A work in progress....Update links to Spotify. Put in scores. Etc. March 2019
Van Morrison is one of my favourite artists - I consider him to be one of the great musical artists of the 20th century, and his album Astral Weeks to be one the greatest examples of human achievement. I have seen him live three times. None of the concerts were entirely successful - though seeing him do Astral Weeks at The Albert Hall was something special.
I worked on the Wikipedia article, and took it to Good Article status, but another editor keeps wanting to clean it up and remove mentions of his famous stubborn, idiosyncratic attitude. This is a shame as that's an essential part of him, and knowledge of that gives insight into his music. Astral Weeks would never have appeared if he hadn't been so curmudgeonly. Anyway, so be it. I change it back every now and again, and after some time has passed it gets removed again. Life is too short. Here's my version:
Van Morrison (Sir George Ivan Morrison, OBE, born 31 August 1945 in Belfast, Northern Ireland) is a critically acclaimed singer and songwriter with a reputation for being at once stubborn, idiosyncratic, and sublime. His live performances at their best are seen as transcendental and inspired; while some of his recordings, such as the studio albums Astral Weeks and Moondance, and the live album It's Too Late to Stop Now, are acclaimed as among the greatest recorded. In 2016 he was knighted for his musical achievements and his services to tourism and charitable causes in Northern Ireland.
Known as "Van the Man", Morrison started his professional career when, as a teenager in the late 1950s, he played a variety of instruments including guitar, harmonica, keyboards and saxophone for various Irish showbands covering the popular hits of the day. He rose to prominence in the mid-1960s as the lead singer of the Northern Irish R&B band Them, with whom he recorded the garage band classic "Gloria". His solo career began under the pop-hit oriented guidance of Bert Berns with the release of the hit single "Brown Eyed Girl" in 1967. After Berns' death, Warner Bros. Records bought out his contract and allowed him three sessions to record Astral Weeks (1968). Even though this album would gradually garner high praise, it was initially a poor seller; Moondance (1970), however, established Morrison as a major artist, and he built on his reputation throughout the 1970s with a series of acclaimed albums and live performances. Morrison continues to record and tour, producing albums and live performances that sell well and are generally warmly received, sometimes collaborating with other artists, such as Georgie Fame and the Chieftains. In 2008 he performed Astral Weeks live for the first time since 1968.
Much of Morrison's music is structured around the conventions of soul music and R&B, such as the popular singles "Brown Eyed Girl", "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)", "Domino" and "Wild Night". An equal part of his catalogue consists of lengthy, loosely connected, spiritually-inspired musical journeys that show the influence of Celtic tradition, jazz and stream-of-consciousness narrative, such as the album Astral Weeks and lesser-known ones such as Veedon Fleece and Common One. The two strains together are sometimes referred to as "Celtic soul". He has received six Grammy Awards, the 1994 Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, and has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Anyway, I think it's time I went through his albums chronologically.....
|The Angry Young Them (1965)|
His voice is young here, though already soulful and attractive. The musical structures are pleasant, but fairly simple RnB, with little of the depth and range that he would later employ. Morrison would occasionally return to this sound much later in his career. As an album of Sixties British RnB it is attractive enough, and quite useful as an indicator of what was happening in general at the time. "Gloria" is, of course, the stand-out track - a sweaty song of adolescent sexual desire which has become a garage classic, much covered, most notably by The Doors and Patti Smith.
Some other albums by British RnB artists released around the same time: The Rolling Stones No 2; Begin Here (The Zombies); Animal Tracks (The Animals); Kinda Kinks (The Kinks); The Pretty Things; Their First LP (The Spencer Davis Group); For Your Love (The Yardbirds); The Magnificent Moodies (The Moody Blues); and The Hollies.
