Essay / Art

Van Morrison Wants a Danish and You Have Ringworm

Van Morrison 1967 I’ve got a weakness for spectacularly bad music, and I’m also a fan of Van Morrison. Normally these two passions of mine have nothing to do with each other.

But once upon a time, long about 1967, young genius Van Morrison was contractually obligated to make another album for a producer he was quite finished with. There was no way out of the contract without generating a couple dozen songs in the search for another runaway hit like “Brown-Eyed Girl.” So he flew to New York, sat down in the studio, and cranked out 31 tracks of whatever popped into his mind, apparently in one session.

The results are hilarious. MP3s of these are now available online, so click through if you want to hear them. The first 7 or 8 tracks are variations on the theme of “twist and shake.” (for instance, shake and roll, stomp and scream, scream and holler, jump and thump, etc.) Kind of the same song just turned around and around, tweaked repeatedly. Then the sarcasm really starts to lay in, with a track called Royalty Check:

I’m waiting for my royalty check to come
And it still hasn’t come yet
It’s about a year
I guess it’s coming… from the big Royalty Check in the sky!
I waited and the mailman
Never dropped it in my letterbox
Oh, oh, oh oh oh
I guess it’s a big Royalty Check in the sky
Ooooh, baby
But you can’t
Feeeeeed the tax man
and me [?] All at once

Which is followed right away by Ring Worm:

I can see by the look on your face
That you’ve got ringworm.
I’m very sorry but I have to tell you that
You’ve got ringworm.

It’s a very common disease.
Actually, you’re very lucky to have
Cuz you might have had something else.
Ooooooh ah
grrrrrrrr ahhhhhh
Yooooooou’ve got riiiingworm..
Ooooooh, oooowooo ooooowooo ooooooowwwwooooo

All this is pretty much young man Van beating on his guitar and slurring out these spoken words that occasionally sound a little bit like singing. Now and then there’s some real vocalizing that makes you think he’s about to do something serious. It sounds a lot like Dylan in places. A little before the halfway mark he starts taunting the listener, calling you “Freaky if You Got This Far.”

And then he spends some time thinking out loud, planning how he’s going to make a song by bringing in some other musicians:

Uh see, we’ll get a guitar, yeah we’ll get a guitar
And, oh.
We’ll get, we’ll get THREE guitars!
No, no, we’ll get FOUR guitars! and
We’ll get Herbie Leavell to play drums.
And we’ll do
Shaaaaa-la! Shal,
We’ll do the sha, sha
shaaaaaa laaaa! Sha-la
Do the
Get the get, get the geth the
Ungh, ch, ungh, ungh, like that.
And we’ll do the sha-la bit
Uh huh du
And we’ll get
We’ll get SIXTEEN guitars
And we’ll play it
And we’ll do that again, let me hear you do that again.
All right, nutha nutha dasmbuble cluck cluck

From the richness of this great outpouring of art, it’s hard to pick a favorite. But the one I can’t hear without laughing is “You Say France and I Whistle.”

By this point it’s pretty much “VAN MORRISON, SURLIER THAN YOU’VE EVER HEARD HIM!” He mumbles and slurs and grunts and loses his place, talks to himself about whether he wants a danish or not, calls his producer names, makes funny noises with his mouth, cracks himself up a few times, all the while strumming along on his guitar, throwing in cheesy little cliche licks everywhere he can. Apparently he’s all alone in the studio, except for somebody named George who might be there to receive the constant taunting (Here Comes Dumb George, Dum Dum George, Goodbye George).

There’s really nothing else out there like this. Even William Shatner’s unintentionally hilarious dramatic readings of pop lyrics don’t come close, because in this case you’ve got a musical talent so overwhelmingly powerful stooping down to make something so strikingly rotten. I don’t know what these tracks are good for, or what they prove. But I know that next time I need to clear a room, I’ve got something to play.

You can find a little info about the session at this blog, which also has all the links. But caveat clickor: the foulness of pop music culture awaits at such sites.

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