Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Van Morrison Reincarnate

Re-issue mania continues to give a boost to the slowly dying music industry and no, I am not talking about the much hyped 25th anniversary collection of Michael Jackson's Thriller (although I recently wondered what ever happened to the three identical red "27 zipper jackets" that Chief, Wiggler, and the Lipper bought for $15 CDN and wore for the entire weekend on one of the infamous pledge walkout trips to Toronto). I am thrilled to report that it looks like the great Van Morrison finally let somebody with some marketing savy into the inner sactum of Van-ism. It has always appeared that Van could care less about the commercial success of any of the albums that he put out. He has always been in it for the music (and some might say also occassionally in it for God) and although many people believe Van to be a guru, nobody has ever accused him of being a marketing guru. The goal of the re-issue craze is to try to get people like us to buy the same music for the second or third or even fourth time because the format has changed or through your own stupidity you have misplaced what was once a jewel in your musical collection. This evil plan occassionally works as I recently kicked myself for realizing I had purchased I Robot by The Alan Parson Project in four formats in my lifetime; 8-track (ouch that hurts just typing it), vinyl, Japanese vinyl, and the 30th anniversary CD which I had to have just for kicks. (No matter how hard I try my brain just can't seem to forget the exact moment in the music when the 8-track changed tracks mid-song). I have a hunch Van Morrison will be quite successful at this and since he is re-releasing TWENTY-NINE remastered CD's, all with quality if not significant bonus tracks, there must be some other people sitting in a board room somewhere who also believe this will be financially rewarding. Half of my Van Morrison collection is on vinyl and some of his CD's that I own are of poor sound quality, obviously not remastered. I just ordered the newly re-issued and re-mastered Wavelength CD, one I never owned but always mulled over buying. (I had to get something new and check the sound quality before rushing out to drop money on music that I previously bought in another format!) The reviews of the sound quality have been glowing and the master plan is to roll out 29 of Van's gems over the next 13 months in 4 batches. Each will contain upgraded booklets (a rarety in today's CD world) and previously unreleased bonus material. Here are the release dates:

January 2008 (7 titles)

Tupelo Honey (1971), It's Too Late To Stop Now (2 CD Live Set) (1974), Wavelength (1978), Into The Music (1979), A Sense Of Wonder (1985), Avalon Sunset (1989) and Back On Top (1999)

June 2008 (8 titles)

Veedon Fleece (1974), Common One (1980), Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart (1983), Live At The Grand Opera House, Belfast (1984), No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986), Enlightenment (1990), A Night In San Francisco (2CD Live Set) (1994) and The Healing Game (1997)

September 2008 (7 titles)

Saint Dominic's Preview (1972), A Period Of Transition (1977), Beautiful Vision (1982), Poetic Champions Compose (1987), Hymns To The Silence (2CD Studio Set) (1991), How Long Has This Been Going On (Live At Ronnie Scott's) (1995), Tell Me Something - The Songs Of Mose Allison (1996)

January 2009 (8 titles)

Hard Nose The Highway (1973), Irish Heartbeat (with The Chieftains) (1988), Too Long In Exile (1993), Days Like This (1995), The Story Of Them (2CD Set) (1999), The Skiffle Sessions - Live In Belfast (with Lonnie Donegan & Chris Barber) (2000), Down The Road (2002) and What's Wrong With This Picture? (2003)

Noticeably absent and desperately in need of a significant sound upgrade are Van's 1st and 2nd album masterpieces on Warner Bothers Astral Weeks (1968) and Moondance (1970) and the remarkable His Band & The Street Choir (late 1970). Apparently the dispute between WB and Van remains unresolved. All of these great works have both been languishing around on crappy-sounding non-remastered CDs for over 20 years now and counting.

So now I pose the Question of the Day: What is your favorite Van Morrison album? Hard to pick but I damn near wore out Astral Weeks when I bought it for $3 at Wazoo Records. My god I spent a lot of time at that place thumbing through the bins and bins of used LPs. Most of you who regularly read this blog are probably all too young to remember Wazoo. By the time most of you were at the University of Michigan it was a CD world. When I arrived in Ann Arbor one of the first stores I popped into was Wazoo. A creaky climb up the wooden steps to the second floor nest of rock and roll history. Rare photos, liner notes, out-of-print albums, vintage rock and roll articles including a piece from the Michigan Daily detailing exactly why "Paul is dead!" A mind opening experience for any 18 or 19 year old. Virtually every album I still own has a red circle sticker with a hand written $3, $4, or $9-rare! My favorite time to visit was when I had a dead hour between classes. Not time for much else but plenty of time to sift through the treasures. It was always nice to show up to my Spanish class or my American History lecture with a couple of "new to me" albums under my arm. Although I loved vinyl, especially the packaging, I was the first guy in my dorm to have a CD player. Detroit rock jock legend Aurthur P. did a radio show on WLLZ one Saturday night in the fall of 1982 and debuted the concept of “digital” music, playing parts of each track, first from a vinyl albumn and then the same track in “Compact Disc” format. I listened in head phones and was totally blown away. To me it was like listening to the future. I knew in an instant this was where music was going. A CD player was the only request on my Christmas list that December but luckily I also got five CDs as well. I quickly added five more titles but those ten CDs (including Moondance) got a lot of play that term. By the time I moved into the Delt House in the fall of 1984 I would estimate that about 1/3 to ½ of the rooms had a CD player. Records were still the $hit and the storage of said albums was the dominant feature in everyone’s room. Last weekend I pulled my turntable out of storage and hooked it up to a stereo in my workout room so I can get some use out of my old albums that my daughter Morgan is suddenly fascinated with. “Dad, I have never actually heard music from an album or seen a record player that actually worked.” Holy crap I am old.


