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30 Best Loved Albums - Astral Weeks

2007 will bring the 30th anniversary of my first rock concert (Kiss, December 2, 1977 – Metropolitan Sports Center). In honor of that momentous event I have decided to use this blog to review my 30 best loved albums. They will not be in any order or progression but I will try to review them musically and why they mean so much to me. I’ll also note if they made the Definitive 200 List. With that on to #22 of the list...

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22. Astral Weeks - Van Morrison (1968)

Astral Weeks was Van Morrison’s first solo album after leaving Them, a rock and blues band based out of San Francisco, and has a jazzy, trippy vibe that feels right at home in the genre of late 1960’s music. Although not a critical or commercial success when it came out, Astral Weeks is now considered a classic album and can be found all over critics best-of lists, including ranking #2 in MOJO Magazine’s list of 100 best albums. In addition, it placed 19 on the Rolling Stone top 500 albums. (Given such lofty rankings, it's quite odd that it doesn't even make the Definitive 200 list).

At first listen, one could dismiss Astral Weeks as some sort of hippy-dippy tripe good only for listening during a mellow high or to come down after a bad trip. The album’s got flutes on it for Christ sake!! But to dismiss it as such really doesn’t do the album justice. With its “in and out?rhythm stylings and oblique lyrics that conjur up images instead of coherent narratives, Astral Weeks has been compared to an Impressionism painting, with songs that seek to evoke emotions associated with an image. Some have described the album as a "song cycle" rather than a concept album, although the songs do seem to link together and form a loose narrative. Astral Weeks is an album that you listen to as a whole and not to individual songs. At times when an individual song has come up on my I-pod, it feels strangely out of place without the rest of the album following behind.

As I said before the album has a real jazzy feel and the album’s producer had a background in jazz and recruited a top-notch bunch of session musicians to accompany Van’s vocals. The interesting thing is that Morrision gave the musicians basic carte blanche on how they wanted to play, providing only the idea and vocals for each song on an acoustic guitar. Many of the songs were captured live, and in the case of the title song, it was the first and only take. Given the fact that it is the music that really drives this album, what these musicians could do with minimal direction is quite amazing.

I’ve loved this album for nearly 20 years ever since an old girlfriend turned me on to it. It’s a perfect mood album if you just want to mellow out, such as on a road trip or to listen to on a rainy Sunday afternoon. I have a feeling I’ll be listening to this album 20 years from now whenever I need a little down time and for that reason, Astral Weeks deserves a spot on my best loved 30 albums.

Have you heard Astral Weeks, what do you think of it?

Place on the Definitive 200: Not on the list?!!

Comments

Great choice - I first time I heard the song "Sweet Thing," it was The Waterboys version on Fisherman's Blues. I didn't realize it was a Van Morrison tune until I read the liner notes. I liked the Waterboys version so much that I bought Astral Weeks and really learned to appreciate Van Morrison.

Ouch. Have to disagree - Astral Weeks blows.

I gave it away at a Christmas white elephant exchange. The guy who got it was so shocked - he had read about it on "best album" lists - really excited to get it! The next day, he says - "Now I know why you were giving it away."

My taste is more with his stuff with "Them."

That's cool. Astral Weeks is not for everyone. Although I think it takes a couple of listens to really enjoy. Wanna kill a party that's getting a little too rowdy? Put on Astral Weeks.

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