Saturday, 27 June 2015

Neil Young and Van Morrison

The Neil Young News blog from Thrasher’s Wheat is a good tribute to an artist loved by many Van fans.  Here’s one Van-related post from the site. 

Neil Young and Van Morrison

Veteran music critic Greil Marcus has a new book out on Van Morrison titled When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison.

QUESTION: Given how you describe Morrison in the book, do you see any comparable artist? The one that comes to mind is Neil Young.

MARCUS: Neil Young is probably the best analogy. I think that's really on the mark. Not that they're identical or maybe even that similar, but... There's a moment on Over and Over on Ragged Glory where something absolutely extraordinary happens in the middle of the instrumental break. The only way I've ever been able to describe it to myself is that the song turns over. I've only heard that one other time, in one other piece of music. So I don't think it's something anybody can aim for or really replicate.

Now whether Van Morrison is his own listener in the same way, probably not. But they're both people who can be enormously frustrating in terms of making tiresome music, making albums that you never want to listen all the way through let alone ever play again, but that you can't ever write off. You have no idea what they're going to come up with.

Reader Comments

Setlistthief   -   Man, I just love Over and Over. Pure pop-rock ecstasy. You could dance all night long to that bouncy beat and melody. What a fun song it must be to play.

Jonathan   -   Agreed.  Over and Over is beyond fantastic. Isn't that the track where you can near Poncho and Billy shouting in the background somewhere near the final verse? I'm pretty sure it is. That and White Line are two of my favourite Ragged Glory tracks.

Anonymous   -   "But they're both people who can be enormously frustrating in terms of making tiresome music, making albums that you never want to listen all the way through let alone ever play again, but that you can't ever write off. You have no idea what they're going to come up with."

The quote above rubs me the wrong way. Seems like exactly like the type of contrived statement a critic would make , as if somehow their putdowns make them a sophisticated arbiter of how good the artist is.  Maybe the fact that the music seems "tiresome" to critics is because they don't get it.
Blogger Doc   -   In my "Rediscovering Neil" Phase, Ragged Glory and Chrome Dreams 2 have both been in heavy 'rotation' so to speak. There is something about Neil's music that in my eyes really is unique, more than any other artist I've listened to over the years.  Most artists have that signature album. In some people's eyes that might be say, Van's Astral Weeks.  But the beauty of Neil is, there might be an album you've never really appreciated or got into the first time round, but on "rediscovery", found that you couldn't play it often enough until the 'earworm' on some tracks was well and truly embedded. So in the end, it doesn't surprise me that people draw analogies to Neil and his music and sound.  Van is just another.

Anonymous   -   Greil has great taste in music but his writing is often obtuse and harder to understand than some of later period James Joyce. He makes a sweeping statement in his book about 15 to 18 years of bad Van albums. I would argue that there is a similar period for Dylan from about 1978 to 1992 but that period of time includes a couple of my favourite Van albums - Irish Heartbeat and Avalon Sunset.

Anonymous   -   Neil fans are some the most rabid fans that I have encountered in my life. However, I have a very good friend that puts us Neil Heads to shame when it comes to Van Morrison. Though low in numbers (an assumption) Van fans have demonstrated to me an allegiance and loyalty not seen too often. With good reason I can add. Van is unique in vocal and delivery and is usually accompanied by tremendous players. I also think his limited touring (scarcity) results in high demand here in the States. He is an unparallelled gem and worth the investigation.

Anonymous   -   Read as little as possible of literary criticism- such things are either partisan opinions, which have become petrified and meaningless, hardened and empty of life, or else they are just clever word-games, in which one view wins today, and tomorrow the opposite view. Works of art are of an infinite solitude, and no means of approach is so useless as criticism. Only love can touch and hold them and be fair to them.

Mr Henry   -   I've seen Van Morrison a number of times, but the first time was the best. It was April 1971 and one of my first concerts. To this day, it remains one of the best shows that I have ever seen. Tupelo Honey was the album that everyone was listening to at the time, and it was what we were all expecting to hear. But instead of playing to everyone's expectations, Van was already onto something else, a new kind of music that he was calling Caledonia Soul. We were hearing the songs that would be on Saint Dominic's Preview and he was playing and singing long meditative versions of each one.

