Posts Tagged ‘rock’

By John Ruberry

The Kinks are celebrating the 60th anniversary of their founding. In March, the legendary band released a two-CD compilation, The Journey – Part 1 (1964-1975), which is a great place to acquaint yourself with these wonderful performers. 

To further immerse yourself with the Kinks, I have determined what I believe are their ten-best albums. 

By the way, what is one test to ascertain if someone is intelligent? Well, if a person is a Kinks fan, then you found smart guy or gal.

The Kinks were founded in 1963 in Muswell Hill in North London. The heart of the band are the Davies (pronounced Davis) brothers, Ray, the principal songwriter, lead vocalist, and rhythm guitarist, and Dave, lead guitarist, and occasional songwriter, who sometimes sings lead. Mick Avory is the drummer.

The band broke up in the 1990s, Avory departed the band in 1984. Over the years the Kinks, first a quartet then a quintet, had a series of bassists and keyboardists. Although they haven’t toured or recorded since then, the Davies brothers reformed the Kinks in 2018, Avory is included as a member.

Last summer, at Skokie’s Backlot Bash, an annual event held near my home north of Chicago–the festival coincidentally honors another English phenomenon–Charlie Chaplin–local band Tribotosaurus put on a Kinks show. In his introductory remarks, the band’s lead singer remarked, “The Kinks are the forgotten band of the British Invasion.” Quite true.

Early Kinks tours were tumultuous affairs as they fought each other and anyone else in their way. “At the height of our success in the 1960s,” the narrator in Ray’s solo song ‘Invaders’ explained, “the Kinks were banned from touring the USA for four years, when we did return, we toured the USA relentlessly, tour after tour. Year after year. To win back what we’d lost.”

Who was behind that ban? The American Federation of Musicians. And those years spanned from 1965-1969, musically they were transformational years when rock was transformed from being pop music into an art form.

Here is one account about why the ban occurred, but there are many others.

While what became into the holy trilogy of British rock–the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Who–looked outward musically, Ray and the Kinks turned introspective during their ban from America. For inspiration, they turned to the British music hall songs they learned from the parents. Music hall, the UK version of vaudeville, also describes a style of music. Famous music hall tunes that you probably have heard include, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag,” and “I’m Henery the Eighth, I Am.” Hermans Hermits scored a hit with the last one in 1965. 

That sounds horrible for the Kinks, right? 

Wrong. The Kinks’ best work was recorded during their “lost period” in America. Only two Kinks singles charted in the United States from 1967-1969, and they peaked deep in the bottom half of Billboards’ Hot 100. But the hits kept coming in Britain and elsewhere. 

The Kinks have been cursed with bad luck– and some of those wounds were self-inflicted. In their last album with new material, the mostly-live album To The Bone, Ray looked back in his introduction to their song, “I’m Not Like Everyone Else.” Of that composition he said, “It kind of sums up what we’re all about, the Kinks, because everyone expects us to do wonderful things, and we mess it all up, usually.”

The Kinks’ bad luck even extended to that Tributosaurus gig in Skokie. The band pumped out four great classic Kinks songs, but then a Caddyshack-level thunderstorm struck, which forced the rest of the show, as well as the final night of the Backlot Bash, to be cancelled. 

Even if the Kinks’ career consisted of one song, “You Really Got Me,” their international hit from 1964, their place in rock and roll history would be secure. That power cord classic inspired four rock genres, heavy metal, hard rock, punk rock, and new wave.

But there is so much more to the Kinks.

Let the countdown begin. 

Not before, that is, a big shout out to the USA-only compilation The Kink Kronikles. That collection not only does a great job covering the Kinks’ “lost years” in America, but it contains such wondrous non-album singles such as “Wonderboy,” “Autumn Almanac,” and “Days.” Those singles, however, often appear on extended versions of some of these albums you’ll soon learn about.

But I’m reviewing the original releases.

10) Give the People What They Want (1981): There are some strong tracks here, particularly “Destroyer,” where Ray rips off himself with an homage to the Kinks’ earlier hit, “All Day and All of the Night.” The Kinks were firmly ensconced in the arena rock phrase of their career when this collection was released, and “Around the Dial” captures that era in just under five minutes. On the other hand, the best track here, “Better Things,” reaches back to that “lost period.” The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, with whom Ray had a romantic relationship at the time, contributes background vocals on four songs.

