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Ten Underrated Van Morrison Songs for Your iPod
The enigmatic Van Morrison is one of the legendary figures in rock and roll history for his development of a style of music known as Celtic Soul that is a unique blend of soul, r&b, blues, country, rock, and jazz with a focus on spiritual quests and mystical journeys.
Morrison was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1945 and initially gained famed as the singer for the Irish, garage-R&B band Them, which had several hits in the mid-1960s including "Gloria", "Here Comes the Night", and "Mystic Eyes". He moved to New York City in 1967 and broke out on his own with Bang Records and had what many believe to be his most recognizable and popular song: "Brown Eyed Girl". He signed a recording deal with Warner Brothers in 1968 and started a decade long run of some of the greatest music in rock history. The songs on this list are from this 1968 to 1979 period. I have omitted the more popular ones and focused instead on the hidden gems that are rarely, if ever, played on the radio. Be sure to check out my other article on the 10 Best Van Morrison Songs of All Time.
10) (Straight To Your Heart) Like A Cannonball
I've always liked this song from the 1971 country-flavored album Tupelo Honey. It's a bouncy, upbeat number that is filled with Van singing do-do-do-da-do's, la-la-la-de-da's, uh-huh's, and oh-la's. Van's vocal is gritty, especially toward the end when he ratchets up the intensity and there is a nice interplay with the the background singers Janet Planet (Van's wife at the time) and Ellen Schroer (wife of Van's great saxophonist Jack Schroer).
9) Crazy Face
This song is from Van's 1970 album His Band and the Street Choir, which tends to be one from this period that is often overlooked. This is a short 3:01 number that starts with piano then leads into acoustic guitar, bass, and Van's vocal. One of the best features is the sax solo in the middle by the great Jack Schroer. Mandolin also adds a nice touch.
8) Redwood Tree
An upbeat song from the 1972 album Saint Dominic's Preview about a boy and his dog looking for a rainbow and seeking shelter from a storm under a great redwood tree. Van recorded this song in San Francisco so he must have been taken at the time by the natural beauty of northern California. It opens with horns and cymbals and has a free and easy Van vocal. The best part is Van's scat singing at the end and how he weaves in with the horns and female background singers.
7) Old Old Woodstock
A quiet, gentle song from the Tupelo Honey album. Van was living the hippie-gentleman farmer lifestyle in Woodstock at the time and this song is a reflection on this. It has a somber piano opening and the music slowly, imperceptibly builds in intensity to the end where Van belts out the last few lines. There is also a nice piano solo in the middle and vibes by Gary Mallabar also add to the feel.
6) Saint Dominic's Preview
The 6:26 long title track from the 1972 Saint Dominic's Preview album. I've never been able to figure out what Saint Dominic's Preview actually is, as the lyrics are hard to interpret, but I think the song is about the difficulty Van was having with the homeless nature of the jet set lifestyle he found himself living in the early 1970s. Musically, this song takes an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach with organ, piano, steel guitar, horns, guitar, etc, but it all comes together into an intoxicating musical tapestry that never gets old. Floating above all of these instruments is Van's silky smooth voice which never sounded better.
This fast-paced song is from the 1974 album Veedon Fleece, which was heavily influenced by a return trip Van made to Ireland in 1973. Much of the music for the album was written during this visit. Van also divorced Janet Planet around the time of the album so there was a lot of turmoil in his life and it is reflected in the music. This country-flavored number begins with acoustic guitar strumming, followed by bass, then Van's voice which is rough, gravely, and more weary than on previous albums. The song is about Van's disillusionment with the trappings of fame and stardom as signified by the flash "bulbs" of the paparazzi's cameras. Steel guitar and Van's scat singing really make this song as he throws in plenty of la-da-da-de-da's, heh-heh-heh's, uh-uh-uh's, and growling. At the end he's almost yelling as the intensity really builds. By the way, Veedon Fleece is one of Van's more underrated albums. It's not for everyone and can be dark at times, but it is definitely worth exploring further if you have an interest.
4) Comfort You
A gentle song from the underrated Veedon Fleece album about providing comfort to a lover or friend. It has a sparse arrangement with guitar picking and strings that really features Van's voice. He wraps it all up by humming.
3) Take It Where You Find It
An 8:41 dirge from the 1978 Wavelength album. Van came back strong with this album after a three year absence from recording music and the poorly received Period of Transition album. The song features synthesizer and nice piano touches as Van sings about lost dreams in America.
What is your favorite song on this list?
2) Summertime in England
This 15:38 minute long song from the 1980 Common One album is a rich, rewarding listening adventure. It is propelled by organ, horns, and strings but over the course of the 15 minute journey the mood changes several times with it wrapping up by Van singing over and over that "there ain't no why, there just is" as he strolls through Avalon. Morrison ends the song with one of his more famous catch phrases: "can you feel the silence?" The Common One album was recorded in 1980 at a former abbey in the French Alps and this song later became a show stopper at Morrison's live shows.
1) Crazy Love
This gentle, prayer-like song is a gem from the great 1970 Moondance album. The beautiful interplay between Van and the female background singers (Emily Houston, Judy Clay, and Jackie Verdell) really make this song exceptional. Vibes and guitar picking also add to the soft, mellow feel. I also love the Van and Bob Dylan duet for this song. Van also did a great version with Ray Charles for the album Genius Loves Company, but I still prefer the original album version to both of these for it's simple, timeless beauty.