No one even recognised Van when he first came on stage; he'd cut his hair and shaved his beard, and was pretty much blending in with the large and incredible band that he had assembled to play. The concert lasted a couple of hours and Van was obviously in another world while he was performing. The band left the stage and would then come back to encore...six times!!! The show was at a large old movie theatre in Providence and there were less than a thousand people there at the peak. By about the fourth encore, most of the audience was half way out the door when they would come back on, and we'd then scramble back for another great number.

Both artists are able to sometimes tap into a place that is mystical and timeless and their best recordings and live performances are completely in the moment.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Songs and Albums - More Fan Opinion

There are thousands of sites where Van Morrison and Van related topics are commented on in forum discussions.  Here is an example from Reddit which has been edited for the sake of brevity. Rimbaud82 gets things going and soon others join in. There are wildly varying opinions out there:  

Rimbaud82   -   So how many Van Morrison fans do we have here? What are your favourite songs? Van is my favourite singer (as in vocalist) of all time, his voice is amazing. Imo it’s the richest, and most expressive voice in all of rock music, there is no one better in my opinion. Someone described it as “aural poetry” and that’s incredibly accurate. Rolling Stone said, “He’s the most painterly of vocalists, a master of unexpected phrasing whose voice can transform lyrics into something abstract and mystical.”

“I know of no music that is more lucid, feel able, hearable, seeable, touchable, no music you can experience more intensely than this. Not just moments, but extended … periods of experience which convey the feel of what films could be: a form or perception which no longer burls itself blindly on meanings and definitions, but allows the sensuous to take over and grow … where indeed something does become indescribable.”

Van holds a special place for me…he comes from the same place I do and so I can relate to him more. Van’s lyrics are exceptional in another way — they are pure poetry and his view on things is really like my own, his pastoral, romantic, wonder-filled lyrics really strike a chord with me.

I’ll just leave you with these songs and await your thoughts… Summertime in England, Astral Weeks, Sweet Thing, Into the Mystic and Listen to the Lion.

Sister Ray   -   Anything off of Astral Weeks... arguably one of the greatest albums of all time. My personal favourites off the album are Madame George and the title track.

Crimson Jim   -   A girl that I used to have a huge crush on, gave me Astral Weeks because she had a duplicate. My god. What an album.

Yer Maaaaa   -   I've been listening to this album for over 20 years It is a work if genius, especially when you consider how the speed at which it was recorded and how young he was at the time. I come from Belfast myself and it blows me away that this miracle of an album comes from the mind of a short arse who grew up less than 10 minutes from where I'm typing this. Anyway, this was the album I feel in love with my wife to.

DingusMcQuaid   -   Into the Mystic was my mom's favorite song ever, and I played it at her funeral five years ago. I still can't hear it without tearing up a bit.

Cold Cat Kid   -   Veedon Fleece is such an under appreciated album. Definitely one of the best records ever recorded, in my honest opinion. Linden Arden Stole the Highlights, Bulbs, Streets of Arklow, Country Fair...incredible!

Kruft   -   Veedon Fleece is my favourite. I have to say though, I'm surprised this thread has no mention of Hard Nose the Highway. Best album art evaarrrr and Snow in San Anselmo is unlike any other song, by anyone.

creaturefeature16   -   Come Here My Love gets me every time. Makes me want to take a trip to the forest with my wife and just stare and the sky and love life.

Cold Cat Kid   -   Yeah, that song is hauntingly beautiful. I sometimes sit and listen to that album from beginning to end uninterrupted. I love all Van's work but Astral Weeks, Veedon Fleece and St. Dominic's Preview have been such huge influences on me as a musician. Those records are mythical to me, much like Van himself.

Luder714   -   I am surprised that there is no love for Tupelo Honey on here.

Flyingrats   -   This was my first Van Morrison album. I took it from my mom's record collection sometime in the mid 80's. I still have it. I don't think this is the best VM album but it will always be my favourite.

Andrew Fargo   -   Caravan.  The version at The Last Waltz and his funky little coked out dance at the end always slays me. So so, good. Also, the alternate Madame George from T.B. Sheets/The Bang Masters was always a favourite too.

