Episode 170: “Astral Weeks” by Van Morrison
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Episode 170 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at "Astral Weeks", the early solo career of Van Morrison, and the death of Bert Berns.  Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a forty-minute bonus episode available, on "Stoned Soul Picnic" by Laura Nyro. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ Errata At one point I, ridiculously, misspeak the name of Charles Mingus' classic album. Black Saint and the Sinner Lady is not about dinner ladies. Also, I say Warren Smith Jr is on "Slim Slow Slider" when I meant to say Richard Davis (Smith is credited in some sources, but I only hear acoustic guitar, bass, and soprano sax on the finished track). Resources As usual, I’ve created Mixcloud playlists, with full versions of all the songs excerpted in this episode. As there are so many Van Morrison songs in this episode, the Mixcloud is split into three parts, one, two, and three. The information about Bert Berns comes from Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues by Joel Selvin. I’ve used several biographies of Van Morrison. Van Morrison: Into the Music by Ritchie Yorke is so sycophantic towards Morrison that the word “hagiography” would be, if anything, an understatement. Van Morrison: No Surrender by Johnny Rogan, on the other hand, is the kind of book that talks in the introduction about how the author has had to avoid discussing certain topics because of legal threats from the subject. Howard deWitt's Van Morrison: Astral Weeks to Stardom is over-thorough in the way some self-published books are, while Clinton Heylin's Can You Feel the Silence? is probably the best single volume on the artist. Information on Woodstock comes from Small Town Talk by Barney Hoskyns. Ryan Walsh's Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 is about more than Astral Weeks, but does cover Morrison's period in and around Boston in more detail than anything else. The album Astral Weeks is worth hearing in its entirety. Not all of the music on The Authorized Bang Collection is as listenable, but it's the most complete collection available of everything Morrison recorded for Bang. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Before we start, a quick warning -- this episode contains discussion of organised crime activity, and of sudden death. It also contains excerpts of songs which hint at attraction to underage girls and discuss terminal illness. If those subjects might upset you, you might want to read the transcript rather than listen to the episode. Anyway, on with the show. Van Morrison could have been the co-writer of "Piece of My Heart". Bert Berns was one of the great collaborators in the music business, and almost every hit he ever had was co-written, and he was always on the lookout for new collaborators, and in 1967 he was once again working with Van Morrison, who he'd worked with a couple of years earlier when Morrison was still the lead singer of Them. Towards the beginning of 1967 he had come up with a chorus, but no verse. He had the hook, "Take another little piece of my heart" -- Berns was writing a lot of songs with "heart" in the title at the time -- and wanted Morrison to come up with a verse to go with it. Van Morrison declined. He wasn't interested in writing pop songs, or in collaborating with other writers, and so Berns turned to one of his regular collaborators, Jerry Ragavoy, and it was Ragavoy who added the verses to one of the biggest successes of Berns' career: [Excerpt: Erma Franklin, "Piece of My Heart"] The story of how Van Morrison came to make the album that's often considered his
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