Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Saddest People in the World

Here is some collected wisdom from various sites on the net. These opinions are in stark contrast to those of Ryan Foley who is the Astral Weeks obsessive responsible for the must-read Throwing Pennies blog devoted solely to the one album - Astral Weeks.      

Astorian   -   Oh... and while Van Morrison HAS done some great stuff in his day, I find his most critically acclaimed album, Astral Weeks, a self-indulgent mess, a real bore of an album.

Dead Air   -   Boring, pretentious, self-righteous, and silly.

Mark Bentley   -   Astral Weeks is a consistently overrated, rambling, poorly conceived sham of a record. For the flip side - a great album in a similar vein - try David Crosby's If I Only Could Remember My Name, which is a gem.

Juicy Leaves   -   I don't want to piss on anyone’s chips here but Van the Man is one of those highly touted singer songwriters like Springsteen or Dylan where I have to admit the appeal is absolutely lost on me.  And it annoys me because I really just don't get what people see in this record.  To call it dull, tepid and completely overrated is probably inviting all manner of donuts to take a verbal swipe at me but I can't help it.  I couldn't even listen to it all the way through it bored me 'that' much. 

Crotalus   -   I'm right there with you on Astral Weeks, Astorian. I love Van, and the critics all say that this is the pinnacle, but it just doesn't work for me. I keep going back to it, but I just don't see the genius of it.

Scott B. Doug   -   I still can't get around the repetitiveness. The "to be born again, to be born again, to be born again...", "no no no no no..." and "never never never never..." and "baby baby baby..." just rub me the wrong way.  His way of taking the beginning of song lines and not singing the words but making a blabber of it instead is also irritating

Tim Lieder   -   Astral Weeks is the kind of music that your friends in college might have made you listen to. They would say "you got to be on drugs to really appreciate it, man" and then try to convince you that it is IMPORTANT music, that it is LYRICAL or SOULFUL. But the only drug you really need for this kind of music is Ritalin.

Zombie Paper  -  Forty five minutes of the HARDEST vowels around. Enough said. 

Ron   -   The CD version of Astral Weeks is one of, if not, the worst mastering job I've heard. I listened to the CD on two very high end systems and both sounded the same....terrible. The mixer mixed all the music out and amplified Van Morrison's vocal to a screeching lever that makes it impossible to hear any back ground music.

Foolhardy from Cave Creek, Arizona   -   I know this is considered a "classic" and one of the "best albums of all time" but I find it ultimately annoying. I bought into the hype when I first purchased it but I gradually came to realise that I couldn't stand it. The overly lengthy songs and vocal "improvisations" drove me batty. Morrison's vocal mannerisms are highly repetitive. He seems to have a few signature vocal "licks" that he uses again and again and again... This album killed any budding interest I had in Van Morrison. Best left for the retirement set. 

Gustavo Rodriguez   -   I love Van Morrison deeply, but I too just can't get into Astral Weeks. Believe me, I've tried. Underrated Van Morrison?--I'll say the Tupelo Honey album or maybe T.B. Sheets . Several of the songs from T.B. Sheets were "reworked" and de-funked for Astral Weeks.

Tyrone Hill   -   This album is difficult to listen to. I find it interesting that so many reviewers gave it five stars. Van Morrison has very much a whining "quality" to his singing that jars the nerves. Astral Weeks is from start to finish a nerve-racking demonstration of annoying singing. It is no wonder that this album did not produce any hit songs (the album liner notes witness to this). Astral Weeks is unhappy, miserable music and so it has to go. I mean no offence to people who actually like this album, but in a few minutes I am going to shred it in an industrial strength shredder. Good bye, Astral Weeks.

Tom Thatcher   -   I know that this is a classic, I know that it has sold a zillion copies and that it established Van as a "great and as an innovator. In spite of all that, I cannot stand it. I am not concerned that it is very much of its time. I am not concerned that it was the start of endless records of two/three chord bashes. I am not concerned that it encouraged Van to play sax, which is not good. No, my dislike is very black and white - I can't BEAR his voice. I am sure that it is deliberate but he cannot seem to hold a note for more than half a beat, and his tone is so harsh. Listen to the middle section of Moondance - it would give an elephant migraine. From Veedon Fleece until the present day he seems to have a mouthful of marbles and a swollen tongue - and the end-notes are about one tenth of a crotchet.

Salmon Dave   -   This album is drivel beyond belief.  With a background of jazzy elevator muzak and Old Grumpy sounding like he is in a wheelchair being fed by a tube and drooling as he spews out his garbage lyrics and pretentious philosophy. This album was made around the same time as Hendrix, the Doors and Captain Beefheart were doing amazing creative and original things meanwhile Morrison decides to make an album to cure insomnia...great move Van. This album is painful to listen to.  It makes you feel you are in a coffin 6 foot deep.  Do not buy it, even his bootlegged Contractual Obligation album is better than this.  This makes me want to kick in my hi fi system !!!!

