cream of the crate: album review # 133 – van morrison: the best of

 

cream of the crate: album review # 133 – van morrison: the best of
Front cover – [Click to enlarge]

 

  This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

 

 

 

"The career of Van Morrison, one of rock's most defiantly idiosyncratic singer-songwriters, has been marked by a gradual movement away from hard-edged soul-inflected music toward the quieter realm of mystical rumination.” - (Stephen Holding - New York Times") . . . "Van Morrison's music cannot really be imitated, because, as with Dylan's music, what one hears is not style, but personality." - (Rolling Stone - 1970)

This is album retro-review number 133 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.

The series is called
“Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

The first fifty reviews were vinyl only, and the second fifty reviews were CD’s only. Links to these reviews can be found at the bottom of this page. From review 101 onward I have mixed vinyl and CD albums and, try and present an Australian album every fifth review!

This  artist first grabbed my attention in an Irish beat group during the 1960’s, but went on to become an incredibly successful solo artist.

The artist is the amazing Van Morrison who started out his music career as we know it, with the Irish group, Them. This album is the 1990 CD album- The Best Of Van Morrison. The album was released on the Polydor Label – 841 970-2.

cream of the crate: album review # 133 – van morrison: the best of
CD Label – [Click to enlarge]

 

The album has 20 tracks including early work with Them.

Now I had both Astral Weeks and Moondance, and these were superb albums, although Astral Weeks failed to capture the record buying public interest.

I still have a copy of Moondance, but it is indeed in a sad state. So when the opportunity, many many years ago, came to buy this CD, I didn’t hesitate.

The tracks on it are not re-works but the original versions, and so, what we have is in fact an album that features some of his best work in its original form.

As Rolling Stone wrote, – “Van Morrison is an enigma shrouded in Celtic garb!”

Born in Belfast in 1945, Morrison grew up in a musical home. His mother sang at social gatherings, and his father collected classic blues and jazz records.

He learned guitar, saxophone, and harmonica while in school, and was playing with blues, jazz, and rock bands by his mid-teens. At 15, he quit school, joined an R&B outfit called the Monarchs, and toured Europe with them as saxophonist.

While in Germany, a film director offered Morrison a role in a movie as a jazz saxophonist. The project was dropped, and Morrison returned to Belfast and opened an R&B club in the Maritime Hotel.

In a response to the growing music scene across the UK, he recruited some friends to form the group – Them, which became an immediate local sensation as a local club’s house band.

cream of the crate: album review # 133 – van morrison: the best of
Them : 1964 – [Click to enlarge]

 

Them recorded two singles in late 1964: “Don’t Start Crying Now” (a local hit) and Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go” (which made the British Top 10 in early 1965).

After the latter’s success, the band moved to London and connected with producer Bert Berns. They recorded Berns’ “Here Comes the Night,” which went to Number Two in the U.K. and made the Top 30 in the U.S.

Them’s next two singles, “Gloria” (by Morrison) and “Mystic Eyes,” were minor U.S. hits; “Gloria” was later covered by the Shadows of Knight (who took the song to Number 10 in 1966) and Patti Smith.

Gloria may not have been a #1 hit but it became part of the music staple for so many up and coming groups in both the UK and Austraia.

Them’s lineup underwent constant changes, and Berns brought in session players, including guitarist Jimmy Page, to bolster their albums.

After a 1966 U.S. tour, the group returned to England where Morrison initiated its demise; not long after the breakup, they reformed with Ken McDowell as vocalist.

Having tasted the success and failure of being in a group, Van Morrison was searching for something different when an offer came through from Berns.

He had formed Bang Records in New York. He offered Morrison plane tickets and the promise of a great recording session and that offer was grabbed with enthusiasm.

What resulted was a set of demo tracks of which one, Brown Eyed Girl became a moderate hit reaching number 10 in 1967.

Faced with the prospect of cashing in, Berns released the Van Morrison demo tapes as an album, “Blowing Your Mind.”

Morrison was disgusted and felt betrayed and was considering returning to the UK when Berns died.

Morrison stayed in the US, toured, wrote and signed a contract with Warner Bros, resulting in the album Astral Weeks.

