George Ivan "Van" Morrison (born August 31, 1945) is a Northern Irish singer and songwriter originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He plays a variety of instruments, including the guitar, harmonica, keyboards, and saxophone.
Morrison first rose to prominence as the lead singer of the British/Irish band Them, penning their seminal 1966 hit "Gloria". A few years later, Morrison left the band for a successful solo career.
Morrison has pursued an idiosyncratic musical path. Much of his music is tightly structured around the conventions of American soul and R&B, such as the popular singles "Brown-Eyed Girl", "Moondance", and "Domino". An equal part of his catalogue consists of lengthy, loosely connected, spiritually inspired musical journeys that show the influence of Celtic tradition, jazz, and stream-of-consciousness narrative, such as his classic album Astral Weeks. The two strains together are sometimes referred to as "Celtic Soul".
Morrison?s career spanning some four decades, has influenced many popular musical artists. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2000, Morrison ranked number 25 on American cable music channel VH1?s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of Rock and Roll.
Growing up in a Protestant family in Belfast, Morrison was exposed to music from an early age, as his father collected American jazz and blues albums, and his mother was a singer. His father's taste in music was passed on to him, he grew up listening to artists such as Ray Charles, Leadbelly and Solomon Burke. In a 2005 Rolling Stone article he said that "Those guys were the inspiration that got me going. If it wasn't for that kind of music, I couldn't do what I'm doing now.
Morrison left home at age 15 to pursue a music career. He played in several local skiffle and rock n roll bands before joining the group The Monarchs and touring across Europe. He then formed the group Them, in 1964 and came to prominence fronting the band. The band had a number of chart hits, most notably the rock standard, "Gloria", subsequently covered by many artists, including Shadows of Knight.
Morrison became unhappy with increasing emphasis on the use of studio musicians, and left the band after a U.S. tour in 1966. He returned to Belfast, intending to quit the music business. Them?s producer, Bert Berns, persuaded him to return to New York and record solo for the Bang Records label. From these early sessions emerged one of his best-known songs, "Brown Eyed Girl" (which reached #10 in the US in 1967). Master session drummer Gary Chester played on that song. The album that came from those sessions was Blowin' Your Mind!. Morrison later admitted he wasn't pleased with the results, claiming in a Rolling Stone interview in 1969, "It came out wrong and they released it without my consent." Recordings from these sessions were occasionally re-released by Bang and in bootleg form, under various names. The complete recordings were repackaged in 1991 as the Bang Masters. These include an alternate take of "Brown Eyed Girl" as well as early versions of "Beside You" and "Madame George", songs that appear with slightly different chord changes, instrumentation, and lyrics on Morrison's second album.
After Berns?s death in 1967, Morrison moved to Boston, Massachusetts. He was soon confronted with personal and financial problems. He had entered an alcohol-aided depression and had trouble finding gigs. However, through the few gigs he could find, he regained his professional footing and started recording with the Warner Bros. label. His first album for them was Astral Weeks (which he had already performed in several clubs around Boston), a loose song cycle considered by many to be his best work. Released in 1968, the album was critically acclaimed, but received an indifferent response from the public. Morrison, in a Rolling Stone interview in 1970, described the album as a rock opera with a definite story line. Astral Weeks has been placed on several lists of the best albums of all time.
Morrison then moved to California and released his next album, Moondance in 1970, which reached #29 on the Billboard charts. The style of this album was in great contrast to that of Astral Weeks. Astral Weeks was a sorrowful and vulnerable album, Moondance on the other hand was a much more optimistic and cheerful affair. The title track, though never released in the US as a single, was heavily played in many radio formats. The evocative song "Into the Mystic" has also gained a wide following over the years. He produced the album himself because he felt no one else knew what he was looking for.
Over the next few years, he released several acclaimed albums (particularly 1970's His Band and the Street Choir, 1971's Tupelo Honey and 1972's Saint Dominic's Preview), which spawned the hits "Domino" (#9 in the US in 1970), "Wild Night", and "Tupelo Honey".
By 1972, despite being a performer for nearly 10 years, he soon began experiencing stage-fright when performing in front of large audiences, in front of thousands of people as opposed to the hundreds he had experienced in his early career. He would get anxious on stage and have difficulty establishing eye-contact with the audience. He once said on an interview about performing on stage, "I dig singing the songs but there are times when it's pretty agonizing for me to be out there."
