Friday, November 18, 2011

November 18: Van Morrison, "Brown Eyed Girl"

Artist: Van Morrison
Song: "Brown Eyed Girl"
Album: Brown Eyed Girl (single)
Year: 1967

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There are certain moments scattered randomly across the long history of recorded music that regardless of the amount of time that passes, never lose their impact.  These elite few songs are able to constantly take a listener back to the time during which it was recorded, or a time in the life of the listener, and even as the years go by, these songs manage to keep their relevance and fresh sound.  Clearly, the creation of such songs is rarely anything short of unpredictable, and yet there are one or two musicians in the history of music that have shown a unique talent for recording songs of such significance.  Standing far apart from his peers, as well as the performers from any other generation, there are few singers and songwriters with a catalog that is even remotely comparable to that of the great Van Morrison.  For more than four decades, Morrison has been releasing some of the most uniquely beautiful songs of all time, with his orchestrations running the gamut from pop to folk to jazz and many other styles.  Due to this wide range in sound, it is difficult to cite a single album as his finest work, and this also leads one to consider each of his songs for their own worth; as opposed to their relevance within a larger record.  While there are certainly many of his songs that have become classics, there may be no other recording in the Van Morrison catalog that holds the same power and historical importance as his unforgettable 1967 single, "Brown Eyed Girl."

Even the mention of the name of the song almost instantly brings to mind the now-iconic musical arrangement, as the opening riff "Brown Eyed Girl" is without question one of the most memorable in the entire history of recorded music.  The guitar riff sets the perfect mood for the entire song, and one cannot help but get caught up in the almost Calypso-style tone that runs throughout "Brown Eyed Girl."  Yet it is rather strange, as the main musical arrangement is a somewhat simple orchestration, working only three chords in a predictable pattern.  However, it is the spirit and energy with which these notes are played that enables the song to become so much greater, and this sense of enjoyment in playing is one of the many ways that "Brown Eyed Girl" separates itself from other recordings of the time.  The song is also rather unique due to the rhythms that run throughout, as there is only a light drumming for a majority of the song, and these drums are mixed "behind" the hand clapping.  In many ways, the hand claps became another reason that listeners found themselves completely enamored with the song, and the finishing touch of the soft, deep grooving bass is nothing short of perfect.  It is the way that all of these sounds come together in an exciting, yet almost unassuming manner that makes "Brown Eyed Girl" such a special moment in music history.

However, while it is impossible to understate the impact and perfection found within the music on"Brown Eyed Girl," it is difficult to argue that the true force behind the song is the voice of Van Morrison.  While he had made a small name for himself with his previous band, Them, it would be his singing on "Brown Eyed Girl" that would turn him into an absolute superstar.  There is a spirit and power within his singing that serves as the ideal compliment to the music over which he sings, and the sheer joy in his voice makes this one of the few songs in history with which one cannot help but sing along.  The slight grit within the voice of Van Morrison enables "Brown Eyed Girl" to retain a slight edge or attitude that was largely absent from pop songs of this style, and there is no question that this aspect was one of the many reasons the single quickly cracked the top ten on the sales charts.  However, it is also the youthful, almost timeless quality of the word which Morrison sings that garnered this attention, and to this day, "Brown Eyed Girl" remains one of the most instantly recognizable lyrics of all time.  Truth be told, when the song was first released, many radio stations felt that the words were a bit too risqué, and the "laughin' and ah runnin'" line from the second verse were edited over the "making love in the green grass" line on the third verse.  Yet even with this change, the sentiment and power of the song were not diminished in the least, and Morrison used this performance to set the standard for his entire career.

Though most are completely unaware of the reality, "Brown Eyed Girl" also stands as one of the great "musical tragedies" in history, as the financial implications of the recording and sales perfectly highlight everything that was (and in some ways remains) wrong with the music industry.  Having recently split ways with his previous band, Van Morrison rushed to New York City when he heard that Bang Records wanted to give him a solo recording contract.  However, due to his desire to get into a recording studio as quickly as possible, he signed the contract without getting any legal advice, and the paperwork he signed prevented him from receiving any royalties from "Brown Eyed Girl" until he himself had paid for the entire recording session.  Even after such monies were recouped, there is no question that much of the income from the massive sales of "Brown Eyed Girl" had been subject to "creative accounting," and in the end, Morrison received comparatively no financial compensation for the sales of "Brown Eyed Girl."  However, the sales of the song did turn him into an outright superstar, and the next few albums he released would cement his place as one of the most talented performers in the entire history of music.  From the iconic musical arrangement to the absolutely perfect vocal performance, there has simply never been another song that is on par with Van Morrison's legendary 1967 single, "Brown Eyed Girl."

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