I have heard the Van Morrison song Moondance way too many times. Morrison recorded it in 1970., I was born in 1980. For some reason, when I would be at high school parties in the late 90s, it was a regular for teenagers to drunkenly sing along to. It’s a perfectly fine song, I just heard it way too many times before I ever got a chance to form an opinion of it.
Not only did it make me feel like that song was overplayed, it made me feel like Van Morrison was over played, and I’ve avoided him ever since. But I recently realised that it’s a little unfair to write off an acclaimed artist’s career based one sing. Especially when I have to admit that that one song is actually pretty good. So I’m making up for that by listening to Astral Weeks.
I don’t know what I expected from Van Morrison, but it definitely wasn’t rock vocals, over folkie, hippy guitars, with a hint of panpipes. So colour me surprised by the title track. Colour me even more surprised by the fact that I like what that eclectic mix of ingredients creates. It works again on Beside You. It’s almost like Morrison can’t hear the gentle acoustic guitar being plucked in the background, while he belts out his vocals. It’s a weird juxtaposition. Even weirder because it works.
Sweet Thing makes me notice something else about the disconnect between Morrison’s voice and the music behind it. The arrangements are very loose and free flowing. Almost like Morrison already has lyrics and melody ready to go, but his band is hearing it for the time and improvising their part to fit. The progressions don’t sound like a simple repeated of verses and choruses. And it keeps Astral Weeks on a bit of an edge that I really appreciate.
Based on the meticulous pop precision of Moondance, the jazzy nature and feel of Astral Weeks was a real surprise. And a good one at that. The panpipes and flutes, the fiddle and double bass, there so much unexpected weirdness on this record, but the results are never that weird. It’s the kind of thing that proves original and different doesn’t have to be inaccessible or off putting