L. B. Ivarsson  -   Astral Weeks is a record that many praise and call a masterpiece. In my opinion it's just a boring experience from the beginning to the end. The songs are way too long and they seem to never end. I'm thinking about selling my copy.

A Customer   -   I don't really like any of the songs on this album......I think they're slow and boring. Moondance is a MUCH better album. I appreciate many different types of music, but this album is just plain weak.

Warpig01   -   Someone recommended this album to me, so as it is considered to be a classic and there are plenty of good reviews of the album, I bought it. Never will I take anyone's advice again. Astral Weeks is a dull, repetitive, monotonous, half hearted pile of slop that no-one deserves to listen to. Plus it is split into ridiculous "Beginning" and "After" sections. This is what happens to the listener in those sections. Beginning-the listener anticipates what is meant to be a great album. After-the listener loses the will to live. Absolutely dire. 

A Customer   -   I can't believe all the five star reviews on this page, this album is terrible!! All the songs are just complete trash!! Do yourself a favour and pass this one's far from being a legal hallucinogen. Actually it's more like a legal depressant because you'll be really disappointed when you hear it.

Monday, 16 February 2015

The Leadership Skills of Van Morrison

You gotta love the internet in a post-modern world.  Everyone thinks his or her opinion is naturally right.  Really the only thing you may even attempt to guarantee is the person's right to express an opinion.  This may come as a surprise but all opinions aren't equal.  Do you realise that because of the influence of post-modern thinking in education, the average school class of 15 year olds think they have an opinion about Shakespeare that has equal merit to that of a Shakespearean scholar. 

Here are lots of Van opinions from Predictable Success, a business-related site: 

I grew up in Belfast about a mile away from Van Morrison and as a near-contemporary, I’ve had the good fortune to watch him perform live for nearly thirty-five years. As a performer, Van is unpredictable – sublime one night, cantankerous and unengaged in another, you can never be quite sure what you’re going to get. But as the years have passed, one thing has remained constant: when he is in the mood, this man – with only average instrumental skills, a less than melodic voice, and the physical presence of a pile of coal – can produce music of such sheer transcendence that time seems to stop, until he decides it can begin again.

Van performed here in Boston last night, and as the set was mostly a re-working of his 1968 album Astral Weeks, it provided a great opportunity to reflect on how someone so idiosyncratically stubborn, so inured to fashion, trends and public demands has managed to stay on top – on his terms – over a career spanning 45 years.

The single most striking change over that time – a change that began around 1980 when he moved out of the Brown-Eyed Girl/Gloria/Moondance pop-influenced phase and back to his roots as a rhythm and blues singer – is that Van is no longer a performer in the sense that say, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Neil Young or Bob Dylan are performers. For decades now, Van has essentially been an arranger: not just in the narrow musical sense of ‘arranging’ the numbers, but in the wider sense of constantly, insistently and precisely guiding his team of musicians (a rolling group of between 6 and fifteen people, depending on the needs of the set), live and in real time.

Watching Van again last night, I was struck less frequently by his personal direct contribution to the music (though he did contribute mightily, most effectively on harmonica) than I was by the way in which he controlled, managed and directed the musicians around him, using hand signals, nods, facial gestures and shouted instructions to generate the hills, valleys and peaks of the musical landscape he was constructing.

Compared to the brash, arrogant, preening ‘Van the Man’ of say, 1976 in his performance of Caravan at The Band’s farewell Last Waltz concert, or on Live at Montreux 1974 (both magnificent performances), the Van Morrison of 2009 is a big dog turned leader, a once- solo performer who now leads a high performing team, a maverick turned guru (though he would hate the word).

Van never lets the crowd forget who’s headlining the show: his exits in particular are, like those of James Brown before him, designed to make that abundantly clear. But tellingly, after he leaves the stage the band always get their time in the sun – a few minutes to take the set through to its final conclusion, unsupervised, as if to say “Hey, you did good. Go for it.”

In business, some people become hobbled because of their early success as individual high-performers – they get trapped in their identity as ‘stars’. The big dog in sales, or the prize-winning research scientist, or the ground-breaking advertising maven gets star-struck, unable to yield the spotlight, craving the encore. They want to continue being the sole focus of the adoring crowd.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Bright Side of the Road (1979)

The Cambridge Theologian has created an interesting music blog called A - Z Albums where he attempts to review an album a day.  In his post on Van's Still on Top: the Greatest Hits he has an interesting story about the song Bright Side of the Road.