9) Schoolboys in Disgrace (1975): Beginning in the early 1970s the Kinks recorded a series of concept albums. During supporting tours, these efforts were presented as low-budget stage shows. The last such Kinks “musical” offers a huge helping of 1950s-styles rock, along with a look back at the Kinks power-chord early days. But it betrays Kinks bad luck too. The “rock and roll revival,” rocks first nostalgia movement, which was partially inspired by the Beatles White Album, had run its course by 1975. Power chord music would bounce back in the late 1970s. Wrong place, wrong time. “The Hard Way” would have been a hit in 1979, the same year the Knack scored a number one smash with “My Sharona.” Ironically, the next year the Knack covered “The Hard Way.” Other strong tunes here include “Education,” “No More Looking Back,” and “Jack the Idiot Dunce.”

8) Sleepwalker (1977): The Kinks’ first non-thematic album in nearly a decade, Sleepwalker was a mainstream effort that proved that the band could still rock as well as anyone else. The title track, “Juke Box Music,” “Life on the Road,” and “Life Goes On” are the best tracks.

7) The Kink Kontroversy (1965): In the mid-1970s, Van Morrison recorded an album titled A Period of Transition. That would be fitting moniker for this collection, the Kinks’ third album. “Till the End of the Day” was their last power chord hit. Very early in their career the Kinks recorded many blues rock songs, and there are some on this offering, the best of which here is “Gotta Get the First Plane Home.” Another shining moment, “Where Have All the Good Times Gone,” is sung from the perspective of a middle-aged man, but written by Ray, who was 21 at the time. It foreshadows future greatness.

6) Muswell Hillbillies (1971): We’ll hear about the predecessor to this collection, Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One soon, but that album brought the Kinks back to prominence and a well-deserved place, albeit briefly, at the head table of rock’s elite. You remember Ray’s remark about the Kinks–that “everyone expects us to do wonderful things, and we mess it all up, usually.” Not that Muswell Hillbillies is bad. Far from it. But the “Lola” album was mostly a hard rock effort, and the Kinks certainly confused its new American fan base with Muswell’s country rock and music hall flavor. Besides the title tune, “20th Centry Man,” “Oklahoma USA,” and “Have a Cuppa Tea” are standouts.

5) Face to Face (1966): Ray emerged as a first-rate storyteller here. While not a concept album, a minor narrative can be found on Face to Face with “A House in the Country,” “Most Exclusive Residence for Sale,” and “Sunny Afternoon,” the Kinks last American hit until 1970. “Holiday in Waikiki” was composed during the Kinks’ disastrous 1965 tour. And had Buddy Holly not taken that fateful airplane flight in 1959 in Iowa, he may have been writing songs like “I’ll Remember” in 1966.

4) Something Else by the Kinks (1967): This is the Kinks most-music hall album. “Harry Rag” might be the most typical of this collection, as “Harry Rag” is old British slang for a cigarette and it’s a sing-a-long tune, and many music hall tunes were written with audience participation in mind. Dave sings lead in a Ray/Dave composition, “Death of a Clown.” But “Waterloo Sunset,” a smash hit just about everywhere except in America, is the best song here, and arguably the Kinks’ greatest recording.

3) Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One (1970): In the United States, other than “You Really Got Me,” the sorta-title track “Lola,”which is about a strange encounter with what we now call a transgendered woman, is the Kinks best-known song. It was an international hit–and a second single from this album, “Apeman,” also did well as a single. A Dave tune, “Strangers,” is an eerie song about friendship that is one of the Kinks most covered works. This album is yet another band “mess up,” because there was never Part Two. Oh, I nearly forgot, “Get Back in Line” tells the story of worker who a capricious union boss refuses to hire. Yes, it’s a musical punch at the American Federation of Musicians.

2) Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (1969): It wasn’t their fault, but here’s another Kinks “mess up,” albeit a brilliant one. Arthur is the soundtrack for a television movie, but that film was never made, although it’s not the fault of the Davies et al. This wondrous collection starts off with the rollicking “Victoria,” the band’s hardest rocker since 1965. “Shangri-La,” a sprawling epic, looks, not so fondly, at the British class system. “Some Mother’s Son” ranks with the best anti-war songs ever written.

