Van Morrison Astral Weeks

75 Essential Albums – #1 – Van Morrison – Astral Weeks

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks

After 7 weeks of recommending a great album every day I come, at last, to my favourite album of all time the simply unsurpassable Astral Weeks by Celtic Soul legend, Van Morrison.  I have included no less than five Van Morrison albums in my list of 75 essential albums, Common One, Into The Music, No Guru, No Method, No Teacher and Moondance all making the cut.  It will be clear that I am a massive fan of Morrison’s work and to be frank I could have included 17 of his 30 plus albums in my top 75.  I could have completed a list of 75 from the output of Dylan, Springsteen and Neil Young and had little space for anything else but I don’t think that would have been terribly interesting.

The real strength of Morrison’s music lies in its originality, its spirituality, its depth and its life affirming freedom.  Nowhere is this more evident than on Astral Weeks.  This is an extraordinary album on so many levels.  It has influenced generations of musicians and yet before Van walked into the studio he had never met much less played with most of the jazz musicians who played on the album.  Rolling Stone points out that:

“It also sounds like the work of a group of musicians who had become finely attuned to one another through years of working together — but, in fact, Morrison had made his name with rock songs like “Gloria” and “Here Comes the Night,” and he sang Astral Weeks sitting by himself in a glass-enclosed booth, scarcely communicating with the session musicians, who barely knew who he was.”

The album was recorded in just a few days and whilst Astral  Weeks was critically acclaimed from its release and yet it was never a huge chart success.  Appreciation of the album increased as years past and it achieved legendary status with many reviewers over the years hailing it as the best album ever made.  The late great Lester Bangs said:

“Astral Weeks, insofar as it can be pinned down, is a record about people stunned by life, completely overwhelmed, stalled in their skins, their ages and selves paralyzed by the enormity of what in one moment of vision they can comprehend.  It is a precious and terrible gift, born of a terrible truth, because what they see is both infinitely beautiful and terminally horrifying: the unlimited human ability to create or destroy, according to whim.  It’s no Eastern mystic or psychedelic vision of the emerald beyond, nor is it some Baudelairean perception of the beauty of sleaze and grotesquerie.  Maybe what it boils down to is one moment’s knowledge of the miracle of life, with its inevitable concomitant, a vertiginous glimpse of the capacity to be hurt, and the capacity to inflict that hurt.”

Therein lies both the strength and the weakness of Astral Weeks. It is incredibly complex, obtuse, deep, surreal, allegorical and impossible to analyse.  It is an album that reaches right down into your soul, it becomes a part of you.  Even after many years and thousands of listens I find something new in the album almost every time I listen to it and there is rarely a week, much less a month when I don’t listen to it.

The album is often seen as a concept album and indeed it does progress through a life cycle from ‘Taking care of your boy/ seeing that he’s got clean clothes / putting on his little red shoes’ in the opening title track through to “I know you’re dying, baby / And I know you know it, too” in closing track ‘Slim Slow Slider’.  For many Astral Weeks was the ultimate ‘stoner’ album, something to lay back and absorb, to allow yourself to be carried away by it.  It may be the fact that the album is difficult to understand that leads people to this conclusion.  It is absorbing, a piece of fine art to be revered and enjoyed time and again.

Every song creates incredibly powerful imagery, it showcases Morrison’s abilities as a storyteller but above all it highlights his abilities as a vocalist.  It shows his mastery of phrasing and timing and the lyrics do paint pictures even if those pictures are sometimes disturbing.  The beauty of Sweet Thing “you shall take me strongly In your arms again, And I will not remember That I even felt the pain” contrasts with the lyrics in Cyprus avenue where a presumably adult male sits in his car shaking and trembling as Van sings “nobody stops me from loving you baby, So young and bold, fourteen years old.”  The joy of young lovers who  “sat on our own star and dreamed of the way that we were” contrasting with the transvestite ‘Madame George’ “sitting in the corner playing domino’s in drag.”  It is complex, interesting and thought provoking piece of work.  It is the interest and engagement, the light and the dark, the joy and the sadness, the mundane and the spiritual which all blends together to create a piece of musical art that I doubt will ever be equalled much less surpassed.

As always thanks for dropping by my blog.  if you like what you read please hit the like button or leave a comment.  If you don’t like what you read then please leave a comment explaining why 🙂

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About The Sound of Summer

Hi, I am Alan. I live in Broadstone, Dorset with my wife, Shirley, my son, Ryan and two dogs called Bailey and Jasper. I have recently retired after working in the Armed Forces and in Public Service since 1977 so I now have a bit more time to do the things I love. Music is a huge part of my life and always has been. I have a broad taste in music and can find something to enjoy in most styles of music. I have always been attracted to music which has something to say, is outside the mainstream and is perhaps a bit rebellious. I guess my early influences were late 1970's Punk and new wave bands, especially those who came out of Northern Ireland where I grew up. I loved Stiff Little Fingers, The Undertones, Rudi, Starjets etc but also bands like The Ramones, The Clash, The Jam and so on. I like singer songwriters including Van Morrison, Springsteen, Neil Young & Bob Dylan and in recent years I have become more interested in folk and acoustic music but I also love the sort of high drive energetic Folk/Punk music delivered by bands like The Levellers, Leatherat, Ferocious Dog and many others who frequent the UK Festival scene. I have long since lost the desire to spend my holidays laying around in the sun and these days am much more likely to be found in a muddy field somewhere in the UK during the festival season.

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