Van Morrison

  • Irish singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist born George Morrison in Belfast Ireland in 1945.
  • As a young boy, he listened to his father’s favorite music – blues, country and gospel music from the 50s. His family and friends called him Van, starting when he was 5 years old. He received a guitar when he was 11, and the next year, he formed his first band, The Sputniks. Over the next years, he learned the saxophone, and played in several groups, including Midnight Special and The Monarchs. By the age of 17, the Monarchs were playing throughout Europe at clubs and army bases. In 1963, the band recorded a single titled Boohoo Hully Gully/Twingy Baby, with Morrison on saxophone. Soon after its release, the band split up.
  • Morrison performed with several other bands, and then he joined an R&B band called Them, with Morrison sharing vocals and playing saxophone and harmonica. Them performed covers and also ad-libbed while on stage, and they performed some songs penned by Morrison. A record label took notice, and they were signed, releasing 2 albums and 10 singles – they had 3 minor hits, with the B-side of Baby, Please Don’t Go becoming their signature song, Gloria. It has been covered by dozens of artists over the years, most notably Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Bruce Springsteen, and David Bowie. The version by Them received the Grammy Hall of Fame award in 1999, and is ranked #211 on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Songs of All Time list.
  • After Them broke up, Morrison began his solo career in 1967. He signed a contract and recorded 8 songs in New York, which he intended to be 4 singles with B-sides. Instead, his record company made them into his debut album, Blowin’ Your Mind!, without Morrison’s knowledge. Included in the album was his most famous hit, Brown Eyed Girl. The song peaked at #10 on the Hot 100 chart, and its legacy has grown over the years – it is the most downloaded and most played song from the 60s, and 40 years after its release, it was the fourth most requested song of DJs in the U.S. It is in the top 10 of the most played songs in the history of radio, and Rolling Stone puts it at #110 on its GOAT song list.
  • After overcoming a contract dispute with his record company, which required him to record 31 more “throw away songs” within a year, he moved to Boston and signed a new recording deal. In 1968, he released Astral Weeks – a radical departure from his first recordings. This album blended folk, blues, jazz and classical elements. No singles were released and while it did not chart in the U.S. and barely charted in the UK, over time it became his most heralded work. It is considered one of rock’s greatest albums – Rolling Stone puts it at #19 on its Greatest Albums list.
  • In 1970, Morrison released the Moondance album. It was his most successful studio album, certified 3x platinum. The single Come Loving with B-side Crazy Love was the only single officially released, which only reached #39 on the Hot 100 chart. However, 4 other songs from the album are signature classics by Morrison – Into the Mystic, Caravan, And It Stoned Me, and the title track, Moondance. The album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999, and Rolling Stone puts it at #66 on its GOAT list. Into the Mystic and the song Moondance both are in the magazine’s list of the Greatest 500 songs ever.
  • Morrison released 8 more albums in the 70s. Only 1 song managed to break into the top 10 – Domino (yet another signature hit) – while other songs are fan favorites, including Tupelo Honey (with its country-soul sound), Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile) (his homage to one of his soul heroes), Wavelength (Van dabbles in synthesizers), Listen to the Lions (an 11 minute ramble that features Morrison’s distinctive vocals at their best), and Wild Night (an R&B song with a sweet guitar lick by rock guitar legend Ronnie Montrose).
  • He has never stopped – he released 2 albums in 2018 and another in 2019, bringing his total to 41 studio albums and 6 live albums. He has received 2 Grammy awards (in 1996 and 1998, for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals, for Have I Told You Lately That I Love You? (collaboration with The Chieftains) and Don’t Look Back (collaboration with John Lee Hooker)). He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, and he is #42 on Rolling Stone’s list of the Greatest Artists of All Time. He was made a Knight Bachelor in 2015, so you can refer to him as Sir Van Morrison if you wish.
  • Certainly, Van Morrison’s legacy will endure long after he is gone. He still performs frequently – 5 shows in Vegas in 2020 will almost certainly sell out. My favorite is Into The Mystic – here’s a live performance from 1974.

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