Conclusion: It's a decent enough album, and worth hearing as Morrison's debut, but it is not essential.
|Them Again (1966)|
|The Authorized Bang Collection (2017)|
|Blowin' Your Mind (1967)|
Morrison hates this album as it was made without his knowledge, and due to the contract he signed with Bert Berns he claims he hasn't made any money from it. The single Brown Eyed Girl is one of the most played songs on the radio, and for most people is what Morrison is famous for. When I saw him in Rochester Castle Gardens, the audience mostly chatted and drank during the concert until he finished with this song, when everyone got up and sang and danced.
|Astral Weeks (1968)|
|Moondance (Jan 1970)|
|His Band and the Street Choir (Nov 1970)|
|Tupelo Honey (1971)|
This is "my" Van Morrison album - the first album of Morrison's that I bought, and which I totally fell in love with. Friends to whom I was enthusing then suggested I try Moondance and Astral Weeks, which I did, and I think these three albums form a highly musical and emotional tio of sublime achievement. There are songs on this album that I find intensely beautiful.
All of Morrison's albums have been re-released on CD, apart from this one. Apparently he has claimed that it was originally released without his permission, and that the songs were from different periods. This doesn't really stand up, as we have the recording session information, and the songs all have a similar and related theme regarding his contentment with his then partner. It may be that he is embarrassed that it is such a deeply personal and intimate album of love for someone other than his current partner.....
A number of modern biographers and critics have been looking at this album and reappraising it downwards. Typical of that is Erik Hage who feels that the directness, emotional honesty, and sublime feeling of "You're My Woman" is "some of his worse poetry" and that he can do such tender naked honest emotion "in his sleep" (I think he's confusing the real thing here with with casual performances on later albums) and that it doesn't compare to "Brand New Day" (an obvious Sam Cooke rip-off, performed with professional coldness) or "I Ever Needed Someone" (an unimaginative and casual gospel piece). For a critic to confuse a rare and unique direct song of intimate love to a partner, with a run of the mill gospel song full of trite clichés or to a Sam Cooke rip-off is rather shoddy.
|Saint Dominic's Preview (1972)|
|Hard Nose the Highway (1973)|
|It's Too Late To Stop Now (Feb 1974)|
|Veedon Fleece (Oct 1974)|
BreakVan Morrison is an awkward and troubled person. Painfully shy, he often found it hard to perform live (and sometimes even to perform in the studio with sessions musicians he didn't know, as is the case with Astral Weeks). By the mid Seventies his emotional vulnerability overcame him, and after Veedon Fleece in 1974 he stopped recording and performing. He couldn't write or perform, and after struggling with it for nearly three years he was about to give music up completely, when he was asked to take part in The Band's farewell concert in November 1976, which became known as The Last Waltz.
He knew the members of The Band. They were friends and neighbours, so he agreed. But when it came time for him to go out on stage nerves got the better of him, and he refused. His manager, the beefy Harvey Goldsmith, physically forced him onto the stage, where he performed this miraculous and joyful version of Caravan.
Gaining confidence from that he performance he comes back in 1977. Though, while his music and voice is still good, he'll never again match the transcendental quality of the material he made up to 1974.
|A Period of Transition (1977)|
Some of these songs sound as throwaway as the ones done on the Bang recordings.
|Into The Music (1979)|
|Common One (1980)|
|Beautiful Vision (1982)|
Morrison has such a great voice, and a real way of singing with swing and style, that he could sing a McDonald's menu and make it transcendent , but this is fairly dull and plodding, like he's just going through the motions. This is music a considerable distance from his creative peak. As it's Morrison it's listenable, but it never soars, and it never takes me away.
|Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1983)|
Some throwaway songs and instrumentals.
|Live at the Grand Opera House Belfast (1984)|
OK. Some good moments, but not an essential album. The proper live album is Too Late To Stop Now
|A Sense of Wonder (1984)|
|No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986)|
|Poetic Champions Compose (1987)|
Poor stuff. I like the do wops at the end of Queen Of The Slipstream; Alan Watts Blues is a decent piece both lyrically and musically, but most of this album is very weak, Give Me My Rapture sounds like a track from some budget Christian album - unbelievable that it could be by the same guy who made Astral Weeks, Moondance, and Tupelo Honey.
