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As many of you probably are already aware, I am a devout fan of Van Morrison and the wealth of superb and very diverse music he has given to the world over the last almost fifty years.
Some while ago, a friend kindly presented me with The Best Of Van Morrison (Vol. 1) CD, not realising that apart from his most recent release which was about 18 months ago, I have all Van's albums in my music collection.
Van Morrison is somebody whose music you either love or loathe, yet in my own opinion, many people brush him aside because they rarely, if ever, get to hear The Man for real, at his best and most complex, simply because his career has mostly travelled the path of albums and live performances rather than running up a plethora of chart hit singles.
I do burn a little whenever I hear anybody comment on how much they love Rod Stewart's Have I Told You Lately (no offence towards or aspersions upon Rod in the slightest), and when I as nicely as I can inform them that this actually is a Van Morrison song being covered by Rod, a few of these people surprise me by asking who Van Morrison is! Well, a bit of The Man can be sampled by listening to this album, which is a rather strange and haphazard collection of a tiny portion of his work.
For me and possibly other hardened Van The Man fans, this 'Best Of' album is probably most suited to those times when you just want a bit of musical noise in the background and aren't in the mood to concentrate or philosophise upon the almost unfathomable depths Van can explore through his work.
I will listen to this 'Best Of' collection from time to time, but always find it a tad frustrating that the tracks aren't arranged on the album in chronological order. For instance, the opening track is Bright Side Of The Road which is circa 1981-ish, yet Here Comes The Night which is from 1965 (when Van fronted the R&B band Them) appears more than halfway through the CD, with material from the 1970s and 1980s fitted in between. It must also be noted that Van Morrison didn't write Gloria, Here Comes The Night and Baby Please Don't Go....although they as individual tracks did enter the UK singles charts in 1964 and 1965, credited to the band Them.
I can fully understand why most of the material on this 'Best Of' collection concentrates on Van's lighter offerings as that definitely is the way to initially approach his music, but slap bang in the middle, appears the song Sweet Thing, taken from his 1968 debut solo album, Astral Weeks. Sweet Thing is high up in my all-time favourites of Van's music, but it seems almost sacrilegious to remove it from one of the most mind-blowing albums ever made by anybody, and put it onto a 'Best Of' collection. Sweet Thing in my opinion can only be fully appreciated as part of the Astral Weeks album, it being far too deep a song for this particular collection. OK, this album is called 'Best Of' and some may feel that is enough in itself to include the track as it is one of his very best songs, but to me it trivialises it.
Another difficulty I have when I try to listen to The Best Of Van Morrison (Vol.1) and take it seriously, is that I'm already so very familiar with the tracks, yet in different and for me better format in that these are the studio versions, but a lot of the material appears on Van's other, official albums, as parts of live concerts. Performed live, those tracks are meatier, more soulful, 'gutsier' and are my preferred way of listening to them.
I am a little sad to hear the particular version of Wonderful Remark which is on this 'Best Of' collection as I don't think it is the best. It is far too heavy on the brass and the tune is much too jerky,...almost flippant-sounding. There is another, far deeper and meaningful - albeit quieter - rendition of the song on Van's Philosopher's Stone double album (a YouTube link to this far more stunning version is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhUDmBXuS4s for anybody who's interested, but it will only mean something to you if you've heard the other version on this 'Best Of' CD which I am reviewing here).
It does sound as though I'm slating Van Morrison's music here, but far from it. Of course, everything on this 'Best Of' collection is superb, simply because (although I admit to being biased) it is Van! The complaints I have are largely directed towards the tracks not being in chronological order, and perhaps the whole thing not quite giving the real feel of this Irish musical genius. It is true that Van has oscillated wildly during his lengthy musical career from middle of the road, through to blues, soul, rock, R&B, Celtic and a plethora of other uncategorisable material, and I feel that this album only includes the 'prettier' stuff which is immediately easy on the ear, requiring little or no emotional involvement on the part of the listener.