Bearded Samurai   -   There's also the song 4% Pantomime he did with the Band sharing vocals with Richard Manual which kicks ass.

Sociable Jimmy   -   Cleaning Windows!

Great Fool667   -   This song changed the way I think about work. Instead of being bored doing menial tasks I try to find zen like peace and inspiration doing a simple job very well.

Ezshucks   -   Dweller on the Threshold is an amazing song.

Creaturefeature16   -   We dedicated that song to our cat. If you listen to the chorus, you can understand why. My wife and refer to Van as our "church". We gain so much from his music and it's fulfilling on so many levels.

Rogdabod833   -   Steal My Heart Away does it every time

Turnippoontang   -   Everyone is my personal favourite. It plays in the final scene of my favourite movie, The Royal Tenenbaums, and every time I hear it, I can't help but smile.

Fah-Q   -   His version of TB Sheets is freaking awesome, my personal favourite he did. That song gives me the chills the way it's delivered.

The White Death   -   Wow, there are so many! If i had to pick just one I'd have to go with A Sense of Wonder. I'm a big fan of his mid-career stuff: Avalon Sunset, Enlightenment, Poetic Champions Compose. Great stuff.

Kind Bass   -   Not his most popular stuff, but I absolutely love his white Irish James Brown phase. John Henry, Western Plain, Naked in the Jungle and I've Been Working.

Algernon_Moncrieff   -   Perhaps Van Morrison's greatest accomplishment was that he set out to create not just his own music but his own genre of music. He loved soul but didn't want to just be a white Irishman copying black Americans. He termed his music "Celtic soul".

Rimbaud82   -   I tell you guys what,s an amazing song Hey, Where Are You. Pretty certain this was recorded for Astral Weeks, judging by the sound. It's an unreleased, live in the studio one but it's great.

Justawildguess   -   But I wanted to throw Virgo Clowns out there. It might be the Van Morrison song I listen to most these days.

Pastry Saus   -   A Night in San Francisco is my favourite live album of his.

Ten_Mile_Hike   -   I'm probably in the minority on this but I always liked the albums Inarticulate Speech of the Heart and The Healing Game.

Djnev   -   Bright Side of The Road and Precious Time really do it for me. It's obviously his later stuff, but love a bit of brass.

Markleman   -   Scandinavia on the album Beautiful Vision.Best song ever.

Drunk For Days   -   I love Van Morrison. My stepfather is the one who introduced me to him with The Best of Van Morrison in the early nineties. I can still name the track listing front to back, and when I hear certain songs on the radio or elsewhere, I always expect the next song on the disk afterward.
Astral Weeks through Tupelo Honey is my favourite time period. But I also have a soft spot for Back on Top, which has some gems on it.

My Shambar   -   Call Me Up in Dreamland

Oz Punk   -   Van Morrison is great! Domino, Jackie Wilson Said, Tupelo Honey, Into the Mystic, Queen of the Slipstream come to mind as some of my favourites. Someone Like You is too since that was one of my wedding songs.

Chilled Saffron   -   Into the Mystic and It Stoned Me are easily my two favourite Van Morrison songs.

Braken   -   Astral Weeks is my favourite VM album, and Into the Mystic does it for individual songs (I also love the Colin James cover).

Yeshua_Beck   -   I have heard interviews with Van joking about the lack of meaning behind a lot of his lyrics, I would definitely agree with that statement, ability to creatively and abstractly put words and sounds together that create an auditory experience tough to compete with I think is what makes Van so damn good.

Mitchgeist   -   New to Van Morrison, but my favourite song is Autumn Song.

Groove Kittie   -   As for favourite songs, Into the Mystic, Tupelo Honey, Caravan, Sweet Thing, Moondance, Brown-Eyed Girl, I Wanna Roo You, Santa Fe/Beautiful Obsession, and Astral Weeks.

Azdavy   -   For about 5 years his music was the primary colour of my musical spectrum. His live album, It's Too Late To Stop Now is one of the greatest live albums ever recorded. For every bad thing Van has done live, this album alone atones for all his sins.

Fearsomedude   -    A Period Of Transition is very underrated.

Shoe009   -   My favourite song will always be Ringworm.

Causeway7   -   Here Comes the Night.

