Van Morrison – The Authorized Bang Collection – Legacy/Bang 88985424672 – 3 CD set  (71:32, 74:31, 35:44) ***1/2

A case of “what could have been” rather than “what was”- Van Morrison – The Authorized Bang Collection

(Van Morrison – guitar and vocals; Eric Gale, Hugh McCracken, Al Gorgoni,  Donald Thomas – guitars; Russ Savukas, Bob Bushnell – bass; Herbie Lovelle, Gary Chester – drums; percussion/mallets – George Devens; Artie Butler, Seldon Powell – keyboards;
tambourine and backing vocal – Jeff Barry; Cissy Houston, Dee Dee Warwick, Myrna Smith – backing vocals)

When Bert Berns convinced Van Morrison to leave Belfast after the break-up of Them in 1967, and come stateside to record for his new label, Bang Records, it was a major coup. Van was ready to break out on his own after “Gloria” became a hit and Them’s line-up changes convinced Morrison to go out on his own after a 1966 US tour.

Berns had worked with Them and Morrison on major hits, “Here Comes the Night” and “Baby Please Don’t Go.” Bert also worked with Atlantic Records’ soul division and wrote iconic songs such as “Twist and Shout,” “Under the Boardwalk,” “Cry to Me,” and “Baby Let Me Take You Home.”

However, Van’s experience with Bang Records did not go well. Morrison recorded seventeen tracks for Bang in 1967, split between March and December. It was Van’s understanding that Berns was going to issue singles, such as “Brown Eyed Girl,” and “T. B. Sheets.” Therefore, Van recorded “filler” material with the assumption that some of the songs would be used as B-sides. Berns decided that an album should be issued and Blowin’ Your Mind (with eight tracks) was released after “Brown Eyed Girl” hit the Top Ten in the Summer of 1967.

When the final output for Bang was recorded in December, 1967, new musicians were used and they did not mesh as well as did the March recordings. Berns was not approachable to Morrison, and the material appeared overproduced. Unfortunately, in the midst of finishing up the latest tracks Bert Berns passed away suddenly on Dec. 30, 1967, at age 38, from a heart condition related to his childhood rheumatic fever. The final masters were left in limbo until their remastering for this 3 CD box set.

We are left with the original masters, as well as a disc of alternate takes, and a final disc of 31 rather playful tracks, titled the Contractual Obligation Session. These 31 tracks total only 35:44, and the titles do not need quotation marks around them as you can see with names like Stomp and Scream, Jump and Thump, Blowin’ Your Nose, Nose in Your Blow, Want a Danish, Dum Dum George, etc. Track 10 says it all- (I’m Waiting for) “The Big Royalty Check.” These tracks were made on acoustic guitar, sound similar, but with different “lyrics.” Obviously made with a sarcastic edge, they would not have ever been issued except for a complete collection of Bang recordings.

However, for curious Van Morrison completists (count me in) the issue of this box set has value. We are given stereo and mono mixes of his 17 recorded tracks as well as alternate takes. Highlighted are several versions of “Brown Eyed Girl,” and “Ro Ro Rosey.” They show the beginnings of the path that Morrison took throughout his still continuing recording career–blues driven passionate singing with riff enhanced vocals, all in his inimitable fashion. Here Van is backed by Cissy Houston and Dee Dee Warwick, sister of Dionne, and they help increase the soul quotient.

Sidemen include guitarist, Eric Gale, and bassist, Bob Bushnell, both first rate jazz musicians, a clear indication that both Morrison and producer Bert Berns were looking for a quality product. Van shows his early mastery of the blues idiom and though his career took off after being signed to Warner Bros., he was heading in the right direction with Bang. If Bert Berns had been in better health their partnership might have lasted much longer.


CD 1:
Brown Eyed Girl
He Ain’t Give You None
T.B. Sheets
Spanish Rose
Goodbye Baby
Ro Ro Rosey
Who Drove the Red Sports Car
Midnight Special
It’s All Right
Send Your Mind
The Smile You Smile
The Back Room
Joe Harper Saturday Morning
Beside You
Madame George
The Smile You Smile (demo)

CD 2:
Brown Eyed Girl (mono)
Ro Ro Rosey (mono single)
T.B. Sheets (take 2)
Goodbye Baby (takes 10-11)
Send Your Mind (take 3)
Midnight Special (take 7)
He Ain’t Give You None (take 4)
Ro Ro Rosey (take 2)
Who Drove the Red Sports Car (take 6)
Beside You (take 2)
Joe Harper Saturday Morning (take 2)
Beside You (take 5)
Spanish Rose (take 4)
Brown Eyed Girl (takes 1-6)
Brown Eyed Girl (takes 7-11)

CD 3:
Contractual Obligation Session- 31 tracks with silly titles

—Jeff Krow