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Music / Astral Weeks

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"And I will never grow so old again..."

Astral Weeks is the second studio album by Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison. Recorded in 1968, it follows on from the Early-Installment Weirdness debut solo album Blowin' Your Mind, and represents Morrison's first bout of relative creative freedom after breaking with Bert Berns. The eight tracks were recorded in September-October 1968, using a backing band of notable Jazz musicians like guitarist Jay Berliner, bassist Richard Davis, and drummer Connie Kay. It was released in November of that year.

It's a loose Concept Album, dealing with themes of love, growing up and loss, all done within an obvious autobiographical framework (for example, "Cyprus Avenue" is about an actual street in Belfast).

Astral Weeks sold poorly when it was first released, but according to music historian Andrew Ford, "Astral Weeks will sell as many copies this year as it did in 1968 and has every year in between."

Morrison followed it two years later with the far more popular and accessible album Moondance.

Track listing

Part One: In the Beginning
  1. "Astral Weeks" (7:06)
  2. "Beside You" (5:16)
  3. "Sweet Thing" (4:25)
  4. "Cyprus Avenue" (7:00)

Part Two: Afterwards

  1. "The Way Young Lovers Do" (3:18)
  2. "Madame George" (9:45)
  3. "Ballerina" (7:03)
  4. "Slim Slow Slider" (3:17)

If I ventured through the Trope-Stream...

  • Alliterative Title: "Slim Slow Slider".
  • All Love Is Unrequited: "Cyprus Avenue".
  • Call-Back: Cyprus Avenue is mentioned again in "Madame George".
  • Concept Album: The lyrics suggest that the songs are illustrating some kind of loose storyline about a young man in Belfast, strengthened by the "In the Beginning" and "Afterwards" labels for the two halves. Morrison has sort of confirmed this, but also says that the songs ended up out of sequence on the album.
  • Drag Queen: "Madame George". Morrison has evidently denied this, but most people think he's full of it.
    "In the corner, playing dominoes in drag,
    The one and only Madame George."
  • Epic Rocking: "Astral Weeks", "Cyprus Avenue", "Ballerina", and especially "Madame George".
  • Genre Mashup: Introduced Van's unique blend of R&B, Blues, Jazz, and Irish Folk Music. Critics sometimes call it "Celtic Soul", though others contend that its genre is essentially unclassifiable. It resembles nothing that had preceded it and little that followed.
  • Happy Rain: Both "Sweet Thing" and "The Way Young Lovers Do" use the lines "Fields all wet with rain". Something of a motif for Van.
  • Last Note Nightmare: "Slim Slow Slider" ends the album with some frantic, discordant sax lines, which, coupled with the final verse being about how "I know you're dyin', baby", gives the album a Sudden Downer Ending.
  • New Sound Album: Followed the Pop-Soul Blowin' Your Mind. It set the tone for the rest of Van's career.
  • Ode to Youth: Most of the album is this, concerning Van's youthful memories of an idealized Belfast.
  • Rearrange the Song: One of the conditions of getting released from his Bang Records contract was that Morrison had to include two songs published under his old contract on his first Warner Brothers album, so he re-recorded "Beside You" and "Madame George", which were first recorded at Bang, but didn't get released until years later. In both cases, the songs were midtempo rock/soul pieces in their Bang incarnation, but he turned them into slower acoustic ballads on this album, vastly improving them in the process.
  • Riddle for the Ages: John Payne, who'd been part of Morrison's ensemble in Boston, plays flute (and saxophone) for most of the album, but another player appears on "Beside You" and "Cyprus Avenue", the first two songs recorded, before Payne talked producer Lewis Merenstein into letting him take over. However, none of the documentation for the session establishes who the other flutist was, leaving their identity lost to history.
  • Scatting: Frequent, most obviously throughout "Astral Weeks" and the bridge of "The Way Young Lovers Do".
  • Shout-Out: "Talkin' to Huddie Ledbetter/Showin' pictures on the wall..." The latter line is reference to the fact that Van always hung a poster of Lead Belly on his wall in the 60's.
  • Titled After the Song: Though, oddly, "Astral Weeks" is a Non-Appearing Title, meaning the album lacks an Album Title Drop.
  • 12-Bar Blues: The structure of "Cyprus Avenue" uses this, but it's not very obvious.