Music: Van Morrison

He's got you on his wavelength.

George Ivan Morrison, otherwise known as Van 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 1970, 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.

In June 2015 he joined Sir Cliff Richard and Sir Elton John as a Knight of British musicnote  and became Sir George Ivan Morrison.

The work of Van Morrison contains examples of the following:

  • Alliterative Title: "Slim Slow Slider"
  • The Band Minus the Face: Them, after Morrison left to pursue his solo career.
  • Body Horror: Implicit in "TB Sheets". Truth in Television; Dying of Tuberculosis is NOT glamorous or "Romantic".
  • Bowdlerise:
    • Some radio stations were skittish about "Brown Eyed Girl" because of the line "makin' love in the green grass", so Bang issued a (poorly) edited version replacing it with "laughin' and a-runnin', hey, hey" from earlier in the song.
    • A couple years earlier "she comes to my room" scared some radio stations away from playing "Gloria". The cover by The Shadows of Knight eliminated that line and became a bigger hit than the Them version.
  • Breakup Breakout: Morrison's career began to soar to new heights after he left Them. his old group never recovered and sank into obscurity.
  • Call Back: "Wavelength" mentions "that song...about my lover in the grass", i.e. "Brown Eyed Girl".
  • The Cover Changes The Meaning:
    • Patti Smith's inversion of the main lust-theme of "Gloria" on Horses.
    • 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 a production crew prank meant DMR played the song live, to millions of TV viewers, in front of a massively blown up photo of darts legend Jockie Wilson.
    • "Bein' Green". Once you get past the oddity of Van Morrison covering Kermit The Frog, it seems like Van is singing about accepting his Mainstream Obscurity and how it frees him up to pursue his artistic vision without compromising.
  • Epic Rocking: A fair number of his songs are either over 10 minutes long or come close to it. A lesser known example comes from his contribution to the "Gloriathon". In 1999, a live music venue in Austin, TX known as the Liberty Lunch was set to shut down and be demolished for the "modernization" of the city; since the club was a staple of the city's music scene since the 1970's, several local musicians decided to send it off with a version of "Gloria" that played for a solid twenty-four hours without stopping. About eighteen hours in, Van Morrison himself called the club from his position onstage at a festival in Chester, England and played the song with the locals through the club's PA and a portable phone. The best part? Van Morrison hated "Gloria", and for a long time he absolutely refused to play it live at all, however he made an exception for the Gloriathon.
  • Exhort The Disc Jockey Song: "Domino" turns into one of these at the end.
    Well, mister DJ
    I just wanna hear some rhythm and blues music
    On the radio
    On the radio
    On the radio...
  • 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.
  • Genre Roulette: Saint Dominic's Preview. All the songs are the usual Morrison genre blends, but each one has a sound and style that doesn't get repeated on the albumnote . His other albums are also eclectic but usually have more of a uniform foundation.
  • 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.
  • Intercourse with You: A few songs, but perhaps most obviously the song "Moondance".
  • International Pop Song English: Morrison's singing voice is a smooth mid-Atlantic, unlike his natural strong Belfast accent.
  • Knight Fever: Became Sir George Ivan Morrison in June 2015 note 
  • Let's Duet: His collaboration with Sir Cliff Richard that topped the charts one Christmas.
  • Live Album: Most famously It's Too Late to Stop Now, often considered one of the greatest live albums of all time. Also a couple of live albums recorded in Belfast, one recorded in San Francisco, and a complete concert performance of Astral Weeks done at the Hollywood Bowl.
  • Looped Lyrics: "Blue Money" is just one verse repeated several times, plus Scatting.
  • 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":
      In the moonlight! On a magic night.. (presses microphone into fleshy underside of chin) Brrrrr...brrr-mmmmmm, ahhh, aahhhh, (moves mic back to more conventional singing position) In the moonlight! Can - I - just - have - one - more - Moondance - with - you....... my love.....
    • 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.
    "And the Sisters of Mercy, behind the sun. And William Blake and the Sisters of Mercy looking for the Veedon Fleece."
  • Mood Whiplash: The intense, cathartic Astral Weeks was followed by the bright, peaceful Moondance. Also, on his first album, Blowin' Your Mind, the lacerating, 9-minute "TB Sheets" was surrounded by mostly innocuous Pop and R&B songs.
  • 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.
    • Radio is mentioned in a bunch of his songs.
  • Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: Uses elements of R&B, Blues, Rock, Jazz, Folk, and Classical all on the same album... "Summertime In England" squeezes almost all of those into a single (15 minute) song!
  • New Sound Album: Too Long In Exile was this after the increasingly esoteric and meditative 80s albums. ...Exile, as the title suggests, marked the first in a series of albums taking Van back to his rhythm'n'blues roots.
  • 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.
  • One Man Song: "Jackie Wilson Said".
  • 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.
  • Rearrange the Song: He's made a habit of resurrecting songs that were recorded but rejected from earlier albums (in a few cases, as much as a decade or more afterwards) and recording new versions that finally get released. The new versions get rearranged drastically.
  • Scatting: Often employs this, most notably on the intro to "Jackie Wilson Said".
  • Shout-Out: He mentions lots of singers or other musicians in his lyrics: Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Hank Williams, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Mahalia Jackson, Huddie (Lead Belly) Ledbetter, Jelly Roll Morton, and on and on.
  • The Something Song: "Autumn Song", but it does get a Title Drop in the lyrics.
  • Spoken Word in Music:
    • "Rave On, John Donne".
    • And especially the A Sense of Wonder album. This is as near as he gets to rap; the title track incorporates lyrical nostalgia for a Belfast upbringing, and a later track involves Morrison reciting a William Blake poem set to his own music.
  • Sudden Downer Ending: "Slim Slow Slider" on Astral Weeks.
  • Take That: Many, over the years, mostly to unnamed people in the music business, or the industry itself. Perhaps the most notable is the suite of 36 songs he recorded to fulfill his contractual obligation to Bang - they have nonsense lyrics and titles like "Ring Worm", "Blowin' Your Nose", "Nose In Your Blow" and "Here Comes Dumb George". They have been released multiple times anyway, and Morrison gets little or no royalty fees for them.
  • Textless Album Cover: His Band and the Street Choir, in its original release.
  • This Is a Song: "Wavelength" opens with the line "This is a song about your wavelength and my wavelength".
  • Trans Atlantic Equivalent: In this case, 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.
  • Weather Dissonance: "Snow in San Anselmo", about a freak snowstorm in Marin County, California, where Morrison was living at the time.