Today is George Ivan (Van) Morrison’s Birthday. It’s also my mother’s birthday (Hi Mom!…of course she’d never find this blog…thankfully…I don’t even tell her about it…Happy 73rd Margaret). Van Morrison is a more manageable 65 today, but then again my mom doesn’t have to go on tour whenever she needs to make a buck. When you sift through All Time Critic’s Favorite books you find Van The Man material. 1968′s Astral Weeks is a long time favorite. 1970′s Moondance is another. 1974′s Live LP It’s Too Late To Stop Now is sometimes mentioned amongst the greatest live records ever made. My personal favorite is 1972′s Saint Dominic’s Preview, but I’m not really mad for Van. I saw his Avalon Sunset Tour at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre in 1989 and almost fell asleep. Sorry Van. Intentionally there were no hits, but even if there had been; I really only went because of this girl I was dating at the time. I wasn’t expecting a rockin’ show and I didn’t get one. Van Morrison is larger than life itself, but I swear, if you skim 25 songs off the top you could be happy with his work.
I don’t want to say that I don’t like Van Morrison. That is obviously not true or I would not be posting about him. The thing is, I worked as a bouncer, all 160 lbs of me at the time…if only that were true today, at The Bull & Finch Pub (Cheers) in 1984 and 1985. We had this DJ that played Van Morrison until I thought I was going to lose my lunch. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he mixed in “Wavelength” or “Blue Money” once in a while, but no….it was straight “Brown-Eyed Girl” and “Moondance” until I didn’t care if I ever heard those songs ever again. The girls love Van The Man. Like Cetera (!). I get that. Really I do, but the guy has been a crooner for decades now. Pop music, if that is what you want to call his once fresh sounding Irish Folk Rock, is a thing of Morrison’s past if you ask me. Any artist is going to be pulverized back to the stone age if their catalogue is reduced to five songs, but in Morrison’s case the rest was sit down and pay attention ballads. Usually last of my list on things to listen to at home. That doesn’t make me right or wrong, it just makes me a respectful Van Morrison fan from a distance. I own everything up until Avalon Sunset (1989), but I took a pass on the rest. I don’t even listen to Astral Weeks that much to be honest. I love Tupelo Honey (1971) and Saint Dominic’s Preview. Even Moondance is still very listenable if you skip the title track (repetition, not quality is the reason for that remark). There are several very good Van Morrison songs amongst those first ten or so records, but nobody ever hears them anymore. He’s only got five songs don’t you know (insert sarcasm here)? Most people would call themselves Van Morrison fans I would venture.
Van Morrison’s career began in earnest fronting the seminal Irish band Them in the 60′s. Patti Smith’s cover of “Gloria” (as in G-L-O-R-I-A)” in 1975 reminded everyone, in case anyone forgot, just how great Them were. You may remember “Here Comes The Night,” which is actually a Bert Berns tune (Berns also wrote “Hang On Sloopy, Piece of My Heart, Cry Baby, 25 Miles and Twist and Shout” just to name a few of his masterpieces) first recorded by Lulu and The Luvvers, as well. David Bowie did a nice rendition on his 1973 covers LP “Pinups” as well. If you are wondering, Bert Berns was a seven year veteran of the famous Brill Building; a songwriter’s haven noted for other superstar writers like Carole King and Neil Sedaka. But 1965 was a long, long time ago. Morrison began writing solo material in 1967 and released a little known single called “Brown-Eyed Girl” on his first solo LP Blowin’ Your Mind. Them eventually broke up in the early 70′s and Morrison was free to continue down the solo path without friction. He was definitely living the poor man’s starving artist’s existence for many years, but by the mid 70′s he was on his way to legend status. Boston, in particular, latched onto the Irish born Morrison because he chose to live here for a spell in the late 60′s. I’ve heard second hand tales of him palling around with Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band, so if that’s true it’s no wonder he has a strong foothold here in Boston. Classic Rock will not let go of his early 70′s songs in this market, but I suspect it’s true of other markets across the country as well. Nobody doesn’t know the name Van Morrison.
I have to run and see Iggy Pop tonight…talk about the other end of the spectrum, but I wanted to jot down a few thoughts about Van The Man and leave you with a couple of my favorite Van tunes. Happy birthday Van. I may not be your exact market, but don’t take it personally. You are still a legend. Live on in good health.
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