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Van Morrison Album by Album Discussion: Part 1 (1968-1977)

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by DJ WILBUR, Sep 25, 2007.

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  1. DJ WILBUR

    DJ WILBUR The Cappuccino Kid Thread Starter

    Welcome to The Van Morrison album by album thread, (which is going to be some undertaking), spanning close to a year in duration with weekly album additions posted by either myself or Mr. Tom Boreen. We will each be posting a new album every fortnight, with four albums per month to listen to and discuss, dissect, argue, agree about, but most importantly, to inspire others in here to discover his albums that they don’t have yet.

    Tom originally contacted me in the spring about doing this one and we’d both felt Van was such a huge undertaking and we needed some time to fill the gaps in our collections. Van’s music also, we both felt, is so autumnal in energy for both of us so we figured that was a good season to start it in. As so much of his output is currently out of print (a catalog rollout will happen next year), we were hoping some of it would be back in print by now. Still so many of you seem to have so much of his catalog already so please feel free to chime in where applicable.

    After fretting at length about what you Van uber completists would think with us not starting with Them or the iffy Bang Stuff, well, we’ll cobble that into this thread at the end with the various comps since Them was a band and the Bang stuff for me never felt like Van the Man’s launch. It doesn’t feel created as an album with a vision and speaking of an album with vision…. Well there was only one place that made sense to start, and that’s with the indescribable Astral Weeks.

    ASTRAL WEEKS (1968)
    1. Astral Weeks
    2. Beside You
    3. Sweet Thing
    4. Cyprus Avenue
    5. The Way Young Lovers Do
    6. Madame George
    7. Ballerina
    8. Slim Slow Slider

    Here is an album that really is challenging to write about, now that I’m at the task of putting my thoughts down about this one. It’s not really a rock album, though he’s very much considered a rock artist. It’s not really any one genre. Blues, jazz, folk, pop, it’s also all of these things and yet much more. I can think of no other single album that I’ve ever heard that I could compare it to.

    Some of my favorite themes of his all make appearances on here. These are the themes that we’ll see throughout his whole career … The weather with images of rain, snow, nature, mist, gardens, stars, evenings, wonder, silence, love, roads, wandering, wonderment, mystery, heartbreak and so much more…

    I did not find this record during my initial Van vinyl days of the 70s. I got this one on CD in the late 80s, after a resurgence of interest in Van when Poetic Champions Compose (an album title that describes Astral Weeks pretty well) came out. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Astral Weeks when I first heard it, I certainly have no idea how this would have hit me when I was buying things like Moondance in the mid 70s. Not sure I would have “gotten this”, though I sit here wondering “have I gotten it yet”? Will I be flamed in here for starting a Van thread and not being able to construct a decent essay on this album????

    There is a short list of albums I can listen to on repeat all day long and this is one of them because whether I’m listening intently or ignoring it completely the vibe and depth of it always connect with me. It’s not toe tapping music for me. When I’m intently listening it pulls me in completely, the way I have to hang on to every word in Madame George if …as I’m waiting for that one particular note played on the violin that gives me goose bumps every time…or certain lyrics i.e.: “falling into a trance sitting on the sofa playing a game of chance” or the way he sings “Dry You Eye”. It just astounds me the way this one pays me back with each listen.

    Van Morrison was quoted as saying in 1977 the following about Astral Weeks: “I think I opened up an area with Astral Weeks that hit a lot of people’s nerves. But you can’t really say that they’re my favorite songs”.

    I wouldn’t say these are my favorite Van songs either, though “The Way Young Lovers Do” is one of my favorites by him…I love the Vibes played on that one and the overall vibe of the piece, great bass too. Jeff Buckley did a mighty fine cover of this on the Sin-E release.

    These songs do impact me differently than the rest of his output. More they are poetry and music. Yet the lyrics when I goggled them to read them as poems, well they seem somewhat simple on paper and not so interesting to me…but when sung by Van, with the repetition, the soul, the delivery, these songs become one of the great musical experiences I’ve ever heard.

