—would be released as four separate singles.  Instead, Bang Records collected the songs and released them as Van Morrison’s debut album, Blowin Your Mind.  Not only was this done completely without his consent, but Bang promoted the album in full psychedelic fashion, an image Morrison himself detested.  To make matters worse, label head Burt Berns’ passing in December allowed for his widow Ilene to impose ridiculous performance restrictions on Morrison, all which were allowed by the contract that he himself signed.

Van Morrison’s salvation lied within a simple loophole in his contract: deliver 36 original songs to Bang Records.  And so sometime in early 1968, Van Morrison entered a recording studio and performed 31 intentionally half-assed bullshit songs in order to escape the clutches of Ilene Berns.  The songs were all musically simple--often I-IV-V progressions in E or G—and the lyrics presumably improvised, meaningless, random, inane.  Some were even gibberish.  Morrison had farted out over thirty nonsense songs that were all completely unusable in an act of musical revenge, which fulfilled his contract.  Bang Records refused to release them at the time but the collection eventually appeared as rare bonus material on legally-questionable international anthology releases throughout the years.

For my reimagination, we will postulate how Bang could have assembled these throwaway fragments into some sort of cohesive album.  A listen through the material will tell you that Morrison did not put much thought into the “compositions” musically and they follow similar chord sequences, all standard open chords within the same harmonic family.  We are thus able to easily group most of the songs together by key.  Even luckier, many of those musically-similar compositions share similar lyrical qualities, further identifying possible associations.  Although this was undoubtedly unintentional by Van, we can exploit this tendency and edit these similar fragments together, creating full songs from the fragments.  Using the 31 fragments I was able to create eleven complete songs, leaving two fragments to remain their own stand-alone songs. 

Side A begins with “Savoy Hollywood” which is a combination of the songs “Do It”,"Go For Yourself” and “Savoy Hollywood”.  The beginning tape wow opens the album up mid-song and prepares us for Van’s bumpy ride with strumming and vocal stutters.  Follows is “Hang On Groovy” which is a combination of “La Mambo”, “Just Ball” and “Hang On Groovy”, less a mockery of the classic songs “La Bamba” and “Hang On Sloopy” but more a mockery of Bang for expecting something more than pop-song contrivance for this album.  The next four songs gather together Morrison’s inane send-ups of movement-centric 1950s rock n’roll classics: “Twist, Shake and Roll” (a combination of “Twist and Shake” and ”Shake and Roll”), “Stomp, Scream and Holler” (a combination of “Stomp and Scream” and “Scream and Holler”), “Jump, Thump and Jive” (a combination of “Jump and Thump” and “Drivin Wheel”) and “Walk, Wobble and Roll” (a combination of “Walk and Talk”, ”The Wobble” and “Wobble and Roll”).  The fact that these song are all in a row should drive home how ridiculous this album is, and without the proper mindset is a very painful listen.  Van Morrison himself agrees, as the closing song on side A is the stand-alone “Freaky If You Got This Far”, which it truly is.

Side B starts with an explanation of the album itself: “The Big Royalty Check”, which is a combination of “Big Royalty Check”, “Thirty Two” and “All The Bits”.  Following is “Blowin Your Nose”, a combination of “Blow In Your Nose” and “Nose In You Blow”, a mockery of the first album that Morrison never approved of.  “Want A Danish?” (a combination of “Want A Danish” and “Chickie Coo”) is followed by more silliness in “Shake It Mable” (a combination of “Shake It Mable”, ”You Say France and I Whistle” and “Up In Your Mind”).  The most noteworthy of the “revenge songs” follows, the stand-alone ”Ring Worm”.  To end Contractual Obligations, I united all four songs about the character Dumb George and sequenced them in a logical and presumably chronological order, called “The Story of Dumb George” (a combination of “Here Comes Dumb George”, “Dum Dum George”, “Hold On George” and “Goodbye George”).  The icing on this distasteful cake is the original artwork by EAB, in which Bang Records’ contrived psychdelicism is literally consuming Van Morrison.

Is this a good album?  Oh, God no, this album is fucking awful!  But intentionally awful, for good reason, and thus worth a listen.  It is an absurd album, especially knowing who this is—this is Van Morrison, a genius who combined folk, jazz, soul and pop on his legendary Astral Weeks album, recorded under a year later from Contractual Obligations’ horrific nonsense.  With this in mind, itin t is a fascinating look at the effects of big business on artists, relevant even today.  Sometimes, cause is more relevant than effect and the context of the music is more interesting than the music itself.  Contractual Obligations shows us this as it lies somewhere between pain and pleasure but as an album that never was.  

Sources used
Van Morrison - New York Sessions 67 (1997 Recall Records)

flac --> wav --> editing in SONAR & Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8
*md5, artwork and tracknotes included