The release of Van Morrison’s album Astral Weeks in 1969 firmly established his reputation as a uniquely gifted musician. The album has been widely praised for its music, an upbeat synthesis of jazz and rock; its romantic lyrics; and most of all for Morrison’s singing, which reveals him to be “part Celtic bard, part soul singer, and part ecstatically scatting mystical visionary,” according to Mike Jahn in Rock: From Elvis Presley to Rock and Roll.Through twenty years of experiments and stylistic phases, Morrison has retained the respect of music critics. He “remains a singer who can be compared to no performer in the history of rock and roll, a singer who cannot be pinned down, dismissed, nor fitted into anyone’s expectations,” wrote Greil Marcus in the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll.
Morrison was immersed in music from his earliest childhood. His father was an avid collector of classic jazz and blues records, and his mother was a jazz singer. Morrison learned to play harmonica, guitar, and saxophone when he was quite young, and by the time he reached his teens, he was playing professionally with various jazz, blues, and rock bands around his hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland. He even spent some time in a country and western group known as Deanie Sands and the Javelins. At fifteen, he left school to tour Europe as the saxophonist with the Monarchs, a Belfast rhythm and blues band. After the tour, Morrison remained in Germany where a director had cast him as a sax player in a movie, but the project fell through long before completion. Morrison returned to Belfast, where he opened a rhythm and blues club in the Maritime Hotel. He and some friends served as the house band, Them.
Them’s intense sound quickly made them a local sensation. In 1964 they recorded two singles; one, a cover of Joe Williams’s “Baby Please Don’t Go,” garnered a great deal of British airplay and eventually made the British top ten. Them moved to London to work with record producer Bert Berns. One of the songs Morrison wrote for the band, “Here Comes the Night,” went to the number-two slot on the British record charts and broke into the U.S. top thirty. Recording with sessionmen like Jimmy Page, Them made a few more minor hits, including “Mystic Eyes” and Morrison’s “Gloria,” before embarking on a tour of the United States. The tour was only moderately successful, however. Morrison returned to England disgruntled by the inner workings of the music industry. He soon stopped performing altogether and returned to Belfast.
Bert Berns had moved to New York and formed Bang Records while Them toured. Upon hearing about Morrison’s disillusionment, he sent the singer a plane ticket and an invitation to come to New York and record some singles for Bang. Morrison accepted the producer’s
For the Record…
Name originally George Ivan Morrison; born August 31, 1945, in Belfast, Northern Ireland; son of Violet Morrison (a jazz singer); married Janet Planet (divorced, 1973).
Played tenor saxophone in the Irish rhythm and blues group the Monarchs, 1961–63; founding member of Them, 1963–66 (first U.S. tour, 1966); solo artist, 1967—(first U.S. solo tour, 1967).
Addresses: Record company —Polygram Records, 810 Seventh Ave., New York, N.Y. 10019.
offer and flew to New York in 1967. One of the singles recorded at this time, “Brown Eyed Girl,” became a top-ten hit in the United States that summer. Morrison was touring when he discovered that Berns had capitalized on the success of “Brown Eyed Girl” by releasing the other singles and demos that had been cut for Bang as an album, Blowin’ Your Mind.Although the singer was infuriated by the move, Blowing’ Your Mind was one of “the most exciting records of the time,” according to Greil Marcus, and it is still considered a classic. Berns died suddenly in December 1967, leaving Van Morrison more wary of the music business than ever and in professional limbo. Despite the popularity of “Brown Eyed Girl,” his popularity vanished. Unfocused and unsure of what direction to take, he toured the East Coast briefly, playing small clubs. Then, “brooding and drinking hard, Morrison moved to Boston, where, in an incomprehensible Belfast accent, he pestered late-night DJs for John Lee Hooker sides,” reported Marcus. “Once he was booed off the stage when a group that would later make up part of the J. Geils Band called him out of the audience to front their version of ‘Gloria.’ ‘Don’t you know who this man is?’ Peter Wolf shouted at the hissing crowd. This man wrote the song!’ But they didn’t know.”
