Otto Preminger's "Skidoo," starring Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, and Groucho Marx, among others, is best described as a psychedelic gangster film. While the film itself is mostly forgotten, Harry Nilsson gave it a memorable soundtrack, including "The Cast and Crew," which was played over the credits.
Wait. Did I say "played over?" This song IS the credits. The COMPLETE credits. Yes, going as far as mentioning the copyright line ("Copyright MCMLXVIII/By Sigma Productions Incorporated/Your seat's on fire") and people such as negative cutters, set directors, etc. And he puts in every little detail:
--"Photographed in Panavision and Technicolor/Director of Photography: Leon Shamroy, A.S.C. Hmph."
--"It's a Paramount (TM) release, a Gulf + Western company." (Yes, he sings "TM" and "plus.")
So, it's the movie credits. But he sings them, and he sings them in an interesting and humorous way. You have to pity the poor guy: he had to take all these names and occupations, fit them into a song, and make it interesting. And he even performed it live on television once, on "Playboy After Dark" in 1968.
from Skidoo (RCA LSO-1152) available on CD - Skidoo / The Point! (BMG Camden)
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.
"Itzcuintli-Totzli Days" is one of the many Mountain Goats songs that displays John Darnielle's fixation on ancient Aztec culture: "Itzcuintli" (or "Itzquintli," the dog) is the tenth day of the Aztec calendar, and "Totzli" (or "Tochtli," the rabbit) is the eighth. Apparently, Tochtli symbolized drunkenness, something looked down upon by the Aztecs. So when Darnielle sings "I know he's coming, let him come / Let the big, big rabbit come out," he's singing a good old-fashioned drinking song, albeit with Aztec imagery. It can never be said that Darnielle writes straightforwardly.
(It also makes me think of the film "Harvey," and the relationship between the alcoholic Elwood P. Dowd and an invisible rabbit; the line "Let him cast his shadow on the bright face of our little house" brings to mind the promotional artwork.)
Like many Mountain Goats songs, every element comes together: the words, the melody, the vocals (lead and harmony), and the guitar playing. (I emphasize the guitar playing because a friend of mine says that Darnielle's not a particularly good guitar player. He's wrong.) it's only 1:24, so there's not much to it, but it's (short and) sharp. And at the end, there's applause. where it's coming from, I don't know, but it just as well might be coming from us.
from Beautiful Rat Sunset (Shrimper SHR 99), available on CD