Sunday, 8 January 2012

Hark, now hear the sailors cry. Smell the sea and feel the sky. Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic.

70’s Song of the week

“Into The Mystic” by Van Morrison (1970)

My friend Jim from Belfast knew who the brown-eyed girl was. She ended up marrying a bartender and they ran a pub. Jim also used to see Van Morrison on the street corners of Belfast many years ago. He would perform on street corners when he was not performing his duties as a window cleaner.  He is maybe not the friendliest guys in the world but he can sure write and sing a song!

When he in his teens, Van was already in Irish show bands. In the mid-sixties he moved on to front the band “Them”. Them did an awesome cover of the song “Gloria”. Their liver performances were well regarded.  “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “Here Comes the Night” were also very well regarded.

By 1967, the hit-oriented Bert Berns had him record “Brown-Eyed Girl”. Doing well at the time, it is now one of the most played songs on radio of all time, and established Van as a singer-songwriter. It has been played over ten million times on the radio.

When Bert Berns died, his contract became Warner Bros. Van moved to the U.S. and was given just three studio sessions to record a new album. The result was “Astral Weeks”. There is a reason to the rhyme careful listening; the lyrics are well crafted and Van sounded confident, with resulted in a very listenable album. Now critically acclaimed it was not so well regarded to begin with, but allowed him to do another album: “Moondance”. This was much better received and established “Van the Man” as a major artist.

“Moondance” to me sounds like Van was getting a huge influence from “The Band” and the rest of American music he was exposed to. Songs like “Moondance”, the beautiful, soulful, spiritual-influenced “Crazy Love” and my favourite “Into the Mystic”, leave no question that this is a brilliant singer-songwriter. The music is influence by soul and R&B music that Van had been listening to in Ireland, but now had full access to in the U.S.; although his Dad’s record collection was regarded as the largest in Ulster n the fifties and included things like Ray Charles, Solomon Burke and the staples of the blues. He had acquired it when we worked in Detroit in early fifties and brought it back to Ireland.

“Moondance” was quickly followed but with “His Band & the Street Choir”, which was not the critical or commercial success but spun off the hit “Domino”. 1971 “Tupelo Honey” was released with the very cool “Wild Nights” (later covered by John Mellencamp. This album definitely had more of a country feel as that is what set out to do with it.

In 1972, back to the poetic writing of “Astral Weeks” Van released “St. Dominic’s Preview”. This album contained two songs of over ten minutes – “Almost Independence Day” and “Listen to the Lions” , both very ethereal, meditative works.  “Jackie Wilson Said” and “Redwood Tree” did reasonably well as singles.

“Hard Nose the Highway” from ’73 did not do so well, but his follow-up “Veedon Fleece” is now considered one of his best works. “Veedon” was partially written of a vacation back in Ireland and seems to visit references to the poet William Blake, which many songwriters of the time seemed to review.(Blake, considered mad by some in his lifetime seems to now be a central figure in the arts and poetry of the ‘Romantic Age’ now).

Taking a bit of break, Van’s next album, and one of his fastest selling when first released was 1978’s “Wavelength”. With the use of synthesizers to mimic the sound of shortwave radios he listened to as a child, this album set the precedent for his interest in religious themes, evidenced in his next album “Into the Music”.

 A series of spiritually based, experimental albums in the ‘80’s culminated in 1989’s “Avalon Sunset” which featured the heartfelt rendition of  “Have I Told You Lately”, written in 1945 by Scott Wiseman.

Still performing and touring, “On Top Again: The Greatest Hits”. If you are not that familiar with the work of Van, this would be an excellent place to start.

Van Morrison is a true artist. His inspirations were, among many others; Jimmy Witherspoon, John Lee Hooker and Jr. Wells. He has crafted some of the best songs recorded in the twentieth century. His influence on others in turn has been huge -artists from Jimmi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart, Jim Morrison (who I think he met once),  to Bob Seger, John Mellencamp, Bono,  and even Counting Crows cite him as an influence.

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