    Astral Weeks is a one of a kind piece of art and it has much to offer. I think it might take my entire lifetime to fully digest it majesty.
     

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  2. nail75

    nail75 Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Germany
    Thanks a lot for this thread.

    I would like to chime in since this is my favorite album ever. I agree that there is no album that can be compared to "Astral Weeks". It bears almost no resemblance to any other work of recorded popular music that I know. Some albums are somewhat similar in spirit or style like Bruce Springsteens "The Wild, The Innocent & The E-Street Shuffle" or Nicolai Dunger's "Soul Rush", but close to 40 years after its initial release it still without parallel.

    It was recorded with some quite famous jazz musicians, including Jay Berliner, who worked with Charles Mingus and Connie Kay of the Modern Jazz Quartet. It features really excellent flute playing by John Payne and overdubbed strings that for once never sound cheesy, but add warmth and immediacy to the music.

    I have also rarely listened to an album, where music and lyrics blend so seamlessly. From the very first moment, it draws you into a world of its own and leaves you there. And it feels whole and complete in doing so.

    If you listen to the music that he made before Astral Weeks, it seems that this album appeared out of nowhere. However listening to the bang sessions, you get a sense that he was very fast moving away from the R'n'B-style of Them and his first solo recordings, to expand his music into new areas. In other words, this is also an album that carries some of the freewheeling experimental spirit of the 1960s.

    (On a sidenote: You should have started with the Bang stuff. It is true that it is much weaker than Astral Weeks or anything that came after it, but it was an official album and it deserved to be mentioned. You have decided against it, so I am not going to dwell on it.)
     
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  3. ashlee5

    ashlee5 Senior Member

    Such a great album to start an artistic career and such a difficult album to start a discussion thread with. ;) :)

    Great analysis, DJ Wilbur! Look forward to the months and months of thought-provoking discussion. :righton:
     
  4. pig whisperer

    pig whisperer CD Member

    Location:
    Tokyo, Japan
    I haven't listened to this album very much in the past 15 years, but I did listen to it a few times in the past week and enjoy it all over again. This is one of his greatest vocal performances, although I like the tone of his voice more on a few of the later albums as it began to change.
     
  5. DJ WILBUR

    DJ WILBUR The Cappuccino Kid Thread Starter

    we'll get to the Bang Masters with the comps....just such an odd place to start IMO. and its nice to end with a BANG :righton:
     
  6. MikeP5877

    MikeP5877 Non-essential

    Location:
    OH
    Astral Weeks...I discovered this in 1989, at age 20... not much younger than Van was when he recorded it. It was the first Van album I ever heard, and I didn't much care for it the first few times I heard it. Then a few months later, after I'd discovered Moondance, Street Choir, and Tupelo Honey, I went back to Astral Weeks and was blown away by it.

    His voice, the songs, the arrangements all give it an otherworldly aura that is still unlike anything I've ever heard. His phrasing "Cypress Avenue" just gave me shivers, and to this day, "Ballerina" is still my all-time favorite original Van song.

    I remember actually getting a floating feeling listening to this album. It's perfectly sequenced, and is easily one of the greatest albums I've ever heard, though I confess I haven't played it in a few years.
     
  7. Solaris

    Solaris a bullet in flight

    Location:
    New Orleans, LA
    Van himself has said that this isn't a rock album, it's a jazz album, a bit of knowledge which would have helped me immensely when I first heard it 18 years ago when I knew very little about Morrison and nothing at all about jazz.

    Having been most familiar with the Moondance album, Astral Weeks came as something of a jolt to me. I'd read good things about it but was rather perplexed when I first put it on. What the hell kind of music is this? The only thing that seemed like familiar territory was "Sweet Thing," which is more pop-sounding than anything else here. The rest -- well it was interesting, but I didn't know what to make of it.