And number 1 is:

The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968): Released the same day as the Beatles White Album, VGPS, another music hall-inspired gem, has Ray telling stories about a sleepy English village. Like the central character of his “Autumn Almanac,” in regard to the title track, it’s difficult to fathom if Ray is celebrating, presumably at least, the little old ladies who are members of the Village Green Preservation Society, or mocking them, as he sings, “God save little shops, china cups and virginity.” Don’t forget, we’re in 1968 here. “Do You Remember Walter” looks at the inevitable disappointment when childhood dreams don’t match up with adult reality. The mellotron driven “Phenomenal Cat” is about a legendary, in the imagination of “idiot boys,” flying feline, who, after traveling the world, decides the best life him is to live in a tree and pursue obesity. While “Animal Farm,” which has nothing to do with the George Orwell novel, views rural life more fondly.

There is no rock album quite like VGPS. XTC’s masterpiece, “Skylarking,” thematically comes close.

If you don’t like my choices, well, that’s why we have a comments section here.

And finally, God save the Kinks.

John Ruberry has seen the Kinks twice in concert, both times in Champaign, Illinois. He usually blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

A societal seismic shift, a black swan moment, occurred for the American elite, our “betters,” on April 1. Yep, April Fools Day, but the joke was on the elites. It was April 1 when on his–yes his–Instragram page, the transgendered influencer, Dylan Muvlaney, announced his sponsorhip deal with Bud Light, a beer brewed by Anheuser-Busch that is, or was, favored mainly by macho types.

The backlash was immediate. A boycott of the brew–with conservative celebrities leading the charge began–and Anheuser-Busch has since lost $5 billion in value.

Receiving the blame for this debacle is Alissa Heinerscheid, Bud Light’s vice president of marketing, who went on a leave of absence last week.

It’s likely that Bud Light triggered a tripwire, likely, to use Bill Maher’s words, Americans are angry because “they’ve had an agenda shoved down their throat.” Like the dimwitted sheep in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, many elites, particularly in the media, believe transgendered women are women. Most Americans disagree. 

And most Americans, unless they are woke, aren’t dopes. They know that males have an inherent physical advantage over women in most sports. If they decide to think about it–they know that the annual physical for Rachel Levine, the Biden administration’s assistant secretary for health who is transgendered, consists of a prostate exam. They are aware that after “gender-affirming” surgeries, some trans people want to switch back.

These same people are horrified of reports that some school officials, without knowledge of their parents, are encouraging minors to “transition.”

And these same folks are fed up with being called a bigot or some sort of “phobe” when they raise their objections to the transgender ideological movement.

And they are sick of transgendered women appearing in clothing ads wearing garments designed for females. 

Unlike Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, most Americans are able define what a woman is. And they know that men cannot give birth to babies.

As for the elites, many of whom like Heinerscheid have an Ivy League education, they’re the types of folks who don’t interact with smelly people who drink Bud Light. These smug know-it-alls are stupefied that the Mulvaney sponsorship has damaged the brand. 

The elites live in their bubble, which makes them quite vulnerable to a black swan moment.

What has happened to Bud Light takes me back to 1979 and the Disco Demolition stunt that was part of a Chicago White Sox Teen Night promotion during a twi-night doubleheader with the Detroit Tigers. Oh, “Disco Sucks” wasn’t just a Chicago thing, I saw my first “Disco Sucks” T-shirt a year earlier on sale on the boardwalk at Ocean City, Maryland.

I was a 17-year-old when Steve Dahl, a morning disc jockey for rock station WLUP-FM, began humorously “blowing up” disco records during his show. He’d play some crappy–aren’t they all?–disco tune for thirty-seconds or so, and then blow them up, not for real, but with sound effects. Dahl also took his act on the road, including a mock “takeover” of a suburban disco club, and the same thing happened at each event. Crowd control was an issue–too many people in too small of a space.

Surely, Mike Veeck, the son of White Sox owner Bill Veeck, thought that Comiskey Park, the home of the White Sox, could comfortably host Dahl and his minions, known as the Insane Coho Lips. The ballpark had a capacity of 45,000. 

But the doubleheader sold out and there were an estimated thirty thousand others outside Comiskey Park clamoring to get in. Teens who deposited disco records at the turnstiles were admitted for 98 cents, which was dirt cheap even in 1979. 

