Van Morrison’s 1967 hit sounds like a commercial jingle selling contrived sentimentality, and feels like opportunistic pandering to a statistically calculated demographic.
Brown Eyed Girl has always struck me as a song that was written with the largest possible audience in mind. Over 50% of the world’s population have brown eyes, making it one of the most obvious groups to target when writing songs for money. For this reason the song has always just felt too obvious to me, and not only do I kind of resent its predictable popularity, I will straight up judge people’s musical tastes as irrelevant if this is one of their favorite tunes.
Speaking of having Brown Eyed Girl as your favorite song, did you know that Bill Clinton has listed it as one of his top ten, and that his buddy Bush Jr. has claimed it to be his favorite? Hate me now?
However the truth is that Van Morrison did not write the song with the calculating intent which I attributed above, although it still FEELS that way whenever I hear it. But the truth might actually be a bit more disturbing.
The song was originally ‘Brown-Skinned Girl’ and described an interracial romance. Van Morrison sometimes claims that he basically didn’t even mean to make the switch, and it just sort of accidentally occurred without his conscious intent. However the more accepted consensus is that the producer and record company feared that a song about interracial romance and sexual relations would be too taboo to become a hit, and convinced Morrison to make the change. So even worse than pandering to the majority of brown eyed girls, he was pandering to the insecurities of bigots and the greed of his producers and record company.
Despite the enduring popularity of the song, the aforementioned greed of the people who recorded and released it led to a situation where Van Morrison earned little to no money whatsoever for it. On top of that, he cites it as one of his least favorite songs, having quipped that he has written 300 better ones since. So while he may have folded like a coward to unscrupulous censorship, I am somewhat sympathetic to the fact that the song hangs over his head like a dark cloud, which has paved the way for me to forgive him the lyrical atrocity he perpetuated on humankind.
Nonetheless, I still find the song reproachable. It is like a default setting favorite for music listeners with no imagination or sense of adventure. It is a song which people that don’t really even like music can still dance to at their cousin’s wedding. Brown Eyed Girl is the soundtrack to wanting to be 18 years old forever in a world that never changes. Although unintentionally, it has become a ‘safe choice’ musically, allowing it to function as one of the most conservative songs in the repertoire of rock music; which makes it antithetical to the very spirit of it’s own genre.
I may forgive, but I shall never forget.
Update 12/3/20: Though I still loathe this song, I have come to respect Van Morrison a lot for his courage in speaking out against fanatical lockdown measures. We must learn to face risks and accept loss without tossing aside that which our humanity and civilization rely upon. Don’t politicize that, this is about radical acceptance, not about how your identity posturing and intolerance.