Astral Weeks by Van Morrison is the greatest album ever made. By anyone. Ever.
A bold statement to make, given the vast amount of albums that Iwould consider “classic” but I’m willing to stand by it. I’ve loved this album for many years, can still listen to it without feeling it’s overfamiliar, and can still marvel at the sheer beauty of the music, the lyrics AND the singing.
It’s a shape changer.
For the first few, I dunno, hundred?, thousand?, listens you simply don’t know what’s coming next, where the music’s going to go, what flights of lyrical, poetic fancy Van’s going to take you on. That’s because the songs simply do not seem to have the normal structures which you would expect: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, chorus. Nah, none of that on here. This one’s more like, get some top musicians, sit down, start playing, see where the music takes you…………that’s what keeps it interesting and creates the longevity.
Now, that’s just the impression I get. If I was to explore the roots of this album i may well find that it was all planned out beforehand, but I don’t want to ruin the magic, I prefer to think it was all one big glorious, happy, accident.
A magnificent statement such as this should really be the great man’s debut album but things don’t always work out like that, sadly. History shows that his first album after leaving his old group Them was a bit of a mess. He recorded some sessions for Bang Records (the label owned by Bert Berns) but wasn’t too happy with the results. Which didn’t seem to make much difference because , before he knew it, the album ,”Blowin Your Mind,” was out, pressed quickly to capitalize on the success of “Brown-Eyed Girl,” a big hit in 1967. Record companies eh? It was the start of much bitterness and mistrust towards the business side of the industry. Van himself claims he didn’t even know the album was out, far less approve of it, until a friend phoned and told him he’d just bought a copy!
When Berns died in December 1967, Morrison was signed up by Warner Brothers and got down to making what he considered to be his first real album, an album which was to exceed all expectations, going on to become a truly seminal release, loved by many, and one of the most influential there’s ever been.
The other musicians on the album were session men who had never worked with Van before but they were all top-class intuitive Jazz players with great chops behind them. Legend has it that Van just ran through the songs once with them, went into a booth to record his guitar and vocals, and told them just play along with him: “They were jazz musicians and that was the approach, they were able to follow me. I’d tell them: just follow where I’m going..follow my vocal, follow the best way you can and don’t get in the way”
And he was off, all over the place. Who knows (or cares) how much of the songs were pre-planned and how much was improvised, it doesn’t matter now surely. Van poured everything into it, hopes, dreams, fears, love, loss, longing………..it comes across as one great big poetic stream of consciousness, bursting from the very heart and soul of the man. There’s lifetimes in here. Memories, desires, observations and aspirations, it’s utterly unbelievable stuff, the more so when you consider that he was a mere 22 years old when this was recorded. What an achievement, a definitive life-time work, unequalled by anyone to this day.
Am I getting carried away ? Sorry. I can’t help myself. It’s beyond music really……the master tapes really should be behind glass in some fancy museum somewhere ! And it’s not just me, why should you take my word for it after all ? This album is loved, adored even, by the likes of Martin Scorsese, Greil Marcus, Elvis Costello, Lester Bangs, Steve Van Zandt………..…..but why take their word for it either. Don’t. Find out for yourself.
It’s maybe not the easiest album to get into at first, needs some time but it truly is a masterpiece and everyone who has any interest in music whatsoever really owes it to themselves to hear it. Play it, a few times, let it sink in, mull it over and say “I don’t really get it”, play it some more, get subtly draw in, learn to love it.
— Stephen Dalrymple, Glasgow, Scotland
All songs written by Van Morrison
- “Astral Weeks” – 7:06
- “Beside You” – 5:16
- “Sweet Thing” – 4:25
- “Cyprus Avenue” – 7:00
- “The Way Young Lovers Do” – 3:18
- “Madame George” – 9:45
- “Ballerina” – 7:03
- “Slim Slow Slider” – 3:17
- Van Morrison – vocals, rhythm guitar
- Jay Berliner – guitar
- Richard Davis – double bass
- Larry Fallon – harpsichord on “Cyprus Avenue”
- Connie Kay – drums
- Barry Kornfeld – guitar on “The Way Young Lovers Do”
- John Payne – flute, soprano saxophone on “Slim Slow Slider”
- Warren Smith, Jr. – percussion, vibraphone
I was so much older then , i'm younger than that now.........