Friday, September 30, 2005

Freaky If You Got This Far

There are many great traditions in recorded popular music. Two of them go parallel: the contractual obligation album and the anti-music industry impresario song.
Three examples of the latter are Cocaine Decisions by Frank Zappa, Van Morrison's Bigtime Operators and, coming back to italian land, Elio E Le Storie Tese's Sos Epidos. That same band had to release a contractual obligation album in 1990, titled The Los Sri Lanka Parakramabahu Brothers (a.k.a. Il Disco Pacco Di Natale), to be released from Epic/CBS Records. It is, to fans, critics and band members themselves, the lowest point of their recording career.
Frank Zappa's "contractual obligation" for Warner Brothers consisted in the repackaging of his monumental quadruple LP project titled Läther into the three infamous "ugly cover" albums -Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favourites- released in 1978/79 (more info about those at Zappa Patio and here).

Ah, and Van Morrison's contractual obligation album. Which is the reason i'm telling you all this.
In 1967 the young Van Morrison was in the early stages of his solo career. He was signed to Bang Records, a company owned and administrated by Mr. Bert Berns, also author of the odd pop song lyric himself. Berns was certainly not the most honest of entrepreneurs if we consider his behaviour towards Van The Man: both albums from this period were released while the artist was on tour, without him being informed. And heavily overproduced, without the artist's consent. So of course Van wanted out from Bang Records.

What changed things was Berns' sudden death on December 30th, 1967. Warner Brothers Records was already interested in Van working for them, so an agreement was reached that the next ten songs he recorded would belong to Bang Records, after which he was free to go happily on his merry way.

So what happened next? Bert Berns' widow Eileen, quoted in Steve Turner's Van Morrison biography, tells us this:
"He then turned over a tape that he must have spent ten minutes making.(...) It consisted of ten bursts of nonsense music that weren't even songs. You could never have copyrighted them. There was something about ringworms and then he sang something about 'I gotta go in and cut this stupid song for this stupid lady' and so on"
"To cut a long story short, I had two small babies, one of them born three weeks before Bert's death, and I just wanted to get on with my life, and didn't bother to take him to court and sue him over the songs I didn't get. So I just let it go."

(From: S. Turner, It's Too Late To Stop Now, Bloomsbury, London, 1993)

Those sessions are now available online, and are absolutely hilarious.

Even if you don't feel like right-clicking "save file as" some 31 times, at least go here and read the improvised-in-the-studio lyrics. And don't tell me all this wasn't worth it.

(Moral: In 1968 Van Morrison recorded Astral Weeks for WB Records, which is still considered one of the five greatest albums in the history of rock. Outtakes from it were never published, and are presumed lost. But these Bang Records masters are freely available on cheap compilations and now even online. All things considered, i wonder who got the last laugh.)

(Via KillUglyRadio)