Morrison appeared completely burnt out when he returned to Belfast several months later, but his hometown seemed to revitalize him. He wrote a set of introspective songs about childhood, initiation, death, and sex. Meanwhile, Warner Brothers had picked up his contract, and in 1968 he went into the studio with master jazz drummer Connie Kay of the Modern Jazz Quartet, bassist Richard Davis, and other top musicians to record the music he’d written in Belfast. In two days he cut one of the least classifiable and most enduring albums in rock, Astral Weeks.It is “a strange, disturbing, exalting album,” according to Marcus, “for which there was little precedent in rock and roll history when it was released…. Tempered by jazz restraint … and three levels of string arrangements, the disc moved with a rock beat and a rock feel. It was as serious an album as could be imagined, but it soared like an old Drifters 45. With Astral Weeks, Morrison opened the way to a new career, and established himself as a performer who deserved to be ranked with the creators of the very best rock and roll music.”
Many people rank Astral Weeks among the top five or ten greatest rock albums of all time and as Morrison’s best. Dave Laing and Phil Hardy wrote in their Encyclopedia of Rock: “It remains unique amongst his work: fresh, subtle and infinitely delicate. The lyrics are stream-of-consciousness romanticism, magically evoking a wealth of moods, feelings, locations, all superbly enhanced by the music. Tumbling and swelling gently, guitar, flute, sax, drums, and flowing acoustic bass create a finely textured backdrop for Morrison’s vocals, which in turn make brilliant use of scat and repetition.” Besides winning unreserved critical praise, Astral Weeks sold fairly well. The followup, Moondance, was even more popular. It combined the light, jazzy style of Astral Weeks with the emotional vigor of Them’s rhythm and blues.
In the early 1970s, Morrison married Janet Planet and moved to Marin County, California, where she had grown up. His music mellowed, reflecting his domestic contentment. The hard edge of his lyrics gave way to a romantic celebration of marital bliss, but Morrison’s creativity remained intact. The influences of country music as well as blues, soul, and jazz surfaced on albums such as Tupelo Honey and Si. Dominic’s Preview.On his 1973 tour of Europe and North America, he was accompanied by his Caledonia Soul Orchestra, an eleven-piece group that included a string quartet. Things changed dramatically late in 1973. Morrison’s marriage crumbled, and he disbanded the Caledonia Soul Orchestra to return to Belfast for the first time since 1966. After recording Veedon Fleece, a return to the profound ambiguities of Astral Weeks, he dropped out of the music scene and led a secluded life for four years.
His comeback album, 1977’s A Period of Transition, featured short jazz and rhythm and blues tunes. It was considered disappointing by some reviewers but his next album, Wavelength, was solidly acclaimed. In it, Morrison expressed a new serenity, reflecting his embrace of born-again Christianity. The lyrics in “Common One,” “Into the Music,” “Beautiful Vision,” and “Inarticulate Speech of the Heart” were filled with spiritual longing. Mark Peel related in Stereo Review that after this “string of brilliant, synthesizer-based albums, … Morrison returned to laid-back, acoustic soul-mantras and Celtic mysticism of albums like the mid-Seventies ‘Veedon Fleece’ on 1985’s ‘A Sense of Wonder.’ “In 1988, Morrison collaborated with the Chieftains for another highly praised album, Irish Heartbeat. “It would be hard to imagine a more natural merger of pop and folk than this collaboration between Van Morrison and Ireland’s preeminent old-wave traditional band, the Chieftains,” wrote a Rolling Stone reviewer. “Yet even those expectations don’t prepare one for the splendor and intense beauty of Irish Heartbeat, a collection of ballads that finds both acts at the top of their form.”
Van Morrison’s concert career has been marked by temperamental performances and chronic stage fright. At a 1979 show in New York’s Palladium, he stormed offstage in the middle of a set and refused to return. Mike Jahn characterized him in Rock: From Elvis Presley to Rock and Roll as “a painfully introverted figure who rarely gives interviews and is at a loss to explain his own lyrics. In the studio, he can sing like a soul man getting the spirit; onstage, he tends to baffle and alienate audiences by rushing through songs and remaining noncommunicative betweeen them.” But Laing points out that “at his best, Morrison is a compelling performer. Nervous, intense, he stands motionless midstage, eyes closed, while his voice seems first to take him over, then enraptures the entire theatre. Above everything, Van Morrison is a great singer. He can take a few phrases and repeat them over and over, weaving his voice around the music, gradually working his way deeper into the listener’s consciousness….His music is truly spellbinding.”