Ensconced in Woodstock, New York, Van Morrison settled in to write and work and in 1970 produced what is possibly his best, if not most famous album – Moondance.

From that point onward, Van Morrison became a household name and justifiably so as he produced some absolute classic tracks. He continues to work, record and play. Morrison released his 39th studio album, Three Chords & the Truth in October of 2019.

cream of the crate: album review # 133 – van morrison: the best of
Van Morrison: 1970 – [Click to enlarge]

 

This album, under review, comes with a booklet, but like many of its contemporaries it really fails to deliver to the level it should.

It consists of three double gloss pages consisting of track listing and lyrics to all the songs. I appreciate that but would have liked some info on the various musicians that played, possibly some biographic pictures, and even a synopsis of the great mans journey.

Maybe I just expect too much?

Oh, the booklet cover forms the cover for the CD!

So this album I am looking at includes works from the early years (1964] through to 1989, so while a lot of good music has come after 1989, there was a lot of great music up to it.

My major criticism is that i would have preferred to have had the tracks ordered according to recording date, this way the listener can hear the development and changes in the music and styles.

Track Listing

1

Van Morrison

Bright Side Of The Road

3:46

2

Them: Featuring Van Morrison

Gloria
Producer – Dick Rowe

2:37

3

Van Morrison

Moondance

4:32

4

Them: Featuring Van Morrison

Baby Please Don’t Go
Producer – Dick Rowe Written-By – Big Joe Williams

2:42

5

Van Morrison

Have I Told You Lately

4:20

6

Van Morrison

Brown Eyed Girl
Producer – Bert Berns

3:05

7

Van Morrison

Sweet Thing
Producer – Lewis Merenstein

4:22

8

Van Morrison

Warm Love

3:23

9

Van Morrison

Wonderful Remark
Producer – Robbie Robertson

3:58

10

Van Morrison

Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile)
Producer – Ted Templeman

2:58

11

Van Morrison

Full Force Gale

3:15

12

Van Morrison

And It Stoned Me

4:29

13

Them: Featuring Van Morrison

Here Comes The Night
Producer, Written-By – Bert Berns

2:47

14

Van Morrison

Domino

3:05

15

Van Morrison

Did Ye Get Healed

4:06

16

Van Morrison

Wild Night
Producer – Ted Templeman

3:33

17

Van Morrison

Cleaning Windows

4:42

18

Van Morrison With Cliff Richard

Whenever God Shines His Light

4:54

19

Van Morrison

Queen Of The Slipstream

4:55

20

Van Morrison

Dweller On The Threshold                                        4:44
Written-By – Hugh Murphy, Van Morrison

 

cream of the crate: album review # 133 – van morrison: the best of
Rear Cover: Track Listing – [Click to enlarge]

 

Rather than work through the album in the track order, I am going to look at the tracks in order of production, and that means starting with track number 4 which is the period when Morrison was fronting Them.

Gloria is possibly Them’s best known track.

Released in 1964 it was actually the B-Side of Baby Please Don’t Go. The single reached number 10 in the UK in 1965 and Gloria became a staple of many budding groups because of its simple three-chord structure consisting of E-D-A.

No minor chords, no sevenths just plain E-D & A and, it didn’t get much easier.

Baby Please Don’t Go was credited to blues giant, Big Joe Williams. However the song has its roots back into the 19th century and in fact is probably one of the most rearranged songs in history, but certainly Williams popularised it.

Among the many, many artists too play Baby Please Don’t Go and record it was John Lee Hooker. The Them version is based upon that version.

What is often not acknowledged was a budding up and coming blues guitarist, Jimmy Page, sat in on the recording and played second guitar.

Baby Please Don’t Go


The next track is track number 6.

Now the liner notes in the booklet indicate it was recorded in 1973 on bang records. Well it certainly was recorded on Bang, as I indicated earlier, but this is obviously an error.

There is little doubt the track resulted from the session in 1967 and reached number 10 in the Billboard Top 100 of that year.

In 1999 is was rated in the top 100 songs of the century by BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated). The track has been awarded a million a year airplays on several occasions, including seven million in 2005 and won a plethora of awards.

