I finally found the right Brown Eyed Girl.
OK, to be clear, I found the right version of Van Morrison’s most-popular song. (In case my wife is reading, I found the right brown-eyed girl 29 years ago. Or she found me.) And I didn’t even remember having it.
But before I explain, let me recap why that song — and the correct, original version of it — is important to me. In 1967 — the year I graduated from high school, and a monumental year in popular music — BEG introduced me to a musician who would become my favorite solo artist.
Of course, those of us who listened to AM radio (and/or bought records) earlier in the ’60s had already been introduced to The Man, when he fronted Them, the British Invasion band from Northern Ireland. Them had several hits in the mid-60s, including the Garage Band favorite “Gloria.”
Not everyone got to listen to their version of that song, though. The lines “And then she comes in my room/Yeah, an' she make me feel alright” were too suggestive for our tender ears back then — what a quaint thought, that, considering what has come over the airwaves in the intervening years — and Them’s version was banned by many stations.
Among them, I believe, was WLS in Chicago, which is what I listened to at the time. Instead, we got the song interpreted by the Shadows of Knight, a Windy City-area band that changed the lyric ever so slightly — Gloria just knocks on their door, and makes them feel alright. The power of suggestion …
When BEG came out of my car speaker in the spring of ’67, it was the run-up to the Summer of Love, the light at the end of tunnel — high school graduation, not that one in the Far East — was in sight, and I had a new girlfriend. The song was upbeat, catchy and spoke nostalgically of what I/we thought we were going through at the time.
It wasn’t just me, though. BEG has gone on to be hugely popular — the Wikipedia article says it is one of only 10 songs that has been played on U.S. radio stations 10 million times. At the same time, it has not become as annoying as some of the oft-played FM “classic rock” fodder. (Check out “Don’t Play It Again, FM” in my archive of music-related columns on this website, for my thoughts on those.)
BEG set me up for the first time I heard, on Radio Free Madison (WIBA-FM), one of the songs from Morrison’s “Moondance,” his third album. Don’t remember which cut it was, but I was hooked — bought that LP, and wore the grooves about flat.
Then I did the same for “Astral Weeks,” which had been issued earlier but didn’t get the same amount of airplay, and therefore hadn’t caught my attention. I became obsessed with AW, to the point where I took a bottle of the appropriate vino on an outing, just in case I could go “walking by the railroad, with my cherry, cherry wine.”
I continued buying Morrison’s albums, but fell behind late in the ’70s, although I started catching up when the CD age arrived. (But looking at Van’s discography the other night, I see I’m way behind now. Sigh — so many albums, so little time, and money!)
But somewhere along the line, BEG had been bowdlerized. The line, “Makin’ love in the green grass, behind the stadium with you” had been replaced with “laughin’ and a-runnin', hey hey" from an earlier verse. The edit not only didn’t fit lyrically, but was spliced in clumsily.
When I first heard the modified version, I thought it was done as cosmic punishment for guys like me, who tried to make love in the green grass behind the stadium. (OK, it was above the football field, and she claimed her eyes were hazel, not brown, and nothing much happened anyway.) Apparently that verbiage, like Gloria coming into the room a few years earlier, was too racy for the radio. Again, how quaint that seems …
When I started expanding on my Morrison LPs with CDs, I early on snapped up a “Best of Van Morrison” compilation, in order to get BEG. Crap — it’s the bowdlerized version.
(The Wikipedia entry states that the “Best of” disk had the edited lyrics in the packaging but the original in the recording. That’s not the case with my copy, though.)
(One of Morrison’s CDs I picked up along the way was “It’s Too Late to Stop Now,” his 1974 live double album. But not only is the version of BEG thereon quite different, but — on a recording considered by many to be the best concert LP of all time — it’s rather uninspired. Perhaps bearing out Van’s assertion that BEG is far from his favorite song.)
So I found a CD called “T.B. Sheets,” which has a sticker on the front cover proclaiming “Contains the original hit version of ‘Brown Eyed Girl.’” Not true — that version was hacked up, too, and I was going to write to Columbia records and complain; never got around to it, however.
(Wikipedia’s Morrison discography lists his first solo album as “Blowin’ Your Mind,” a recording put together by his then producer without the artist’s knowledge or say-so, consisting of eight “A” and “B” sides for singles. My copy has eight cuts, but I’m not sure why there is the discrepancy in album name.)
So I just gave in, and cringed whenever my Van the Man all-song shuffle gets to BEG. Then, just the other day, while going through my iTunes library, I saw the category “Compilations.”
I decided to compare what I had in there against the stack of CDs I had sitting on my desk, in case there were some I hadn’t yet loaded. And there, in “Music at the Movies Volume 1,” was “Brown Eyed Girl.” Double-click, listen for a couple minutes — and, voila!, I’d found her.
Now, I just have to get that correct, unexpurgated version in with the rest of the Van the Man tunes. I may have come a long way since 1967, but not so far when it comes to dealing with technology.