Happy Birthday Van Morrison! Checkin’ it Out (An Immortal Jukebox Van Fest)

There are guides and spirits all along the way who will befriend us’

Guides and Spirits. We all need them.

Pilgrims all, we need Way Markers reassuring us that there is indeed a Way and that we are not the first to have set off in this direction.

Guides and Spirits are all around.

You find those with whom you feel a certain sympathetic kinship.

You think, ‘Here’s someone who speaks to me.

Here’s someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Someone worth attending to’.

So, for me; Thomas Merton, Erich Fromm, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Seamus Heaney, Emily Dickinson, Anton Chekhov, Samuel Beckett, Russell Hoban and Buster Keaton.

In music Hank Williams, Howling Wolf, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan and .. Van Morrison.

One of Van’s ‘lesser songs’ but one which has always spoken to me.

Get into it like a meditation.

Taking it further.

Taking it further.

Further.

Van is tuned into the ‘Undersong’ all around us if we would but listen.

The Song of the Earth.

For Van this is first the undersong of his home place.

Belfast. East Belfast.

With the bewitching sounds of the Sea and the River.

The morning fog and the trees wet with Summer rain.

The bustle of the streets and the hushed quiet of The Avenue.

The salty tang of Belfast speech and the Mystery of voices coming through the ether.

At the same time he is tuned into the Music of the Spheres.

Music that’s always, always, all around us.

Van invites this music in and channels it for us.

On record and especially in performance he surrenders to this blessing.

Only a very rare artist can do this.

He’s a musical and spiritual voyageur opening up the territory for us to journey wherever we are brave enough to go.

I once met Russell Hoban at a book signing and said that I thought his words took us as far as words could go and then left us to explore the white space beyond.

He laughed and said, ‘Bon Voyage’.

It’s the same with Van.

His songs and his singing, incorporating the Undersong and the Music of the Spheres, act to flamingly make present the unnameable, the unsayable and the unknowable.

There’s a lot more Van to come on The Jukebox (while I toil over the, one day I’ll finish it, Book, Van Morrison : Dweller on the Threshold’).

So, on his Birthday, I offer my thanks for these gifts and wish him well in his further journeys.

I take this opportunity to present all The Jukebox posts featuring Van.

The Immortal Jukebox’s very own VanFest!

Catch up with those you may have missed and revisit those you read in the past.

It’s Too Late To Stop Now!

Brown Eyed Girl’.

An introduction telling the tale of my headlong plunge into obsession following my first hearing of Van’s best known song.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-2L

Don’t Look Back’.

A meditation on Time featuring 2 astounding versions of John Lee Hooker’s tender Blues Ballad. One a reaching for the stars take of a teenager the second the work of a fully realised master musician.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-3k

Carrickfergus‘.

A meditation on family, friendship and loss. How the shadows lengthen! Sung with infinite tenderness and bardic authority.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-7J

In The Days Before Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

A miraculous meditation on the persistence of memory, the power of the radio and the post war world as seen by a young Irish mystic.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-bi

Tupelo Honey’.

A rhapsodic meditation on the nurturing, redemptive power of Love. A Hallelujah!

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-fr

All in the Game‘.

A meditation on the carousel we all ride. It’s been sung by many singers but never like this!

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-jY

Domino’ .

A Founding Father joyously celebrated by a Master from the next generation.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-pH

Sometimes We Cry‘.

Bringing it all back home to singing on the street corner Days. The sweetness of Doo-Wop seasoned with wry maturity.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-sf

I Cover the Waterfront’.

Van and John Lee Hooker, Blues Brothers and Soul Friends, conjure up ancient tides.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-tq

Buona Sera Signorina‘.

Van puts his party hat on and romps through the Louis Prima classic.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-Xg

Hey Girl’.

Van takes a stroll along the strand and suspends Time.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-1cA

Gloria! Gloria!’

Once, Now and Ever.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-1dh

Happy Birthday Van!

Immortal Jukebox : The Story So Far (with some vintage Van Morrison as a bonus!)

When I launched The Immortal Jukebox in March 2014 I had, as they say, no expectations.

I just knew that it was time to find out if I could think on the page with the same fluency I could talk about the music I loved.

My readers are of course the judge and jury as to whether I have managed in my writing to convey the depth of my passion for the music and musicians from the golden age of recording – by which I mean the late 1920s to the late 1970s.

It seems I have now written some 200 Posts here on The Jukebox – each one a letter from the heart.