    As I listened to more music, I continued to come back to Astral Weeks, mainly because of its reputation, and it started wearing a groove in me. When I started seriously listening to and learning about jazz, the album began to make sense. Richard Davis's bass and Jay Berliner's guitar (nylon-stringed at that) have since made a HUGE impression on me, and does anyone know who the solo violin/viola player on "Madame George" is? I don't know if that part was scored or improvised, but it's so loose and free that it makes the song for me.

    A word on the arrangements for the songs too. Larry Fallon is credited with the scoring, which matches these songs perfectly. The year before he scored strings and woodwinds for Nico's debut, Chelsea Girl, which was an awkward fit for the most part, but on Astral Weeks, he nailed it.

    This is a perfect album, and one of the few where I can say the use of the word "fusion" has any meaning: a complete assimilation of styles that creates its own universe, entirely unlike anything heard before (take that, Weather Report!). Jazz, rock, blues, gospel, folk, poetry -- it's all here but swirled together so seamlessly that it all seems fresh, new and exciting.
     
  8. jason100x

    jason100x Forum Resident

    Excellent thread! :righton:
    Astral Weeks is a very hard album to describe. A classic, it's one of the most atmospheric albums I have ever heard. I'll admit that it's not one of my most played albums by Van but when I put it on, it never fails to set a mood.
     
  9. Scott in DC

    Scott in DC Forum Resident

    Location:
    Washington, DC
    Astral Weeks

    I bought this album a few years ago having never heard a thing from it. My Van Morrison experience consisted only of the Moondance album which I had since the late 80s. I had always known Van's music from the radio but that consisted mainly of his hits such as Domino and Moondance.

    I liked Astral Weeks right away and my wife did also. A true classic.

    Scott
     
  10. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Up in T.O. keepin' jive alive

    And now a brief word from the co-host

    Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a curmudgeonly ride.;)

    When Wiilliam and I were in the midst of discussions about who would introduce what album throughout the course of this thread, we both lamented the job of tackling such cornerstones of Van's career as Astral Weeks and Moondance, the latter of which it will be my dubious pleasure to introduce next week.:wave: Personally, I envisioned vast hordes of wrathful SHtv. Morrisonistas correcting us at every turn on everything from proper release dates to the correct spelling of horn players' names. :laugh: In the end though, I decided to welcome those sorts of corrections. I don't profess to know everything there is to know about such an unknowable, enigmatic man, but I am willing to discover facts from more learned members because, in the end, I'm here to learn, not pontificate.

    I'll post my thoughts on Astral Weeks soon.
     
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  11. Buzzcat

    Buzzcat New Member

    Location:
    Madison, WI
    Odd for me to think that I only heard this album for the 1st time in 2002. My new girlfriend at the time had it on CD. (Yes, part of the reason I'm still with her.) I was blown away because I'd read about it's reputation but just never got around to buying it.

    Then, last year, a friend and great author, Lewis Shiner heard me babbling about wanting this on vinyl on my show and decided, since he didn't play vinyl anymore, that he'd send me his mint original pressing of it. WOW!!! Hearing in in real analog! It then made perfect sense to me.

    Yes indeed this album is a hard one to put words to. All I got to say about is it makes me float away. To a real beauty place. And, on every single listen.

    If I had to pick the 2 most "Beautiful" albums of music ever made, this would be at the top with XTC's Apple Venus Vol. 1 sitting right below it.

    A must have for any music collection methinks.
     
  12. doubtingthomas

    doubtingthomas Member

    Location:
    lincoln,ma
    Aah Astral Weeks....nothing else really like it in Morrisons body of work. I'm struck by how informed by the "beat", "west coast cool" tradition it is. It's almost like he would have like to have had Chet Baker in the band!-Boy wouldn't that have been a clash of prickly personalities! Anyway jazz and free form verse has been responsible for a long list of train wreck pieces-this isn't one of them. It's brilliant, demanding and definitely not meant to be bacground music or appreciated with a casual listen.
     
