Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Great "White R and B" Songs of Van Morrison: 42 Sizzlers from 1964-2003

By Dave Armstrong (10-26-11)

Van Morrison (b. 1945) is my favorite singer; has been since 1978, when I seriously "discovered" him: learning about more than the usual Brown-Eyed Girl and Domino the few songs of his that were ever big hits. My wife Judy and I saw him in concert in November 2006. He combines  a "jazzy" and R and B sensibility, deep understanding of the blues. His remarkably fluid, soulful, unique voice has been compared to a saxophone. At times he even does an extraordinarily soulful falsetto, a la Curtis Mayfield or Marvin Gaye (check out the samples of Gypsy Queen and Who Was that Masked Man).

Morrison also frequently includes spiritual, questing, and "yearning" themes in his music: the deep longing written about by C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, with poetic Irish romanticism and love of nature themes; though the doctrinal content is not nearly as clear (probably some vague variation of Christianity).

It's easy to understand why, in my case, he is my favorite. I love all that, and it's all very much in line with my own musical affinities as well: being a white guy from Detroit, who grew up in the 60s: with Motown and gospel and blues and R and B (rhythm and blues) and soul (Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Four Tops [who, along with Diana Ross, went to my high school: Cass Technical], Smokey Robinson) and "blue-eyed soul" (Bob Seger, Mitch Ryder) influences that are here.

Van Morrison grew up in a working class section of Belfast, in Northern Ireland; I was raised in inner-city, working class southwest Detroit, in Springwells Village (I still live just three miles from there in much nicer, but just lower middle class suburbs, in Melvindale). My favorite current band is U2 (from Dublin); I also love The Chieftains and Enya (both from Ireland). My own ethnicity is almost all British Isles: about one-quarter each Scottish and Irish. So the Celtic thing resonates with me. It's in the blood.

In many ways, traditional Irish music has a depth of feeling that is akin to the blues musical and emotional tradition: deep suffering lies behind both, and that always makes for great music. Irishmen know what it means to be oppressed for centuries and to have little freedom. The working class kids in England in the 60s also experienced the severe class oppression of English society, and heavily related to American black music, and this was the origin of much of the explosion of great rock music coming out of England.

Van Morrison and his first band Them were part of the (technically) "anti-rock" movement of rhythm and blues, along with the Rolling Stones and The Animals and blues fanatics like John Mayall. He has always shunned commercialism, which is a good thing in his case. He's true to his muse and his vision; cares not a whit about fame and adulation, and even refrained from attending his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (something virtually no one has done unless they were dead). I love all that, too, because I've always been a nonconformist myself.

I've compiled (I have all his albums) two CDs of 42 of his overtly R and B-style songs. They're catchy, memorable, funky, soulful, have a good beat, bluesy, shorter songs (almost all of these are less than four minutes long; many around three minutes). Van the Man can do it all!

CD One: 1964-1978 (24 Songs: 77:49 in length)

Gloria (1964; with Them; from Still on Top - The Greatest Hits, 2007) [sample]

All For Myself (1964; with Them; from The Story of Them Featuring Van Morrison, 2009) [sample]

I Like It Like That (1965; with Them; from The Story of Them Featuring Van Morrison, 2009) [sample]

Goodbye Baby (1967; from Bang Masters, 1991) [sample]

Ro Ro Rosey (1967; from Bang Masters, 1991) [sample]

Come Running (1969; from Moondance; remastered 2007) [sample]

Glad Tidings (1969; from Moondance; remastered 2007) [sample]

Gypsy Queen (1970; from His Band and the Street Choir; remastered, 2003) [sample]

Blue Money (1970; from His Band and the Street Choir; remastered, 2003) [sample]

Sweet Jannie (1970; from His Band and the Street Choir; remastered, 2003) [sample]

Wild Night (1971; from Tupelo Honey; remastered, 2008) [sample]

Redwood Tree (1972; from Saint Dominic's Preview; remastered, 1997) [sample]

Here Comes the Night (1974; live; from It's Too Late to Stop Now; remastered 2008) [sample]

Ain't Nothin' You Can Do (1974; live; from It's Too Late to Stop Now; remastered 2008) [sample]

Help Me (1974; live; from It's Too Late to Stop Now; remastered 2008) [sample]

Who Was That Masked Man (1974; from Veedon Fleece; remastered 2008) [sample]

Joyous Sound (1977; from A Period of Transition; remastered 1997 [import] ) [sample]

Natalia (1978; from Wavelength; remastered 2008) [sample]

CD Two: 1978-2003 (18 Songs: 77:52 in length) 

Kingdom Hall (1978; from Wavelength; remastered 2008) [sample]

Wavelength (1978; from Wavelength; remastered 2008) [sample]

Bright Side of the Road (1979; from Into the Music; remastered 2008) [sample]

If You Only Knew (1984; from A Sense of Wonder; remastered 2008) [sample]

Did Ye Get Healed? (1987; from Poetic Champions Compose; remastered 1998) [sample]

I'd Love to Write Another Song (1989; from Avalon Sunset; remastered 2008) [sample]

Real Real Gone (1990; from Enlightenment; remastered 2008) [sample]

Start All Over Again (1990; from Enlightenment; remastered 2008) [sample]

Big-Time Operators (1993; from Too Long in Exile) [sample]

Wasted Years (1993; with John Lee Hooker; from Too Long in Exile) [sample]

Don't Worry About a Thing (1995; from How Long Has This Been Going On) [sample]
Burning Ground (1997; from The Healing Game; remastered 2008) [sample]

Whinin' Boy Moan (2003; from What's Wrong With This Picture?) [sample]

Stop Drinking (2003; from What's Wrong With This Picture?) [sample]



JJ said...

Great stuff. Real spiritual yearning in his material, i really like some of his meditative stuff like Hymns to the Silence and the live version of Rave on John Donne from Live at the Belfast Opera house (i think)

Dave Armstrong said...

Excellent. He has been remarkably consistent through the years, even more than Dylan and Neil Young (my next two faves), who both had some times where they made lousy albums. The only album of his that I don't like much at all is A Period of Transition, and even that has one great song (Joyous Sound).