Their latest offering "Where Our Love Grows" seems like a brighter, lighter twin of the beautiful 2001 release "Somewhere Deep In The Night", trading in sparkling stars with sunny seashores. "When The Laughter Is Over" conjures up a late 60s melancholic "lost summer" kind of mood. That's obvious since they delicately build the song around a sample taken from Roger Nichols & The Small Circle of Friends' marvelous "I Can See Only You" from 1968.
from Where Our Love Grows, available on CD (Universal)
When mentioning Swing Out Sister casual listeners often dismiss them as forgettable, mere 80s martini pop kitsch. Or worse, one hit wonders due to the fact that their 1987 offering Breakout is still, by far, their biggest single hit. But this is completely wrong. In fact, they're enjoying an ongoing career for almost 20 years, recording 8 studio albums. Nowadays they’re fitting a niche no other group fits in so comfortably: escapist, late 60s oriented sophisticated glamorous easy listening pop music with all the right influences that spring to mind of that era: Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb, John Barry, late 60s european soundtracks in general, Ennio Morricone specifically and sunshine pop. Since these guys aren't necessarily household names in mainstream pop culture today, Swing Out Sister were practically invisible from the mid 90s on in Europe and the USA, releasing their records primarily in Japan, where easy listening music still gets the biggest exposure. The Sisters’ 2001 album “Somewhere deep in the night” is their most cinematic, most elegant and visually evocative album to date, where the Bacharach/Barry/Morricone spirit is prevailing the most: 60s arrangements with Bacharach-oriented songwriting, Barry-esque lush strings, Morricone-style harpsicord, saxophone, harps, jazzy guitars, muted trumpets, fluegelhorn, wordless vocals, blending vocal songs with atmospheric instrumentals, creating an imaginary soundtrack. The whole album is a truly underrated gem.
from Somewhere Deep In The Night, available on CD (EMI)
17 Jun 04 ·jeanette: I have to say I am thoroughly delighted at learning of the continued career of SOS. I always had time for them, and thought Breakout was actually the weakest of the singles I heard. I particularly remember liking 'Fooled By A Smile' and 'You On My Mind'.
Hearing the snippets of these songs here, I can say I'm intrigued enough to try and seek out some of this later work. It reminds me of the more produced end of Siesta records' (Spanish easy-pop label) output. 18 Jun 04 ·eftimihn: You probably should try "Shapes and Patterns" from 1997 first, it's pretty much in the vein of 1989's "Kaleidoscope World" and thus a good starting point to rediscover SOS. This and the aforementioned "Somewhere Deep In The Night" (2001) as well.
Okay, I'm going to summarize the story as best as I can.
Van Morrison's first recording contract as a solo artist was with a small label called Bang, owned by a man named Bert Berns. Among Bang's hits were "I Want Candy" by the Strangeloves, "Hang On Sloopy" by the McCoys, "Cherry Cherry" by Neil Diamond, and of course "Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison.
Bang released Morrison's first album, "Blowin' Your Mind," in 1967. The thing is, Morrison had nothing to do with it. He wanted out of his contract. Berns died in December of that year, but Bang (now run by Berns's wife Ilene) still wanted ten songs from Van. He gave 'em 31.
The Bang Contractuals, as these sessions have come to be known, can be split into three categories: throwaways ("Twist and Shake," "Stomp and Scream"), cynical commentary ("The Big Royalty Check," "Blow in Your Nose" [a play on "Blowin' Your Mind]), and the just plain bizarre.
"Ring Worm" is a member of the third group. First of all, Morrison doesn't sing the lyrics, he speaks them. Second, the lyrics are:
I can see by the look on your face... that you've got ring worm.
I'm very sorry, but... I have to tell you that... you've got... ring worm...
It's a very common disease...
Actually, you're very lucky to have... ring worm, because you may have... had something else.
Finally, after the lyrics comes the most bizarre "singing" I've ever heard. I can't even describe it. You'll have to hear it for yourself. I will say this: if you're familiar with Van's more commercial works, you will be dumbfounded.
Of course, we all know the rest of the story: later in 1968, Morrison signed to Warner Bros., recorded "Astral Weeks," and became a legend. I have friends, however, that believe the Bang Contractuals to be his best album.
The material shouldn't be too hard to find: since its first release (apparently, by a small Portuguese label in 1992), the Bang Contractuals have been released over and over, always as a two-disc set with the more "legitimate" Bang material ("Brown Eyed Girl," etc.) Look for titles such as "The Complete Bang Sessions," "Payin' Dues," and (ugh) "Brown Eyed Beginnings."
from The Lost Tapes (Movie Play Gold) available on CD - ah, thousands of 'em (take yer pick)
18 Jun 04 ·eftimihn: I already knew this weird story, but being a fan of Van for 15 years or so it wasn't until these 2 tracks (together with "You Say France And I Whistle") were featured on Otis Fodder's 365 Days Project that i eventually heard them. Hilarious stuff. It's pretty much a precedence that shows what happens when record companies force artists to be creative and deliver what they want...
Another song from the Bang Contractual Sessions (see my previous writeup for "Ring Worm"). In this one, Van actually has a conversation with himself:
"You want a danish?"
"No, I just ate. I've just aten."
"Like, I want some bread up front."
"Oh, bread up front? You want a sandwich?"
The remainder of the lyrics is basically the phrases "have a danish," "you want a sandwich? have a sandwich," and "have a seat" repeated ad nauseam. (The song is only a minute long.)
Along with introducing the word "aten" and the phrase "bread up front" into our lexicon, this might rank as Van Morrison's strangest recording... and given the rest of the Bang Contractuals, that's saying something. You've gotta love his delivery, though.
from The Lost Tapes (Movie Play Gold) available on CD - a whole bunch (you'll find one eventually)
27 Mar 06 ·sashwap: i maintain that he actually says "eaten" but with an irish accent.
Has anyone ever seen "The Hudsucker Proxy?" You know the scene where Tim Robbins first comes to work for Hudsucker and he gets an orientation that lasts exactly one minute ("Punch in late and THEY DOCK YA!")? "First Day" is more or less that scene's musical equivalent.
Clocking in at two minutes and not wasting a second, "First Day" describes someone's first day at work that begins optimistically enough ("And they say this is the job that people die for / I hope you're ready for the next stage"). Eventually, the day goes on too long (through dinner!) and his spirits are dampened by a coworker ("And he says like it or not / You have to do what they say / And it is something that you would like to talk about / But it is only your first day"). And then things just go out of hand.
"And they say 'faster, faster!'"
The song speeds up slightly.
"AND THEY SAY 'FASTER! FASTER!!'"
And the song now reaches breakneck speed. Incredible!
I have no doubts that "First Day" could've been one of the greatest, most brilliant post-punk singles ever, had it been released 25 years ago. As it stands, the Futureheads are becoming quite popular in England with the impending release of their first full-length album (for which "First Day" was re-recorded). They are a band worth hearing and I can only hope their album gets an American release.