In 2000, it was listed at No. 21 on Rolling Stone and MTV’s list of 100 Greatest Pop Songs; In November 2004, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison was listed at No. 110 on the Rolling Stone magazine list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

In January 2007, “Brown Eyed Girl” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame; On November 30, 2008, it was ranked as the 97th greatest song of all time and, It is also one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

It is a great song lyrically and certainly established Van Morrison’s writing credibility, and he delivers it in a faultless performance.

The track was originally called “Brown Skinned Girl,” and was about an interracial relationship. Morrison changed it to “Brown Eyed Girl” to make it more palatable for radio stations.

Some stations banned it anyway for the line, “Making love in the green grass.”

In the third verse, the line “Making love in the green grass” was overdubbed with a line from the first verse, “Laughin‚ and a-runnin‚” to make it more radio-friendly.

In fact this very CD, Best Of Van Morrison has the censored version (sadly), apparently by someone unaware that there were two versions.

Putting aside the failure of the CD producer to provide us with the original version instead of the radio version, it still stands the test of time as a beautiful and complete song.

Hey, where did we go
Days when the rains came ?
Down in the hollow
Playing a new game,
Laughing and a-running, hey, hey,
Skipping and a-jumping
In the misty morning fog with
Our, our hearts a-thumping
And you, my brown-eyed girl,
You, my brown-eyed girl.

Whatever happened
To Tuesday and so slow
Going down to the old mine with a
Transistor radio.
Standing in the sunlight laughing
Hide behind a rainbow’s wall,
Slipping and a-sliding
All along the waterfall
With you, my brown-eyed girl,
You, my brown-eyed girl.

Do you remember when we used to sing
Sha la la la la la la la la la la dee dah
Just like that
Sha la la la la la la la la la la dee dah
La dee dah.

So hard to find my way
Now that I’m all on my own.
I saw you just the other day,
My, how you have grown!
Cast my memory back there, Lord,
Sometime I’m overcome thinking about
Making love in the green grass
Behind the stadium
With you, my brown-eyed girl,
You, my brown-eyed girl.

Do you remember when we used to sing
Sha la la la la la la la la la la dee dah
Laying in the green grass
Sha la la la la la la la la la la dee dah
Dee dah dee dah dee dah dee dah dee dah dee
Sha la la la la la la la la la la la la
Dee dah la dee dah la dee dah la
D-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d…

Brown Eyed Girl



Next in line is track number sevenSweet Thing.

This track was on the Astral Weeks album, which I still believe to be a great album.

Recorded in 1968 it is a song of hope, in many ways capturing the period when regardless of what was going on in the world, Van Morrison like many of us, saw a positive future during the period of “Peace, Love and Flowers”.

 

cream of the crate: album review # 133 – van morrison: the best of
Astral Weeks

 

Paul Du Noyer (Music Book Author and New Music Express Journo) wrote:

Sweet Thing puts the singer in a hazy, pastoral paradise where he wanders in gardens wet with rain, or counts the stars in his lover’s eyes, and vows to never grow so old again or read between the lines.

He pleads with his mind to keep quiet, so his heart can hear itself think. He yearns to obliterate experience and rediscover innocence.”

The music builds as the singer gets more and more excited about his love, and the imagery becomes more intense.

By the end of the song, the string section has kicked in and Van’s girl has “Champagne Eyes” and a “Saint-Like Smile.” The track has some amazing upright bass, played by Richard Davis.

Interestingly it is the only song from Astral Weeks that has ever appeared on any Van Morrison compilation.

Sweet Thing

 

We arrive at track number 3 and the year is 1970 and Van Morrison in that year released what might just be his most complete album – Moondance.

The track Moondance wasn’t released as a single until an amazing seven years after the album was released.

The story goes that Moondance is the only song ever to have been played more than a thousand times live – and no wonder.

It is a true “tour de force” – utterly brilliant and highly emotive. It has an amazing “walking bass line” which was played by John Klingberg and has been described, quite appropriately, as soft jazz swing.

cream of the crate: album review # 133 – van morrison: the best of
Van Morrison: 1975 – [Click to enlarge]

 

The flute playing is sublime and the song construction, musically, is damn simple – but the lyric construction is Van Morrison writing at his best.

I believe there are no other songs that use the term “fantabulous”, and we must credit Van Morrison with manufacturing a word that is so descriptive.

