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 About Van Morrison

One of the very most talented figures in all of rock 'n' roll, Van Morrison (b. George Ivan Morrison, Aug. 31, 1945, Belfast, Ireland) is an extraordinary performer whose artistic consistency during his 30-plus-year career is virtually unmatched by any other pop artist. He is a spectacularly emotive vocalist whose influence has been felt since his early days as leader of the Irish rock group Them, and whose records--especially his 1968 masterpiece Astral Weeks--are commonly regarded by critics as among the finest of the rock era. From the '60s through the '90s, many of the most revered artists in pop--including Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, and Patti Smith--have drawn inspiration from Morrison's rich recorded legacy.

Like other rockers of his generation, Morrison cut his teeth performing rock and R&B in clubs near American army bases in Germany during the early '60s. Following a stint playing saxophone with the Monarchs, Morrison returned to Belfast and formed Them in 1964. While together for only two years, the band scored several hits, including "Here Comes The Night," a top 25 single given to the band by writer/producer Bert Berns, and the Morrison-penned "Mystic Eyes," which cracked the Top 40 in December 1966. Oddly, though Morrison's "Gloria" is one of the best known songs in all of rock 'n' roll, Them's original version of the track spent only one week at the bottom of Billboard Top Rock'N'Roll Hits 1965's Hot 100 in May 1965; instead, Chicago rockers the Shadows Of Knight had a top 10 hit with it a year later.

Morrison's recognition as a solo artist came after Them had disbanded in 1966 and producer Berns sent the singer a one-way plane ticket to New York to do some recording. Out of those sessions came Morrison's first solo hit--1967's top 10 single "Brown Eyed Girl"--and an accompanying album of alleged "demos" on Berns's Bang Records label called Blowin' Your Mind. A disgruntled Morrison still maintains that the record should not have been released; regardless, it is a superb set that features some of his most fascinating work--including the tracks "T.B. Sheets," written about a friend with tuberculosis, the bluesy "He Ain't Give You None," and initial versions of two songs that would later pop up on Astral Weeks, "Madame George" and "Cypress Avenue."

Already suspicious of the workings of the music business due to his experience with Them, Morrison would see those "demos" be issued twice more by Bang Records (first in 1970 as The Best Of Van Morrison, then in 1974 as T.B. Sheets) and again by Sony Music as Bang Masters in 1991. Though producer Berns is long since dead, Morrison still holds a grudge, as his 1993 track "Big Time Operators" attested: "Well they told me to come on over/I made my way to New York/And they tried to have me deported/Stop me from getting work/Blacklisted me all over/They were vicious and they were mean/They were big time operators/Baby, on the music business scene."

Morrison signed to Warner Brothers and in 1968 released Astral Weeks, an album which failed to chart at the time of its release but is now ranked alongside the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde, and the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as one of the finest rock 'n' roll albums of all time. An introspective, romantic merging of folk, jazz and rock, the album contains autobiographical lyrics by Morrison that are at once private and universally applicable; open to interpretation by any listener, Astral Weeks works both as pleasant music and on the deepest personal level. By 1970, Morrison shifted more into the jazz and R&B mode with Moondance, his most popular work, which entered the top 30 and went platinum. Featuring its title-track single, now a true standard, as well as the singer's well-known "Caravan" and "Into The Mystic," the album essentially laid the musical groundwork for most of the work Morrison would produce through the '70s; particularly in live performance, his show-stopping numbers are most often drawn from this album.

Morrison's next few efforts--including His Band And Street Choir (1970), Tupelo Honey (1971), St. Dominic's Preview (1972), and Hard Nose The Highway (1973)--all worked the same musical territory and easily climbed into the top 40, aided by such hits as "Domino," "Blue Money" and "Wild Night." In 1974, Morrison recapped that portion of his career admirably with the much-acclaimed double-live set It's Too Late To Stop Now; he then went through a series of directional shifts that resulted in some fascinating music. After visiting Belfast for the first time in years, he released 1974's Veedon Fleece, his finest work since Astral Weeks, an album with which it shared many musical similarities--though such songs as "Linden Arden Stole The Highlights" and "You Don't Pull No Punches, But You Don't Push The River" did not lend themselves as easily to listeners' own personal interpretations as did the songs on Morrison's earlier record.

After several false starts and more than one aborted album attempt, Morrison returned three years later with the accurately-titled A Period Of Transition, which leaned heavily on the keyboards and arrangements of Dr. John. A year later, his Wavelength met a stronger reception from both radio and retail; older fans were tickled by its inclusion of keyboardist Peter Bardens, a former bandmate of Morrison's in Them. While both albums were satisfactory, neither felt as substantial as Morrison's early '70s work, and some critics felt Morrison was slipping somewhat.

Beginning with 1979's impressive Into The Music, however, the singer entered a phase of his career from which he has yet to depart. Incorporating Irish and Celtic music forms and featuring his best band ever--including trumpeter Mark Isham, bassist David Hayes, and drummer Peter Van Hooke--the album seemed to bring together the disparate elements of Morrison's work on Astral Weeks and Moondance. Upbeat and joyous, yet at the same time serene and wistful, it--and the many albums that followed in the same mode--signaled a new artistic maturity for Morrison.

The singer took to regularly invoking the names of poets and mystics on such tracks as Common One's "Rave On, John Donne," began featuring gorgeous instrumental pieces like Beautiful Vision's "Scandinavia," and became associated with various religious philosophies such as Christianity, Scientology, and Theosophy. After a non-stop string of gorgeously meditative albums, the singer further tipped his hand regarding his philosophical orientation with "In The Garden," from his best album of the decade, 1986's No Guru, No Method, No Teacher: "No Guru, no method, no teacher/Just you and I and nature/And the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost/In the garden wet with rain."

Morrison took to performing with other musicians in the late '80s, such as Ireland's Chieftains, with whom he recorded 1988's Irish Heartbeat, and U.K. pop figures such as Cliff Richard (they duetted on Avalon Sunset's "Whenever God Shines His Light") and Georgie Fame. Organist Fame, who scored American '60s hits of his own with "Yeh, Yeh" and "The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde," has been a regular contributor to Morrison's albums and concerts since 1989's Avalon Sunset.

As the '90s unfolded, a new groundswell of appreciation for Van Morrison's work became apparent. The Best Of Van Morrison, a collection of the singer's work since his Them days, became only his second platinum album since 1970's Moondance; it has stayed on the album charts largely since its initial release. Additionally, 1991's 2-CD Hymns To The Silence went gold; aside from the preceding year's compilation, the singer hadn't had a gold record since 1971's Tupelo Honey.

Polydor released The Best Of Van Morrison, Vol 2 in 1993, then quickly followed it up the singer's fascinating Too Long In Exile. Featuring a guest appearance by longtime Morrison friend and bluesman John Lee Hooker (who duets on an unexpected remake of "Gloria") and covers of songs by Doc Pomus, Sonny Boy Williamson and Brook Benton--all sitting side by side with Morrison's adaptation of a text by W.B. Yeats, no less--the album was a perfect blend of Blowin' Your Mind and Veedon Fleece.

Morrison has become unbelievably prolific since then, releasing five albums since 1994's live set A Night In San Francisco. All of them are varied; some are jazzy, some are straight jazz--and all of them, bottom line, are Van Morrison. There is no one else in pop music who hears or plays music like Van Morrison, and each new album is further proof that there will never be.
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