Saturday, 19 December 2015

In the Days Before Rock 'n' Roll (1990)

In the Days Before Rock 'n' Roll is one of my three favourite songs (along with Summertime in England and Into the Mystic.)  It is track 7 on the 1990 album Enlightenment and was also released as a single but didn't fare well, reaching number 94 in England and staying in the charts for just that one week in November, 1990.  The track was co-written by Paul Durcan who provides the spoken word parts of the song.           

The song is about the impact that the radio had on the development of music and the British young person's desire to access authentic rock 'n' roll. It remains a tribute to the European stations British young people were listening to until the UK scene caught up.  In the days before rock 'n' roll is a quirky song that captures the intensity of those radio moments searching the wavebands.

The mysterious figure of Justin is mentioned in the song. Van has been known to get upset when someone in concert calls out Who is Justin? The name could possibly one of Van's word plays standing for the common radio language about records being just in.  Van makes reference to various iconic European radio terms, including Telefunken, Luxemborg, Athlone and Hilversum.  

Van makes a number of other specific references in the lyrics.  He mentions famous British jockey Lester Piggott and then name checks early rock performers like Fats Domino, Elvis, Sonny Terry, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. 

In the last verse he returns to Justin and asks where is he now? and what is he doing now? In the last line he says Come aboard. Is this an oblique reference to L.Ron Hubbard had an obsession with boats and created a kind of navy themed group called Seaorg as part of his "church" of Scientology?  Much more could be said about this fascinating song but let's let the readers from all over the internet speak.
Reader Comments

Visions of Louise   -   the song refers to Lester Piggot as he was a huge feature in Irish culture at the time. betting on horses is a big Irish past time and something you do with your friends, for the craic! i think this song is a nostalgic look back on a friendship van once had. it was obviously a gentle and social relationship. the days before rock & roll when van would have tuned in radio Luxembourg etc to hear his blues heroes. Justin may have just been a friend, where is he now? letting the gold fish go could be just that, something that was done whilst socialising. it could also symbolise the freedom he associates with that time. the goldfish swimming down a stream, free from the captivity of the goldfish bowl.

Flagroosterosoon   -   I think it's Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues. Justin Hayward has a gentle voice, he's a contemporary of Van Morrison, and has a similar musical pedigree and abilities. Well, okay, no one has the abilities of Van.

Drummer piper   -   I'm fairly certain this song is about how Europeans found American roots to rock and roll on the dials of European radios. But who is Justin referred to in this song?
Chris Hunter   -   Hey, I backed a Lester Piggott mount once and it got up at 6/1. The horse was called Kuantan and it won in Singapore 1970 after I returned from my tour in Vietnam. Van’s the man!

Bill   -   In a lot of Van's music his fans wait for that transcendent moment in a song where Van the singer and his song just leave the stage setting and go into a place with no time or space. I think this song was written in this plane.

Mr Bubba 1800   -   My olde Telefunkin picked it all up from around the entire world.
Cluster Vision Mach2   -   The “pirate” radio-rock’n roll-subculture-swinging-London 60s etc. was all staged to divide society, to split it up into fatherless children with mothers alone in low income depressed Europe. Well, I like Van the man, too, but evidence for my suggestion is delivered in extended social engineering literature of Eustace Mullins, Dr. John Coleman, Edward Bernays etc. about mind control and distracting humans from truth. 

MrAzman345   -    It was because of the pirate late night FM stations that I became interested in R&R. I got a job at one of those stations as my introduction to broadcasting. Since it was late night programming and FM stations weren’t like they are today, we could play our own music. I played a lot of “Van the Man” and got to like his music intensely. It was great fun and I have been a fan of this musical genius ever since. I have noticed that most of the best music comes from the Celts
John Hooton   -   This song takes me back to when I was a 12 year old boarding school boy back in 1958 with my friend Simon Betts.  We both hunched over the old valve radio every night in the library at about 8:00pm, trying to get a few tunes from radio Luxembourg by twiddling the tuner knob while songs faded in and out as the waves skipped off the ionosphere.  A few songs before bed at 9:00pm.  We wrote to Beryl Reid and requested ‘All in the Game’ by Tommy Edwards.  She didn't have it but played us Basin Street Blues instead. One of my happier school memories in the days before rock ’n’ roll.

Kim Petersen   -   So I also got this knowledge that he is about talking like gold fish was a night club.  
pirate259   -   Many people ask “who is/was Justin”? This is a reference to the pioneer Irish businessman Ronan O’rahilly who brought Pirate Radio to UK/Europe via Radio Caroline.The words “climb aboard” refer to him getting the station underway back in the 1960’s when,in the UK there was no rock and roll played on the radio.

Chris Wanjek   -   But In the Days Before Rock 'n Roll is seriously flawed. This song should have been the album's centrepiece; Morrison turned it into a "gag" song. Instead of singing, Morrison gets Paul Durcan to speak through most of the song in a mimicking and thoroughly annoying voice.

kkilm5zk   -   The last verse I think sums up the point about singing about the impact of radio. He reminds us that Justin was a boy, but “where is he now? What is he doing now?” I think this songs speaks to the generation of “children” who grew up listening to pop music by the radio, almost asking them ‘what are you doing now, in this world of new technologies, what happened to the days of tuning into some fun pop songs?’ 

Rogerrrubin   -   Americans don’t get how this tune is rooted in the emergence of American Rock and Roll, blues, and Soul, on the European music scene via the “pirate” radio stations who reached the genius of Van the Man, John Lennon, Mick Jagger–to name a few.

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