Starting out with just my family and a handful of loyal friends I now see, with some amazement, that my combined WordPress, Twitter and Email followers are now approaching the 10,000 mark!

I determined from the beginning of this adventure that all my posts would read as if no one else could possibly have written them and that no matter how well known the record or artist featured I would illuminate their particular merits from my own unique angle.

I also decided, as time went on, to risk inserting fictional elements and personal anecdotes and reflections into the mix.

It’s my Blog and I’ll rant, rave, laugh and cry if I want to!

Heartfelt thanks to my readers who have produced so many intelligent and inspiring comments and so much warm encouragement.

Remember a handful of Nickels and The Jukebox is a cure for all your ills.

In reflective mode, I’ve been reviewing my Stats and thought I would share some of my discoveries with you.

Top 5 Posts :

1. ‘Ordinary (Extraordinary Stories) featuring Mary Gauthier & Iris Dement

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-3M

2. Van Morrison ‘In The Days Before Rock ‘n’ Roll’

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-bi

3. ‘An Archangel, A Journey, A Sacred River, The Folk Process & A Spiritual’

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-6m

4. ‘Hear that Lonesome Whistle Blow!’ – Train songs featuring Bob Marley & The Wailers, Hank Williams, Curtis Mayfield and John Stewart.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-43

5. ‘John Lennon loved ‘Angel Baby’ by Rosie Hamlin (RIP) – Here’s Why!

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-Y3

Thom’s Top 5 (the Posts that gave me the most pleasure to write)

1. ‘Bob Dylan : The Nobel Prize, One Too Many Mornings, The Albert Hall & Me.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-AL

2. Van Morrison : Carrickfergus (Elegy for Vincent)

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-7J

3. ‘Walk Away Renee – The Lost Love That Haunts The Heart’

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-sQ

4. ‘Dolores Keane : Voice and Vision from Ireland’

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-Lb

5. ‘A Poem for All Ireland Sunday – Up Tipp!’

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-w9

If you’ve missed out on any of these – catch up now!

I would be fascinated to know which Posts make your own Top 5 – set the Comments section ablaze!

To conclude let me thank every one of my readers for supporting The Jukebox.

I’ll sign off now with a song from the Patron Saint of The Immortal Jukebox – Van Morrison.

Heart stopping. Spirit lifting.

Hey Girl! Hey Girl!

An eerily beautiful prefigurement of Astral Weeks dreamlike mood.

Van takes a walk and watches the boats go by in the early morning light.

A spectral flute welcomes the wind and sun as Van’s vocal caresses each word of the lyric in which once again he encounters the young girl, his Beatrice figure, who will almost make him lose his mind.

The track is only three minutes and ten seconds long yet seems to last much longer – indeed seems to have stopped the flow of Time itself.

Time itself.

The Immortal Jukebox

Red and green and yellow – buzzing and glowing with the neon primary colour promise of dangerous thrills and illicit pleasures.

A sensual blow to the solar plexus when in wonderfully mechanical operation.  The chosen 45 is lifted from the racks and placed with a hugely satisfying clunk onto the turntable and then the arm housing the magic needle descends and …..   Two or three minutes of temporal and eternal bliss.  Play that one again!

Maybe the jukebox is in a roadhouse just outside of Memphis where a truck driver who loves ‘all kinds’ of music gets to hear the singers who can wrap up heartache and joy and project them through the vinyl into the hearts and souls of the dancers and drinkers and the quiet girls in the corner.

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Maybe it’s in a dancehall in Hibbing where the iron ground vibrates with magnetic energy and the bitterly cold wind hits heavy on the borderline.  Here a tousle headed kid with a teeming head full of ideas and an unassailable sense of destiny has an epiphany when the lonesome whistle blows and he has no need to ask for a translation of Awopbopaloobopalopbamboom!

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Maybe it’s in a coffee bar in Liverpool where two teenagers levitating with energy and talent and the desire to make the world anew can go when they are sagging off school and dreaming impossible dreams of songs with their names in brackets after the title.

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Maybe it’s in Detroit where an ex boxer and jazz buff with enough entrepreneurial ambition to found an empire has figured out that the empire could be built on the talents of the hometown teenagers of his own race – once he had organised them.  He understood that the white world was waiting, unknowingly, for a vision of a young America that he could manufacture and supply in the form of a production line of vibrant, electrifying   45’s … Are you ready for a brand new beat?

