Van Morrison’s first solo collaboration with songwriter, producer and record company owner Bert Berns yielded the Irish soul man’s debut solo hit, “Brown Eyed Girl.” As overexposed as a song played billions of times by millions of bands for 50 years is, Morrison’s original “Brown Eyed Girl” remains an ageless pop-soul classic.
“Brown Eyed Girl” captures Morrison fresh from the breakup of his British invasion band, Them, and at the beginning of his brilliant solo career. Berns, whose previous credits included the Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk,” the Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout” and Them’s “Here Comes the Night,” was in top form, too.
“Those first sessions were really great,” Morrison says in his six pages of notes for The Authorized Bang Collection. The singer praises the musicians, arranger, engineer and producer who participated in the March 1967 sessions. “He [Berns] was able to take the bull by the horns and deliver great performances,” Morrison writes.
Eight songs from those sessions appeared on Morrison’s 1967 album, Blowin’ Your Mind! “He Ain’t Give You None” blends his singular Northern Irish soul with the American rhythm-and-blues he loves. “T.B. Sheets” grooves through a droning soul-blues jam. “Spanish Rose” uses the Latin tinge that Berns, an aficionado of Cuban music, knew so well. “Who Drove the Red Sports Car?” pairs blues-jazz piano with psychedelicized soul jamming.
But “Sports Car,” “Ro Ro Rosey” and other songs suffer from obtrusive electric guitar and overall clutter. Despite everything coming together for “Brown Eyed Girl,” that doesn’t happen in most of the other songs. But the latter missteps are minor compared to the chaotic Morrison-Berns sessions that happened later in 1967.
Morrison explains the challenging circumstances that surrounded those failed sessions in his notes. Later, just as he and Berns were planning to meet again, Berns died on December 30, 1967, at 37. “He was a brilliant songwriter and he had a lot of soul, which you don’t find nowadays,” Morrison writes.
The Authorized Bang Collection’s discs one and two contain the original Bang masters and alternative takes and rarities. Disc three, the “Contractual Obligation Session,” offers a frustrated, derisive Morrison in throwaway, voice and guitar–only performances. He’s obviously ready to move on to the great music he’d soon make.