2020 ALBUM DRAFT- ROUND 1- PICK 5: HANSPOSTCARD SELECTS- “ASTRAL WEEKS”- VAN MORRISON

Van Morrison – 1968 Sealed Mint 1st Pressing “Astral Weeks” LP

2020 Album Draft- Round 1- Selection 5: Hanspostcard selects- Astral Weeks”- Van Morrison.

Van Morrison came across my radar on November 4, 1978 when he was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. He performed two songs from his latest album- Wavelength- the title track “Wavelength” and “Kingdom Hall.” I had gone music mad two years earlier when my friend Andre turned me on to The Beatles. By this point I owned all The Beatles albums and most of the solo albums- I was expanding to other artists. After seeing Van The Man on SNL- I put his album on my “Christmas list.” My Christmas list consisted of albums. Wavelength I think of as a pretty good album but I wouldn’t put it on my Van Top 10 albums list.

Wavelength didn’t send me over the deep end like The Beatles music did. It would be two years later in the fall of 1979 after reading something somewhere- ranking Van Morrison’s album Astral Weeks- as one of the greatest albums ever that I went out and bought this album- at the time the price was $4.99.

I took the album home and played it. My first reaction was it was a pretty good album. I had a positive reaction to it but to be honest at that time I wouldn’t have thought that someday I would be claiming it was the greatest album ever- and my all time favorite. It wasn’t love at first sight. But I kept playing this album and with each repeated listen it really grew on me.

Over the past twenty years I have gone back and forth on what my favorite album ever is- and it comes down to The Beatles Revolver and Astral Weeks. For me to choose anything over The Beatles is very high praise but I quickly knew a couple weeks ago in preparing for this- that If I had the first overall pick- I would have to pass on The Beatles- and go with Astral Weeks.

Astral Weeks was Van Morrison’s second album- released on November 29, 1968. Van Morrison was only twenty-three years old when this came out. This album doesn’t sound like it could be the work of someone that young.

10 Notes on Astral Weeks-

  • Van Morrison has released 41 solo albums over this long career. Astral Weeks is a unique album in his catalog. The stream of consciousness writing on Astral Weeks -the only other album that compares is 1974 Veedon Fleece- another outstanding album but as good as it is- its not Astral Weeks. There are lyrics on Astral Weeks which after 41 years of listening I have no clue what he’s writing about but I do get images in my head on what he’s singing.
  • I would love to hear a version of this album without the vocals. It would be a great instrumental album. This isn’t a rock and roll album- folk jazz would be the best description. He had excellent musicians backing him on this- who were jazz players. The songs were driven by bassist Richard Davis who also served as the session leader. It was through Davis that the other musicians Jay Berliner-acoustic guitar, percussionist Warren Smith Jr, and drummer Connie Kay were recruited. If you listen to the album, The albums producer Lewis Merenstein noted “Every tune is led by Richard and everybody followed Richard and Van’s voice.
  • Every time I listen to this album I hear things that I have never heard before. That is to me one of the magical elements about this album. It has never gotten old to me and I would estimate I have listened to this over 1000 times. It’s always fresh to my ears. I wish I could say that about some of the other albums that I love. I am envious of people who are just discovering The Beatles. The excitement of those songs being new to my ears.
  • The recording of this album was quite odd. Van had little interaction with the musicians. There was no prep, no meeting. Van would come in and go into a booth where he stayed isolated from everyone. Davis has said that Van didn’t introduce himself to them, or they to him. That Van seemed very shy. Drummer Connie Kay said he asked Van what he wanted him to play- and Van said to play wherever he felt like playing. As strange as this method of recording an album was- it certainly worked.
  • Van Morrison has released 41 solo albums over this long career. Astral Weeks is a unique album in his catalog. The stream of consciousness writing on Astral Weeks -the only other album that compares is 1974 Veedon Fleece- another outstanding album but as good as it is- its not Astral Weeks. There are lyrics on Astral Weeks which after 41 years of listening I have no clue what he’s writing about but I do get images in my head on what he’s singing.
  • I would love to hear a version of this album without the vocals. It would be a great instrumental album. This isn’t a rock and roll album- folk jazz would be the best description. He had excellent musicians backing him on this- who were jazz players. The songs were driven by bassist Richard Davis who also served as the session leader. It was through Davis that the other musicians Jay Berliner-acoustic guitar, percussionist Warren Smith Jr, and drummer Connie Kay were recruited. If you listen to the album, The albums producer Lewis Merenstein noted “Every tune is led by Richard and everybody followed Richard and Van’s voice.
  • Every time I listen to this album I hear things that I have never heard before. That is to me one of the magical elements about this album. It has never gotten old to me and I would estimate I have listened to this over 1000 times. It’s always fresh to my ears. I wish I could say that about some of the other albums that I love. I am envious of people who are just discovering The Beatles. The excitement of those songs being new to my ears.
  • The recording of this album was quite odd. Van had little interaction with the musicians. There was no prep, no meeting. Van would come in and go into a booth where he stayed isolated from everyone. Davis has said that Van didn’t introduce himself to them, or they to him. That Van seemed very shy. Drummer Connie Kay said he asked Van what he wanted him to play- and Van said to play wherever he felt like playing. As strange as this method of recording an album was- it certainly worked. While the musicians weren’t all that impressed by Van’s professional comportment -Van would later say of the sessions- “The songs came together very well in the studio. Some of the tracks were first takes. [But] the musicians were really together. Those type of guys play what you’re gonna do before you do it, that’s how good they are.”
  • There are eight songs on Astral Weeks. The first side of the vinyl album is titled ‘In The Beginning” and has four songs- side 2 is titled “Afterwards”and has the other four songs. Four of the songs on the album are over 7 minutes in length. My two favorite songs are “Cypress Avenue” and the side 2 opener- one of my favorite songs ever by anyone “Madame George.” Van would say both songs just came out of him the he wasn’t even thinking of what he was writing on both those songs. Most think and so do I -that “Madame George” is a song about an aging transvestite. Van denies this of course. Both “Cypress Avenue” and “Madame George” when I hear them are like movies to me.
Van Morrison live on Cyprus Avenue | EastSide Arts
  • One of the places I have never been to where I want to go before I call it a day- is to Van’s Belfast- and I want to visit “Cypress Avenue” of course I have seen pictures of it but I want to go there and other places where Van has sung about. Van has said of Cypress Avenue in Belfast-“a street in Belfast, a place where there’s a lot of wealth. It wasn’t far from where I was brought up and it was a very different scene. To me it was a very mystical place. It was a whole avenue lined with trees and I found it a place where I could think.”