|Irish Heartbeat (1988)|
|Avalon Sunset (1989)|
|Hymns to the Silence (1991)|
|Too Long In Exile (1993)|
Something of a hodge-podge. Some listenable material, some mildly interesting. Morrison definitely has a talent, but this is just too casual and directionless to be considered a serious album.
|A Night in San Franciso (1994)|
Live album. I didn't have much patience with this. Mostly messy, totally unengaged, There are special guests, which means even more loss of focus. This is more about the spectacle of Van Morrison than the art and craft of Van Morrison. It sucks. This is probably about as far as you can get from the commitment and artistic passion of Astral Weeks as it is possible.
|Days Like This (1995)|
Another album that critics hailed as "a return to form", which I now understand means "this sounds a bit like what Morrison sounded like when he was actually good". This is not a return to form. It's Morrison lazily going though the motions with songs that lack commitment, but sound pleasantly poppy and familiar.
|How Long Has This Been Going On (1995)|
Morrison has flirted with jazz throughout his career. His two main music sources have been RnB and jazz, and he has combined those with elements of folk, pop, and soul (which has been termed "Celtic soul") to great effect. Now and again he has isolated out the jazz, and it has been fairly ordinary. I can understand that is he has an interest in a form of music that he would like to explore it more fully nopw and again, but when he does he goes so far away from what makes him special that the result is very pedestrian. This is a collaboration with Georgie Fame. It's not a Morrison album, and should not be listed in his oevre, even as a failure, because there is nothing recognisably Morrison about this. Think late 50s early 60s pop-bop, and that's what you get. It's dribbble.
|Tell Me Something: |
The Songs of Mose Allison (1996)
|The Healing Game (1997)|
|The Philosopher's Stone (1998)|
|Back On Top (1999)|
|The Skiffle Sessions |
Live in Belfast 1998 (2000)
|You Win Again (2000)|
|Down The Road (2002)|
|What's Wrong with This Picture? (2003)|
Old fashioned jazzy blues. Mostly superficial stuff. Likeable, but this could be anyone - though Fame is a good song, and is more recognisably Morrison.
|Magic Time (2005)|
|Pay The Devil (2006)|
Country & Western covers.
|Keep It Simple (2008)|
A modest album.
|Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl (2009)|
|Born to Sing: No Plan B (2012)|
More pleasant stuff.
|Duets: Re-working the Catalogue (2015)|
A range of duets covering songs from different stages in Morrison's career. Pleasant nonsense. Totally non-essential.
|Keep Me Singing (2016)|
|Roll With The Punches (2017)|
- Blowin' Your Mind! (1967)
- Astral Weeks (1968)
- Moondance (1970)
- His Band and the Street Choir (1970)
- Tupelo Honey (1971)
- Saint Dominic's Preview (1972)
- Hard Nose the Highway (1973)
- Veedon Fleece (1974)
- A Period of Transition (1977)
- Wavelength (1978)
- Into the Music (1979)
- Common One (1980)
- Beautiful Vision (1982)
- Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1983)
- A Sense of Wonder (1985)
- No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986)
- Poetic Champions Compose (1987)
- Irish Heartbeat (1988)
- Avalon Sunset (1989)
- Enlightenment (1990)
- Hymns to the Silence (1991)
- Too Long in Exile (1993)
- Days Like This (1995)
- How Long Has This Been Going On (1995)
- Tell Me Something: The Songs of Mose Allison (1996)
- The Healing Game (1997)
- Back on Top (1999)
- You Win Again (2000)
- Down the Road (2002)
- What's Wrong with This Picture? (2003)
- Magic Time (2005)
- Pay the Devil (2006)
- Keep It Simple (2008)
- Born to Sing: No Plan B (2012)
- Duets: Re-working the Catalogue (2015)
- Keep Me Singing (2016)
* Wilson & Alroy
* Hoffman Forum: "Did Morrison Ever make a bad Album?"
* Uncut Top Ten
* Vinyl Top Ten