Many of the songs included on this collection are now popular standards, such as Have I Told You Lately, Moondance, Bright Side Of The Road and Brown Eyed Girl....all extremely wonderful stuff, but there is so very very much more to Van Morrison who in my opinion is a gifted songwriter/poet, a brilliant instrumentalist and who has one of the most moving, soulful voices the rock/pop world has ever produced. It's just a shame that this 'Best Of' album might not inspire people to delve deeper into the music of The Man, even though they may love all of the tracks.
Having said everything I've spouted on above though, there is no doubt that simply as far as the music is concerned, The Best Of Van Morrison Vol.1 could possibly open various gateways for people to decide they'd like to hear more of The Man's work, and in that sense it can only be a good thing because if anybody were to dive blindly and head first into a Van album such as Veedon Fleece (which is very complex) without having an initial taster of what some of his music is like, they could be instantly put off. Van is somebody who needs easing into gently, and the collection of tracks - even if they are in a silly order - might just be enough to do the trick....or....not? It largely depends, I suppose, on how seriously anybody takes music at all, not just the music of Van Morrison.
I do so desperately want to give this the full whack of five stars, simply for the music alone, but have to lop one off due to the rather shoddy, muddled track order and the inclusion of Sweet Thing which I sincerely feel is best left alone and untouched, on the Astral Weeks album where it belongs.....I wonder what Van himself thinks of this 'Best Of' collection?
At the time of writing, The Best Of Van Morrison Vol. 1 CD can be purchased from Amazon as follows:-
New: from £15.72 to £22.99
Used: from £1.12 to £44.96
Collectible: Only one copy currently available @ £100.00 (used), and on reading through the seller's description of the product, what appears to make it 'collectible' is, in my opinion, peripheral
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also be published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
BRIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD
BABY PLEASE DON'T GO
HAVE I TOLD YOU LATELY
BROWN EYED GIRL
JACKIE WILSON SAID
FULL FORCE GALE
AND IT STONED ME
HERE COMES THE NIGHT
DID YE GET HEALED
WHENEVER GOD SHINES HIS LIGHT
QUEEN OF THE SLIPSTREAM
DWELLER ON THE THRESHOLD
Van Morrison must be coming up to 65, and still has a brilliant voice, with each of his tracks showing his signature remarkable musicianship and beautiful lyrics.
This is an artist who I have gained a love of from my parents, both strong music lovers with an acquired taste for a mix of artists, some better than others!
Whether religious or not his music will appeal, but some of his tracks have a strong hint of optimism and are heavily influenced by his Christian faith. The instruments used tend to complement the vocals well, making the vocals the centrepiece of the tracks.
Just had a look for gig tickets & the cheapest is £45 so doesn't look like we'll be seeing him this year!
Here's my track by track analysis of the Best of album, and in terms of pricing and availability, this won't be very expensive and is available from any HMV. Amazon pricing is £5.
--Track by track analysis--
1. Bright side of the road
This is SUCH an uplifting song, with its meaning transparent to anyone who listens to it, it's about looking on the bright side and taking each day as it comes.
The first time I heard it was driving through the Lake District at 17 with my first love and so it reminds me somewhat of green forests, sweeping roads through Cumbrian valleys and tiny winding national speed limit roads through the country. It's second personal connotation for me is my brief stint at University, catching the packed 70 capacity double decker bus to lectures and always being late!
This isn't my favourite track on the album as I find his voice rather gravelly for easy listening, however this is one of his popular tracks and it has a certain catchy quality, aided by the beat and melody. About a girlfriend called Gloria! So if you have a Gloria in your life, she should definitely hear this song! Even though it isn't my personal favourite, it is still a strong track musically.
This track is a very soft, sweet, romantic one and reminds me of my boyfriend making a joke about Van Morrison probably serenading all his lovers with this! Lovely track.
4. Baby Please Don't Go
The name speaks for itself, and this track is quite a bit more fast paced than the one before it. I like the catchy rhythm and melody.
5. Have I Told You Lately
Very romantic, slow and gorgeous piano.
