Did Van Morrison’s Record Company Force Him to Change the Name of His Song “Brown Skinned Girl” to “Brown Eyed Girl?”

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about music and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the music urban legends featured so far.

MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: Van Morrison was pressured to change his song “Brown Skinned Girl” to “Brown Eyed Girl.”

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.

Is it true?

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.

The legend is…

STATUS: I’m Going With False

Thanks to John Collis’ 1997 Van Morrison biography, Van Morrison: Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, for the Morrison information.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

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