Singles; with Them
“Gloria,” Parrot, 1965.
“Here Comes the Night,” Parrot, 1965.
“Mystic Eyes,” Parrot, 1965.
Singles; for Warner Brothers, except as noted
“Brown Eyed Girl,” Bang, 1967.
“Come Running,” 1970.
“Blue Money,” 1971.
“Call Me Up in Dreamland,” 1971.
“Wild Night,” 1971.
“Tupelo Honey,” 1972.
“Jackie Wilson Said,” 1972.
“Redwood Tree,” 1972.
“Moon Dance,” 1977.
LPs; with Them
Them (released in England as Angry Young Men), Parrot, 1965.
Them Again, Parrot, 1966.
Them Featuring Van Morrison, 1972.
Solo LPs; for Warner Brothers, except as noted
Blowin’ Your Mind, Bang, 1967.
The Best of Van Morrison, Bang, 1967.
Astral Weeks, 1969.
His Band and the Street Choir, 1970.
Tupelo Honey, 1971.
Saint Dominic’s Preview, 1972.
Hard Nose the Highway, 1973.
It’s Too Late to Stop Now, 1974.
T.B. Sheets, Bang, 1974.
Veedon Fleece, 1974.
A Period of Transition, 1977.
Into the Music, 1979.
Common One, 1980.
Beautiful Vision, 1982.
Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, 1983.
Live at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, Polygram, 1984.
A Sense of Wonder, Polygram, 1985.
No Guru, No Method, No Teacher, Polygram, 1986.
Poetic Champions Compose, Polygram, 1987.
Live for Ireland, Polygram, 1988.
Irish Heartbeat, Polygram, 1988.
Avalon Sunset, Polygram, 1989.
Hardy, Phil, and Dave Laing, Encyclopedia of Rock, McDonald, 1987.
Jahn, Mike, Rock: From Elvis Presley to the Rolling Stones, Quadrangle, 1973.
Miller, Jim, ed., The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, Rolling Stone Press, 1976.
Boston Globe, July 20, 1989.
Rolling Stone, August 27, 1987; December 3, 1987; August 11, 1988.
Stereo Review, November 1986.
Van Morrison remains one of the most elusive rock stars of the modern age. Despite the fact that he has released an album every year for three decades, he does not do many interviews. This elusiveness and his moodiness during live appearances often make Morrison seem distant, even gruff. His music is not easily defined by critics; he certainly will never be pigeonholed. Morrison himself is often at a loss for words when asked to describe one of his songs. His blend of spirituality and mysticism in his lyrics suggests that maybe he has divine intervention. One of his band members, Georgie Fame, suggested that people don’t need to know everything about Morrison. He told Jeff Gordinier of Entertainment Weekly, “He’s a wonderful Irish poet and a great musician. What else do you want?” The song “Brown Eyed Girl” is perhaps Morrison’s best known, but critics agree that Astral Weeks is one of the best albums in rock history.
Many great musicians’ styles cannot be labeled. Ray Charles’ music is often described in print with a string of adjectives: jazz, pop, r&b, soul, country, etc. Morrison, who idolizes Charles, also creates music that is hard to categorize. His music is described in print with words like Irish-Celtic mysticism, folky rock, soul, r&b, and country. His creativity may have come from a background rich in musical styles. Morrison was born in Belfast, Ireland, in 1945. His father introduced him to jazz, blues, and folk music at a young age. His mother was a jazz singer. Morrison also listened to country musicians like Hank Williams. By fifteen, Morrison played guitar, harmonica, and saxophone, and he quit school to pursue music full time. He joined several different bands like the country group Deanie Sands and the Javelins before hooking up with an r&b band in 1961 called the Monarchs. Morrison played saxophone and harmonica for them as they toured Europe. When the band finished touring, Morrison settled in Germany to act in a movie. The movie project failed, and Morrison returned to his hometown of Belfast.
