Van Morrison – Blowin’ Your Mind! (’67) and Astral Weeks (’68)
Originally I conceived of this as the beginning of a multi-part artist overview, but realizing the amount of time that would take to concoct put me off. I can imagine a day where I write enough about his work that I can fold this into a longer, more overarching discography piece. And since I’ve little else to post about—I could write about Kanye West, sure, but where’s the fun in that?—I figured I’d share these two pieces I wrote sometime last year or early this year. I’m serious about little else to post; going through my notes, I’ve remarkably few new albums I’m truly interested in posting. I’m not sure if this is a failure on my part of having spread myself too thin by listening to too many records too few times, a reflection of the mediocre releases as of late, or an increasing quality my ears demand as I soak up more tunes. Either way, I’ve plenty of B Plus albums to jot about, so maybe my energy will be better spent there, however unfulfilling the task may be.
VAN MORRISON – Blowin’ Your Mind! (Bang! ’67): I quite enjoy the debut the Irishman later disowned, foregone as a footnote in the face of everything hence save for the immortal “Brown Eyed Girl.” The hit deceives the casual listener as to what amounts to a primer for the punctuation of Astral Weeks; featuring prolonged Side A cuts “He Ain’t Give You None” and the mercurial “T.B. Sheets,” the former hauls over his soon to be shagged Them-era “Give you my jelly roll” blues innuendos. Side B contains a few duds but grooves with “Ro Ro Rosey” and gets all but too sweet with “Spanish Rose.” If the mention of Them confuses you, hop to YouTube and listen to “Gloria.” It’s a Rolling Stones cut The Rolling Stones never wrote. If the mention of vinyl sides perplexes you, spring for 1990’s Bang Masters, which includes all this and a few alternate though inferior Astral Weeks takes. It’s a CD, you pragmatic motherfucker. A MINUS
VAN MORRISON – Astral Weeks (Warner Bros. ’68): What more can be said about one of the greatest pop/rock records to ever be released? It’s about as useful as an amateur detailing you on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper or Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. What I can express is my admiration for near nonsensical lyrics painting pictures and scattered snapshots of Belfast and the adolescent youth discovering love and all its sticky complications. Colored by an improvisatory backup band thoroughly unfamiliar with the material prior to Van Morrison’s mysterious studio machinations, note Richard Davis’s double bass falling in and out of sync with Larry Fallon’s harpsichord on “Cyprus Avenue,” or Connie Kay’s soft rat-a-tat rap on “Sweet Thing.” Character portraits abound, the most notable of which is “Madame George,” long regarded as a transvestite, though I’ll unashamedly throw my chips in with the idea of a grandmotherly figure regarding the naïve youth; “Jumps up and says ‘Lord have mercy I think that it’s the cops,’ / And immediately drops everything she gots.” Wide-eyed as it is mystical, Van Morrison never cut another album like it; many may prefer the excellent though—I hate to say it—more formulaic 1970 follow-ups Moondance and His Band and the Street Choir, but what sets Astral Weeks apart is its uniqueness. Not a word I use often, so take it as a sign that there’s really no other record on earth (minus lame imitators, mainly, and only in a literal sense) sounds like it. I’ve yet to share this record with someone whose life wasn’t altered for the better by it afterward. And now, dear possibly unaccustomed reader, I’m sharing it with you. A PLUS