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Music / Van Morrison

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He's got you on his wavelength.

Sir George Ivan Morrison, otherwise known as Van Morrison, is a singer-songwriter who was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on 31 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", penned by producer Bert Berns, which topped the British singles chart, and had limited success in the USA. A string of other hits followed, including a cover of Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue", a rock version of the blues standard "Baby, Please Don't Go", 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", which remains indeed Them's Signature Song despite technically not being their biggest hit.

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 (who had previously worked with Them), 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. Today it is considered one of the greatest rock albums of all time (although it isn't exactly typical rock music).

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 "Whenever God Shines His Light", 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 reggaenote , heavy rocknote , and rapnote . 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, Sir Paul McCartney, and Sir Elton John as a Knight of British musicnote  and became Sir George Ivan Morrison.


  • The Angry Young Them (as lead singer with Them, 1965)
  • Them Again (as lead singer with Them, 1966)
  • Blowin' Your Mind! (first solo album, 1967)
  • Astral Weeks (1968)
  • Moondance (1970)
  • His Band and the Street Choir (1970)
  • Tupelo Honey (1971)
  • Saint Dominic's Preview (1972)
  • Hard Nose the Highway (1973)
  • Veedon Fleece (1974)
  • A Period of Transition (1977)
  • Wavelength (1978)
  • Into the Music (1979)
  • Common One (1980)
  • Beautiful Vision (1982)
  • Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1983)
  • A Sense of Wonder (1985)
  • No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986)
  • Poetic Champions Compose (1987)
  • Irish Heartbeat (In collaboration with The Chieftains, 1988)
  • Avalon Sunset (1989)
  • Enlightenment (1990)
  • Hymns to the Silence (1991)
  • Too Long in Exile (1993)
  • Days Like This (1995)
  • How Long Has This Been Going On (1995)
  • Tell Me Something: The Songs of Mose Allison (1996)
  • The Healing Game (1997)
  • Back on Top (1999)
  • You Win Again (2000)
  • Down the Road (2002)
  • What's Wrong with This Picture? (2003)
  • Magic Time (2005)
  • Pay the Devil (2006)
  • Keep It Simple (2008)
  • Born to Sing: No Plan B (2012)
  • Duets: Re-working the Catalogue (2015)
  • Keep Me Singing (2016)
  • Roll with the Punches (2017)
  • Versatile (2017)
  • You're Driving Me Crazy (2018)
  • The Prophet Speaks (2018)
  • Three Chords & the Truth (2019)
  • Latest Record Project, Volume 1 (2021)
  • What's It Gonna Take? (2022)
  • Moving On Skiffle (2023)