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More likely it’s in a thousand towns all over the globe where men and women meet to,drink and laugh and cry.  Where they go to find love, laughter and sex and temporary forgetting.

On the jukebox there’s always that song … The one that makes the hairs rise on the back of your neck … The one that makes your heart pump faster and faster … The one that makes you ask the first time you hear it ‘Who’s that!’ … The one you’ll never forget as long as you live, the one that will always embody youth and hope and the promise of a better, bigger life.  The one to play again and again, learning every word , every riff and lick, the one you saved up to buy to play at home as loud as your neighbours would allow.

The Immortal Jukebox will celebrate 100 of those records.  Not the 100 best records of all time or my hundred favourite records.  These will be a 100 records that would turn your head when you hear them come blasting out of those jukebox speakers.  A 100 records that sound great whether you are drunk or sober.  A 100 records that pull you in whether you are in the giddy throes of new love or bemoaning the love you have just lost.  A 100 records to give you hope or consolation.  A 100 records that would have you reaching in your pocket for the money to play that song again.

A1: Them (featuring Van Morrison) ‘Gloria’ A1: Them (featuring Van Morrison) ‘Gloria’
 Some songs have a brutally simple primal perfection. Usually these songs are recorded at the very beginning of an artists career before they start to look into the rear view mirror and become conscious that they do indeed have a career, a legacy and a reputation to protect.

These are records that come at you full bore and demand that you listen now! Think of the primitive perfection of the last song recorded on the day the Beatles recorded their first LP. You want to know what The Beatles sounded like in Hamburg? Listen to the raw bleeding magnificence of John Lennon’s vocal on, ‘Twist and Shout’ and the eyeballs out commitment of Paul, George and Ringo. There was no way a second take could top that!

Think of the stupid beauty of the Undertones debut single, ‘Teenage Kicks’ – a record that captured as few others have the thrilling intoxication of young love and lust. Feargal Sharkey’s impassioned vocal (All right!) and the unrepeatable delirium of Damian O’ Neill’s guitar solo combine to create a miracle that comes up fresh every time and is endlessly replayable – which seems a pretty good definition of what I want from a jukebox single.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that throughout the 1960s that wherever and whenever a group of would be rock and roll stars gathered – in the family garage, in the basement or at a flea bitten church or municipal hall – very soon after they had plugged in they would launch, with wildly varying degrees of competence, into the daddy of all the primitive perfection songs, ‘Gloria’.

Puzzled passers-by must have wondered why such a simple name needed to be spelled out with such repetitive intensity, ‘ … And her name is G – L – O – R – I – A, Gloria!’. They must also have shuddered at the threat, ‘ I’m gonna shout it out night and day .. G – L – O – R – I – A! G – L – O – R – I – A, Gloria!’. They must also have shuddered at the threat, ‘ I’m gonna shout it out night and day .. G – L – O – R – I – A!

It is likely that many of the groups who attacked the song made a fair fist of the instrumental ground of the song – three chords don’t take long to master. A few of the lead guitar players will have matched Jimmy Pages fluency and prowess as demonstrated on the recording. However, No-one, No-one, will have come anywhere near reproducing the frenzied intensity of Van Morrison’s pyrotechnic vocal.

This Van Morrison was not the superlative song stylist or the Celtic soul and blues master he would later become. This was a snarling, desperate, bewildered teenager who was reluctantly coming to terms with life and lust, the whole painful mess of it all. A youth who looked down more than he looked up but who was nevertheless able to surprise himself with the ability to express vocally the gamut of emotions and frustrations he faced every day and every night.

But, from the very get-go in his career it was clear that there was no doubt who was leading and commanding the band. Van Morrison on the bandstand or in the studio acts as an emperor, a ruler by right of his eminent majesty as a singer and as a band leader. In this, as so much else, he took his cue from the high priest of soul – Ray Charles.

Gloria is the work of explosive youth, of wanting and yearning, of overwhelming mind and body dominating lust. Gloria may be the most purely male, testosterone fueled record ever made. Gloria, five feet four from her head to the ground, is the eternal lust object. Van Morrison might say that she knocks upon his door and even more thrillingly comes to his room but the thrust of the song seems to me to be the solitary, devoutly told repetition of an oft returned to fantasy.

There may well have been a real Gloria but it is the dream of Gloria who knocks on Van’s door with such insistent force. Surely, if he could only chant her name with enough power she would indeed knock upon his door and make all his fevered dreams come true:

G – L – O – R – I A !! G- L- O- R – I – A !! G – L – O – R – I – A!!