After a brief break from music, he started performing in clubs and regained his ability to perform live, albeit with a smaller audience. He then formed the group, The Caledonia Soul Orchestra and ventured on a three-month US tour with them. This tour was captured for posterity on the live double album, It's Too Late to Stop Now, widely regarded as one of the great live albums in rock history.
In 1973 Morrison disbanded the Caledonia Soul Orchestra and divorced his wife of seven years, the violinist Janet Planet, with whom he had a daughter. He then released the introspective and poignant album Veedon Fleece in 1974. Though it attracted little attention at the time of its release, its critical stature has grown over the years, and Veedon Fleece is now considered one of Morrison's best works. "You Don't Pull No Punches, But You Don't Push the River", one of the album's side closers, exemplifies the long, hypnotic, cryptic Morrison, with its references to visionary poet William Blake and to the apparently Grail-like Veedon Fleece object.
Morrison would not release a follow-up album for the next 3 years. During this time, he was able to write and record a number of new songs, and in a KSAN radio interview in 1974, Van indicated plans to release a new album, Mechanical Bliss, a mere 4-5 months after Veedon Fleece. The projected February 1975 street date came and went without a release as Morrison continued to work on the album. During this time, the album title underwent a number of changes (at one time, it was to be called Stiff Upper Lip, another time it was retitled Naked In The Jungle), and the painter Zox was even commissioned to create the sleeve-artwork. The project was ultimately abandoned, and much of the work done would have to wait until 1998's Philosopher's Stone to see official release. (Zox's painting was later incorporated into the cover art to The Royal Scam, a Steely Dan album released in 1976.)
In 1976, Morrison performed at the farewell concert for The Band, which took place on Thanksgiving Day. It was his first live performance in quite some time, and Morrison considered skipping his appearance up until the very last minute. He performed two songs, one of them being "Caravan", from his 1970 album, Moondance; many consider that rendition to be the high point of the concert. The concert was filmed and later issued in Martin Scorsese's 1978 film, The Last Waltz, which is widely considered a landmark concert film.
In 1977, Morrison finally released A Period of Transition, a collaboration with Dr. John, who also appeared at The Last Waltz. Universally dismissed as subpar work, it did begin a very prolific period of song making. The following year, Morrison released Wavelength; it, too, was widely dismissed, but the engaging title track became a modest hit. The opening track, "Kingdom Hall" (about Morrison's own childhood experience around Jehovah's Witnesses), also foreshadowed the religious turn in Morrison's next album, Into the Music.
Released in 1979, Into the Music was hailed as a masterpiece. Dave Marsh described the album in The Rolling Stone Album Guide, 2nd Edition as, "An erotic/religious cycle of songs that culminates in the greatest side of music Morrison has created since Astral Weeks."
Much of the music Morrison released throughout the 80s continued to focus on themes of spirituality and faith as Morrison's compositions steered towards New Age territory. "Summertime In England" from Common One, "Cleaning Windows" from Beautiful Vision, "Rave On, John Donne" from Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart (a concert highlight), and "Tore Down A La Rimbaud" from A Sense Of Wonder are perhaps the best examples of his work during this relatively uneven period of his career.
A resurgence began with 1986's No Guru, No Method, No Teacher; that album and its successor, 1987's Poetic Champions Compose, were greeted with Morrison's best reviews in years. In 1988, he released Irish Heartbeat with the Irish group, The Chieftains; a popular-selling record, the album featured a collection of traditional Irish folk songs. In 1989, Morrison released an even more popular seller, Avalon Sunset, which featured the hit duet with Cliff Richard, "Whenever God Shines His Light"; and the ballad, "Have I Told You Lately" (also popularised by Rod Stewart). A critical and commercial success, Morrison was able to capitalize on its success with the release of The Best of Van Morrison. Not to be mistaken with a similarly-titled compilation released in 1967 (and long out-of-print), this was the first collection ever to survey his entire career. Compiled by Morrison himself and focusing on his hit singles, it became a multi-platinum success and remains the most popular item in Van Morrison's catalogue.
In 1990 Morrison also joined many other guests for Roger Waters' massive performance of The Wall in Berlin, in which he sang "Comfortably Numb" with Roger Waters, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Rick Danko.
Morrison would go on to collaborate with many other artists for many years to come. As mentioned, he performed a duet with Cliff Richard on Morrison's 1989 album, Avalon Sunset, but he also performed with singer Tom Jones on the 1999 album Reload and with musical legend Ray Charles on his 2004 album Genius Loves Company. In 1997, Morrison collaborated with blues legend John Lee Hooker on Hooker's album, Don't Look Back. The title track from the album would go on to win a Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals in 1998. This was not the first time the two had worked together; Morrison appeared on both Hooker's Never Get Out of These Blues Alive and Chill Out previously.
