George Ivan Morrison was born in Sandy Row, Belfast, in August 1945. Exposed to imported American music coming in through the docks, he was hooked on the blues and jazz from an early age. A window cleaner by day, at night he fronted a blues-rock band called Them, who were resident house-band at the Maritime hotel in Belfast. The group had its big break in 1965 with "Here Comes The Night", which topped the British singles chart and had limited success in the USA. A string of lesser hits followed, including a cover of Bob Dylan
's "It's All Over now, Baby Blue", and a Morrison-penned number that was destined to be covered by some of the biggest names in the business and which is still popular today - the storming anthem "Gloria".
He left Them in 1967, heading to the USA to try to break into the business there. He was managed by the legendarily rapacious Bert Berns, recording one LP with him, Blowin' Your Mind
. The contract Berns put him under was so unfair that it assigned Berns not only the song rights, but also performance rights. Morrison was paid a comparative pittance. The LP did not sell too well, so none of this might have mattered in the long run, except that a single called "Brown Eyed Girl" was released from it. A BBC documentary exploring song rights issued estimated that by 2012, this one song had earned $12-15,000,000. Morrison saw little of this cash.
Taken on by Warner Bros. Records
, Morrison was allocated less than a week's studio recording time to come up with an LP. The result was the critically acclaimed Astral Weeks
- an LP that he hated at the time, but has noticeably warmed to in later years. The album initially went unnoticed, but since then has become highly regarded by fans and critics.
The real breakthrough came with the next album, the big-band flavoured Moondance
. Since its release in 1969, Van Morrison has released another thirty-two solo albums, including a collaboration with Irish trad band, the Chieftains. While having few single hits of his own, his songs have frequently been covered by others; Rod Stewart's version of "Have I told You Lately..." topped the charts. His biggest single hit was a Christmas duet with Christian rock star Cliff Richard
It has been estimated that during his career, Morrison has dabbled with nearly every genre of music, with the possible exceptions of reggae, heavy rock, and rap. He has been married three times and has six children. His daughter Shana Morrison is a recording star in her own right.
The work of Van Morrison contains examples of the following:
- Alliterative Title: "Slim Slow Slider"
- The Cover Changes The Meaning: Patti Smith's inversion of the main lust-theme of Gloria.
- Also Morrison's flat refusal to have anything to do with Dexys Midnight Runners' version of Jackie Wilson Said, which he loathed as a travesty. Amusingly, British TV show Top of the Pops also seriously changed the meaning: Morrison's horror at the cover version was probably not helped when bad research meant DMR played the song live, to millions of TV viewers, in front of a massively blown up photo of darts legend Jockie Wilson.
- Creator Backlash: "Brown Eyed Girl" is his most popular song, but Morrison once said "I've got about 300 songs that I think are better." His experience with Berns probably didn't help.
- Genre-Busting: To varying degrees on all of his albums, but Astral Weeks is a unique blend of celtic folk, soul, blues and classical music with beatnik lyrics.
- Happy Rain: Rainy imagery is a motif in many of his songs, as in the "Fields all misty wet with rain" lines in "Sweet Thing" and "The Way Young Lovers Do", both from Astral Weeks, as well as the whole theme of "And It Stoned Me" from Moondance.
- Let's Duet: His collaboration with Sir Cliff Richard that topped the charts one Christmas.
- The Lost Duet: while in LA in 1967-68, Van Morrison joined The Doors onstage. The two Morrisons - Van and Jim - traded vocals in an extended version of Gloria. And nobody thought to preserve a tape.
- Live Album: Most famously It's Too Late to Stop Now, often considered one of the Greatest Live Albums of all time. Also Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl.
- Listener Gender Confusion: Madame George.
- Lyrical Tic: Morrison has a whole vocabulary of expressively soulful grunts, moans and vocal expressions for when the words fail him. A classic example would be the conclusion of Moondance:-
- See also the middle section of "Listen to the Lion".
- Mind Screw: You Don't Pull No Punches But You Don't Push The River starts as a coherent narrative, but becomes notably more surrealistic during the second part.
- Motif: "Caledonia", which is the ancient Roman name for Scotland. Morrison has Scottish ancestry on his father's side and it's referenced so often in his work that it's something of an Arc Word. It's even his daughter's middle name.
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: Uses elements of R&B, Blues, Rock, Jazz, Folk, and Classical all on the same album...
- Northern Ireland: Morrison is from the disputed region's capital city, Belfast.
- Odd Friendship: Q magazine asked lunatic comedian Spike Milligan to interview Morrison, and had a tape recorder running in the room to see what happened. The two hit it off so well that Q ended up publishing one of the best, longest, and most detailed interviews with Van Morrison, ever achieved anywhere. Milligan and Morrison remained friends.
- Oireland: His collaboration with trad music veterans The Chieftains, versions of Irish traditional songs performed on native instruments with Morrison performing vocals.
- Also the track "Streets of Arklow", on the Veedon Fleece album.
- He also namechecks places from his native Belfast throughout the Astral Weeks album.
- The jolly (for Morrison) song "Cleanin' Windows" is all about those carefree teenage days working as a window cleaner in East Belfast.
- Performance Anxiety: He is known to suffer from this - he stopped performing for a few years shortly after the recording of It's Too Late to Stop Now.
- Scatting: Often employs this, most notably on the intro to "Jackie Wilson Said".
- Sleeper Hit: His Astral Weeks album is considered by critics and many fans to be his best, though it wasn't until after the success of his later albums that it was actually noticed.
- Spoken Word In Music: Rave On John Donne. And especially on the Sense of Wonder album. This is as near as he gets to rap; Sense of Wonder incorporates lyrical nostalgia for a Belfast upbringing, and a later track involves Morrison reciting a William Blake poem set to his own music.
- Trans- Irish Sea Equivalent: his first band, Them, were billed as Ireland's Answer To The Rolling Stones! However, the legendarily introverted and retiring Morrison was no Mick Jagger.