My Puptino   -   Wavelength all day every day. I love Van Morrison. His music is a treasure that continually amazes me in new ways.

Albino Muntjac   -   The one song that will always be special to me is When the Leaves Come Falling Down. I can clearly remember the first time I heard it: I was in my college dorm room and they played it during the closing credits after the NY Yankees lost the 2001 World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks. I sat there on my little bed with tears running down my face listening to this song and I had no idea why.

Take   -   I think his first eight solo records — Blowin' Your Mind, Moondance, Astral Weeks, His Band and Street Choir, Tupelo Honey, Saint Dominic's Preview, Hard Nose the Highway and Veedon Fleece — might be the best eight albums in a row by any artist since humans started recording music.

Willard2566   -   Domino was my first Van Morrison song so it opened that door for me.

Bye Night   -   Reminds Me Of You may be the saddest song ever.

Lost In Demonia   -   From 1999 through about 2006 I barely listened to anything but Van, such a great experience. I'm back into Van at the moment in a big way. His 2009-2010 phase was just so damn good it's scary.

Meow_or_never   -   Oh where to even start. I'm sure all the basics have been covered. Into the Music is probably my favourite album. And the Healing Has Begun and Stepping Out Queen are hard to beat. And then the compilation of Philosopher's Stone, has some crazy good dif arrangements of already recorded songs, and "Stepping Out Queen Pt. 2". One of my all time favourite live performances is See Me Through off A Night in San Francisco.

Lulu The Pirate Hooker   -   My favourite is Alan Watts Blues - that feeling of getting away from it all to recharge - love, love, love. Into the Mystic is a close second.

Smat1124   -   St. Dominic's buddy and I would come back to our dorm room from a night at the bars and listen to that as we fell asleep. Two completely heteorsexual guys can't share a more romantic moment in this life.

El_Hechizado   -   My favourite Van Morrison album is the collaboration he does with The Chieftains, called Irish Heartbeat. It's only 10 songs, all Irish classics. But they work so well together. I'll Tell Me Ma.

Electric Marmalade   -   Veedon Fleece is my absolute favourite of his. You Don't Pull No Punches, But You Don't Push The River has to be one of the best songs of all time.

Double-dog-doctor   -   Glad Tidings always steals my heart a little bit. It's that song that was always playing in the car when we drove to the beach at night during summer breaks from college. Such a bittersweet song.

Ishmawford   -   Madame George might be the greatest song ever.

Jackson Tripper   -  Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl. Ballerina. Says pretty much all about the man and his music that needs to be said, in just under ten minutes.

HurdyGurdy9   -   Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Tupelo Honey, Cleaning Windows, Wild Night and I can't forget the rocking I'm Not Feeling It Anymore

Friday, 12 June 2015

William Mann on The Man

William Mann has an excellent blog that any music fan has to visit.  He basically reviews albums from his extensive vinyl collection.  Here are some of his comments regarding the great Hard Nose the Highway (1973).  Click here to find his other Van reviews.  

Sandwiched between Saint Dominic’s Preview (1972) and Veedon Fleece (1974) Hard Nose the Highway (1973) is often forgotten or neglected by music historians. This is a tragic mistake. Filled with the very melody of melancholy, peace and tranquillity this is one of my favourite “go to” albums of Van Morrison.  This is an essential LP in my collection and a month probably does not go by when I don’t spin it – in awe of Van the Man’s greatness. It truly amazes me that I reside in the minority of those who recognise its greatness.

Melancholy rules this album and perhaps it’s my age or the events that recently passed through my life but I appreciate the concept and tone of a record like this.

Comments on a Few Songs from the Album

The first track, Snow in San Anselmo is really just about a lost soul. Who else could sing lyrics that would otherwise be meaningless but make them sound so very relevant but Van Morrison. It’s hands down one of my favourite songs of all time. An astonishing beautiful orchestra with a stunning backing choir accompanied Van. This song hits you in the gut every time. I also love the first verse of this one.

And the pancake house is always crowded
Open 24 hours of every day
And if you suffer from insomnia
You can speed your time away

The second song Warm Love always takes me back to 20 years of age and in love with the future Mrs. Mann and what’s wrong with that.