Anonymous said...

Candyman here. LOVE the topic - from many different angles.

First - Astral Weeks, basically hands down. As good as some other albums are (and yes, they are albums...), Astral Weeks is on top.
*Reasons - I was a senior in high school and reading Rolling Stone 15th anniversary Top 100 albums (on the crapper in the house I now live in...)and Astral Weeks came in at #7 (recently dropped to #19 on their top 500 list) I had never hear it before, and it was very impressionable that it was top 10 without me hearing it. Next day I went to the used record store - another topic of the thread...later - and was blown away. Completely;
*In addition, for my wife and I, that was "our" album when we were living at 812 McKinley. We burned a 4 foot candle in a wine bottle any evening we were enthralled and in love, which was pretty much all the time. Man, what times;
*Third, it is simply incredible music.

In the Rolling Stone article on the album, it stated that Van came into the session without knowing any of the musicians, handed out the music, holed himself in his sound booth, and told them to play how they wanted and felt. It is such a cohesive fabric of music - how could it be relatively random? Amazing. I spent my high school years at The Record Exchange picking thru vinyl. Nothing better. $4 or so for this or that. Plus the photos, the sleeves, the liner notes. Heaven. A by-gone joy, much like the Charleston or whatever.
I still play vinyl. I go on vinyl madness twice a year or so. My brother bought me Kiss Alive 2, but only also buying Star Wars by the London Symphony Orchestra. My son was thrilled beyond belief at hearing that. Great stuff.
In 1985 when I was a freshman on Bursley Lewis 6 (sixth floor) with Adman and Danny T., I was one of two people with a CD player. Was a total novelty and 'wow' thing. Used to get CD's in the mail from my brother. Crazy. Different time for sure. Keith Stults had an outrageous collection that early. St. Dominics, Street Choir, Tupelo are great. - CANDYMAN

Assman said...

That Wavelength album cover is pretty funny. It has a disco feel to it. Reminds me of the Grateful Dead's "Go To Heaven" album cover. Van is The Man!

Anonymous said...

One of the things that makes Van the Man so important musically is that you can always find someone who was inspired/changed/awakened/brought to tear by almost any one of his CDs. He is the living oxymoron of "constant change." His personality is a bit more caustic so I've heard. In one article I read he said he gets infuriated when people stop him in airports and ask "Do you still have the dogs?" Apparently the dogs on the cover of Veedon Fleece were not his and were just part of the photo shoot but his adoring fans always wanted to believe they were his canines as they just seemed to fit together. Reviewing your list of Van's work it is amazing how much music he has produced, and how much of it is truly great.

Taxman said...

Top 5 Van albums:

1 – Astral Weeks – how great is this album? It’s timeless - its style is really hard to categorize and impossible to imitate

2 – It’s Too Late to Stop Now – one of the best 10 live albums ever.

3 - His Band and the Street Choir – Van at his R&B best

4 – Moondance – I listen to it less b/c I’ve heard half the songs 1000 times but when I do listen, I am never disappointed

5 – St. Dominic’s Preview – another Van R&B classic

I love his late 80s and 90s stuff – even the smooth jazz cheesy stuff. He can do no wrong in my eyes (except when I see him live and he plays 55 minute concerts @$100 a pop.

A hidden Van gem but I don’t see it on this list either is A Philosopher’s Stone – a 2 CD collection of unreleased songs from the 70s and 80s that is actually remarkable. Check out the reviews on Amazon from some Van diehards.

bg93245 said...

For me it would be... No Guro No method No Teacher. But i thinbk it really has t do with where are in out lives when a album hits hard and deep. Like my favorite dead album is Dead Set but hands down the best version of Eyes of the World is on Without a Net. frigging love that marsalis (sp) twist.