VERSIONS – “Domino”

Welcome to another of our series in which we examine a song or tune and the different ways that it has been handled by various artists. We also look at the way a song or tune has been handled in different ways by the same artist. This time Paul Villers puts the microscope over Van Morrison’s ‘Domino’.

‘Domino’ (demo 1969?)
Our first version comes from a widely available but never commercially released set of recordings variously titled ‘Unplugged In The Studio’ (presumably to cash in on the fad for ‘unplugged’ albums), ‘Van Morrison Get’s His Chance To Wail More’ (which is a quote directly lifted from this version) and ‘Gypsy Soul’ (a reference to another Morrison tune). Of chief note here is that this is the first known reference to the song in recording terms. It’s rough and ready as one might expect but it is undeniably heartfelt and, despite the poor recording, one can hear the passion in Van’s voice. It also, by way of introduction, features the producer/sound engineer’s voice making suggestion about the arrangement (like omitting a flute part) which marks that man out as either extremely brave or foolhardy given Morrison’s reputation. I guess it was early in his career so he may have been more ‘suggestible’. Long term Morrison fans will recall that his collaboration with Dr. John on ‘Period of Transition’ just seven years later led to pianist vowing that he would never work with him again. Maybe some people are just too touchy…ha! Those familiar with the song will also realise that the lyric is (almost) completely different from later versions. Indeed people might not even think that the song is inspired by Fats Domino unless they had heard the lyric presented here (“We turn the lights down low/and dig the fat man Domino”).

‘Domino’ (duet demo 1970?)
Another demo version here probably from a different session. This collection is sometimes called ‘The Genuine Philosopher’s Stone Recordings’ (again presumably to cash in on the official ‘bits and bobs/odds and sods/unreleased recordings’ album ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’). This time the stand out features are the double bass, handclaps and a second voice on the chorus. It’s a slightly more restrained version vocally but more or less follows the lyrical content of the first. What it does point to is the (probable) reason that the lyrics were re-written almost in their entirety since Van appears to have at least a little difficulty in fitting the words to the tune almost, but not quite, having to garble them to suit the time structure. However this remains an interesting submission into the canon of the song and neatly charts its evolution.

‘Domino’ ( ‘…His Band And The Street Choir’ 1970)
This is probably the most recognisable version of the tune and with good reason. It’s the first time that it can be heard as a commercially available release and appears on one of Van’s best records of the ’70s. “…His Band and the Street Choir” was Morrison’s tribute to the black American music that he grew up with – blues, rhythm and blues, soul, jazz (as evidenced by the line: “I just want to hear some rhythm and blues on my radio”). Obviously the song had been kicking around for a while and had been worked on extensively. This is the result – the butt-kicking chorus remains but the verses have almost completely changed and Fats Domino isn’t referenced at all. What we do get is a sweet horn section, a delicate guitar intro and, given that it is a more uptempo Van tune, a certain opening restraint that builds and builds into a head-shaking, foot-stomping denouement. An inspired choice for an album opener and a tune that must surely appear in any aficionado’s Top Ten.

‘Domino’ (‘Midnight Special’ 197?)
This is a great live version which was broadcast as part of Bert Sugarman’s long-running American TV series. As usual everybody appears to be having fun except the great man himself. Of chief note here is the funky guitar part, the fact that the backing singers look as if they can’t believe their luck at being present and that Van appears to be ad-libbing the lyric. It’s his tune so he can do as he pleases of course. As with many live outings of the song the phrase ‘get some heavy rest’ becomes ‘get some solid rest’ and ‘roll me over Romeo/there you go’ becomes ‘roll me over Romeo/time for a change’.

‘Domino’ (‘It’s Too Late To Stop Now’ 1973)
No exploration of this particular tune would be complete without another live performance specifically the version arising out of the ‘It’s Too Late To Stop Now’ project. This time around the backing singers are dispensed with but we do get a horn section and a string section. As a listener I fall into the camp that regards ‘live’ albums are dispensable. However I’d make an exception for ‘It’s Too Late To Stop Now’ and in this version everybody is on fine form. It’s not quite the definitive version but you do get to see Van in his trademark tight white jeans and at least some of the musicians present smile (not Van, naturally).

So that concludes our analysis of ‘Domino’. There are other versions out there if you’d like to find them. But for now there you go – roll me over Romeo.

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