This was originally called "Brown Skinned Girl," and was about an interracial relationship. Morrison changed it to "Brown Eyed Girl" to make it more palatable for radio stations. Some stations banned it anyway for the line, "Making love in the green grass."
This was Morrison's first release as a solo artist; he was previously with the group Them. The song appeared on his debut solo album Blowin' Your Mind! and again on his 1973 compilation T.B. Sheets. It's one of Morrison's most enduring songs, but he thinks a lot less of it than most of the public. In 2009 he explained to Time magazine: "'Brown Eyed Girl' I didn't perform for a long time because for me it was like a throwaway song. I've got about 300 other songs I think are better than that."
In the third verse, the line "Making love in the green grass" was overdubbed with a line from the first verse, "Laughin‚ and a-runnin‚" to make it more radio-friendly. The 1990 Best Of Van Morrison CD released the censored version, apparently by someone unaware that there were two versions.
This was a hit during the "Summer Of Love," when hippie culture bloomed in the US and the song provided a fitting soundtrack. Morrison, however, wanted nothing to do with this scene and was horrified when the album was released with a psychedelic-looking cover.
The female backing vocals were performed by The Sweet Inspirations, who were a gospel-influenced group that performed on many hits for other artists in addition to their own material. You can also hear them on "Chain Of Fools" by Aretha Franklin and "I Say a Little Prayer" by Dionne Warwick. The Sweet Inspirations became Elvis Presley's female backing singers in 1969, touring and recording with him until his death.
Bert Berns, who had written the 1965 hit "Here Comes The Night" for Morrison's group Them, produced "Brown Eyed Girl" and the rest of the album. He brought a lot of pop appeal to this song, adding the Latin flavor that was one of his go-to sounds. Morrison wasn't looking for pop, however, and this song became his nemesis. "I never wanted to be commercial, and suddenly 'Brown Eyed Girl' was making me even more commercial," he said.
Morrison was signed to Berns' label, Bang Records, in a deal that included management, production and publishing. He recorded the song in March 1967, relocating to New York City to work with Berns and establish his solo career. The deal soured quickly when Morrison's creative vision clashed with Berns'. They recorded a songs for a second album, but Morrison hated the results and left Bang, resulting in years of legal disputes. He signed a deal Warner Bros., which released his next album, Astral Weeks, in 1968. Bert Berns died of a heart attack on December 30, 1967.
This song was awarded a "Million-Air" certificate at the 2009 BMI London Awards dinner. The certificates are presented in recognition of songs by European artists that have achieved multi-million US radio and television performances and this track topped the 2009 list with an astounding nine million performances, since it was first recorded.
Jimmy Buffett recorded this for his 1983 album One Particular Harbour. Other popular covers are by El Chicano, whose version went to #45 US in 1972, and the Henry Paul Band, whose 1982 rendition made #105.
This was prominently featured in the 1991 thriller Sleeping with the Enemy as Julia Roberts' character is having fun with masks and theater props.
Adam Duritz was accused of pilfering the "sha-la-la-la-la" from this for Counting Crows' "Mr. Jones." Guitarist David Bryson balked at the suggestion in an interview with The Georgia Straight in 1997: "Certainly Adam grew up listening to Van Morrison - I mean, we all still listen to Van Morrison - but, my god, every band today has grown up with rock 'n' roll, and all those influences show themselves at one point or another."
As a compound adjective, the title should be hyphenated as "Brown-Eyed Girl," though some claim the punctuation mark isn't necessary in a song title. Either way, it's not the first time a musician has ignored grammar rules for the sake of art.