I don't know about you, but I sometimes think that "skip" and "repeat" were designed just for the fussy way I listen to music. If I love a song, I will listen to it sixty-four times in a row, each time hitting the button and saying, "Just one more time!" Even if I love a CD, very rarely do I listen to a whole thing from start to finish. Repeat repeat repeat, skip skip, repeat repeat repeat, skip. . . So great. There are very few that I listen to in their entirety without skipping something.
Astral Weeks by Van Morrison is one of those rare ones that doesn't require "skip." It was first released in 1968. I bought it on a whim a few years ago, after reading an article about it, and listened to it in the car for two months non-stop. (I can be a wee bit obsessive, if you haven't guessed.) Although I've always loved Van Morrison, I was not prepared for how "Astral Weeks" would affect me.
There really is no single off of this CD that gets any radio play. No "Moondance." No "Wavelength." No "Caravan." This CD is more like a novel in a way, less like a collection of singles or short stories. The amazing thing is that he recorded the entire shebang more or less live, with the complete band in the studio, pretty much in four separate days. There was very little written music, no rehearsals. They just jammed, live. How amazing is that? Morrison kind of gave them a feel for the songs on the acoustic guitar, and then just told them to play what they felt. And the original recordings from the sessions are more or less what you hear on the CD, with very sparse editing after the fact.
A lot of the musicians had modern jazz backgrounds, and had played with the best of those times--Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughn, Charles Mingus. You can hear that in the complexity of the music. Some of it borders on clean R&B, some of it is more soulful, some of it is folksy. It's a fantastic mix of sounds that defies any genre label. It just follows Morrison's voice wherever it goes. And Morrison's voice and words are unbelievable. "Cyprus Avenue" and "Madame George" are two of the most poetically lyrical songs I've ever heard.
It goes from stark and dark to joyous and full of romantic love. It runs the gamut from despair to elation. It feels like the novel of a life, wrapped up in Morrison's amazingly emotive voice. I think it may be the best entire "rock" album ever recorded, recorded by a twenty-three year old over forty years ago. Mostly improvised by a bunch of musicians who had never played together and didn't rehearse a note. Pretty much recorded in four days. If I could only listen to one CD for the rest of my life, it would be this one, on a continuous loop.
It's time to allow for more improv in creating, time to let the song take you where it may. . . It just might result in something timeless. Time to "venture in the slipstream, between the viaducts of your dream. . ."