6. Brown Eyed Girl
Probably the best known Van Morrison track. Having a bit of a tendency to fall for people with brown eyes, this song appeals in more ways than one! I have blue eyes so no one will be singing this to me :( This song is a brilliant song, very catchy and laid back and feel good!
I have a random fact for you - the guy who plays House in House names this as his favourite song and I have to agree with him!
7. Sweet Thing
"And I will never grow so old again." This song has a sad tone to it, perhaps nostalgic. One of my favourites off the album.
8. Warm Love
A song all about the warm kind of love with references to cosy nights in and features of a comforting relationship where feelings are mutual.
9. Wonderful Remark
I haven't listened to this one a great deal, but it sounds like an uplifting track which tells a story. -The best kind of music as Bob Dylan will inform you!
*I now have this music on full blast as all my housemates are out ;)
10. Jackie Wilson said
I'm constantly reminded of the author Jacqueline Wilson whenever I see this song title but I'm sure he's not referring to her!! Not the strongest track on the album, but quite fast.
11. Full Force Gale
This song is the cheeriest song I have ever heard -possibly! Never fails to cheer me up, though I'm agnostic and religion is not part of daily life for me at all, I feel this song appeals to the spiritual tendency in most of us and encapsulates the contentment that certain things in life bring us. For Van this may be finding his faith but this can apply to whatever makes you happy. Listen to this song to put a smile on your face!
12. And It Stoned Me
This song confused us for a while, until we Googled the lyric "Stoned me just like jellyroll" and found this was an interesting euphemism for sex! A truly beautiful song anyway, one of my favourites. Yes, we did listen to it on holiday in Amsterdam for a laugh too ;) In all seriousness, it is about things in life which have the effect of "stupefying" and make you look on in amazement and could apply to anything. "As we drove on home/We sang a song/Though our throats were getting dry" This has connotations of getting back from a concert or brilliant day/night out with friends of the kind you will never forget.
13. Here Comes The Night
I love this song!! As I have always loved the nighttime. This song is about a variety of things, but makes me think of the feeling you get walking home slowly at sunset.
I haven't listened to this one very much, I think it's topic is how certain things you have no control over, referring perhaps to the "domino" effect. Some pretty cool jazz influences throughout this track.
15. Did Ye Get Healed?
Not listened to this one much either, strange song title, another title showing off the beauty of Van's voice.
16. Wild Night
Self explanatory title, love this song. Reminds me of walking around Bristol.
Fast paced, feel good melody.
17. Cleaning Windows
Haven't listened to this song much, I love how Van makes songs like this sound easy to sing!
18. Whenever God Shines His Light
I absolutely adore this song. Filled with faith and optimism, "in deep confusion, in great despair, I reach out for him, he will be there/ within your troubles, you can share" Many of the sentiments expressed about a deity, can also apply to a great friend.
19. Queen of the slipstream
With opening lyrics reminiscent of the earlier track, Have I told you lately, this song is another pretty track.
The slipstream is a current of air which keeps an aeroplane float, so in a beautifully romantic way, Van is suggesting that this girl is keeping him feeling high.
20. Dweller on the threshold
I love this track, it's jazzy notes and harmonies emphasise the happy mood it is portraying. Interpret it how you like, but I like to think it's all about an outsider, or else someone anxiously awaiting someone!
Five Dooyoo stars, well worth a listen for any music lover. Really enjoyed listening to this album while reviewing it too!!
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Bright Side Of The Road
4 Baby, Please Don't Go
5 Have I Told You Lately
6 Brown Eyed Girl
7 Sweet Thing
8 Warm Love
9 Wonderful Remark
10 Jackie Wilson Said (I'm In Heaven When You Smile)
11 Full Force Gale
12 And It Stoned Me
13 Here Comes The Night
15 Did Ye Get Healed
16 Wild Night
17 Cleaning Windows
18 Whenever God Shines His Light
19 Queen Of The Slipstream
20 Dweller On The Threshold