Bright Side of the Road, a song that I do actually love, has been destroyed for me. By me. How? By allowing it to become my ‘exam song’. During my AS Levels I listened to the Best of Van Morrison one evening before an exam and found that Bright Side of the Road did indeed make me look on the bright side and cheered me up. In the morning, when my Dad was driving me to the exam, Bright Side of the Road came on Radio 2 (which is unusual, given that it’s rarely played on the radio) and again put me in a much more positive mindset before the exam. I thought it was a weird coincidence that it had been played on the radio during that short drive to school and it became my ‘lucky song’, making me feel just a little bit more positive before an exam.
I’ve played Bright Side of the Road the night before and the morning of every exam I’ve sat since my AS Levels. It’s not surprising, therefore, that when I hear it now it makes me feel slightly ill and panicky. I even played it on results days and on the day I received my letter from Cambridge University, letting me know whether I’d got an offer or not. In general, I try not to be a superstitious person but I don’t think I would have felt comfortable going in to any of my A Level or undergraduate exams if I hadn’t played Bright Side of the Road first.

In some ways I think it’s quite natural to become dependent on superstitions and particular patterns of behaviour in exam periods. In a similar fashion, I’d never feel quite happy going into an exam unless I had a ridiculous amount of pens with me. Of course it’s extremely improbably that seven pens are all going to stop working at once, but I got into a habit of taking loads into exams and the habit stuck.

Such superstitious and repetitious behaviour makes you feel like you can control how things will go when you feel like you are lacking control. I would always play Bright Side of the Road at the end of the evening (when I’d completed my revision and was getting ready for bed) and then in the morning of the exam immediately before I left the house and at those points I didn’t really have any more control. By that point I’d done all the preparation I could do and no longer felt I could direct how the exam would go. The only thing you can do at that point is hope that you have a bit of luck with what comes up on the paper. So feeling like you can induce some luck through a song is quite a calming thing, even if you know rationally that the idea of inducing luck is ridiculous.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Van Signs a Jukebox Tab

So Many Records, So Little Time is a great blog honouring the 7 inch single.  The anonymous blogger has written about an eclectic range of songs appearing on the 45.  In the following post he writes about meeting Van and getting him to autograph a jukebox tab. Here's most of the post:  
Fast forward to November 30, 1989, Denny Cordell, by then an Island co-worker and a true friend, arranged for us to meet after Van’s Beacon Theater show in order to get my blank jukebox tab signed. Looking back, I’m still amazed. As promised, I was led into one of the small second floor dressing rooms by his tour manager where he was waiting. He’d been previously coached by Denny on my request, to fill in the A and B side songs, as well the artist name, in this case Them, on a blank jukebox tab for my collection and had agreed.
By quick explanation, my entire Seeburg 222 is filled with records whereby the corresponding jukebox tab is filled in, i.e. autographed, by the artist or a member of that specific band. I always carry blanks just in case.

Knowing he had a distaste for all things Them, I timidly made my request very clear: I preferred this tab be for one of their singles, so as not to have any issue or weirdness once face to face. I was assured this was not going to be a problem. Disbelief grew but there we were, together in that small room. Van pleasantly asked me which single I wanted it for, I said one by Them please, in essence asking yet again, was that ok. He responded. “Sure, which song?”

"Richard Corey".

“Okay, do you know what was on the B side, because I can’t remember”.

 “Yes, it’s ‘Don’t You Know’, at least on my US pressing”, in an effort to make clear that was the song title as opposed to a cheeky question directed to him.
He took the pen, leaned over the table where the blank tab lay, and again asked, so where do I write the song title, to which I pointed at the top of the tab.

He scribbled his name, tossed, didn’t throw nor didn’t gently set down, the pen and strolled out of the room leaving his tour manager and I somewhat baffled, to which he rolled his eyes, shrugging his shoulders with a “he’s unpredictable” or something like that. I was rather pleased though. The stories about his mere true. How fun. I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve gotten to tell people about Van Morrison’s manners. But they say every cloud has a silver lining. And it applies here.
Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames were Van Morrison’s backing band during this visit. They even were afforded a three song solo spot mid show whereby they performed Yeh, Yeh, Get Away and The Ballad Of Bonnie & Clyde. Let me tell you, this surprise was an unexpected treat for many in the house besides me. Even before meeting up with Van, I was already plotting to find Georgie Fame later for an autographed tab request, which turned out most simple given he was in the very next dressing room. My only concern being, not having had a clue prior he was part of the lineup, I hadn’t prepared myself with B side info. Nonetheless, I proceed. 
Georgie Fame was jovial and kindly, excitedly even, agreed to do the autograph on the spot, all smiles asking which song I’d like. Yeh Yeh was honestly in my jukebox then, still is, and man does it sound terrific through those tube amps and speakers by the way. But I admitted, I wasn’t sure about the B side.
“No problem mate. It’s ‘Preach & Teach’, at least in England it was.” Wow, Georgie Fame actually knows his releases all the way back. And he was right. ‘Preach & Teach’ is was.
A solid fifteen minute conversation began, him happily pouring out all kinds of stories about The Flamingo, The 100 Club, former manager Rik Gunnell and in full circle, his producer Denny Cordell, who by now had found us and had joined in. Once the two of them got going, well it was heaven.