Songs Of The Day 1/2/2015: Van Morrison - "Mechanical Bliss" + "Naked in the Jungle" + "I Shall Sing"

This is the second time I've given this space to Van Morrison in a month, but he's been on the brain a lot lately. Without giving too much away (or putting too much advance pressure on your correspondent), let's just say there'll be a feature of considerable length about Van Morrison coming from me at some point in the first quarter of 2015. Remember the Hall & Oates feature on Treble? (Although... maybe you wouldn't, because I don't think I linked to it from here... well, it was quite the stir in its time.) It'll be something like that. With more references to Celtic mythology than I could muster up when I wrote about things like "Maneater."

One album I won't be covering in this piece is Mechanical Bliss, primarily because it never came out. This record was supposed to be Morrison's 1975 follow-up to Veedon Fleece. Reading from a transcript of an interview Van did with San Francisco radio legend Tom Donahue around that time, Mechanical Bliss was mere inches away from being mastered and pressed. To Donahue's disbelief, Morrison gave a release date of February 1975, which was only about five months after the release of Veedon Fleece. The gaps between artists' releases weren't quite as long in the '70s as they are now, but even considering that, five months was a speedy turnaround time. But it got far enough down the pipeline that an album cover was commissioned.

Parts of Mechanical Bliss were released on later compilation albums like The Philosopher's Stone, but a bunch of it never obtained an official release. As you sharp-eyed album cover connoisseurs may have noticed, the proposed artwork for Mechanical Bliss was recycled and used for Steely Dan's album The Royal Scam.

Since it never existed, we don't really have any insight as to what the lineup for Mechanical Bliss was going to be. But we do have excerpts from the Mechanical Bliss sessions, parts of which are some of the wildest stuff Morrison had recorded as a solo artist. One song I wanted to use was called "I'm Not Waiting for You" which bears a stunning resemblance to Bachman-Turner Overdrive. I just couldn't use it because the audio quality was too low, even for this ramshackle hut's standards.

There were three songs I couldn't decide between, so I thought I'd give you a new year 3-pack. (Or "3-pak," as befitting the ad copy of certain '70s products.) The title track actually did see official release as the B-side in 1977, and I first heard it on San Francisco's last truly free-form station (can't remember the call letters) sometime in 1988 or so. "Mechanical Bliss," the song, packs in a bunch of oddities, apparently extemporaneous lyrics and vocal decisions, let's call them. It almost sounds like the careless, vengeful songs Van recorded to get out of his Bang Records contract in 1967, but perhaps even more decapitated from reality. It's fascinating.

In regards to the other two songs: "Naked in the Jungle" is bluntly the hardest R&B/funk song Morrison ever did, a wildly energized recording that surely sounds out of step with the temper of his mid-'70s material -- yet great. "I Shall Sing," a sunnier update of a song he'd first recorded around the Moondance era, was made at some point during the Mechanical Bliss sessions but didn't appear on any prospective track listings I came across. It remains the only time I can recall Van ever visiting the Caribbean in song. I guess the change in climate was a bit extreme.

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