VAN MORRISON Album by Album Discussion: Part 2 (Wavelength 1978 - Enlightenment 1990)

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Clarkophile, Nov 26, 2007.

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  1. tfarney

    tfarney Active Member

    I' m trying to be patient, William, honest I am. But Common One is one I missed. I don't think I had ever heard it until I ran into a copy in my favorite used CD store a couple of weeks ago...and I am excited about it!!!!!!


    DJ WILBUR The Cappuccino Kid

    well, good things come to those who wait. seems like you're a fan of this one...
  3. curbach

    curbach Some guy on the internet

    The ATX
    As well you should be ;)
  4. Sneaky Pete

    Sneaky Pete Flat the 5 and That’s No Jive

    It is a good one!:agree:
  5. Craig

    Craig (unspecified) Staff

    North of Seattle
  6. Solaris

    Solaris a bullet in flight

    New Orleans, LA
    From Can You Feel the Silence:

    The sessions for Into the Music, held in the spring of 1979 at the familiar Record Plant in Sausalito, continued the quest for that "spontaneous, improvised...poetic music." They may well have begun with a blues jam, an instrumental called "Sacramento," and a ramble through the blues standard "I'm Ready," but the first song that occupied a linear line from Veedon Fleece, and the singer's wayward muse, was "Troubadors..."

    Having cut the basic take, Morrison felt that the song might benefit from some horns. Mark Isham, a trumpeter present at the sessions at the suggestion of bassist David Hayes, said he knew exactly the right person.

    Pee Wee Ellis, who'd been one of James Brown's JBs, lived nearby. He recalled, "We did one song and then within a couple of days the whole album was done. It was as straight ahead as that...When I heard the song "Troubadors" I said to myself, 'This is some very important stuff here'...He gave me the freedom to put the horn charts together. I liked that."

    Philosopher's Stone: Stepping Out Queen II; Bright Side of the Road II
    "The Healing Game" CD single [book also mentions Back on Top as the title of this?] (POPD15) - John Brown's Body; I'm Ready.
    "Back on Top" (POBDX15) Sax Instrumental I
    boots: Spirit, Blues Jam, Sacramento, Sweet Sixteen, Are You Ready?, Quality Street.
  7. Sneaky Pete

    Sneaky Pete Flat the 5 and That’s No Jive

    Thanks for the Information.;) :righton:

    Maybe we can keep up with some interesting tibits and observations until after the holidays.
  8. JohnB

    JohnB Senior Member

    Thanks for sharing that JKruppa. Nice to get a little extra background info on the recording sessions.

    DJ WILBUR The Cappuccino Kid

    thank you Jason for those insights.

    Sorry all, havent had a chance to get my thoughts for Common One together yet. This is one crazy month with work and the holidays etc.

    DJ WILBUR The Cappuccino Kid


    1. Haunts of Ancient Peace (7:05)
    2. Summertime in England (15:30)
    3. Satisfied (6:00)
    4. Wild Honey (5:47)
    5. Spirit (5:06)
    6. When Heart is Open (15:03)

    David Hayes: Bass
    Mark Isham: Synthesizer/Trumpet
    John Allair: Keyboards
    Herbie Armstrong: Guitar/Vocal
    Pee Wee Ellis: Saxophone
    Mick Cox: Guitar
    Pete Brewis: Vocal
    Eddie Lee Charlton: Drums
    Van Morrison: Guitar/Keyboards/Saxophone/Vocal
    Peter VanHooke: Drums

    Sorry its taking me so long to get this album posted, but December is a nutty month. So, wow, I’ve not even listened to this album in several months and don’t have a couple of hours to invest in an active listen. This is one of the few Van Morrison albums that must be listened to. Its not a background listen for me.

    So how did I find this album? An interesting story (to me anyway) on this. I’d posted in part one on this thread, that I re-discovered Van with Poetic Champions Compose and really loved that album and started to pick up other releases I’d missed since the Wild Nights FM radio hits days. Anyway, I got to see Van Morrison in 1989 at the Beacon Theater, they later released this show on vhs and laserdisc but besides Van, we had Mose Allison and Georgie Fame, John Lee Hooker.

    We New Yorkers are a lucky bunch, we get Van in concert regularly and I saw Van in this period of time 89-91 at least three times, twice at Beacon and once at Jones Beach and each time he performed “The Mystic Church”.

    This was the blistering end of the show before the encores, where for about 15 minutes Van and band were smoking into the ether. Georgie Fame would “echo” and “repeat” many thoughts Van was singing. Many seemingly invented phrases including “the mystic church”, down by Avalon” and man this performance has never left my consciousness. That I got to hear this live three times is a gift unto itself.

