TITLE: Astral Weeks
YEAR RELEASED: 1968
CHART ACTION: #55 UK
OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Cypress Avenue, The Way Young Lovers Do, Madam George
LINEUP: Van Morrison, Jay Berliner, John Payne, Richard Davis, Warren Smith Jr., Connie Kay, Larry Fallon, Barry Korfield
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After a nasty contract dispute with Bang! Records, Morrison is free to express his muse and eschews his previous hit-making style. He made an album that’s unique too this day.
SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Follow your muse. That’s what musicians are always told. (Also, they’re told to make hit records, but that’s the dichotomy of the music biz). Van Morrison definitely did that, throwing off “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Gloria” and making something that’s a symbiosis of the lyrcis and music following each other.
Recorded over three (maybe two) sessions (with some string overdubs that Morrison HATED after the fact), the musicians, seasoned jazz studio cats, were in one room, together, and Morrison in the vocal booth with his guitar. The band just followed his lead and created on the spot. Edits were made to tighten up the songs, but basically the performances were as they happened on that take.
This was never meant to be a hit (it never did chart in the US despite selling over 500,000 when all was said and done), but an artistic statement. That was the philosophy of Warner Brothers – have great artists do their work and it will pay off. The story about how Warner’s received his contract and the recording of this album can fill a book.
I’d love to say that I love every track on this album, but I can’t quite get my head around track two “Beside You”, yet that may be one I haven’t cracked yet. Yet this is a great record to put in your ears, read a tome, and sip some cabernet. It fits that kind of mood.
NOTES & MINUTIAE: This is personal, but when I was in elementary school we had these magazines that Scholastic put out. Dynamite and Bananas were the names of the ones I received, and in one of them they named the best albums of all time. Now you’d think that magazines for tweens in the 70’s would have more current records on there appealing to that demo. But they listed Astral Weeks. I just can’t see anyone at 11 years old wanting to groove to “Madame George” or unpack “Slim Slow Slider” or “Astral Weeks”.
IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Some alternate cuts.
GRADE A+: Now I don’t get one cut, but I’m taking the rap on that. I mean, everything else is perfect, from the lyrics inspiring the singer inspiring the musicians and so on. This album works on so many planes of existence (ethereal and astral, if you would).