In 1963, Morrison formed a band he called Them with some members from the Monarchs and some of his school buddies. Them was a turning point in Morrison’s music career. He was the lead singer and songwriter for the r&b quintet as they became a locally renowned band. Their local fame led them to a recording contract with Decca Records. They recorded their first single in 1964 called “Don’t Start Crying Now.” In 1965, Them had a hit in Britain called “Baby Please Don’t Go.” The band settled in London to work with producer Bert Berns. In London, they recorded “Here Comes the Night,” which broke the British and American charts. Another single, “Gloria,” written by Morrison was not a major hit, but several rock artists like Shadows of Night, Patti Smith, and U2 released their own versions of the classic. Two albums were released by Them, Themand Them Again. In 1966, the band toured for several months in the United States but when Morrison became upset at the record company’s marketing ploy to label the group as rough young rebels, he stopped performing and returned to Belfast. Them was released as The Angry Young Them in the United States. Morrison quit the band. This was the first sign of his unwillingness to comply with the record companies.
By 1967, Berns had formed his own record company in New York called Bang Records. When Berns heard that Morrison had quit Them, he begged Morrison to come to New York to record some singles. Morrison did, and “Brown Eyed Girl,” released in 1967, marked the beginning of his solo career. “Brown Eyed Girl” was a major hit in the United States, so Morrison decided to tour again. While Morrison was on tour, Berns collected all of the new recorded singles and released them as Morrison’s first solo album, Blowin’ Your Mind. Berns didn’t inform Morrison, who became irate when he learned that he had no part in the release. Berns died suddenly of a heart attack in December of 1967 and Morrison left Bang records.
Morrison eventually signed with Warner Brothers in 1968 while living in Cambridge, Massachussetts and touring the East Coast with a jazz trio. Morrison’ s first solo
For the Record…
Born George Ivan Morrison, August 31, 1945 in Belfast, Northern Ireland; son of George and Violet Morrison (a jazz singer); married Janet Planet (divorced, 1973); daughter Shana.
Left school at fifteen to tour with several bands, including the Monarchs, 1961-63; formed the band Them, 1963; recorded hit singles and two albums, Them and Them Again, 1964-65; went solo, 1966; recorded “Brown Eyed Girl” with producer Bert Berns and Bang Records, 1967; signed with Warner Brothers, 1968; released critically acclaimed Astral Weeks, 1968; Moondance sold one million copies; 1970; illustrious solo career marked by a new release every year for nearly thirty years, several recordings with fellow musicians like the Chieftains, and temperamental live performances, 1967-present.
Awards: induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1993.
Addresses: Record company; —Polygram Records, 810 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019.
album with Warner Brothers, Astral Weeks, was released in October of 1968. Astral Weeks took only two days to record but had a lasting impact. The album did not initially generate many sales, but it is known today as one of the most dynamic records of the sixties. David Browne of Entertainment Weekly called it “a veritable folkjazz mass full of incanatory power.” Jay Cocks of Time said that Astral Weeks set a pattern for Morrison’s music: “wild record, wild-eyed reviews, loyal but limited audience.” The All-Music Guide’s William Ruhlmann wrote, “[Astral Weeks] failed to chart but seems to have made every critic’s all-time Top Ten list ever since.” Many critics today believe that Astral Weeks was Morrison’s most powerful album.
Morrison’s first commercially successful album came in 1970 with the release of Moondance. The album sold over a million copies that year before eventually going platinum. Moondance was written and produced by Morrison, who by now had proven himself a true musical artist with an inclement temperament to match. One of the singles, “Into The Mystic,” yielded the label that Morrison would carry with him throughout the seventies, that of a mystic. Morrison is known as an introvert who has no interest in achieving empathy with an audience. Cocks wrote, “Morrison, whether singing on the bright side of the road or deep from the heart of his dark and beautiful vision, does not hold out a helping hand to an audience. Reaching down into himself seems more important to him than reaching out.”