    I had no idea this was “Summertime in England”. Searching the back of all his albums for the song title “down by Avalon” or “the mystic church”…but to no avail. The second and third time’s I got to hear this fantastic extended exercise in god, religion, musing, free form thoughts, I’d asked all around me “what song is this”. No one seemed to know and it became in my mind a song he only did live, so what a godsend when they released this live show on vhs.

    So, now I knew what the song was, granted with all the times he said “common one” and “summertime in England”…but that didn’t register, cause Georgie wasn’t “echoing” those words. There is something so magical in this 1989 live version of “Summertime in England”. Its like the song took almost another decade to come to fruition and hearing the album version after all that searching, well a mild come down. The song is quite different, somehow not finished, yet also quite a work of art.

    For all you out there now curious to hear this live rendition on the vhs or the laserdisc and cant manage that technology anymore, I discovered a year or two ago, a live b-side of Summertime in England live from 1982. A European 12” single import, the A-side is “Cry For Home” and the b-side is a live Summertime in England recorded at the Ulster Hall in Belfast in 1982. I have to question the wisdom of the person who left this magnificent live rendition off of the “Live in Belfast” release. It would have single handedly raised the bar on that album into a must have.

    Still after about 10 minutes this live track fades out on the 12” single meaning there was even more, lets see if that re-released live album has this track put into its proper place, as the show stopper of the night it clearly was!

    Not yet was this song as formed as the live tour de force finale it was in 1989, but the song has come to life on this 12” the way its not on the album. But this song along with “Fair Play” from Veedon Fleece are my two pinnacle Van Morrison compositions, these two songs made me the Van fanatic that I became, the completist needing to hear every note.

    I urge all of you into Common One to seek out a live version of Summertime in England. Both an 82 version and an 89-91 version. There is in circulation a great sounding grey area recording they named “Down By Avalon”, which is named after this show stopping performance of one of his greatest tunes, the song the Common One title came from and the centerpiece of the album for me.

    Now, not having listened to Common One yet for this thread.:laugh: , I felt it was time to get the dialogue going on this one. It’s a languid album, very tranquil with lots of open space in the recording, the WB cd sounds terrific as I believe someone else echo’ed. The albums closer is the other tour de force epic on the record “When Heart is Open”. Its one of Vans most languid and free form pieces ever recorded and its amazing….

    Now I’m going to throw the dialogue out to you. I’ll get this listened to this weekend and join back in to post some fresh thoughts on this one. It’s the third of the great Astral Weeks, Veedon Fleece, Common One Tinity of improvisation. He’s never gone quite back to “Avalon” again…..It’s not for the faint of heart “I love Moondance” crowd. But its magnificent.

    Attached Files:

  11. tfarney

    tfarney Active Member

    Somehow, I missed Common One. I didn’t own it, had never heard it until I picked it up a couple of weeks ago. So everything that follows is either pure speculation or BS. The choice is yours. Here’s the thing:

    THE ONE THING: This record is an act of defiance. It probably wasn’t meant to be, but it just is. Like Springsteen’s Nebraska, it is a blatantly un-commercial, inaccessible work hot on the heels of a period of public success. Common One says, intentionally or not, “I’ll be damned if you’ll make a pop star out of me. Here’s one so far over your heads that you’ll still be playing catch-up in the next century.”

    And, of course, I am.

    But don’t forget, I just heard it recently. I’m making this up as I go along. I’m not to be taken seriously. Nevertheless, here’s the other thing:

    THE OTHER THING: I don’t think this one was deliberate, either (though it may have been intentional). Common One is a marking of territory. In 1980, pop artists were playing with jazz and jazz artists were playing with pop. George Benson had crossed over; “Smooth” was in its regrettable infancy…Steely Dan had just finished a long run of great critical and commercial successes with a series of rock/pop records that became increasingly jazz-inflected over time. Dan were the darlings, and far more successful in the public sense than Van has ever been. With this record, like a grumpy old dog, Van sauntered over into the pop-jazz yard and pissed all over the bushes. He obliterated the weak scent there…not that anyone noticed. Don’t get me wrong, the Dan was brilliant; I know that. But they were brilliant in this ironic, clever and almost snarky sort of way. They were out there expressing themselves with tasteful restraint and their college Lit classes on their sleeves – The Bill Evans Group with JD Salinger on sax and attitude. Van did it with his chest ripped open and his beating heart exposed. It was anything but bloodless.

