Van Morrison performs in Norway in 2016. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
By Jessica Wheeler, Columnist
A commanding Irish soul singer with fire and brimstone in his voice, Van Morrison has been crafting high-quality songs for more than 50 years. For three consecutive evenings, from Jan. 17-19, Morrison will play Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. In honor of those upcoming shows, here are seven songs to help you get to know Van Morrison.
Although he formed his first band at the age of twelve, Morrison’s career didn’t take off until 1964 when he joined the band Them. The band was a favorite in Belfast, earning a legendary reputation for their live performances, including versions of “Gloria” that could last for up to 20 minutes. The song was released as a single in 1965 and instantly became a garage rock classic, with a killer riff and Morrison’s powerful vocals driving it to the top of the charts.
- “Brown Eyed Girl”
After leaving Them in 1967, Morrison launched a solo career. He immediately scored a top ten hit with “Brown Eyed Girl,” a lovely pop song that bore little resemblance to the rest of his music. Although the song is not one of Morrison’s favorites, he still occasionally plays it live, often turning it into a jazz song.
- “Madame George”
Morrison’s 1968 album, Astral Weeks, was a song cycle consisting of eight songs, many of them over six minutes in length. The hypnotic quality of the recording and poetic lyrics have made the album a classic, but when it was released it went largely unnoticed. “Madame George,” which draws from Morrison’s Belfast childhood, is perhaps the best example of this period in Morrison’s career.
Morrison followed up Astral Weeks with a far more commercially friendly album, Moondance. Still a fan favorite after all these years, the album reached the top 40 on the Billboard charts and established him as one of rock’s finest singer-songwriters. With styles ranging from jazz to blues to pop, Moondance had something for everyone. “Caravan,” a joyful celebration of music and camaraderie, is the song Morrison chose to perform at The Band’s famous Last Waltz concert. His appearance at that show has become legendary in itself.
Later in 1970, Morrison released His Band and the Street Choir, which contained the top ten hit “Domino.” A breezy soul song, “Domino” still receives heavy radio airplay and is a fan favorite.
- “Wild Night”
1971’s Tupelo Honey album was a more sedate affair overall, but the single “Wild Night” is as raucous as anything Morrison recorded with Them. It was a top forty hit for Morrison, and more than 20 years later was a top five hit for John Mellencamp.
- “Have I Told You Lately”
Morrison’s later career has been marked by forays into jazz and other sounds as he has continued to explore genres, refusing to be pigeonholed. Many of his works have a religious theme, including “Have I Told You Lately,” which was originally written as a prayer but later recorded as a song. When it was released in 1989, it became a radio hit, although Morrison’s version was overtaken when Rod Stewart released his cover in 1993. That version reached the top five.
Jessica Wheeler is a columnist for AliveTampaBay.