Warm Love    
The sky is crying and it’s time to go home
And we shall hurry to the car from the foam
Sit by the fire and dry out our wet clothes
It’s raining outside from the skies up above

The title track, Hard Nose The Highway is simply wonderful. Every once in a while I actually hear it on Sirius Radio’s Deep Tracks which is really cool .  The opening lyrics of this song, which there are not many actually set the tone for simply a great tune.

Hey kids dig the first takes
Ain’t that some inspiration
When Sinatra sings against Nelson Riddle Strings
Then takes a vacation

Wild Children is basically about soldiers surviving and returning home from war (in this case WW II) searching for life and love.

We were the War Children
Born 1945
When all the soldiers came marching home
Love looks in their eye

“The Great Deception” completes side one. If you ever felt lost and on the other side of “normal people” this song could be for you.  I truly just love this song and the lyrics are just scathing. I can only imagine this track was based on Van’s disillusion of society at the time.

The Great Deception    
Did you ever hear about the great deception
Well the plastic revolutionaries take the money and run
Have you ever been down to love city
Where they rip you off with a smile
And it don’t take a gun

Don’t it hurt so bad in love city
Don’t it make you not want to bother at all
And don’t they look so self righteous
When they pin you up against the wall

I guess it is hard to explain why I continue to find myself championing this album. Although Hard Nose the Highway is and always has been considered one of Van’s weakest efforts I’ve always considered it far more worthy then that – and that is absolutely has many unique strengths all its own.

It should also be noted that this was the very first album that Van Morrison had complete control over. Why all the acceptance problems with this album? Well I basically think its timing. The basic problem is that Hard Nose the Highway is sandwiched between two all-time classics, Tupelo Honey and Saint Dominic’s Preview and then was followed by perhaps Van’s masterpiece, 1974’s Veedon Fleece.

Then it is also true that Van left some sheer classics on the cutting room floor when putting together Hard Nose the Highway which I believe many have never forgiven him for. So Hard Nose the Highway is, I believe often criticised for what it could have been rather then what it is.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Believe It or Not - Part 8

Corporal Radar O'Reilly

1.  Van's Sweet Thing was named on a website as 'the prettiest song ever'.

2.  Camper4hire, in the Midlands, has vans called Van Morrison, Van Halen and Van Gogh ('festivals a speciality').

3.  According to the website Celebrity Net Worth, Van is worth $90 million. He obviously made the right decision to stop cleaning windows in favour of music stardom.

4.  A hilarious addition to the family of Van covers on Youtube is Matt Brown and Etan Mirsky's Nose in Your BlowNose in Your Blow is one of the half-formed songs from the hastily assembled contractual album delivered to Bang records. 

5.  Van hasn't written any songs beginning with letter 'X' or the letter 'Z'.  I'm sure this is just a temporary oversight.

6.  The Nazi, Jew-hating blog called Expel the Parasite provides 10 Van Morrison film clips. Even hate groups can like good music!

7.  Van failed to turn up for his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  The 1993 Ceremony included acts like the Doors and Cream, as well as a surprising appearance by the extremely reclusive Sly Stone. When Van didn’t show the Counting Crows performed Caravan in his absence.

8. In 2009 a group calling itself Minnesotans for Global Warming posted a song on Youtube called Two Below Honey. It was said to be a clever global warming parody sung to Van Morrison's Tupelo Honey. Naturally Van’s Exile Productions had the song removed.  

9. David Bowie's 1973 album Pinups contains the Them song Here Comes the Night.  

10. The cover of Steely Dan’s Royal Scam album was originally created for Van Morrison for an album that was to be called to be called Mechanical Bliss, Naked In The Jungle, Not Working For You or Stiff Upper Lip.  Some tunes would appear on subsequent albums, some would be finally released on the outtakes collection The Philosopher’s Stone and others would be lost to the mists of time.

11.  According to the November, 2005 edition of Mojo magazine, Professor Tom Chamorro-Premuzic claimed that Brown Eyed Girl was one of the world's most uplifting songs coming in at number 6 on his list.  Apparently, it has the right pitch, positive lyrics, tonality and bpm to send Serotonin levels skyrocketing. At number 1 was The Boo Radleys' 1995 hit Wake Up Boo!