  13. MikeP5877

    MikeP5877 Non-essential

    Location:
    OH
    Ironically, Chet and Van performed together at Ronnie Scott's in London in what turned out to be Chet's final public performance. But I digress...
     
  14. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Up in T.O. keepin' jive alive

    Ironically enough, even though I do consider Van Morrison to be, even to this very day, a bona fide poet following his own vision, I have spent the last twenty years consciously avoiding a comprehensive analysis of the lyrics for Astral Weeks.
    Oh, there are of course certain phrases which stick in my mind: "wet with rain" (possibly the most ubiquitous phrase in Van's oeuvre); "viaducts of your dreams"; "To never, never wonder why at all, it's gotta be, it has to be..." to name but three, but I've never actually sat down and read the lyrics as poems or stories. It wasn't until recently that I figured out that Astral Weeks, in my mind anyway, constitutes a unified feeling which, although entirely ineffable, is so completely captivating as to make in-depth lyrical analysis almost a moot point. While I'm certain it could easily stand up to such scrutiny--which is a testament to Van's stature as a genuine poet--its overall brilliance in execution makes that sort of undertaking seem futile, perhaps even foolish.

    Astral Weeks is fascinating because it is familiar yet impenetrable. It hints at its various influences even as it lays claim to being a genre-defying, once-in-a-lifetime classic. It's as enigmatic as its creator.

    "It's no Astral Weeks": I guarantee you someone will write those words during the course of this thread as a means of dismissing one of Van's subsequent albums. Doubtless Van would reply something like "Of course not. It's already been done."

    Astral Weeks is Van's declaration of independent poetic vision;
    it is Van's statement of intent.
     
  15. johnny33

    johnny33 New Member

    Location:
    usa
    I like this album.Vans voice on this recording seems different than on other albums. Harsher at times. A bit painful. I can hear the overtones of the celtic and blues sound wrapping around each other.Apparently Van Morrison was pretty quiet during these sessions simply letting the musicians do what they wanted.

    The bass seems to be the lead which gives it a jazz feel to me.

    I hate to make a reference to Dylan here. But its true. Reminds me of a mirror image of "Blonde on Blonde". It has a sadness though to it where as B on B has more humor and sarcasm.Its definitely in the realm of impressionistic.Giving its way more to images and emotions passing by to build a characterisation than an outright story.The words I first thought of when I heard this was psychedelic folk blues.Terrible description I guess.Its more than that of course.

    The opening song seems to be a pleading to someone to awaken and renew.It almost seems desparate. Yet tender.

    If I ventured in the slipstream
    Between the viaducts of your dream
    Where immobile steel rims crack
    And the ditch in the back roads stop
    Could you find me?
    Would you kiss-a my eyes?

    "Beside You"

    Is again to me a reach to innocence.An admiration of a child.It seems to be a mystery to the author.It also reminds me of the child in "It Stoned Me".

    How does it get you when it gets you
    When it gets ya
    You may not know it’s got you until you turn around
    And I’ll point a finger at you, point a finger at you
    You say which way, which way
    That’s alright, we’ve gotten hip to it
    Goin’ to do it right now.
    Behind you
    Beside you, beside you

    Oh child to never wonder why
    To never, never, never, never wonder why at all
    Never never never never wonder why at all.

    Just a small take on what the feeling of the album gives me a bit of.Impressions may differ and should :) . Lots more to it though.Its pretty deep I think.
     
  16. JA Fant

    JA Fant Well-Known Member

    Agreed-
    excellent thread! I love VM early works and Astra Weeks is the best place to start. A very deep album, IMO.
     
  17. JPartyka

    JPartyka I Got a Home on High

    Location:
    USA
    Any Van fan who hasn't done so should check out Lester Bangs' essay about Astral Weeks. It's one of my favorite pieces by him. It can be found in the collection Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, and also in a collection of essays by prominent critics about favorite albums (edited, IIRC, by Greil Marcus) called Stranded.

    This is one of two Van albums that are absolutely personal desert-island discs for me. (The other is Veedon Fleece.)

