Van Morrison is, yet again, a prime example of why I wanted to write this blog. This is music that I may have heard along the way, but have never given a proper full listen to. I'm excited to make this a part of my catalog of written-on albums.
This was released on Warner Brothers in 1968 (make it my earliest-recorded album to write-up on to date - hence, no videos today), as the second solo release of Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison. Some of my favorite type of people! Brown Eyed Girl was the previous hit, and this is described as a complete departure from it. Yet again, we have an album on our hands that's described as one of the best ever, being #19 on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Ever list (yes!), despite having not received gold status until 2001, over 30 years after its initial release. See people, numbers aren't everything.
There was a lot of record label drama occurring before this release. Bang Records, on which his previous album had been released, lost its founder (death), and a week later Van Morrison asked to be released. There was a whole slew of legal issues, and if you have the time, I strongly recommend reading the Wikipedia article on it. Some really interesting background for you music nerds like me, but not enough time or will to keep my eyes open tonight to go into it.
I'm going to stop reading Wiki info right about now, because they're providing a track-by-track analysis, and I really just want to go ahead and listen for myself. :)
"Astral Weeks" starts things off with a very folk sound that I, despite all descriptions read beforehand, had not expected. This is possibly one of the most delightfully relaxing and renewing songs I have heard in quite some time. It's a song in 3/4 with two chords than never truly resolve (even at the end) as a base, which keeps the song from dragging. The overlaying instruments are such a brilliant compliment that capture the spirit of the time. Why have I not heard this around a gypsy-hippy campfire before??
I have to admit, I took a glance at a few wiki descriptions during listenings of some of these songs. The one for the second track, "Beside You," reads "expressionistic poetry and a scattershot collection of images and scenarios... it's a song about being spiritually beside someone..." and I may already love it. Then, the song actually starts playing. If there is a strictly instrumental version with that classical guitar line playing for a few minutes, I may have just found heaven. "To never, never, never, never wonder why it's got to be..." whew. Wow. <3 How whimsical and freaking honest and deep in love is this song?
"Sweet Thing"... haha, someone please go listen to Keith Urban's "Sweet Thing" and see the likeness between the way they each say the words of the title (but Keith's is not a cover). It's adorable actually. AllMusic says that this is the only song that looks forward instead of back, but I have to say that I feel like a lot of these are actually taking place in the midst of love itself. Why not be in the moment for it after all?
"Cyprus Avenue" starts off on a music lighter note than the previous numbers, and seems to want to tell a story more than praise for someone else. It's somewhere he's been before, and he's taking this time to contemplate things in his life and that moment and what he wants to be doing with it. It's a reflective song, and there's a much more blues-based feel to this one. There's also a violin in the background that gives a much different, unexpected sound to the album as a whole. The instrumentation on this album is blowing me away. And as the lyrics go on here, there's definitely a bigger picture: "I'm caught one more time up on Cyprus Avenue." Ah, haunting metaphors.
"The Way Young Lovers Do" has a much more summer-of-love feel to it, and it a brilliant contract to a lot of the album's overall feel. It's got a jazz movement to it that you could actually hear in multiple types of settings happily. There's slight scat in it too. While it may not "fit" with the rest of the album as naturally as I may like, it can stand alone very nicely.
"Madame George" takes us back to that simple guitar, away from the brass we just finished hearing. It's more mellow, telling more about Cyprus Avenue, but this time on a character there. This one is very wistful and calm, and sets a scene completely beautifully. There's the violin (or harpsichord, since no violin is credited?) again, along with a light flute. This is just enchanting really. I just need to lay my head back and hear this a little while. Mhmm... it's time to move on... "Dry your eyes... say goodbye..." Then there's a pick up at the end. *sigh* This is too good.
My apologies. I needed to get a little lost in that one. "Ballerina" is up next. Lyrically, this is kind of sounding like prose, which sounds like nothing else in the world when set to music. It's fantastically interesting to listen to. Have courage, go for it, kind of message. I like that there's a bass beat behind it without there being a bass. Seriously - listen beyond the lyrics a little and hear that guitar arrangement. This is absolutely something you could hear an ensemble perform beautifully.
"Slim Slow Slider" is the final song on the album. It's supposed to be a song about a girl who's caught in something - a city, drugs, I'm not totally sure. It's intense without being too much. There's a different beauty to the instrumentation this time, with a soprano saxophone in the back that most definitely brings home the jazz/blues feel to the album. While I'm not sure this is a great ending to an album, it is a great sad song for everything it has. It even kind of falls apart at the end, so yeah, maybe it does work for its placement.
Stuff I Wouldn't Mind Hearing Again:
- "Astral Weeks" - Spotify, YouTube
- "Beside You" - Spotify, YouTube
- "Sweet Thing" - Spotify, YouTube
- "Cyprus Avenue" - Spotify, YouTube
- "They Way Young Lovers Do" - Spotify, YouTube
- "Madame George" - Spotify, YouTube
- "Ballerina" - Spotify, YouTube
- "Slim Slow Slider" - Spotify, YouTube
The songs on here are incredibly long, but I didn't really realize it until I was close to the end of each and realizing how much I'd written with so much of the track left to hear. I didn't grow tired of any of the tracks. Like I said a few times - the instrumentation alone had me for the duration. There is such a fusion of jazz, blues, and folk that I have never heard before. The fact that his voice actually wasn't entirely pleasant didn't bother me at all, because everything else was so wonderful. I get the big deal here - this was truly a great album.
What are your thoughts on this one? Did you take a listen to it? Share!!