Dahl, in faux military garb, as you’ll see in the YouTube clip, exploded the records in spectacular fashion as the Insane Coho Lips chanted “disco sucks” following the conclusion of the first game of the doubleheader, a White Sox defeat. Immediately afterwards, about 7,000 of the rockers stormed the field and a riot broke out, one that included destroying the batting cage and igniting the crate from where the records were exploded. It was rock and roll’s first saturnalia. Police in riot gear promptly ended Disco Demolition 90 minutes later, and because the field was deemed by the umpires as unsafe for play, the second game was forfeited to the Tigers.

I watched the game at home on television with my parents and my brother. I hated disco and loved rock and roll, so I looked on with mixed emotions because I was also a Sox fan. I didn’t object when my brother pointed at me and said, “Hey, mom and dad, there are thousands of them on the TV, who are just like your son, tearing up the field.” Hey, don’t forget, I was 17 at the time.

Retro historians, often people who were born years after Disco Demolition, have tried to turn that night into a racist or anti-gay thing. Wrong. The people I knew who listened to disco were shallow and vapid–just like the music. It was love at first sight for them.

Here’s the disco black swan moment. 

The Disco Demolition coverage from the media, particularly the national media, was one of shock. Even more so than now, the elite media was based in New York, and they were the people who hung out at disco’s hallowed temple, Studio 54 in Manhattan. They lived in their ’70s bubble, one that didn’t include people who loved rock music and wore “Disco Sucks” T-shirts.

Up until Steve Dahl blew up those records, disco was seemingly everywhere–on TV shows, in commercials, and in the movies, most notably, with John Travolta dancing in Saturday Night Fever. Rock acts, including the Rolling Stones, the Kinks (sadly, one of my favorite bands), and Rod Stewart, recorded songs with a disco beat.

But post-Disco Demolition Night, the media, as well as the advertising and marketing “experts,” realized, after the totality of the riot, that more people hated disco than liked it. Disco didn’t die that night–even a freight train experiencing engine problems can’t be stopped on a dime, but disco went into a fatal tailspin. A month after Disco Demolition, Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, a disco album, was released. It enjoyed brisk sales and a lot of airplay. But Jacko’s next album, Thriller, was more of an R&B album, it even included the King of Pop’s only hard rock song, “Beat It,” which was graced by guitar work from Eddie Van Halen.

Rockers had stopped cutting disco tracks well before Thriller was released.

A couple of weeks before Off the Wall arrived in record stores, principal photography began on a movie starring the Village People, Discoland . . . Where the Music Never Stops. Sensing trouble because of the anti-disco backlash, the film’s producer, Allan Carr, changed the name of his project to Can’t Stop the Music. It’s remembered as a legendary Hollywood box office bomb.

As the saying goes, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes.” One of supporting actors in Can’t Stop the Music was Bruce Jenner, who now goes by Caitlyn. 

By the early 1980s, the expression “As dead as disco” was common. 

Transgenderism isn’t going away. Over my life I’ve known a few men who have gone thru procedures that allows them, sort of, to live as women. Fine, it’s their life. If, as an adult, men and women want to transform themselves into something different, well, no one should stop them. The same goes for people who want to obliterate their faces with tattoos.

On the other hand, don’t shove your choice down our throats and demand us to celebrate you.

In the advertising and marketing world, using transgendered spokespeople to promote mainstream products just might be as dead as disco.

No one wants to be the next Alissa Heinerscheid. Her job was to sell Bud Light, not to drive people to avoid it.

There was never a Can’t Stop the Music sequel.

Marketing people must not be good at math. One percent of the population identifies as transgendered. Which means of course means 99 percent doesn’t.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

Last Friday, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Van Morrison released his 44th studio album, the exuberant Moving on Skiffle

What is skiffle? Well, the first time I heard of it was in was in an unusual place–maybe not for an American–in the movie This Is Spinal Tap. Before joining the band that would become the heavy metal act Spinal Tap, David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) was a member of a skiffle group.

Wonderful observation, you might be saying, but once again, what is skiffle? In the late 1920s, it developed as an offshoot of jug music, a genre of the American South and performed mainly by African Americans. The original skiffle was a bit country, a bit folk, and a bit delta blues. Then skiffle died once the Great Depression hit. 

