We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Aside from Bob Dylan, no other singer/songwriter of the age has had as much influence as Van Morrison. Van is an introverted soul who is shy to perform. (The song by the Band, Stage Fright, was dedicated to Van.) He works best when he finds what he calls by several names, his muse. And this is usually done alone, or in a small room alone while the band plays around him, not with him. You can see him on stage, in vain, trying to close his eyes and reach down deep for what he knows is missing in these live shows. It can't happen. Too many folks around. Distractions. He just looks pitiful, and I always feel sorry for him when I see any live performance. I can see him suffering. And the shows reveal it, if you listen to live tracks. The studio stuff is where the gold is, and that's what you should go for if you want to know Van Morrison.
I first heard Van when Them put out "Here Comes the Night" in 1965. I was a crazed teenager just discovering hard liquor. It was a sort of anthem for us as we got drunk and got in cars and tried to solve the problem of growing old. Fortunately, dannye just got injured in the mishaps. Others (may God have mercy on their souls) were not so lucky.
The other single of that era was "Baby Please Don't Go." That one didn't do much in the States, but the flip side, Gloria, sure did. I never cared much for "Gloria," but it's become some sort of grunge anthem. I doubt if Van cares too much for that fact.
Van was born George Ivan Morrison on August 31, 1945, in Belfast. His dad collected jazz and blues records. At 12 years old, he joined a skiffle band. This turned into a gig with the Monarchs, a showband which tended more to R&B and soul music. Van did vocal, sax and harp work with the Monarchs. After a tour of Germany with the Monarchs, that band merged with the members of a local Irish group, the Gamblers. That band morphed into a new act: Them.
Them broke up after a US tour in 1966. Van went to New York and did Brown Eyed Girl in 1967. The producer of that effort, Bert Berns, died unexpectedly, and Van spent the next year working on what would become Astral Weeks.
Van Morrison has put out more than 40 albums and CDs. I have heard most of them. I have spent a lot of money on his music, and sometimes I've been terribly disappointed. I'll give you a summary of what I think is the best part of his oeuvre, and I won't mention any album that didn't have at least one song on it I thought was outstanding. Also, I won't try to rank them so that you'd know which ones to get, if you were wanting to listen to what I think. I'll just list them chronologically and you can tell by the number of songs on each which I've listed, I guess. The one you should not pass up is:
Astral Weeks (1968) See that review for details. This one is crucial. Nothing else which follows will mean anything without it.
His Band and Street Choir
- And It Stoned Me. One of the best songs he's ever written. Half a mile from the county fair, and the rain came pouring down. . . There were bottles two, one for me and you, and he said, "Hey! There you are." There you are, indeed. The water is often used by Van to speak of the mystic force that surrounds us all.
- "Moondance." You may hear this one in a shopping mall but don't let that spoil it for you.
- "Crazy Love." One of those love songs that he does so well.
- Into the Mystic. He could have never written this without having Astral Weeks under his belt. And when that fog horn blows, I will be coming home.
- "Come Running." A rocking love song.
- "These Dreams of You." A good one for those of you who like the Dream Logs. I dreamed you paid your dues in Canada, and left me to come through.
- "Glad Tidings." And we'll send you glad tidings from New York. Season Five of The Sopranos should burn this one into your mind. They play it three times in one episode toward the end, just because it fits so well with the story.
- Domino. One of those Jackie Wilson tributes. This swings.
- "Crazy Face." If you like Tom Waits, you'll see how much these guys have in common.
- "Blue Money." Another swinger. Think of Steely Dan's Peg.
- "Street Choir." He has a tendency to get choirs involved, and sometimes it works. This is one example of when it does.
Saint Dominic's Preview
- "Wild Night." I'm sure you've heard at least the cover of this. It's wild and it rocks.
- "Tupelo Honey." My wife's favorite song of Van's. It's a chick song, alright, but it's too sweet to dislike, no matter how hard your heart is.
Hard Nose the Highway
- "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)". I guess he decided to go ahead name the man he was probably most influenced by.
- "Listen to the Lion." Sorta melodramatic, but give him a chance to tell you what it's like to be a Leo. I wonder if someone messed up his chart and told him he was one? A shy Leo? No such thing.
- "Saint Dominic's Preview." A bit preachy, but sounds great.
- "Redwood Tree." This should have been called A Boy and His Dog. A wonderful song of childhood.
- "Snow in San Anselmo." A mystical story about weather that's not supposed to happen. The choir works here, unlike many times when he resorts to using too many vocals.
- "Hard Nose the Highway." Nostalgia. That's the overall theme of this album. Sinatra sings against Nelson Riddle Strings.
- "Wild Children." A generational reflection. The younguns ain't going to relate to this one.
- "Autumn Song." Fall never comes without me humming this one in my head.
- "Fair Play." Simple and sweet.
- "Linden Arden Stole the Highlights." This one makes the price of the album worthwhile. I don't know what it is about this song, but it sends the shivers up and down my spine. Cleaved their heads off with a hatchet. Lord, he was a drinkin' man.
(1978) "Wavelength" is the only good song on here.
And that's the problem with Van. Too many records. One man just can't fill up that many records with quality stuff. Not even Bob Dylan. Both of these guys would have impressed me a lot more had they scaled the output down. I guess they hear time's winded vacuum hoovering around their ears and want as much testimony as possible. Too bad, really.
Poetic Champions Compose (1987)
- All the 3 instrumentals. You want some love makin' music, Chef?
- Queen of the Slipstream. There's a dream where the contents are visible; where the poetic champions compose. Will you breathe not a word of this secrecy?
- "Someone Like You." Another of those great love songs, like "Have I Told You Lately That I Loved You?"
- "Did Ye Get Healed." Latino lady does a great job of backing him up on this one.
Hymns to the Silence
- "Real Real Gone." Nice and tight with a more modern sound than he's used to.
- "Enlightenment." Chop that wood, carry water.
- "So Quiet in Here." Nice modulation in this one to affect the mood.
- "In the Days Before Rock 'n Roll." I love to hear him talk. You might not.
- Green Mansions. Perhaps my favorite Van Morrison song ever. Play this one at my funeral if you're there.
- "Pagan Streams." He's talking again.
- Quality Street. My daughter could sing this one all the way through when she was five. She still loves it, and so do I. Georgie Fame (a constant companion in the later years) does some fantastic organ work here.
Too Long in Exile (1993)
Again, only one song on here is worthwhile, but it must not be missed. It's Before the World Was Made.
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So, what have we learned? That a man can be more driven than he is talented? That a soul can be more tormented than perfect? I doubt if this idea is any newer than the first caveman that hit a stick on a rock. But don't deny yourself this voice. Be sure and hear the attempt. Have eyes that see. Turn up that transistor radio.
It's too late to stop now.