Morrison’s work in the seventies solidified his legendary status in the music world. His Band And The Street Choir, released in 1970, produced two top ten hits, “Domino” and “Blue Money.” In 1971, Morrison moved to California with his wife, Janet Planet. That same year Morrison released Tupelo Honey, which eventually went gold and had the hit “Wild Night.” Tupelo Honey reflected Morrison’s happiness with marriage, containing many love songs to his wife. In 1972, St. Dominic’s Preview was released to rave reviews and contained two very mystical songs. What makes Morrison’s songs mystical are the lyrical journeys they take through spiritual discovery, a common theme in all of his music. Two more critically acclaimed albums were released in the early seventies, Hard Nose the Highway and a performance album It’s Too Late To Stop Now. Hard Nose the Highway featured the Oakland Symphony Orchestra and had a hit with “Autumn Song.” It’s Too Late To Stop Now was a Morrison performance backed by an orchestra he formed called the Caledonian Soul Orchestra.
Morrison’s personal life took a turn in 1973 when he divorced his wife and went back to his hometown of Belfast. He spent months in Ireland reflecting on his life and expressing it by writing new material. The result was the very personal Veedon Fleece in 1974, which some critics proclaimed was his best work since Astral Weeks. David Browne of Entertainment Weekly rated it an A and remarked that Veedon Fleece was “achingly moody, pitch-dark-night-of-the-soul ruminations on success and love.” Morrison did not record another album until 1977. Some said he had writer’s block, but he was in the studio often during those three years without an album. He returned in 1977 with A Period of Transition, co-produced by Dr. John, who also played piano on the album. Two more albums were released in the late seventies, Wavelength and Into the Music. The albums of the seventies were creative blends of Celtic music, r&b, and soul. Morrison was influenced not just by musicians like Ray Charles, but also by poets like William Blake. His live performances were inconsistent, sometimes temperamental, but he made his mark in the seventies, earning the respect of critics and colleagues alike.
The eighties and nineties went much the same way for Morrison. He released an album just about every year that critics positively reviewed, yet almost always with lukewarm sales. Each album is composed with personal and spiritual themes like the 1983 album, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, which mentioned Morrison’s respect for L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology. However, with the release No Guru, No Method, No Teacher in 1986, Morrison seemed reluctant to accept his media label of spiritual mystic. Morrison finally had a breakout sales success with the release of The Best of Van Morrison, which sold two million copies in 1990. Hymns to The Silence went gold in 1992, much to the critics pleasure. Morrison teamed with the popular Irish band the Chieftains on Hymns to The Silence and on Irish Heartbeat in 1988.
Perhaps Morrison’s biggest success is the respect bestowed upon him by leaders of the music industry. His admirers range from Bob Dylan to John Lee Hooker to Bono. Many of these industry giants have not only appeared as guests on Morrison’s work but have remade many of his tunes, taking them to great heights in sales. Two examples are John Mellencamp’s version of “Wild Night,” which hit number three in 1994, and “Have I Told You Lately,” recorded by Rod Stewart in 1993, earning Morrison thousands of dollars in royalties. Morrison has produced several albums for friends over the years as well. In 1993, Morrison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Morrison’s reputation as a cantankerous personality continues today, but his live performances in the nineties have earned him new respect onstage. One of those performances was documented on the 1994 release A Night in San Francisco, which critic Marc Judge of America called, “the spirit of rejuvenation and rebirth.” Morrison even seemed friendlier to the press in the nineties, but denied that he is more open to the public. He told Clive Davis of Down Beat, “More extroverted? I don’t think so. I thought I was more that way in the early seventies.” Morrison does seem more settled these days as he continues to release critically acclaimed albums like The Philosopher’s Stone in 1998. His hair may have grayed, but Dan Ouellette of Down Beat noted the timelessness of Morrison’s music. He said, “What’s remarkable about The Philosopher’s Stone is how well these songs, some recorded over a quarter of a century ago, have aged.”
“Mystic Eyes,” Polygram, 1965.
“Brown Eyed Girl,” Bang, Warner Brothers, 1967.
“Domino,” Warner Brothers, 1970.
“Tupelo Honey,” Warner Brothers, 1972.
“Jackie Wilson Said,” Warner Brothers, 1972.
“Moon Dance,” Warner Brothers, 1977.
“Wavelength,” Warner Brothers, 1978.
Them, Parrot, 1965.
Them Again, Parrot, 1965.
Blowin’ Your Mind, Bang, 1967.
The Best of Van Morrison, Bang, 1968.
Astral Weeks, Warner Bros., 1968.