Only it didn’t completely perish. 

Like a sprout from an errant wildflower seed, skiffle surprisingly blossomed again a couple of decades later in Great Britan. The UK’s biggest skiffle star was a Scotsman, Lonnie Donegan. Another skiffle performer, Chris Barber, a British aficionado of New Orleans style jazz, often recorded with Donegan

Growing up in 1950s Belfast, Morrsion was one of many UK youths listening to skiffle on the radio. Soon Morrison joined a skiffle band, but by the mid-1960s he was fronting Them, a blues-rock act best known for “Gloria,” before going solo in 1967. Well, you probably know the rest of his story.

Just as skiffle quickly reemerged in Britain, it all but vanished as a popular music phenomenon in the early 1960s. Only its disappearance wasn’t mysterious. The tsunami of the Beat Groups–known as the British Invasion in the United States–which included Them, was the culprit. 

The Belfast Cowboy maintained his love for skiffle thru the decades. Morrison recorded a live album with Donegan and Barber, The Skiffle Sessions – Live in Belfast 1998.

For Moving on Skiffle, Morrison issues a double album of additional classic skiffle songs–there are no repeats from the live collection.

Morrison, who turns 78 this summer, has been newsworthy of late because of his fervent opposition to COVID-19 lockdowns.

In 2021, Morrison released Latest Record Project, Volume 1, a double album. Many of the tracks, including “Stop Bitching, Do Something” and “Why Are You on Facebook?” pushed back on government and Big Tech power. Last year, on What’s It Gonna Take?Van the Man more directly challenged the lockdowns and creeping totalitarianism, in such tracks as “Dangerous,” which was in response to comments made by Northern Ireland’s health minister, Robin Swann, about Morrison’s anti-lockdown stance. Swann has since sued Van the Man, Morrison has counter-sued

On what will likely be remembered as his”COVID albums,” Morrison penned all of the tracks. Moving on Skiffle is a covers collection.

Morrison, who is not a doctor or a scientist, has been proven, in my firm opinion at least, to be correct that lockdowns would not be an effective defense against COVID-19. The harm of lockdowns, such as an overall increase in mental illness and declining school test scores, is apparent.

Yes, COVID, along with pre-exisiting conditions, killed millions, despite lockdowns, masking, and vaccine mandates. But Florida, which didn’t pursue an aggressive lockdown and masking policy, didn’t see a higher COVID death rate compared to lockdown states like New York.

Moving back to Moving on Skiffle, this sparkling collection stays away from politics, except for the strongest track on the collection, “Gov Don’t Allow,” a reworking of the 1920s folk standard “Momma Don’t Allow,” with new lyrics authored by Morrison.

“Gov don’t allow any freedom of speech in here,” he sings, “but I think it’s going overreach–gov don’t allow any freedom of speech in here.”

Now that I have politics out of the way, let’s discuss the rest of Moving on Skiffle.

Other highlights of this ninety-minute collection include another musical reworking, “This Little Light of Mine” becomes “This Loving Light of Mine,” where Morrison adds “Amen” verses. “Gypsy Davy” has a Celtic feel, and there are two Hank Williams songs, “Cold Cold Heart” and “I’m So Lonely I Could Cry.” 

Overall, the collection has a Creedence Clearwater Revival flavor, partly because of the inclusion of Lead Belly’s “Cotton Fields,” which CCR covered on Willy and the Poor Boys. Their hit from that album, “Down on the Corner” has a classic has a jug band feel. 

If you are a Van and Man enthusiast from way back, you’ll adore the final cut on Moving on Skiffle, “Green Rocky Road,” a nine-minute-long track that echoes Morrison stream-of-consciousness gems such as “And The Healing Has Begun” and “Listen to the Lion.”

Skiffle has many definitions. So if you’d prefer you can define Morrison’s latest work possibly as an Americana collection, albeit one with gospel music overtones. 

Oh, I nearly forgot. As with all Van Morrison albums, the singing here, including the work of the backup vocalists, as well as the musicianship–down to the washboard–are spectacular. 

Moving on Skiffle can be downloaded from iTunes or purchased at Van Morrison.com.

