This is the tenth in a series of examinations of music legends and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous music urban legends.
MUSIC LEGEND: Van Morrison was pressured to change his song “Brown Skinned Girl” to “Brown Eyed Girl.”
STATUS: I’m Going With False
In 1967, Van Morrison had recently separated from his band, Them…
And was looking to sign his first record contract as a solo artist. Sadly for Van, the contract he signed with Bang Records turned out to be pretty detrimental to Van, financially (Morrison claims that he has never received any royalties for “Brown Eyed Girl” – that is almost certainly an exaggeration, but likely close enough to the truth to shock you).
However, from a reputation standpoint, his work with Bang produced what is probably his signature song, and the song that made him a superstar recording artist.
That song was “Brown Eyed Girl.”
The tune, a fun nostalgic look back at young love, was a major hit, and remains today one of the most played songs on “oldies” radio stations.
The song is so established that it apparently is featured on the iPod of both Bill Clinton AND George W. Bush!
Amusingly enough, the song, now a fond look back at “the good ol’ days” was, at the time, considered a bit racy for radio, as it included the lines “makin’ love in the green grass.” Many radio stations just edited the song and used the lines “laughin and a runnin’” from the previous verse twice.
However, the most “controversial” aspect of the song is that it was originally called “Brown Skinned Girl,” not “Brown Eyed Girl.”
This has, reasonably enough, led to many stories about how Morrison was pressured to change the title by an uneasy record company.
While I realize that relying on the artist himself is not a totally foolproof way to go about things, I think it is fairly reasonable to expect that Morrison, when asked about the change decades later, would not bother lying to protect the record company, especially as he has gone on the record for years and years about how much he hated Bang Records and how they treated him. So if Van Morrison says that they never pressured him to change the title, I think it’s fair to believe him.
And according to Morrison himself, not only did the executives not tell him to change it, the title never made it past the original recording session.
Morrison was a new recording artist at the time (1967), so he was also pretty inexperienced, and many of the songs on his first album went through numerous takes. “Brown Eyed Girl” was no exception, and in the process of going through all those takes, the song changed from its original title to its eventual final title.
Speaking of the move, Morrison recalls that he changed the title as a mistake at first, and just went with that changed title as the actual title. From the way Morrison talks about the song, it sounds like he always intended it to be a slight, almost throwaway song. It was the producers who would pick up on the fact that the song had Top 40 potential.
Thanks to John Collis’ 1997 Van Morrison biography, Van Morrison: Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, for the Morrison information.
MUSIC LEGEND: The BBC originally banned the playing of the Who’s “My Generation” because it was offensive…to stutterers!
It’s important to note that among the top British acts of 1964/1965, the Who and the Kinks stood out a bit from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in terms of “rocking hard.”
In 1964 and 1965, the Beatles were still doing mostly middle-of-the road pop songs (amazing middle-of-the road pop songs, of course) and the Rolling Stones were still doing a mix of blues songs and pop songs.
Later on, both the Beatles and the Stones began to rock just as hard as the Who and the Kinks, but in 1964, the Who and the Kinks stood out in terms of how aggressive their sound was, which makes sense, as they were the front of the line of young musicians who were reacting TO the Beatles’ sound (and popularity).
So when their album The Who Sings My Generation came out in 1965, it had a much harder sound than was typically played on British radio at the time.
And most specifically, the lead track from the album, “My Generation” was just that, a song that seemed to be about the next generation of British rockers. It reeked with attitude, most prominently where the song teases the audience with the possibility of a different “F” word when it says “Why don’t you just f-f-f-f-fade away.”
Amusingly enough, the song WAS banned by the BBC from its playlists when the song was released. That’s not THAT surprising, but what IS surprising is the reasoning – the BBC felt that the song was offensive….to stutterers! You see, throughout the song, singer Roger Daltrey, well, stutters. I mentioned one example above – “Why don’t you just f-f-f-f-f-fade away,” but there are a few more instances sprinkled throughout.
Eventually, after other pirate stations began playing the song, the BBC relented and began playing the track.
It ended up selling roughly 300,000 copies and made it to #2 on the UK charts – amazing results for a song that was initially banned by the BBC!
Thanks to Joe McMichael’s The Who Concert File for the information.
MUSIC LEGEND: Lou Reed was given some striking early advice from the legendary American poet and author, Delmore Schwartz.
STATUS: I’m Going With True
Delmore Schwartz burst onto the literary scene as a young man, with his collection of short stories that was named after his most famous short story, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” in 1938, when he was just 25 years old.
Schwartz definitely fit into the “Wonder Boy” definition – that is, the creative person who had their greatest success at a young age and then spend the rest of their lives trying to recapture that glory.
In 1959, Schwartz became the youngest person ever to win the Bollingen Prize, mostly for his collection of poems, Summer Knowledge: New and Selected Poems.
Schwartz had a profound impact upon the confessional poets of the 1950s, primarily John Berryman, who dedicated a book of poetry to Schwartz.
Saul Bellow later wrote a great book, Humboldt’s Gift, based on Schwartz’s life – how he began with such great promise and that promise haunt him for the rest of his life.
Schwartz was an extremely heavy drinker, which he used to self-medicate. Ultimately, he became basically a hermit, living in the Hotel Marlon in New York City. He was so isolated that he was dead for two days before he was discovered (he was only 53 years old).
Schwartz taught at a number of colleges during his life, and one of his most famous students (at Syracuse) was Lou Reed.
The two became friends and drinking partners.
Lou Reed recounts an amazing story of a time the two were out drinking…
Once when he was on a drunken binge with me, he had his arm around me and he said, ‘You know, I’m going to die one of these days.’ He was one of the unhappiest people I ever knew. ‘You can write and if you sell out and there’s a heaven from which you can be haunted, I’ll haunt you.’
I think it is safe to say that in his career with the Velvet Undeground…
and his solo career…
that Lou Reed has managed to avoid ever “selling out,” and likey has done Schwartz proud.
Thanks to Victor Bockris’ Uptight for the quote!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org