I believe autumn is Van Morrison’s favourite season, and this track is an “Autumn Track”.

He is a master at tying in landscapes and his personal journey into insights that he shares and somehow they touch a sympathetic note in us. If he weren’t a musical genius with his wordsmithing, his homespun philosophies could have easily spun out into trite and “gooey” messes – but its quite the opposite.

As reviewer Joan Hall wrote, “When you hear Moondance, you feel like you’re right there, on a warm autumn night, falling in love.”

Moondance” was listed as #226 on the Rolling Stone magazine’s 2004 feature, The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

It is also one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, and that is fine by me – this is possibly the quintessential Van Morrison track, if it were any more lay back, we would all fall backward!

Well, it’s a marvelous night for a moondance
With the stars up above in your eyes
A fantabulous night to make romance
‘Neath the cover of October skies

And all the leaves on the trees are fallin’
To the sound of the breezes that blow
An’ I’m trying to please to the callin’
Of your heart strings that play soft and low

And all the nights magic seems to whisper and hush
And all the soft moonlight seems to shine in your blush
Can I just have one more moondance with you, my love?
Can I just make some more romance with you, my love?

Well, I wanna make love to you tonight
I can’t wait ’til the morning has come
And I know now the time is just right
And straight in to my arms you will run

And when you come, my heart will be waiting
To make sure that you’re never alone
There and then, all my dreams will come true, dear
There and then, I will make you my own

And every time I touch you, you just tremble inside
And I know how much you want me that you can’t hide
Can I just have one more moondance with you, my love?
Can I just make some more romance with you, my love?

Well, it’s a marvelous night for a moondance
With the stars up above in your eyes
A fantabulous night to make romance
‘Neath the cover of October skies

And all the leaves on the trees are falling
To the sound of the breezes that blow
And I’m trying to please to the calling
Of your heart strings that play soft and low

And all the nights magic seems to whisper and hush
And all the soft moonlight seems to shine in your blush
Can I just have one more moondance with you, my love?
Can I just make some more romance with you, my love?

One more moon dance with you
In the moon light, on a magic night
All the moon light, on a magic night
Can I just have one more moondance with you, my love?

Moondance

 

It was impossible not to look at a second track from the brilliant Moondance album, it was such a brilliant album and a brilliant period for Van Morrison.

Track number 12 is – And It Stoned Me.

A somewhat curious title on the surface, the song is about freedom, the freedom young people might find when out exploring, as Van Morrison would have done in the Irish countryside.

He tells of what life was like, it rains and there is no thought of seeking shelter, oh no! You look to the heavens, eyes and mouths open, heads bent back: “Oh, the water, let it run all over me.”

 

cream of the crate: album review # 133 – van morrison: the best of

 

As Van Morrison sings, we take a journey with him, we can’t fail too, as the whole song is delivered in such a way, that not to go on that journey would be to declare we have no soul.

We traverse the Northern Ireland countryside with Van, as a gentle lyrical piano is seduced by two saxophones making love.

Then Morrison just puts the goddamn icing on the cake for all time, with a glass of water “carried from a mountain stream”, which all adds to the overall effect of a near perfect childhood memory.

When I was much much younger, in fact when this album came out, I thought he was inviting us all to get “stoned” with him.

My eyes were blind and I could not see!

Now with age and a a tad of wisdom, I see and hear what he was inviting me and you to do – to take a journey through his soul!

And It Stoned Me

 

cream of the crate: album review # 133 – van morrison: the best of
Van Morrison: 1980 – [Click to enlarge]

 

I forced myself to jump years and in doing so I have to admit we jump through some mighty fine tracks indeed, and then we come to pause in 1987 and track number 19.

This is the penultimate track on this album –Queen Of The Slipstream.

This track appears on the album “Poetic Champions”. Released as a single a year later it failed to chart.

This is not an indictment on the track but on the buying public of the day who preferred such “memorable” work as “Faith” by George Michael.

Oh well, you can lead a horse to water, but . . .

Van Morrison used a full string orchestra for this track, which indeed is a slow romantic ballad in which he revisits an album, which the public also failed to recognise when it was released, the quite brilliant Astral Weeks.