Moondance (includes “Into the Mystic”), Warner Bros., 1970.
His Band and the Street Choir, Warner Bros., 1970.
Tupelo Honey, Warner Bros., 1971.
St. Dominic’s Preview, Warner Bros., 1972.
Hard Nose the Highway, Warner Bros., 1973.
It’s Too Late to Stop Now, Warner Bros., 1974.
TA Period of Transition, Warner Bros., 1977.
Wavelength, Warner Bros., 1978.
Into the Music, Warner Bros., 1979.
Common One, Warner Bros., 1980.
Beautiful Vision, Warner Bros., 1982.
Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, Warner Bros., 1983.
A Sense of Wonder, Mercury, 1985.
Live at The Grand Opera House, Belfast, Polydor, 1985.
No Guru, No Method, No Teacher, Mercury, 1986.
Poetic Champions Compose, Mercury, 1987.
Irish Heartbeat (with the Chieftains), Mercury, 1988.
Avalon Sunset, Polydor, 1989.
Enlightenment, Mercury, 1990.
The Best of Van Morrison, Mercury, 1990.
Hymns to The Silence, Polydor, 1991.
The Bang Masters, Epic, 1991.
Too Long in Exile, Polydor, 1993.
The Best of Van Morrison Volume 2, Polygram, 1993.
A Night in San Francisco, Polydor, 1994.
Payin’ Dues, Charly, 1994.
Days Like This, Polydor, 1995.
Songs of Mose Allison: Tell Me Something, Polygram, 1996.
How Long Has This Been Going On?, Verve, 1996.
The Healing Game, Polygram, 1997.
The Philosopher’s Stone, Polydor, 1998.
Crampton, Luke and Dafydd Rees, editors, Encyclopedia of Rock Stars, DK Publishing Inc., 1996.
Herzhaft, Gérard, Encyclopedia of the Blues, University of Arkansas Press, 1997.
Romanowski, Patricia, editor, The New Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Rolling Stone Press, 1995.
America, October 29, 1994.
Down Beat, May 1996; August 1998.
Entertainment Weekly, March 7, 1997.
Time, October 28, 1991.
All-Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com1998.
Eyeneer Music Archives, 1997.
Palo Alto Weekly, (September 26, 1997).
Born: George Ivan Morrison; Belfast, Northern Ireland, 31 August 1945
Best-selling album since 1990: The Best of Van Morrison (1990)
Singer/songwriter Van Morrison has compiled a tremendous volume of work since first recording in the 1960s and he remains one of contemporary music's most intangible stars. Morrison's soulful, sometimes spiritual music is influenced by a wide array of styles, including those of his Irish roots, and goes beyond clear-cut description. Additionally, his reticent personality and disdain for stardom have cast him publicly as an enigma. Linked by the masses to his pop hit, "Brown-Eyed Girl" and a few other radio staples, Morrison's entire song canon contains some of the preeminent poetry of post-1960s music.
Growing up, Morrison was exposed to a variety of musical styles by his mother who was an opera and, later, jazz singer, and his father, who was a fervent collector of seminal blues and folk recordings. By age fifteen, Morrison was adept on the guitar, saxophone, and harmonica and began playing in Belfast professionally with a variety of rhythm and blues groups. He eventually caught on as a saxophonist with a traveling show band, the Monarchs, who played throughout the United Kingdom. He left the Monarchs in 1964 to play his own music with a group of musicians in Belfast who shared similar artistic passions. They named the band Them. They released two albums, Them (1965) and Them Again (1966), which introduced the United States to Morrison specifically by the oft-covered hit, "Gloria."
After Them broke up, Morrison returned to Belfast where his songs caught the attention of producer Bert Berns. Berns convinced Morrison to come to New York and record some of them as singles. On the strength of "Brown-Eyed Girl," which had become a hit, Berns, without Morrison's approval, compiled the songs on an album titled Blowin' Your Mind (1967). Morrison's fury over this situation fueled his distrust of the record industry, a sentiment he has never released. Morrison recovered by recording Astral Weeks (1968). Using a jazz quartet for backing, Astral Weeks took just two days to record, but the result was a stunning album hailed by critics then and now as one of the most important recordings of contemporary music. Astral Weeks featured Morrison's literate Belfast-placed poetry combined with an emotional mélange of folk, blues, and jazz tinged with Celtic import. The album established Morrison as a creative genius, an expressive singer, and a star—albeit a reluctant one—on the rise.
