Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this middle-aged man as I attempt to listen to all the music in my CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. CDs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no downloads. And just as CD technology (and the album format itself) becomes obsolete. I'm no music critic, just a music junkie with too much time on my hands.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Van Morrison - Astral Weeks (1968)


It doesn't happen very often, but every now and then I get a request for a particular CD.  My high school friend Jim requested this one, but it wasn't on my shelves.  Since I was familiar with the title and am well aware of its reputation as one of the best albums in pop music history, I decided to add it to the collection.  If the request had happened today, I would probably simply stream the album once, brush it off as meandering folk music, and just tell Jim that "it's just not my kind of thing."  That would have been a huge mistake.

Based on the album's reputation and Jim's recommendation, I purchased the CD in March 2011 without ever previewing any of the tracks.  With high expectations, I gave it a listen and initially thought it was meandering folk music that wasn't my kind of thing.  I figured I must have been missing something and told myself that I should listen to the disc several more times before passing judgement.  That was a good call; for me, this album was definitely an acquired taste.  This is very introspective music, full of heartbreak, made to be listened to in the gloaming.  Hard to believe it emerged from the mind of a 23 year old.

Critics always refer to the jazziness of the music, but I'm not hearing that.  To me, it's Celtic melodies over simple blues-based chord progressions with painful yet poetic blues lyrics.  Folk blues, if you will.  The band is sometimes out of tune and not in the pocket, which usually annoys me to no end, but it somehow seems to work here.  It's almost like the musicians are shrugging and sharing knowing looks that say "I'll get it right next time, let's keeping jamming, roll the tape."  I've been listening to this for 2 years now and I'm still finding new things with every listen.  Let's hope that trend continues. Dig in.

Acclaim:
  • #2 on the 100 Greatest Albums Ever Made by Mojo Magazine (1995)
  • #19 on the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time by Rolling Stone Magazine (2003)
  • #3 on the 100 Best Albums of All Time by the London Times (1993)
  • #9 on the album list in the Music of the Millennium poll by the BBC (1998)
  • #6 on the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever by Q Magazine (2000).
  • #6 on the 100 Greatest Singer-Songwriter Albums of All Time at Amazon.com.
  • Listed in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (2005)
  • Listed among the All Time 100 Albums by Time Magazine (2010)
  • Grammy Hall of Fame (1999)

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart, although Andrew Ford writes, "Astral Weeks will sell as many copies this year as it did in 1968 and has every year in between."

Tracks:  Although nontraditional, this is a song cycle which should be heard from beginning to end, so skipping and shuffling aren't options.  Of the 8 songs here, my favorites are the title track, Sweet Thing, Madame George, and Slim Slow Slider which ditches the string accompaniment in favor of tasteful soprano saxophone obbligato.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD:  None, yet. Remember that I didn't hear the album until 43 years after its release.


[Update, 15 Oct 2013: Ignore everything I wrote above and go read this beautiful piece on Astral Weeks from legendary rock critic Lester Bangs: Astral Weeks by Lester Bangs from "Stranded" (1979)]

1 comment:

  1. Is it weird that I don't want to like albums that critics like?

    The first Van Morrison song I remember hearing was "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm In Heaven When You Smile)" though I surely must have heard "Brown-Eyed Girl" umpteen times before that. The song made me want to buy the single which was nowhere to be found. I combed through my dad's collection of albums and 8-tracks and he didn't have any Van Morrison. Then one day, I'm at a friend's house and looking through his parents collection, find three Morrison albums which I "borrowed" over the course of week, listening to each one with my Dad's Pioneer headphones on my Sounddesign stereo before returning them to their rightful owners.

    The albums were Astral Weeks, Moondance and Tupelo Honey. None of them had "Jackie Wilson Said..." but I heard several new songs that were unlike anything I was listening to in 1976-1977.

    As I grew into an obsessive and omnivorous music fan, I resisted buying anything I was unfamiliar with that the critics liked. The Rolling Stone Record Guide was my guide. Then in 1985, I picked up my first five Van Morrison albums (his output from 1968's Astral Weeks through 1972's Saint Dominic's Preview which had that "Jackie Wilson..." song) as part of a 3 for $10 or 4 for $12 sale at Discount Records.

    In the years since, I have also picked up those same albums in CD format and now count 21 Van Morrison CDs among my collection, according to the Music Collectorz inventory of my CD collection I have on my iPhone. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Moondance. Or Tupelo Honey. Or Astral Weeks.

    Damn! The critics were right. This time.

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