#GuelphMusicClub, Pt. III

Fourth week of the club and I am sneaking in my third contribution just prior to the Sunday midnight deadline.

I have had a bit of a love/hate relationship with this next album – meaning I hated it in the first half of my life and have really come to appreciate it since then.

It is fitting that today is Father’s Day as this could be my Dad’s favourite record of all time.

He used to play the shit outta this guy and as a kid, it was so weak to me. It was old people music and I thought I was really badass listening to KoЯn and shit like that at the time. But, as is usually the case, I came to really enjoy much of the music I got to hear while I was growing up.

It’s a different time now that we are living in the internet age so this may be obvious to the youth at this point in time.. but music is always more fun when you start going backwards. When you begin to investigate the musicians that influenced your own favourite artists, it is mind-expanding, plain and simple. Staying current is always cool too but knowing how we got here is dat real shit tho.

LEARN THE HISTORY, KIDS.

*     *     *     *     *

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks  (1968)

astralweeks

The most obvious pick of mine thus far. Its classic status is not debatable.

Despite the fact that Van was born into an orange territory of Protestant filth, his music transcended Irish borders and sort of nestled into that peaceful little white space in the middle of the flag of the Republic.

Both of my parents are Irish immigrants – proper, respectable Catholics, mind you – and my pops, in particular, thinks Morrison is the cat’s ass.

I mean, I know I already mentioned this but when I was a kid, he would play Van Morrison albums the way my sister played Spice Girls albums when she was still playing with Polly Pockets. It was that real.

But it was dope. As the size of my pant leg began to decrease, I started allowing myself to hear the things in this record that made it so crazy.

It has some great stories attached to it:

  • It was born out of tumultuous circumstances. Van was in the midst of a contract dispute that resulted in him being put on a New York blacklist by his label, thus having to move out of state in order to continue performing. The label, Bang Records, contacted immigration soon after in an attempt to have Morrison deported, which he only managed to avoid by marrying his then-girlfriend.
  • The aforementioned contract dispute pertained to Morrison’s rejection of his own pop appeal that arose upon the success of “Brown Eyed Girl”. Bang strongly opposed Van’s growing desire to diversify his own repertoire.
  • His resulting move to Massachusetts turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Morrison began linking up with local Berklee trained musicians. With many of these players coming from jazz-heavy backgrounds, they perfectly complimented his folky and increasingly stream-of-consciousness inspirations.
  • After being courted by Warner Bros., Morrison fulfilled his contractual obligations to Bang by recording a fuck-you album of “nonsense” tracks. Each “song” clocks in at about a minute in length on average. The sessions will not be heard publicly for nearly 30 years.

Five years in the making, Astral Weeks broke new artistic ground by seamlessly fusing together elements of folk, rock, classical, blues, and jazz music. Lyrically, it is considered to be an early example of the song cycle and concept album within contemporary music.

The session players were given free-reign to improvise whatever they liked alongside Morrison’s compositions. As a result, there is a breadth of variety on display in terms of instrumentation, tempo, and meter. In fact, due to the expansiveness of the recording sessions, there were many editing experiments that yielded some interesting results in post.

The complexity of the album became especially apparent to me in college when I was tasked with recreating a song of my choosing as closely as possible to the original. I chose “Cyprus Avenue” to give my Dad a little kick (he refers to it as his favourite song) but I definitely made life hard on myself with that one. Not only is the song all over the place (not even a trace of a metronome / click track) but how the fuck did I ever expect to replicate the tone of a goddamned harpsichord!?

The song is a masterpiece, though.
The album and its influence remain timeless.
But I’m sure you already knew this.

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