The musical drive of Gloria is the relentless beat, beat, beat of male desire in all it’s sullen and obsessive purity. Gloria is the incarnation on vinyl of the desperate male imperative to be adultly carnal – its a boy desperately wanting, needing, to be a man. Gloria has more tension than release – much like all young lives. This is no doubt why it appealed so powerfully to beat group boys all over the world.

Van snarls his way through the lyric with his uniquely salty Belfast tones alternately pressing and holding back – he already had a grasp of dynamics within song arrangement born of years of listening to Ray and John Lee and Leadbelly on the street where he was born.

Gloria is also as every listener who’s ever heard it knows one hell of a rush! It comes roaring out of the speakers and before you have time to catch your breath you are carried along on its tidal wave of rhythmic power. Two minutes and thirty-eight seconds later you will be nearly as elatedly exhausted as Van Morrison himself.

Take a breath or two and maybe down a shot of Bushmills – then press A1 again – you know you want to.

Notes & Comments:

Gloria was recorded on April 5 1964 at Decca’s Studio in West Hampstead, London and released as the B side of Baby Please Don’t Go on July 6th. Gloria was recorded on April 5 1964 at Decca’s Studio in West Hampstead, London and released as the B side of Baby Please Don’t Go on July 6th.

Them members Billy Harrison (guitar), Alan Henderson (bass), Ronnie MIllings (drums) and Patrick McCauley (keyboards) were present in the studio when Gloria was recorded and all probably contributed to the single. Also present were key members of London’s top session musicians of the time. Jimmy Page surely played the lead guitar and Bobby Graham (who would later play the on the equally epochal ‘You really got me’, must have played the drums). Arthur Greenslade probably played the organ.

There have been numerous cover versions. The most commercially successful being that by The Shadows of Knight which made No 10 in the US charts at the end of 1966. The most artistically successful is Patti Smith’s reinvention of the song on her amazing debut LP ‘Horses’ in 1975.

Van Morrison’s solo career post Them is too extensive and contains too many Himalayan peaks of achievment for me to outline here. However, his career as the leader of Them has too frequently been overlooked and/or under regarded. This is a pity as Them’s canon contains some wonderful songs and performances as well as tantalising auguries and intimations of his mature triumphs. Here are 5 wonders you should seek out urgently!

1. Mystic Eyes – A supernaturally intense harmonica driven howl past the graveyard. Can a white man sing the blues? Damn right he can when he’s a visionary Ulsterman who doesn’t view the blues as adolescent rebellion. Instead its virtually his first language. This track has the visceral power of a nightmare and would surely have raised a knowing smile of recognition from Sonny Boy Williamson or Little Walter.

2. My Lonely Sad Eyes – In which Van seems almost overwhelmed by love and longing as he surfs atop a gorgeous rolling melody. Almost, for Van has the rare gift of being simultaneously in and out of control – an artist and shaman who can be articulate even as he opens up the otherwhere beyond our everyday gaze.

3. Could You Would You – A wounded and yearning romantic ballad with Van seductively pleading his case to his love object. An early example of the tenderness and world weary longing he could evoke. In ballads Van can with a devotees fervour infuse a prayerful gospel hush into a song and still the heart. Its clear that Van has been listening appreciatively to the wonderful Arthur Alexander’s reveries in song ( Dream Girl, You Better Move On). The track was memorably covered by the late Willy De Ville who also knew all about heartbreak in song.

4. Hey Girl – An eerily beautiful prefigurement of Astral Weeks dreamlike mood. Van takes a walk and watches the boats go by in the early morning light. A spectral flute welcomes the wind and sun as Van’s vocal caresses each word of the lyric in which once again he encounters the young girl, his Beatrice figure, who will almost make him lose his mind. The track is only three minutes and ten seconds long yet seems to last much longer – indeed seems to have stopped time.

5. All Over Now Baby Blue – Excepting Jimi Hendrix’s immortal take on All Along The Watchtower the greatest ever cover of a Bob Dylan song. Van has always respected Dylan’s songwriting genius and yet as a comparably gifted artist is not afraid of recasting the song as a rhythm and blues ballad drawing out the wistful regret and emotional depth of the song.

Van has always been able to make each song a voyage where he invokes, reveals and rides the dynamism of the waves of emotion within lyric and melody. The strikingly beautiful chiming guitar riff was later sampled by Beck.