Morrison recorded ambitiously, releasing sixteen albums throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Most of the hits came in the early 1970s, a time when his music continued to be a mix of jazzy rhythm and blues with Irish overtones. They include "Moondance," "Domino," "Wild Night," and the love ballad "Tupelo Honey." In the 1980s, Morrison's music took a spiritual turn and his songs often professed a devotion to a higher power. His most noteworthy albums of that period were Irish Heartbeat (1988), which includes backing by Ireland's exceptional folk band, the Chieftains, and Avalon Sunset (1989), which contains "Have I Told You Lately"—made popular once again when pop singer Rod Stewart recorded it for a smash hit.
The Reticent Star
These two albums marked a comeback of sorts for Morrison and he built even more momentum for the 1990s with the successful The Best of Van Morrison (1990). He also continued his propensity for releasing nearly an album per year with Enlightenment (1990), Hymns to the Silence (1991), and Too Long in Exile (1993).
Another puzzle throughout Morrison's career is his concert work, where forming a rapport with the audience has never been a top priority. While most performers direct their energy out to the audience, Morrison seems to bring his inward, showing concern only for the music itself. The effect of this prudence can make him appear clumsy, shy, or even hostile at different times and critics have been harsh on Morrison for this character trait. However, his muscular tenor colors and blends into songs like a musical instrument and few singers inject their music with the inner passion that Morrison brings to the stage. He extends that passion into his lyrics that are often inspired by the works of poets such as William Blake, William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot, and many others. He has released three live albums and A Night in San Francisco (1994) is the one that critics often cite as his best live effort.
Morrison paired with Linda Gail Lewis, the sister of early rock legend Jerry Lee Lewis, to record a collection of country and blues standards with You Win Again (2000). Jerry Lee Lewis was a major influence for Morrison and working with his sister allowed that stimulus to bear fruit. Lewis plays piano and sings on this recording, which features John Lee Hooker's signature song, "Boogie Chillen," and three by Hank Williams—"Jambalaya," "Why Don't You Love Me," and the title track. All of Morrison's albums normally carry a theme and this one communicates Morrison's root influences.
Morrison returned to his own compositions in Down the Road (2002). The album is a full-circle return to the rhythm and blues swing of his earliest music and features thirteen Morrison originals in addition to his version of the much-rendered classic, "Georgia on My Mind." He belts some powerful blues on "Talk Is Cheap."
Van Morrison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. He has written and recorded more than 500 songs in his career. A dedicated gypsy poet, Morrison takes his music to the people, which has always been more comfortable for him than leading with any aspect of his persona.
Astral Weeks (Warner Bros., 1968); Moondance (Warner Bros., 1970); Tupelo Honey (Warner Bros., 1971); Saint Dominic's Preview (Warner Bros., 1972); Hard Nose the Highway (Warner Bros., 1973); Veedon Fleece (Warner Bros., 1974); A Period of Transition (Warner Bros., 1977); Wavelength (Warner Bros., 1978); Common One (Warner Bros., 1980); Beautiful Vision (Warner Bros., 1982); Celtic Swing (Phonogram, 1985); No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (Mercury, 1986); Avalon Sunset (Polydor, 1989); Hymns to the Silence (Polydor, 1991); Too Long in Exile (Polydor, 1993); A Night in San Francisco (Polydor, 1994); Days Like This (Polydor, 1995); How Long Has This Been Going On? (Verve, 1996); The Healing Game (Polydor, 1997); The Philosopher's Stone (Polydor, 1998); Back on Top (Virgin, 1999); Down the Road (Polydor, 2002). With the Chieftains: Irish Heartbeat (Mercury, 1988). With Linda Gail Lewis: You Win Again (Virgin, 2000). With Them: Them (Parrot, 1965); Them Again (Parrot, 1966).
K. Altman, No More Mr. Nice Guy! (London, 1999); B. Hinton, Celtic Crossroads: The Art of Van Morrison (London, 2000).