Now we get to the main event.
In part one, I explained why I was doing this and little history of my love for Van.
In part two, I listed ten things that you may or may not need to keep in mind while listening to Van Morrison
This week, I cover what most Van Morrison fans consider the golden age. This stretch of albums would be enough to enshrine him among the greats. Seven brilliant records over a six year period. Every single one belongs in your collection. Buy them on vinyl and CD and cassette and 8-track. Okay, maybe just vinyl.
It is possible that someone will go look at a list of Van albums and wonder why I have not included Blowin’ Your Mind. the reason is that Van does not consider that to be a true album. It was released without his consent. So, in deference to him, I do not include it.
(However, it is great and includes a little known hit “Brown-Eyed Girl.” You may have heard of it.)
*Astral Weeks: 1968*
Whenever someone talks about Van Morrison, this albums comes up in the conversation. It is inescapable and is the audible specter haunting every other album he has released. I recently read an ebook of the author’s 20 favorite Van Morrison albums. Even though he did not choose Astral Weeks as his number one, he compared every other album to Astral Weeks. While AW was not that huge of a hit initially, it eventually became the defining album of his career. This is not to suggest, everything after is a let down. You just need to know this is the landscape of Van’s discography.
It is a beautiful record, regardless of where it lands in the lists. Back when I was a Seminary student, I once fell asleep in the library while listening to those songs and awoke with what I could only call wonder…a beauty I could not grasp wholly. The first few notes of Astral Weeks may be the most beautiful intro of any album I know.
Highlights: You have to listen to the whole thing straight through.
The first album I bought after The Best of Van Morrison was Moondance. For months this was the only thing I listened to. And this is the album I always recommend for anyone to start with. If you don’t like this one, you need to just move on. There are songs so good on this album, most other artists’ high water marks look paltry as they sit next to these that are Himalyan in size and scope. You can hear the jazz Van loves so well but this is a very melodic album full of perfect pop songs.
Highlights: And it Stoned Me, Moondance, Into the Mystic, Crazy Love, Caravan
*His Band and Street Choir: 1970*
My friend, Jon gave me this album for my birthday about 15 years ago. I can remember listening all the way through for the first time while sitting out on my front porch in Augusta, Georgia. I love this album but no listen has ever compared to that first one. I keep trying to recapture that first listen, and I catch the edge every now and then, but alas, it escapes me.
Highlights: Domino, Virgo Clowns, If I Ever Needed Someone, Street Choir
*Tupelo Honey: 1971*
I just put this on the turntable. Every time I hear this album I am taken back to Bethany and I’s first year of marriage. We listened to this album over and over and over. It’s her favorite, I believe. There are so many beautiful, wistful moments on this album. It’s basically a country americana record with some celtic soul thrown in for good measure. Among his finest. And the title track is in the running for his best song ever. As a matter of fact there may not be many songs better than “Tupelo Honey.”
Highlights: Wild Night, Tupelo Honey, and Moonshine Whiskey
*St. Dominic’s Preview: 1972*
I must have had half a day off during the week. Which would have meant working on Saturday morning at the bank.
This was a hard time. The bank was a hard cold place. Calculating and cruel in it’s lack of basic concern for those who it daily came into contact with, I felt totally at odds with its philosophy, its methods, and its unstated goals. I was always looking for something to lift me out of the mire. Out of the muddy pit.
On that half day, I drove down to an antique store where I remembered seeing records for sale. I was looking for something in particular, but ended up walking away with this one. This record stayed on the turntable for at least a month. Till I knew every word. I downloaded the album from iTunes so I could listen on the way to work and on the way home. There is not one bad track on this album and is sometimes my favorite of his. This is a warm blanket of an album. It’s hospitable but once you get in, you are taken to high and deep places you never knew you could go on an album.
Highlights: Title track, Listen to the Lion, Redwood Tree, Independence Day
*Hard Nose the Highway: 1973*
This is not a bad album. This is actually a really good album. Maybe, even great. Here is why I say “maybe.” The other day I was listening to the first side (vinyl) and it genuinely moved me. It is one of the best sides of a record I have ever heard. Flawless. Intense. Beautiful. Moving. But then there is the second side…which is good. But nothing like the first. It may be a great album because of that first side, though.
However, it is not known for being a “great album.” Hard Nose suffers from sitting between two albums generally known as masterpieces. It may also suffer because Van covers, “Bein’ Green.” Yes, that is the Kermit the Frog song. And it is glorious. I think people think it’s weird, though.
Highlights: The whole dadgum first side, Bein’ Green
*Veedon Fleece: 1974*
If you are the kind of person who needs to understand the lyrics and does not enjoy layers of veiled meaning, this may not be the record for you. However, if you can look (listen?) past such phenomena, then you need to give this album a shot.
There are many who call this one of if not his best work. It is certainly the only other album that recalls Astral Weeks. But it is decidedly not Astral Weeks, Part Two. There are two songs on this album that seem to always be swirling around in my head. “Bulbs” and “Linden Arden Stole the Highlights” are possibly the two greatest songs which I do not understand at all.
Highlights: Linden Arden Stole the Highlights, Streets of Arklow, Bulbs