Related post:

As Van Morrison turns 77, here are his ten best albums

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

A few months ago Van Morrison released his 43rd studio album, What’s It Gonna Take? It’s a stupendous work, and most of its songs focus on the COVID-19 lockdown. Van the Man gives well-deserved musical punch in the nose to lockdown zealots Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Klaus Schwab. 

This week, on August 31, Van Morrison turns 77. He’s still touring, in fact, he begins a short American tour the day after his birthday, which includes, hello Peter, two gigs in Massachusetts.

In 2020 was a rare year for Morrison as he didn’t release a studio album, but he did issue three anti-lockdown songs, “Born to Be Free,” “As I Walked Out” and “No More Lockdowns.” Eric Clapton, another foe of lockdowns, recorded a Morrison-penned anti-lockdown song, “Stand And Deliver.” Morrison has been the most prominent artist who has stood up to opposition to the 2020-2021 shutdown of musical venues.

Of course Morrison is rich, but most musicians aren’t. Many are just getting by.

My DTG review of “What’s It Gonna Take?” is here. And yes, sometimes I am wrong. I predicted the mainstream media, as it did with the collection’s predecessor, the double album Latest Record Project: Volume 1, would savage it. On the contrary, because the hostile reviews of that collection probably helped sales–it charted well, the media took a different approach this time. By mostly ignoring What’s It Gonna Take? But not entirely. Morrison has “descended into lunacy,” is what one reviewer, Arthur Lazarus, a psychiatry professor, said of the album in his review. I was under the impression that mental health professionals now avoid words like “lunacy.” Who is the “crazy” one here, Lazarus? On a positive note, National Review gave a favorable notice to What’s It Gonna Take?

To a small extent, Van Morrison, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has become a non-person. Oh, he appears in Google News searches, as the media dutifully covers his concert appearances. I follow Morrison on Twitter. And like myself, likely because he shares views that run counter to those of the Twitter leftists, in his case about COVID, he’s almost certainly been shadowbanned. I never see the Belfast Lion’s Tweets on my feed, although he has been quiet there lately. Remember, this is a person whose first hit, “Brown Eyed Girl,” is one of the most-played songs on radio–ever.

I’ve been a Van Morrison fan for decades, so I decided to listen to every studio album of his, remember, there are 43 of them–in succession–about a week after I posted my Da Tech Guy writeup on What’s It Gonna Take? It was a wondrous musical adventure that took me through many musical genres, mainly, especially in the second half of his career, Chicago blues, but also of course rock, as well as jazz, country, Celtic, swing, as well as Van the Man’s stream-of-consciousness works, best exemplified on his Astral Works landmark album.

Morrison is a multi-instrumentalist, playing guitar, harmonica, keyboards, and saxophone. But outside of the craftmanship of the songs he writes, he’s best know for his vocals. Morrison’s singing style is a combination of Hank Williams, Muddy Waters, James Brown, and here’s an obscure name for you, Louis Prima. Oh, on a side note, Prima was one of my mother’s favorites. And about that voice, it’s most distinctive quality is “the growl,” which I believe is inspired by bluesmen like Waters. 

Morrison has influenced many artists, including Bob Seger, Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, and Bruce Springsteen. Of the latter two, on their debut albums the feel of Van is quite apparent.

During my Morrison musical sojourn, during which I ironically contracted COVID-19–I am fully recovered–I decided to write a blog post where I list, well, in my opinion at least, his ten best albums. It’s time for me to be Casey Kasem–so let the countdown begin!

Oh, but first, links in the album’s titles bring you Morrison’s website, where you can purchase or download each collection, and also find the Wikipedia article on each of them. 

10: Hymns To The Silence (1991). Morrison’s first double album is a tad long, but it contains one of his best ballads, “Carrying A Torch.” You’ll find an even better rendition of that song on Morrison’s duet album, where Clare Teal accompanies him. Van the Man on this record takes a song that has been covered countless times, Ray Charles’ hit “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” but he gives it a fresh take by having traditional Irish musicians the Chieftains accompany him. There’s also an intriguing spoken word piece too, “On Hyndford Street.”

9: No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986). Morrison’s 1980s efforts were mostly jazz and Celtic-influenced songs, many of them expressing a love of nature, with some stream-of consciousness songs throw in. The best of these is No Guru, No Method, No Teacher. Its highlights include “In The Garden,” “Tir Na Nog,” and an homage to his 1970s pop hits, “Ivory Tower.” It was around this time I saw Morrison in concert–so far the only time I have done so. I was under the impression, based on his ’80s works, that the Belfast Lion had lost the roar of his growl. Wrong. He growled a lot that night and it returned to his later studio albums.

