Tuesday 16 August 2011

On Van Morrison

I love Van Morrison, me. I love the earthiness of his music, stripped of the electric instruments which had become de rigueur to all popular music by the mid-1960s. I love the way it is nevertheless never lacking in any fullness or depth. I love the way that he will write a song about flighty metaphysical concepts and then floor you with a disarmingly basic lyric about the simple beauty of nature and life. The fact that he is perhaps rock 'n' roll's most notable curmudgeon is, for a big grumpypants such as myself, just the cherry on the cake.

I first would have heard Van Morrison on Southern Sound radio, growing up in Brighton. Southern Sound was a classic hits station, back in the days when classic hits meant Wilson Pickett, rather than Gareth Gates. I think they had two Van Morrison songs on their playlist: Brown-Eyed Girl and Bright Side of the Road. Naturally, I retain a certain sentimental fondness for those two records, but it wasn't until I was 18 that I discovered that there was a lot more to Van Morrison than that. Yes! He'd recorded more than two songs! Here are five of my favourites (no particular order, because I only like lists the normal amount).

1. Gloria
Now a bona fide rock music standard, Van Morrison wrote and recorded Gloria aged 19 with his band Them. It wasn't even released as the A side of their single, instead it came out on the reverse. For all its nuts and bolts simplicity, it has a rawness and excitement about it that few records before or since have been able to match.

2. Sweet Thing
Sweet Thing is the third track on Van Morrison's most feted album, Astral Weeks. It is as good an example of all the things which I most admire about his songwriting listed at the head of this post combined into a single four minutes. I think it's one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded.

3. Moondance
Pulsing, rhythmic, soulful and romantic.

4. Everyone
Another song from the Moondance album, I first really fell for Everyone after it was used in Wes Anderson's Marmite masterpiece film The Royal Tenenbaums. It's another example of how Van Morrison can use simplicity to his advantage.

5. Comfort You
Comfort You is a most remarkable love song. I have written on here before about the vagueness of the English word 'love'. Comfort You's greatest trick is that it covers absolutely all bases. It can be a love song for partners, platonic friends or family members. Very few classic love songs are able to boast such scope.

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