The single best review I have ever read of an album- was the late great Lester Bangs review of Astral Weeks. Attached below–

https://personal.cis.strath.ac.uk/murray.wood/astral.html

17 responses to “2020 ALBUM DRAFT- ROUND 1- PICK 5: HANSPOSTCARD SELECTS- “ASTRAL WEEKS”- VAN MORRISON

  1. Great Choice Hans… When I first heard “If I ventured in the slipstream, Between the viaducts of your dream” I knew I was in store for something different. More than an album it’s like one long journey…

  2. Great, passionate review Hans. What you say about it never sounding old and finding something new with every play is indeed the mark of a great record. Gotta admit, I don’t know that I’ve heard this one and my normal reaction to Van is like what you said about this one to you at first … “pretty good, worth a listen but not really classic”…but after reading this i might try to track down a copy and give it a listen!

    • Thanks. It is a different kind of Van album that is for sure- he only tried that one more time. I don’t know why. It’s one of those albums that need more than one listen- like the television show The Wire-my favorite tv show-. My brother told me about it- I watched one episode found it confusing and put it aside- for a few months- then re-watched episode 1 again- got it and I was off to the races.

  3. High praise for this album, which I would expect if its that high on your list of beloved albums. You posted Madame George before but it would be good for me to get the whole album and give it a listen.

  4. So you like this album huh? Comes through loud and clear.Good piece. You come through loud and clear on how you feel. I also like this album. It’s all in the listening. I’m an album guy and this is a great one. Good stuff Hans. So does your pick come with me to my island?

    (Have you heard ‘Astral Weeks at the Hollywood Bowl’?)

    • Thanks. Yes I forgot to mention that he did the live version of the album decades later. I enjoyed that too. I will play Astral Weeks so loud on my island you will be able to hear it on yours? Deal? or maybe we can rig up some wires the islands are close to one another.

    • I’m cheating a bit because I’m taking everyone’s picks with me.
      Astral is good for so manybreasons. Van has always had the jazz bone. I think thats one of the reasons this album stands up to repeated listenings. When you mention names like Connie Kay it sends me into that music.

    • Van is all over the place musically- with each new album you never know what you will get- a good thing.

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