Squalling and yelling on top of multiple layers of improvised classical, jazz, and folk.
Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #21/100
There is a lady who sings international music on the sidewalks of Carytown in Richmond, VA. Densely-populated with shops and restaurants, she sings inaudible oscillating pitches while improvising on foreign instruments as the shapeless crowd passes by. As far as street performances go, it’s okay.
To my knowledge, she’s never placed an album on a top 100 list which makes sense. Her venue matches her output. Astral Weeks, absolutely similar with undecipherable yelps and forgettable compositions, would be right at home on the same city side-block as her.
Album number two by Van Morrision, it is quite a departure from what came before and what came after. Between the smash hit of Brown Eyed Girl and the album Moondance (another top 100 album with several well known hits), Morrison goes in quite a different direction here. He decided to push the boundary of musical terrain, adding his unique style to a studio full of talented musicians. The output was Astral Weeks: an album that showcases multiple layers of instruments in lengthy improvisations buffering Van Morrison’s vocals and guitar.
It never cracked the Billboard 200 Albums for sales, which should tell you what you need to know about it. Panned by critics and listeners at the time, it was never promoted by his album company — probably for good reason. Somehow, it was reborn like a Phoenix to become considered one of the most important rock albums of all time.
I’m listening to this album as I visit my family, and here are some of the general comments:
- “A bunch of lousy songs and fillers. Does this album have one hit?”
- “The music is kind of pretty. Too bad you can’t hear it over Van’s awful singing.”
- “If you want to continue listening to that, please take it outside.”
Part 1: In The Beginning
- Astral Weeks 7:00
- Beside You 5:10
- Sweet Thing 4:10
- Cyprus Avenue 6:50
Part 2: Afterwards
- Young Lovers Do 3:10
- Madame George 9:25
- Ballerina 7:00
- Slim Slow Slider 3:20
*All songs written by Van Morrison.
[BEST TRACK: Sweet Thing]
This song is the reason I’m giving the album two stars. It encapsulates more of the good and less of the bad with Van Morrison’s project. It’s a pretty composition with pretty lyrics and showcases the varied instrumental backing. Even though it lacks any long-lasting hooks, at least it’s concrete.
And I will stroll the merry way
And jump the hedges first
And I will drink the clear
Clean water for to quench my thirst
And I shall watch the ferry-boats
And they’ll get high
On a bluer ocean
Against tomorrow’s sky
And I will never grow so old again
And I will walk and talk
In gardens all wet with rain
[BEST TRACK TO MAKE YOU ANGRY: Beside You]
What starts out as pretty and peaceful music gets wrecked by Morrison who wails repeated lyrics until you are pummeled into a hypertensive crisis. One family member who was busy cooking couldn’t figure out why she was getting so mad, an internal swelling of anger. Once we hit the apex of the wailing, she looked at me with bulging eyes saying “It’s this…MUSIC!”
Little Jimmy’s gone
Way out of the backstreet
Out of the window
Through the fallin’ rain
Right on time
Right on time
That’s why Broken Arrow
Waved his finger down the road so dark and narrow
If they have a version that edits out Morrison’s voice, I might give it another try.
Other People’s Takes:
- Bored in Pittsburg: “It’s incredible to me that Morrison was only 23 when this album was recorded, because it sounds like the work of a dying old man whose entire life is rushing by him all at once and he’s just trying to react to as many images as possible while he’s still alive”
- Songs For the Day: “To me, ‘Sweet Thing’ by Van Morrison is perfect in every imaginable way, and oddly enough, I have never actually written anything beyond a couple of sentences about it.”
- Their Bated Breath: “The shaking of a leaf on a tree becomes Van Morrison’s spirit-level — much like a blade of grass became Walt Whitman’s cosmos. It’s impossible to pinpoint what exactly “it” is that makes this album so stunning.”