    Really, it’s barely even the same art form.

    JUST ONE MORE THING: Damn; another one. I wasn’t sure there could be another one this intense, but here it is. Astral Weeks, Veedon Fleece and now this. The Father, The Son and Holy #$!*. I could, perhaps, pick on a tune or two. I haven’t really warmed up to the middle yet, though the first two tunes and the last are worth the price of admission. And if you’re one of the folks who thought there was too much mystic skat on Into The Music, well, this one will be way over the top for you. But it should be. It is the crescendo of Van’s 10-year vocal romp. Now that I think about it, I should have known it was out there all along. Now that I’ve heard it, it’s so obvious, so inevitable. I might quietly think Into The Music is the better record; I might privately prefer the purr of Angelou (please don’t tell the Lion), but here is the culmination, the maturation of this thing Van had been pushing up from his soul for a decade. The Lion in winter. He’s going to calm down after this one, and it’s a well-deserved rest.

    ONE LAST THING: With this record and side two of Into The Music, Van passed his heroes on the highway of creation. Ray Charles may have been the high priest, but he never did anything like this, anything quite this fresh, this individual. I doubt he even imagined it. This thing Van did, that started on Astral Weeks and came and went and found its saturation point in 1980 in a studio in the South of France, well…it isn’t always easy to listen to; you don’t even have to like it. But you are more or less required to step back and get out of its way.


    DJ WILBUR The Cappuccino Kid

    a pretty amazing post for someone making it up as they go along. Well I'm taking you very seriously. I think you nail it on the head brilliantly. grumpy old dog marking his territory...great image....:D...all over that field on the album cover. now it makes sense.

    tom's got some act to follow after your post man!

    DJ WILBUR The Cappuccino Kid

    oi, :sigh: typo, meant "trinity"...sheez, rushing in the morning....
  14. JohnB

    JohnB Senior Member

    Common One was the album where I really "discovered" Van's music for the first time. I was still (barely) in my teen years, had heard a few of the "usual suspects" previously in Van's catalog on the radio such as Brown Eyed Girl, Gloria, Moondance etc but while they sounded fine they hadn't really grabbed my attention. So one day I'm shopping in a very small local record store where I lived in California way back in '80 (God, has it been almost 30 years already?!) and heard some music playing which connected with me. Being the shy type back then, I was afraid to ask the clerk what it was so on my way out managed to sneak a peek at the album cover sitting there next to the turntable. It was Common One by Van Morrison. Next time in the store I picked up the album and the song that I'd heard playing the previous time was Haunts of Ancient Peace. I ended up loving the album, and when I saw my friend the following week turned him on to Van's music through this album and yet another Van fan was born.

    It didn't take me long to work my way backwards through Van's catalog and purchase everything I could by him. I was on a constant hunt for imports with hard to find b-sides, and actually purchased the Live at the Grand Opera House Belfast album on import quite a while before it became available as a domestic. As William already has mentioned, it was a treat to some across live versions of some of these songs on various imports, and also as he mentioned Summertime in England really comes alive in concert during this time period especially. But now I'm getting ahead of our schedule...

    So anyways I won't go into a song by song critique of Common One. It's a "you either feel it or you don't, and if you don't then I can't "explain" it to you" kind of an album but to sum it up, Common One was my first "proper" introduction to Van and I will be forever thankful for that.
  15. Randy W

    Randy W Original Member

    Common One is one great album. I find it best to listen to alone at night. More reverent than Astral Weeks, this album is unmatched until you get to No Guru. Just amazing!
  16. curbach

    curbach Some guy on the internet

    The ATX
    I'm pleased to see the love for "When Heart Is Open". That one can really take you places if you let it. This album is as much about Pee Wee Ellis and Mark Isham as Van and they really shine.

    It's funny that most of the time I think this is my favorite Van album when so much of it teeters on the edge of not working. "Did you ever hear about Wordsworth and Coleridge, baby?" is not a lyric that should work and I expect there are a fair number of people put off by it. The call and response in "Satisfied" could be cheesy, as could the Hollywood/MGM musical vibe of "Wild Honey". And yet I love it all.

    Nice fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants analysis, Tim. I can only imagine what you'd come up with if you'd been listening to the album since 1980 :)
  17. MikeP5877

    MikeP5877 Jamming

    I love Common One overall. Just listened to it the other day thanks to this thread and I was immediately struck by how much of Miles Davis vibe there was to "Haunts of Ancient Piece" thanks to that muted horn, and of course there's the "In A Silent Way"-ness of "When Heart Is Open".

