Sir Van Morrison just lost his mother Violet, who was in her 90s. Because of this, he has canceled a scheduled series of concerts in Europe.
PASTE magazine recently noted that it was Morrison who “went on to influence the likes of everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Ed Sheeran, even Patti Smith, whose cover of ‘Gloria’ by Them, Morrison’s first band, acted as a catalyst for New York’s punk scene in the ’70s.”
And so we thought this would be a good time to look back at one of his classic albums.
A lot of attention has been focused over the years on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks album from 1968, and the album that followed it, Moondance. I’m sure that many of Van’s fans would list one of these two releases as their favorite of his, but my personal favorite is His Band and the Street Choir from 1970. Last year, the album was released for the first time in remastered form. This version contains five bonus tracks, which are alternate takes of five of the 12 songs.
Here are some track-by-track notes on this release, one that offers substantial variety in musical style, and which contains songs placed in near perfect order.
“Domino” – A great rocker and album opener, it sees Van with an 11-piece band. John Klingberg’s fine bass work can be clearly heard on the 2015 remaster from Warner Brothers. I’ve always loved the lines: “There’s no need for argument/There’s no argument at all/And if you never hear from him/That just means he didn’t call.”
“Crazy Face” – A pre-Eagles “Desperado”-type song. “He stood outside the church yard gate/And polished up on his .38 and said/I got it from Jessie James.”
“Give Me a Kiss” – A bouncy number that sounds like Elvis Presley circa 1956, this one has more sweet brass backing from the band.
“I’ve Been Working” – Van as a macho soul man. This has always been his best on-stage performance number, and there’s just a touch of Tower of Power, War and the Doors in the break.
“Call Me Up in Dreamland” – Ragtime meets Dixieland meets southern Belfast rock. The Band might have sounded like this if they’d been less heavy.
“I’ll Be Your Lover, Too” – Side one of the long player closed out with this haunting love poem. His then-wife Janet Planet explained it best: “I have seen Van open these parts of his secret self – his essential core of aloneness I had always feared could never be broken into – and say… Yes, come in here… Know me.”
“Blue Money” – Side two of the album opened with this blazing tune. As much as I love “Domino,” “Wild Night,” and “Brown Eyed Girl,” this has always been my all-time fave Morrison single. (I often wonder if this was the song that inspired Steely Dan’s “Peg.”) It seems that almost every time a “Best of…” Van Morrison collection is released, there are numerous complaints that this song is not included. Planet contributed the Linda McCartney-ish background vocals.
“Virgo Clowns” – A positive take on Jackson Browne’s irony, with a touch of The Moody Blues’ cosmic philosophy. “Now you know exactly who you want to be now/Let your laughter fill the room.”
“Gypsy Queen” – Smooth as a slide across the ice. Van captures the spirit of Motown. Say it’s alright. (Van himself said in 2007, “It’s always been about soul.”)
“Sweet Jannie” – Back to the cradle, with a blues rocker featuring a B.B. King-style guitar lead. Elmore James had nothing on this.
“If I Ever Needed Someone” – Van’s “My Sweet Lord.” “To keep me from my sorrow/To lead me on to givingness/So I can see a new tomorrow.”
“Street Choir” – The closer. It’s a great, downcast tribute to a long-lost love, one who will not be accepted back. “Why did you leave America/Why did you let me down/And now that things seem better off/Why do you come around/You know I just can’t see you now.”
Like all of rock’s best albums, from What’s Going On to Blood on the Tracks to Graceland and The Rising, this one is life affirming. I give it 89.5 out of 100 points. Highly recommended.