8: Three Chords & the Truth (2019). The title alone makes this effort at least an honorable mention. “Angry Van” of the 2020s didn’t emerge once the COVID lockdowns kicked in. In “Nobody In Charge” Morrison decries, “politicians that waffle endlessly.” A haunting love sing, “Dark Night Of The Soul,” is another highlight. And Van offers a gorgeous re-working of “Auld Lang Syne” on “Days Gone By.”

7: What’s It Gonna Take? (2022). I’ve discussed this work already in this blog post–but to flesh out my love for this album, it’s as fresh as breathing in, mask-free, mountain air in spring. While anti-COVID lockdown songs dominate the collection, including “Dangerous,” which Morrison’s response to comments about him made by Northern Ireland’s health minister, Robin Swann, as well as “Fighting Back Is The New Normal” and “Fodder For The Masses,” the collection ends with another great love ballad, “Pretending.”

6: Veedon Fleece (1974). Stream-of consciousness Van is at the forefront here. Like gourmet cuisine, you may not appreciate Veedon Fleece at first bite, but it’s a hearty musical meal. “Bulbs,” “Linden Arden Stole The Highlights,” and “Streets Of Arklow” are among the great tracks.

5: Saint Dominic’s Preview (1972). Released 50 summers ago, this album contains two of Morrison’s best-known songs, the title track and “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile).” Van the Man’s greatest “stream” work, “Listen To The Lion,” is an 11-minute long masterpiece.

4: Magic Time (2005). This is the best Van Morrison album you’ve never heard of. There is quite a bit of swing music influence on Magic Time. While Van the Man, as we discussed early, re-worked “Auld Lang Syne” in 2019, he gifts us a New Year’s Eve alternative here with “Celtic New Year.” There’s another preview of “Angry Van” on “Keep Mediocrity At Bay.” Magic Time opens with another great ballad, “Stranded.” And there is a luscious sequel to “Listen To the Lion” in “The Lion This Time.”

3: Into The Music (1979). The Belfast Cowboy–Morrison has a lot of nicknames–ended the 1970s with a bang. It opens with two now-familiar songs, “Bright Side Of The Road” and “Full Force Gale.” There is rock, blues, gospel, and more here. And if Morrison’s “growl” is what you enjoy about him the most, then Into The Music is your album.

2: Moondance (1970). Like many all-time-best albums, Moondance comes across as a greatest hits album. The title track, “Caravan,” “Crazy Love,” and “Into The Mystic” are just four of the great tracks here. And while “Brown Eyed Girl” from Morrison’s first album is one of the most played songs on radio, “Into The Mystic” is a popular song at funerals. And “Crazy Love” is played at many wedding receptions.

1: Astral Weeks (1968). Arguably his first album, as his debut collection, Blowin’ Your Mind, was released without his input, Morrison, with jazz musicians backing him up, recorded a collection that sounded like nothing else up to that point. Is Astral Weeks a rock album? Jazz? Folk? Blues? The answer is none of the above. It’s simply Van Morrison. “The Way Young Lovers Do” foreshadows his 1970s hits, but like Veedon Fleece, stream-of-consciousness dominates here. “Cyprus Avenue” and “Ballerina” are majestic songs. “Madame George” is an enigmatic work, which is one of its enduring qualities.

So, if you are now inclined to explore Van Morrison, you might be wondering “Where do I start?” As I’ve said before, I deplore the term “classic rock,” but if that is your “jones,” then start with Moondance. If your first love is vintage country, then take a look at Pay The Devil. Blues? Get an album that just missed my top ten, Too Long In Exile, where John Lee Hooker teams up Morrison to revisit his “Gloria” hit that he recorded with his band Them in 1964. Are you a punk rocker? Then dig into Morrison’s recordings with Them. If your a jazz aficionado, I recommend Versatile to you. How ’bout Celtic music? Morrison collaborated with The Chieftains on Irish Heartbeat.

Now that I’ve listened to all 43 of Van Morrison’s studio albums I have a plan for what’s next: the Belfast Cowboy’s live albums.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.