    The first Johnny Rogan bio raked this album over the coals so I was somewhat prepared not to like it but I loved it from the first listen. "Summertime in England" works well on a musical and atmospheric level but the lyrics are all over the place, from the brilliant ("Can you feel the silence?") to silly namedropping ("Yeats and Lady Gregory corresponded corresponded corresponded...James Joyce wrote streams of consciousness books...TS Eliot joined the ministry joined the ministry joined the ministry....") The song did in fact lead me to seek out the work of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, though I didn't quite "get it".

    On vinyl this album doesn't sound too good, probably because the sides run close to 30 minutes each. The original WB CD sounds fantastic and is still easy to find new.

    I'd give this album a 5 star rating but I deduct a 1/2 point for the namedropping in "Summertime In England".

    DJ WILBUR The Cappuccino Kid

    you need to hear one of the live versions I spoke on. Its' like the song didnt get finished for a couple of years, but now is much more cohesive. a lot of that "joined the ministry, joined the ministry, joined the ministry" is gone, its almost a different song. highly recommended you all seek this out.

    either the 12" b-side
    the vhs or laserdisc of the live show from the Beacon Theatre in 89
    or on the Down By Avalon live set, not commercially available unfortunately.
  19. MikeP5877

    MikeP5877 Jamming

    Oh yes I love the few live versions I've heard. I meant to state that in my initial post but forgot (streams of consciousness and all that).... I love the Beacon '89 version. I don't think I ever heard the 12" b-side. I'll have to check that one out.
  20. tfarney

    tfarney Active Member

    That's true, but that's not the lyric. The lyric is...

    "didjaevahereabout didjaevahereabout didjaevahereabout didjaevahereabout...

    Wordsworth and Coleridge, baby?"


    Jeez. There is a whole worldfull of obscenely wealthy pop, rock, r&b and jazz singers who should simply blush in the face of Van Morrison's work.

  21. tfarney

    tfarney Active Member

    Tom's gonna do just fine. He always does.


    DJ WILBUR The Cappuccino Kid

    well he's been on vacation so he's "outta practice" and not to mention probably getting back and running around like a lunatic right before christmas getting ready.

    Still, in your post, he's got one tough act to follow IMO.
  23. Buzzcat

    Buzzcat Bankrupt Radio Lifer

    Madtown, WI
    The last time I listened to this album was when I bought it about 4 or 5 years ago on vinyl. It didn't hit then.

    I played this one straight through a couple weeks ago and was utterly blown away. The talk of the Trinity albums is spot on.

    Wow. I need more listens. Soon.

    DJ WILBUR The Cappuccino Kid

    Pow, its one that blows you away.

    How does the vinyl sound? curious as the album is so long.....

    DJ WILBUR The Cappuccino Kid

    Rolling Stone album review

    Van Morrison has an extraordinary knack for inventing brick walls to butt his head against, whereas anybody else would just walk right through. If an explanation were asked for, Morrison, resting between blows, would most likely answer: "Because it's there." This artist has staked his whole career on a wrestle with the unnamable. And unless you're sympathetic to such obsessions from the start, he can be a closed book–seemingly obscure, willful, often portentous, humorlessly full of himself. Morrison's argument is intractable by definition: he can change lives, but only if they chance to rhyme with his.

    Lately, though, Morrison has been trying to change himself–inwardly, by way of an evermore-overt turn toward Christianity, and outwardly, via a revitalization of his recording career. On Common One, there's almost none of the knotty darkness and cryptically private imagery that have made him so difficult to many in the past. Instead, as befits the next step in his recent groping for serenity that began with the deck-clearing of Wavelength (1978) and continued on last year's Into the Music, the current mood seems calm and soothing.

    Yet, in other ways, Common One draws the line more starkly between those who take Morrison the only way he can be taken (on faith), and those who don't take him at all. The material's open-ended, eddying musical structures (two cuts clock in at over fifteen minutes each) practically eliminate the hooks and ledges of conventional rhythmic machinery, leaving your ears with next to nothing on which to cling. And if the lyrics–for the most part, bald homilies about living in the country and being happy – are simple enough on the surface, much of their significance is still locked inside Morrison's head. In "Summertime in England," one of the fifteen-minute epics, the singer's penchant for the blandly pastoral is blended with a name-dropping guided tour of British poetry that initially sounds close to self-parody.

