Thursday, 29 June 2017

A Kiwi Names his Top 5

From the Aphoristic Album Reviews blog written by an anonymous New Zealand music fan, comes this ranking of the top five Van albums.  There's plenty of interesting music opinion there so check it out.   


Van Morrison’s voice is an expressive instrument which synthesises his Irish roots with the R&B and jazz that he grew up hearing in Belfast. His exploration of Celtic Soul has effectively fuelled his entire career, as he veered between commercial pop and more uncompromising efforts. Even if his solo career can sometimes feel obstinate and inconsistent, his body of work is uniquely his own, and he should be remembered as a giant of his era; U2 are perhaps his only competition as Ireland’s greatest musical export.

Honourable Mention:  Beautiful Vision (1982)
Beautiful Vision is one of Van Morrison’s most settled, comfortable albums, like a calmer take on the Into The Music sound, and it’s relatively insular with its low key explorations of spirituality and Irish heritage. Even if he’s sometimes treading water musically, there are plenty of great songs here, and it’s one of his more consistent, most substantial records, even if it’s less adventurous and less universal than his earlier work.

#5 Veedon Fleece (1974)
Veedon Fleece was the last album from Van Morrison’s initial run of solo records; subsequently he went into semi-retirement for three years, only emerging to appear in The Band’s The Last Waltz. In some respects, it’s almost the completion of the circle begun with Astral Weeks; returning to Ireland at the end of his marriage, Veedon Fleece is more steeped in acoustic mysticism than any of his releases since Astral Weeks, and it’s similarly loose in feel. It’s also more noticeably more Irish than anything he’d released previously; there’s little R&B here, using more folk-oriented, acoustic instrumentation, and the lyrics reference William Blake and figures from Irish mythology.

#4 Astral Weeks (1968)
Astral Weeks is a fascinating record; it sounds different from anyone Van Morrison or anyone else has created, and for adventurous music listeners it’s worth picking up for that reason alone. Although Morrison arguably balanced jazzy exploration with more accessible work on subsequent albums like St. Dominic’s Preview and Veedon Fleece, Astral Weeks is his most extreme statement which alone makes it essential as a unique effort in the canon of popular music.

#3 Moondance (1970)
Astral Weeks showcased the stream-of-consciousness, improvisational side of Van Morrison’s music, Moondance is based around punchy R&B and concise pop songs. Side one is packed with five outstanding compositions; the title track, where Van plays Sinatra, is the most well known, but Crazy Love is pretty, Caravan is jaunty, Into The Mystic is lovely and esoteric, while And It Stoned Me is all of the above.

#2 Saint Dominic’s Preview (1972)
Morrison’s failing marriage informs his music on Saint Dominic’s Preview. The love songs of the “domestic trilogy” are replaced with more eclectic and ambitious material. Saint Dominic’s Preview is perhaps the quintessential album of Van Morrison’s early career, covering both punchy R&B pop craft like the opening Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile) and artier impulses like the ten minute semi-improvisations that close each side of the original LP.

#1 Into The Music (1979)
Into The Music is a blue-print of the adult contemporary direction than Van Morrison would pursue during the 1980s, but the song writing is so sharp that it’s his best album. It’s slickly produced and loaded with backing vocalists, strings, saxophones, and other adult contemporary paraphernalia, but for these joyous songs the sensory overload approach works beautifully, like being swept away by a wave of intertwined sexual and spiritual power.

While these five albums tend to be among his most well recognised, putting the acclaimed Astral Weeks at #4 is probably unconventional. Hardcore Van Morrison fans tend to gravitate to his more insular albums like 1980’s Common One and 1986’s No Guru, No Method, No Teacher.

Reader Comments

hanspostcard   -   You’re top 5 is my top 5 but just in a different order. Astral Weeks #1 and one of my top 5 albums by anyone. I don’t think anything he’s done in the past 25 years challenges the top 5 but every album he’s released has some good stuff on it! 1- Astral Weeks 2- Into The Music 3- Veedon Fleece 4- Moondance 5- St. Dominic’s Preview.

Aphoristical   -   Cool – there does seem to be consensus with those five on a few things I’ve looked at, although albums like.  I really like Astral Weeks, but find Beside You at first drop tough to get through. I really like the live album of it he released in 2008 as well.

hanspostcard   -   Yes I like the live Astral Weeks too- I am currently going through the Van catalogue again- I am up to the late 1970’s and “Into The Music” is next.

J.   -   Hard to argue with that list, though I’d have Tupelo Honey in there instead of Into The Music. So, maybe #1 Astral Weeks, #2 Tupelo Honey #3 Saint Dominic’s Preview #4 Moondance #5 Veedon Fleece. Maybe!

Aphoristical   -   I like most of Tupelo Honey, but I really dislike I Wanna Roo You. It’s enough to take that album down to his second tier for me.

J.   -   Not one of my favourites, but I have a soft spot for it. It might be the steel guitar that does it.

stephen1001   -   My personal favourite is the double live Too Late to Stop Now.

Aphoristical   -   I like how It’s Too Late is half made up of songs that aren’t on his studio albums. But I rarely like live albums better than studio stuff.

Hackskeptic   -   I have to declare that I must make a concerted effort to listen to more of Van’s music. I love Moondance and like Astral Weeks but other than that haven’t delved into the rest of his back catalogue

Aphoristical   -   I started with those two as well. But there are plenty of other albums. Of the early albums, Veedon Fleece has a similar flavour to Astral Weeks, while Saint Dominic’s Preview feels half like Moondance and half like Astral Weeks.

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