Though Morrison's commercial success would continue throughout the 1990s, the critical reception to his work began to decline. 1990's Enlightenment yielded one hit single, "Real Real Gone" (first recorded ten years earlier), and 1991's double-CD Hymns To The Silence was one of his most ambitious works, but 1993's Too Long In Exile, 1995's Days Like This, and others were not well recieved.
This period was also marked by a number of side projects, including the live, jazz performances of 1996's How Long Has This Been Going On, 1997's Tell Me Something: The Songs Of Mose Allison, and 2000's The Skiffle Sessions - Live In Belfast, all of which found Morrison paying tribute to his long-time favourites.
In 1997, Morrison released The Healing Game, arguably his best album of the 1990s. The following year, Morrison finally released some of his unissued studio recordings in a warmly received two-disc set, The Philosopher's Stone. His next release, 1999's Back On Top, was a modest success, being his highest charting album since 1978's Wavelength.
Van Morrison continued to record and tour in the 2000s, performing two or three times a week. Playing fewer of his well-known songs in concert than almost any other artist from his era, Morrison refused to be relegated into a nostalgia act.
In 2000, Morrison released a collaboration with (Jerry Lee Lewis's sister) Linda Gail Lewis, You Win Again. Another side project, this time focusing on r&b and country-and-western standards, Lewis proved to be an excellent duet partner, and the project set the stage for Morrison's next album, Choppin' Wood. Clinton Heylin's book, Can You Feel The Silence?, discusses this period in great detail, but due to legal issues surrounding the matter, not everything could be divulged. By the end of 2000, the album was essentially finished when Lewis and Morrison had a falling out.
As a result, Morrison went back and re-recorded and/or remixed most of the tracks, removing Lewis's contributions in the process. A few songs were removed from the final running order and more new ones were added in. The result was released in 2002 as Down The Road. Arguably Morrison's strongest release since Avalon Sunset, Heylin contends that the original version, Choppin' Wood, would've been a true return to form. It's doubtful if that notion will ever be put to the test because the original recordings have yet to circulate, privately or publicly.
"In recognition of his unique position as one of the most important songwriters of the past century," Van Morrison was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame at an awards ceremony in New York City in June 2003.
In the same year, Morrison released What's Wrong With This Picture? on the legendary jazz record label, Blue Note Records. The album would later receive a Grammy nomination for 'Best Contemporary Blues Album.'
In 2004, his song "Bright Side of the Road", off his 1979 album, Into The Music was featured in the UNESCO ads for the World Press Freedom Day.
Morrison still remains popular with the public; his latest album, Magic Time debuted at #25 on the US Billboard charts upon release in May 2005, some 40 years after first entering the public's eye as the frontman of Them.
Morrison's influence can be readily seen in the music of many major artists, including U2 (much of The Unforgettable Fire), Bruce Springsteen ("Spirit in the Night", "Backstreets"), Bob Seger, Rod Stewart, Patti Smith (her poetic-proto-punk "Gloria" most explicitly), Graham Parker, Thin Lizzy, Dexys Midnight Runners, and numerous others.
1967 - Blowin' Your Mind
1968 - Astral Weeks
1970 - Moondance
1970 - His Band and the Street Choir
1971 - Tupelo Honey
1972 - Saint Dominic's Preview
1973 - Hard Nose the Highway
1974 - It's Too Late to Stop Now
1974 - Veedon Fleece
1977 - A Period of Transition
1978 - Wavelength
1979 - Into the Music
1980 - Common One
1982 - Beautiful Vision
1983 - Inarticulate Speech of the Heart
1985 - A Sense of Wonder
1986 - No Guru, No Method, No Teacher
1987 - Poetic Champions Compose
1988 - Irish Heartbeat (
1989 - Avalon Sunset
1990 - Enlightenment
1991 - Hymns to the Silence
1993 - Too Long in Exile
1994 - A Night in San Francisco
1995 - Days Like This
1996 - How Long Has This Been Going On
1996 - Tell Me Something: The Songs of Mose Allison
1997 - The Healing Game
1999 - Back on Top
2000 - The Skiffle Sessions - Live In Belfast 1998
2000 - You Win Again
2002 - Down the Road
2003 - What's Wrong with this Picture?
2005 - Magic Time
1991 - Bang Masters