Saturday, May 13, 2017

Van Morrison (Them)

Van played saxophone and harmonica and sang vocals when he joined the Belfast band, Them. They had two sizable hits in 1965, their first was Baby Please Don't Go.

Perhaps even more memorable was the flipside which was a Morrison composition that was to become a true blue standard for every garage band, evermore. The track was called, Gloria.

After the initial success of their first single, Them, toured the US but Morrison was uncomfortable with the pop direction the management had planned for the band. They decided to break up on their return but not before achieving two further hit singles, the first was a gusty, bluesy song which displayed the range and vocal ability of the gifted Morrison.

The second Mystic Eyes, a perfect vehicle for his expert harmonica work. Lulu did a cover version of Here comes the night, which has much merit but Morrison's version is definitely the critic's choice. Producer Bert Berns, who wrote Here comes the night, paid for the young performer to move to New York City. There they recorded Brown Eyed girl which became a respectable hit in the US.

Sadly when Bert died a very productive period in the artist's life came to an end. Throughout his early career Van Morrison was be dogged with bad deals and being ripped off. Something the artist has never forgotten and has been the topic of some of his latter works like Big Time Operators.

Stylistically Morrison's work combined R&B, with jazz, folk and classical music, once he signed for Warner Bros. however he was sufficiently separated from main stream contemporary pop and surrounded with a phenomenal set of backing musicians including Miles Davis. Van Morrison set to recording a collection of songs inspired by blues, soul and gospel. The album was called Astral Weeks and became a showcase for the sunnier side of his personality and included the brilliant, Moondance.

His status now assured the singer songwriter was free to explore his musical roots and came up with this classy soul number with a distinct Stax feel. The album was His Band and the Street Choir and the single Domino.

In 1971 Morrison also released a country album called Tupleo Honey where he showed his appreciation for country greats, Eddie Arnold and Jimmie Rogers. Tupelo Honey outsold all his previous albums and included a pretty groovy track entitled, Wild Night.

A short marriage left Morrison devastated and he decided to put all effort into producing another collection of songs, this time entitled St Dominic's Preview.

A little less commercial but none the less enthralling listening. To keep the business people he included a commercial single which did rather well. It was an effervescent tribute to one of Morrison's boyhood heroes, soul singer, Jackie Wilson.

The next album was Hard Nose the Highway and caught the Irishman in no mood for surrender. His constant battles with the business men in their black suits showed in the selection of music he put together on this 1973 collection. For the first time on a solo Morrison album there was a cover version of someone else’s song. Bein Green was associated with Kermit the Frog and its inclusion on Hard Nose the Highway was no coincidence as the lyrics will testify. The album also included the exquisite track, Warm Love.

In Veedan Fleece (1974), his next project, he retraced his Irish roots. and between 1975 and 1977 Van relocated back to his homeland, creatively exhausted. Living too long in exile he resurfaced in the US with a new album. Unfortunately this was rather disappointing and only appealed to his loyal fans. The musical genius was in a state of metamorphism and the album was well titled, Period of Transition.

Wavelength came along in 1978 and consisted of a set of chirpy commercial melodies and sing-a-long lyrics which reinstated the singer back in the US Top Thirty, the first time for five years.

Morrison decided to explore love relationships in his next collection of works entitled Into the Music (1979) and this absolute cracker, emerged, called Bright side of the road. Another track from the Into the Music album which shows the versatility of the musician with his excellent arrangement in this country influenced tune with distinctly devotional lyrics.

He continued this theme into his next recordings, Common One (1980) with possibly Summertime in England the albums, highpoint.

By 1982 he released another solo effort, this time entitled, Beautiful Vision. The Belfast Cowboy has a keen sense of humour and did not miss the wall when he wrote and performed Cleaning Windows.

Critics often brand him the Celtic shaman but as Morrison says about himself, he is no mystic. His bad experiences as a young musician at the mercy of big business made him determined to call the tune. Van Morrison remains not only one of the most creative and prolific music makers of his generation but also he does it his way and to the great delight of his fans. Without doubt part of his success has been his commitment to explore music as a healing force. This was exemplified in the most unlikely pairing of Van Morrison and Cliff Richard with, When ever God shines his light.

Worth a listen:
Baby Please Don't Go (1965)
Gloria (1965)
Here comes the night (1965)
Brown Eyed Girl (1967)
Moondance (1970)
Wild Night (1971)
Jackie Wilson Said (1972)
Warm Love (1973)
Bright side of the road (1979)
Full Force Gail (1979)
Cleaning Windows (1982)
I'll tell my ma (1988)

with Cliff Richard
Whenever God shines his light (1988)

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