    Since Van Morrison has always seen life as a mystic experience, his acceptance of orthodox Christianity can't help but reduce him in scale. Religion regularizes his cosmology and solves the mysteries he's forever chasing by offering the answers secondhand. In an everyday context, a line like "And the sufferin' so fine" is striking. Put inside the box of Christian theology, however, it comes out not merely trite but distasteful.

    What saves Morrison – and makes Common One, despite its narrowness, boring stretches and large and small retreats, impossible to dismiss – is his unwilling, embattled awareness that inner peace is every bit as demanding as emotional warfare. Time and again, he finds that nothing is more difficult than becoming simple, and this makes him seem, paradoxically. more hermitically alone than ever. Morrison is attempting to explain his discoveries to an old audience (or a former self) from which he now feels isolated, but he's also unable to join the new flock. What at first sounds like the work of a complacent man turns out, comically and affectingly, to be that of a man who desperately wishes he could be complacent.

    All this emerges almost by accident. The LP's overt theme is flat and unconvincing, while the real action is on the periphery. Van Morrison is a great singer who's probably never thought of music in formal or even dramatic terms. Instead, he's searched for a style that would follow, as faithfully as possible, whatever he was thinking to wherever that might lead. On Common One, he's recruited jazz veteran Pee Wee Ellis for the sound he needs, not only giving the saxophonist full sway over the horn arrangements and overall musical direction but making him the other "voice" in Morrison's dialogues with himself. Against a spare, near-static backdrop of churchy organ, intermittent guitar and jittery, off-the-beat percussion. Ellis' terse and acrid sax shadows the singer, asking questions and casting doubts. In "Haunts of Ancient Peace," the sax weaves in and out like lights glimpsed from a ship at sea, welcoming you one minute and then abruptly warning you off the reefs. At song's end, Ellis manages, in a few short, sour notes, to undercut every claim to calmness that Morrison has made.

    In the same way, Morrison's singing sometimes contradicts his central message. He'll often hone in on lines or images that look like throwaways on the lyric sheet. In "Summertime in England," his physical, uncontainable delight at the words "You'll be happy dancin'" (and surprise, too, as if he'd forgotten about the dancing and was glad it was there) communicates the specific rapture he's been reaching for far better than all the ponderous fluff about "your red robe dangling" and being "high in the art of sufferin'." As a framing reference, that list of poets in "Summertime in England" is nowhere near as apt or fresh as Moondance's "Ray Charles was shot down but he got up." Instead, it's more like a lout's idea of one-upmanship. (When Morrison asks, "Did you ever hear about Wordsworth and Coleridge?" you wonder what would happen if you said, "Yeah.") But it succeeds anyway, because it's funny – especially when the singer starts running through the names distractedly, snapping his fingers like a man checking a grocery list. Which is, of course, exactly what he's doing: shopping for usable myths.

    Only in "Satisfied," though, does the simplicity that Morrison is striving for arrive as something natural and effortless, as a gift of grace. Again, the best line comes out of left field. The artist's boast. "I got my karma from here right to New York," scores not because it makes sense (it doesn't) but because it's such a wonderfully absurd bit of blues bragging in a tradition that goes all the way back to Robert Johnson. Van Morrison's singing and Pee Wee Ellis' stylized, beautifully modulated horn charts here are very reminiscent of Al Green's later work. But Morrison reinvents Green the same way he reinvented Ray Charles, finding his feeling in the other man's technique and his technique in the other man's feeling. (While it's a sketchier, less-definitive disc. Common One is, in a way, Morrison's version of Green's amazing The Belle Album.)

    If "Satisfied" is Common One's sole masterpiece, the record's most revelatory moment is located elsewhere. Because language is Morrison's passion, lyrics are a battle and a torture for him, and throughout the LP. he equates serenity with silence. In the opening composition, he's grateful for "the words we do not need to speak," and ends side one by asking. "Can you feel the silence?" But in the middle of "When Heart Is Open," the album's rather overblown and meandering finale, the singer suddenly veers off into a wordless half-groan/half-wail, distorted to hyena pitch by a harmonica. All at once, this naked, ragged noise of animal terror brings everything the record has been trying to avoid up to the surface like a drowned corpse who, despite what he thought his convictions were, can't rest peacefully. It's a moment of tremendous emotional and musical daring, and Morrison hurries past it: when he hums the same notes at the fade, they're simply the sound of a workingman glad that his job is done.

    But the memory lingers, and that moment is the key to Common One: the lone admission that, even in a new life, heaven is kept alive only by the possibility of hell. Thankfully, this is something that Van Morrison, no matter how hard he tries, can't ever forget. (RS 329)

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