Happy Birthday: Van Morrison

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Thursday, August 31, 2017
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Happy Birthday: Van Morrison

Today we celebrate the birth of Sir George Ivan Morrison, a gentleman known more familiarly as Van. We’ve pulled together a playlist featuring all of his albums that currently reside within our catalog, but in addition to this lovely listening material, we’ve also compiled a list of five tracks on which Morrison offers guest vocals. Perhaps some of them will be new to you, but they’ll all remind you why Van is the man.

1. The Band, “4% Pantomime” (1971) – Van became friends with all of the members of The Band, but he apparently got along particularly well with pianist Richard Manuel. It’s with Manuel that Van duets on the track, which appears on the band’s CAHOOTS album. According to Levon Helm, “Van came to Bearsville (studio) and began discussing the merits of scotch whisky with Richard. They acted out some lyrics about management and a poker game and Richard sang, ‘Oh, Belfast Cowboy, can you call a spade a spade?’ It was an extremely liquid session, Van and Richard were into it, and there was horror among the civilians at the studio when the two dead-drunk musicians argued about who would drive the other one home. Richard drove, and I think he made it. Lord knows he wrecked a lot of cars that year.”

2. John Lee Hooker, “Going Down” (1973) – Van and Hooker recorded a few tracks together over the years, but according to an interview on The Bluesmobile, it was Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band who brought the two together. “Van was living in Boston, and he was a huge Hooker fan,” said Wolf. “And so I put together this lunch, and the interesting thing about it is Van had this very intense Belfast accent. It’d be hard for a lot of people to understand him, myself included. And John had his own way of talking too that some people could be hard to get. And so here is this guy from Mississippi talking one way, and then this guy from Belfast is talking another way. They were understanding each other perfectly. I couldn’t follow nearly a word of it.”

3. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, “Dead Girls of London” (1979): You have to really look hard to find this one, mostly because contractual legalities kept it from being released properly. The story is that Van happened to be recording in a nearby studio, so Zappa asked him if he’d sing on this track, but after doing so, Warner Brothers refused to let Morrison be on the album, so Zappa had to overdub his own voice instead. The recording has managed to slip out somehow or other, so you can at least hear it now.

4. Chet Baker, “Send in the Clowns” (1987): Late in his life (a mere two years before it was over, in fact), jazz trumpeter Chet Baker took the stage of Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London for a concert that was filmed and released under the highly apropos title CHET BAKER: LIVE AT RONNIE SCOTT’S. During the course of the show, Van took the microphone to croon – of all things – a version of the Steven Sondheim classic “Send in the Clowns.”

5. Roger Waters, “Comfortably Numb” (1990): To bring things full circle, we find Van joining the former Pink Floyd frontman in Berlin to sing the choruses on this classic track from THE WALL. Where does the “full circle” thing kick in? Waters and Morrison are backed by The Band.

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