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.
  • Berserk Button: Music industry politics in general, but especially the way Bang Records treated him at the start of his career. It's inspired more than one song over the years.
  • 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.note 
  • 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.
  • Covers Always Lie: His debut album Blowin' Your Mind! has a cover that implies that it's Psychedelic Rock, featuring a picture of Morrison surrounded by a drawing of brown paisley leaves and balloonish lettering. Instead it's largely R&B-inspired. Morrison hated it. Also the covers of Astral Weeks and His Band & The Street Choir, with double-exposure photos, make the albums look a lot trippier than they really are (the former is a mix of Folk Music and Jazz, the latter is Soul oriented).
  • Design Student's Orgasm: Hard Nose the Highway has a cover painting (by Robert Springett, who also did some Afrofuturism-infused cover paintings for Herbie Hancock around the same time) In the Style of Salvador Dalí, including enigmatic imagery like an old East Asian man in a straw hat, a woman wrapped in a sheet, translucent cattle, and, on the back of the gatefold, a bunch of seedy people hanging around a bar, all centered on a fairly realistic rendition of Morrison kneeling down on a hillside.
  • 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...
  • Freestyle Version: He tends to this whenever he does a cover version. His cover of "It's All in the Game" starts out as a conventional cover sticking more-or-less to the official lyrics, but by the end it has diverged so much that on the Into the Music album, the second half of the cover is listed as a separate track and given a new name (with songwriting credits for the lyrics given to Van).
  • 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 Mashup: Uses elements of R&B, Blues, Rock, Jazz, Folk Music, and Classical Music all on the same album... "Summertime in England" squeezes almost all of those into a single (15 minute) song!
    My sound is distinctively Irish pop with some Ray Charles and Dylan influence. (quoted in Billboard magazine, 1967)
  • 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.
  • God-Is-Love Songs: "Have I Told You Lately" is one such song, which was covered by Rod Stewart (as a regular love song) and Robin Mark.
  • 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.
  • Indecipherable Lyrics:
    • Even he's not sure what some of his lyrics really are.
      "'[Into the Mystic]' is kind of funny because when it came time to send the lyrics in WB Music, I couldn't figure out what to send them. Because really the song has two sets of lyrics. For example, there's 'I was born before the wind' and 'I was borne before the wind', and also 'Also younger than the son, Ere the bonny boat was one' and 'All so younger than the son, Ere the bonny boat was won' ..."
    • Similarly, in "Autumn Song" is it the evocative and poetic "And you go home in the Christmas of the night" or the more sensible "crispness of the night" (since autumn nights do indeed have brisk and crispy air)? The Hard Nose the Highway lyric sheet has the former, but he seems to actually sing the latter.
  • Intercourse with You: A few songs, but perhaps most obviously the song "Moondance".
    I want to make love to you tonight, I can't wait 'til the morning has come.
  • International Pop Song English: Morrison's singing voice is a smooth mid-Atlantic, unlike his natural strong Belfast accent.
  • Let's Duet: "Whenever God Shines His Light", his collaboration with Sir Cliff Richard that topped the Christmas charts in 1989.
  • 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":
      One more moondance with you! 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! On a ma-a-a-agic night... Can - I - just - have - one - more - Moondance - with - you....... my love.....
    • See also the middle section of "Listen to the Lion".
  • Mic Drop: Morrison does this at the end of his triumphant performance of "Caravan" in Concert Film The Last Waltz, dropping the mic and strolling off stage before the song is even done.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Ode to Youth: "These Are the Days"
  • Oireland: His collaboration with trad music veterans The Chieftains, debatably. Irish traditional songs performed on traditional instruments with Morrison performing vocals made for an album that sold very well outside Ireland, but it wasn't intended as any sort of cash-in on American Oireland feeling. And various songs about Van's childhood and love of his country are never stereotypical "Oirish" tropes.
  • One-Man Song: "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)".
  • 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 (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)".
  • 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.
  • Stuffy Old Songs About the Buttocks: That part of the female anatomy euphemistically described in Morrison's songs as "the jelly-roll". It crops up a lot on VM's back catalogue of lyrics.
  • 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.
    • The opening lines of "A Town Called Paradise" on No Guru, No Method, No Teacher have been speculated to be one toward Bruce Springsteen, who very clearly drew influence from Morrison, to the extent that Morrison considered him a "ripoff".
      Copycats ripped off my words
      Copycats ripped off my songs
      Copycats ripped off my melody
  • 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".
  • Transatlantic 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.
  • 12-Bar Blues: Writing and singing a wistful Twelve Bar Blues is an amazing feat to even try to attempt, but he does it effortlessly on "Cyprus Avenue".
  • Vocal Evolution: He often sang further forward in his younger days, including a couple of tracks in falsetto (like "Fair Play" on Veedon Fleece). From the Nineties, though, he increasingly sang deeper and from the chest, and became more of raspy.
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On: A crowd-pleaser in live gigs is Morrison's version of an old blues number by Sonny Boy Williamson, You Gotta Help Me. Morrison's lyrics expand on the idea that the lady to whom the song is addressed can help him by taking off her clothes.
  • Weather Dissonance: "Snow in San Anselmo", about a freak snowstorm in Marin County, California, where Morrison was living at the time.
  • The World Is Just Awesome: "And It Stoned Me", about a better-than-drugs fishing trip into the countryside.