Anyone who appreciated that album will recall the reference to “slipstream” in the Astral Weeks track.
If I ventured in the slipstream
Between the viaducts of your dream

In fact that reference is not the only one that Van Morrison recalls in this song.

There are the lines – “I see you slipping and sliding in the snow … you come running to me, you’ll come running to me” which were used in “Come Running“, from the Moondance Album.

Now I keep mentioning the strings, because  of Van Morrison’s tracks feature strings, and there is never a note or line out of place.

However, special mention must be made to the strings in this track. From the classic violin backing to, the plucked harp! Goddamn brilliant, and it is all the work of noted Irish musician Fiachra Trench!

This is a delightful track in is quite representative of the calm and optimistic state of mind Van Morrison was in and that, is exactly where I think this review should finish – calm and optimistic and this track sets that scenario just splendidly!

Queen Of The Slipstream


The man has now been working and singing for almost sixty years, and his journey is far from over.

He certainly has cemented his legacy in both songwriting and in his finished music. He is a poet, he is a musician, he is brilliant!

cream of the crate: album review # 133 – van morrison: the best of
Van Morrison: 2018 – [Click to enlarge]

 

There are many sides to him which do get reflected in his music, and so it is that really there is one or more Van Morrison albums for almost everyone.

Which one or one’s you should have in your collection is a question that only you can answer. That is the strength of an album like The Best Of Van Morrison, because it does cover a decent period of time and a good selection of albums, so it is a great album to have in your collection if you are still discovering Van Morrison or indeed, it is a great album to have if you love his work.

However, while this CD is a fine example of the many sides of his wide and varied talent it is not a complete collection of his music.

Tupelo Honey for example is not on this CD. However it does showcase many of the tunes that made Van Morrison famous.

If you are a serious Van Morrison lover (and I am) you probably should have this cd.

You can pick the CD up for next to nothing on Ebay and other sites.


VIDEOS:

There were a good selection of Van Morrison video clips on Youtube, from his days with Them, and throughout his career. I hope you enjoy the ones I chose to both supplement and complement the tracks reviewed above.

 

Gloria (1965)

 

Bright Side Of the Road (1979)

 

Domino (1974)

 

Warm Love (1979)

 

 


Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:

 

To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –

cream of the crate cd review #2 : robert johnson – the complete recordings

 

To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –

 

Click to open the following Vinyl reviews from 101 onward:

#101:  Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley’s Beach Party (Live)

#102:  Les Paul and Mary Ford – The World Is waiting For The Sunrise

#103:  Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica

#104:  Los Fronterizos – Misa Creole

#105:  Bobby Bright – Child Of Rock And Roll

#106:  The  Nylons – One Size Fits All

#107:  Jimmy Cliff – The Harder They Come [Soundtrack from the film]

#108:  Paul Simon – Graceland

#109.  The Ventures – The Very Best Of

#110.  The Pardoners – Indulgences

#111.  Atlantic R&B: Volumes 1 – 3 [1947 to 1957] 

#112.  Atlantic R&B Volumes 4 & 5 [1957 – 1965]

#113.  Roots of Rock: Vol.12 – Union Avenue Breakdown

#114.  David Fanshawe – African Sanctus

#115.  A Reefer Derci – Various Artists

#116.  Dr. John – Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch

#117.  The Walker Brothers – The Walker Brothers

#118.  Peter Gabriel – Peter Gabriel

#119.  Curved Air – Airconditioning

#120.  The Delltones – The Best of The Delltones

#121.  Hound Dog Taylor – Hound Dog Taylor and The Houserockers

#122.  Bessie Smith – Queen of The Blues

#123.  The Shadows – The Shadows Greatest Hits

#124.  Gil Scott Heron – Reflections

#125.  The Dingoes – Five Times The Sun

#126.  Bert Jansch and John Renbourn – Bert and John

#127.  Nat King Cole – The Complete After Midnight Sessions

#128.  Various Artists – The Rock and Roll Collection [A Box Set]

#129.  Sam Cooke – 16 Most Requested Songs

#130.  Various Artists – Australian Rock Heritage Vol.1

#131:  Wilson Pickett – The Exciting Wilson Pickett

#132.  Martha and The Vandellas – Greatest Hits