Van Morrison and the Thirty-One Songs about Nothing But a Bad Contract

Van Morrison is a legend of the music world. He has won six Grammys, is an inductee into both the the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame, and gets a fraction of a cent whenever you stream “Brown Eyed Girl” on Spotify (although when it plays in your head, that one’s free). And while “Brown Eyed Girl” is almost certainly his most recognizable song, it’s not his only one. For example, there’s “Here Comes Dumb George,” playable via the YouTube video below:

If that doesn’t work, click here to listen — although listening to the song isn’t really necessary. For the most part, it’s just Van Morrison, strumming on his guitar for a hair under a minute, saying the words “Here Come Dumb George” over and over again. He doesn’t even bother to make the grammar proper — or to match the song’s properly written title. The only deviations from the chorus are when he asks the listener to sing along (“everybody together on the chorus”) and when he tosses in a “boogaloo, boogaloo, baby” for some reason. Here are the full lyrics, if you want to check them out, but really, that’s all there is to the song. It isn’t much of a song at all. In fact, it seems odd that the “song” was ever recorded in the first place.

Even stranger? There are thirty more songs by Van Morrison, all of similar, lazy quality.

The reason: a contract — one that Morrison didn’t really like.

Morrison’s musical career began in earnest as a member of a band named “Them” which had a few hit songs in the mid-1960s. One of those songs, “Here Comes the Night” (listen here) was written and produced by a man named Bert Berns in 1965 for Atlantic Records. In 1967, Berns  and some others left Atlantic Records and created their own label, Bang Records. “Them” broke up at around the same time, and Berns recruited Morrison as a solo act under Bang.

The relationship, though, got off on the wrong foot. Morrison, per Wikipedia, was more artist than businessman, and didn’t do a good job reading his contract with Bang Records. He spent two days in March of 1967 in a studio session, recording singles for Bang, but the label — without consulting him first — turned the collection of songs into a full album (titled “Blowin’ Your Mind!”) which Morrison only found out about when a friend purchased one and told him about it. While the album contained “Brown Eyed Girl” and launched Morrison into the public eye, he was still upset by how it came to be. Before the year was out, Morrison was ready to look for a new label.

But there was a problem. Morrison, it turned out, was contractually obligated to deliver another 31 songs to Berns’ music publishing company. Morrison didn’t want to do that, of course. Normally he’d be stuck, but in this case, he found a loophole: the contract didn’t say that the songs had to be any good. So one day, he booked a studio in New York and just started strumming and singing about whatever came to mind. Tracks from the contract fulfillment session include “Here Comes Dumb George,” as noted above, and a bunch which are just as strange. There’s “Ringworm” (listen/lyrics), where Morrison believes that someone he’s talking to has ringworm (but, as he points out, it could be worse.) There’s “You Say France and I’ll Whistle” (listen/lyrics), where he asks his listener to say “France” and in response, he’ll whistle. And there’s “Want a Danish?” (listen/lyrics), in which he offers his listener a danish (or a sandwich if he or she would prefer). Each of the 31 songs is roughly a minute to a minute and a half long, and utterly ridiculous.

And, legally, good enough. Bert Berns died at the end of 1967, and his widow, Irene, didn’t want the songs — she decided not to release the “album” Morrison delivered. But, the obligation fulfilled, she couldn’t do much to prevent Morrison from changing labels. He joined Warner Bros. Records shortly thereafter.

Ultimately, the 31 songs made their way to the public. In 1996, likely encouraged by to Morrison’s popularity, Bang decided to release a compilation album, combining “Blowin’ Your Mind!” with the previously unreleased material.

AnchorBonus Fact: “Brown Eyed Girl” was originally titled “Brown Skinned Girl,” but it’s unclear why. Morrison, per Wikipedia, claims that the original title was simply written down incorrectly and the name was always supposed to be a reference to eyes, not race. According to the Independent, though, he’s also stated otherwise: “Morrison says that the song was originally called ‘Brown Skinned Girl’ and was about an inter-racial relationship. He changed it to make it more palatable to radio stations.”

From the Archives: Fogerty v. Fogerty: Another weird result when law and music mix.

Take the Quiz: Click the Lyrics to “Brown Eyed Girl.” The two minute timer makes this one surprisingly hard.

Related: “The Infamous Contractual Obligation Recordings Of ’67” by Van Morrison. Yes, it’s the 31 songs described above. Available to stream, for free, for Amazon Prime members. $8.99 if you want to buy it, either way.