    It's hard to single out moments from the album that you could call highlights, but for me this stretch of lyrics from "Madame George" hits an emotional mark every time I hear it ... mostly because of the sound of Van's voice as he sings:

    And outside they're making all the stops
    The kids out in the street collecting bottle tops
    Gone for cigarettes and matches in the shops
    Happy taken Madame George

    That’s when you fall
    Whoa, that’s when you fall
    Yeah, that’s when you fall
    When you fall into a trance
    Sitting on a sofa playing games of chance
    With your folded arms and history books you glance
    Into the eyes of Madame George
     
  18. http://www.harbour.sfu.ca/~hayward/van/reviews/astral.html

    Probably my favorite review of any record.

    This album is indescribable. It really transcends any musical genre or anything. It's perfect. And emotional as hell. Van took music just about as far and high as you could take it. The singing is beyond amazing, and the instrumentation is glorious. Couldn't ask for more. Unfortunately, after an album like this, one has nowhere to go but down. Luckily, Moondance was a step in a completely new direction, and almost as great because of it.
     
  19. conniefrancis

    conniefrancis New Member

    Location:
    Brookfield, OH
    Such a hard album to write about. I won't even try except to say I've loved it since I first bought it around 71 or so. And I'll add that I could never get really close to anyone who didn't "get" it.
     
  20. DJ WILBUR

    DJ WILBUR The Cappuccino Kid Thread Starter

    you can read the Lester Bangs thing here

    http://www.harbour.sfu.ca/~hayward/van/reviews/astral.html
     
  21. jostber

    jostber Forum Resident

    Location:
    Skien, Norway
    "Astral Weeks" is a spiritual masterpiece and so much more. The artist's first venture into the mystic. I have been listening to this for many years, and it was my second purchase after "Into the Music" so I got off to a good start.

    Here's an overview of a CD collecting some of Van's own live versions of the classic songs:

    http://www.bigozine2.com/archive/ARrarities07/ARvmawlive.html

    A quote from Wikipedia on "Cyprus Avenue":

    " "The song "Cyprus Avenue" is a live favorite of Van Morrison's fans and was the closing song for most of his live shows for many years. According to Roy Kane, who grew up with Morrison in Belfast, Cyprus Avenue "…was the street that we would all aspire to - the other side of the tracks ... the Beersbridge Road had the railway line cut across it; and our side of it was one side of the tracks and Cyprus Avenue was the other… there was an Italian shop up in Ballyhackamore, that's where all the young ones used to go of a Sunday… we used to walk up to the Sky Beam for an ice cream or a cup of mushy peas and vinegar… We used to take a short cut up Cyprus Avenue, 'cause that's where all the expensive houses and all the good-looking totty came from… mostly upper-crusty totty… There's a couple of big girls' grammar schools up 'round that direction… That would have sunk in my head as [much] as his." "
     
  22. Solaris

    Solaris a bullet in flight

    Location:
    New Orleans, LA
    I was staying off and on with a couple I knew after Katrina (their house didn't get any water, fortunately) and they took good care of me as I was starting to go back to work and deal with the general madness of being in New Orleans at the time. I remember one day I came in from work and they had Astral Weeks on the turntable (yes, the turntable). I had an emotional response, just one of "man, this is great, I love these people." Anyone who gets Astral Weeks is special to me.
     
  23. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Up in T.O. keepin' jive alive

    See, I know this is the popular belief, but in my view, Van didn't go down or up, he went in every conceivable direction, be it blues, skiffle, country, rock, soul--pretty much any genre you can name--and with varying degrees of success, of course, but all the while incorporating his own unique vision into every album he has made.
    It'll be my argument as this thread progresses that certain works are even more fully realized artistic statements than either Astral Weeks or Moondance.:shh:
     
  24. johnny33

    johnny33 New Member

    Location:
    usa
    I agree.I think Van Morrison went just as strongly in other directions.
     
  25. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Up in T.O. keepin' jive alive

    Great story, Jason.:righton:
     
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