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 🙂

2 thoughts on “75 Essential Albums – #1 – Van Morrison – Astral Weeks

  1. Father Gerard Garrigan, OSB


    mystic growling over
    rhythm and blues
    Rimbaud and Blake
    over uilleann pipes
    and saxophone
    and your land whose melancholy soul
    still roams this wounded, wounding earth
    you will never settle down
    you’ll rage, you’ll rave
    a true child of your race
    till the stars have all burnt black
    and passion lights the sky again

    (A tribute to Van Morrison)

    That white boy
    He got soul
    That kinda soul
    That they had, that they had
    Way, way back
    Way, way back
    In those days of ole
    You can’t learn it
    You can’t earn it
    It’s a gift that’s riven
    Only, only by God given
    That white boy
    He got soul
    That kinda soul
    That they had, that they had
    Way, way back
    Way, way back
    In those days of ole
    God knows it’s so
    Oh, yeah, God knows it’s so

    (listening to Van Morrison’s “Rave On (John Donne)
    Part Two”

    at the speed of sound
    the volume cranked
    and throbbing from this Holy Ground
    wired, sweet, sweet, soul-inspired
    by angels whose hearts
    cages cannot hold
    round and round and round
    shot straight through
    with white hot rhythm
    with white hot blues
    and fire
    the desire of every ever-thirsting soul
    rave on till we have come
    rave on till we are one
    with the only One
    with the only One
    “rave on. rave on. rave on.”

    I hope you like my poems about Van Morrison.
    If you would like more of my poetry, please email me.

    Father Gerard Garrigan, OSB
    Saint Louis Abbey



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