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Into the Mystic: A Spotlight on Van Morrison

A proud son of Ireland who embodies the soul of Americana with the penmanship of a prodigy. For over a half century Van Morrison transcended audiences worldwide with his spiritual-like take on songwriting and crooning vocals. Beginning his career as a lead singer for the rock ‘n’ roll band known as Them, the group churned out hit songs in their native city Belfast. The hits of Baby, Please Don’t Go and Gloria provided Morrison and the group the opportunity to tour the U.S. at the peak of the British Invasion. But the death of a band member and lack of new material would cause the group to split and go their separate ways soon after. The band was finished; however, Morrison was not. He took a chance by starting a solo career and produced timeless classics with an extensive discography of critically acclaimed records.

Morrison debuted as a solo artist in 1967 with the release of his first record Blowin’ Your Mind. The record produced the hit single Brown Eyed-Girl which would be forever immortalized as an essential classic for pop music. Rolling Stone magazine included the track in its list of 100 Greatest Pop Songs. The track would also be hailed as Morrison’s “signature song” as it’s been regularly included in the lineup of every concert he’s ever performed. Audiences would also be introduced to Morrison’s versatility as a songwriter with the impactful tracks of “Ro Ro Rousey” and “T.B Sheets.”

The songwriter’s second record, Astral Weeks, is arguably where he established himself as not just an artist, but a pioneer. His groundbreaking singles of “Cyprus Avenue” and “Beside You” created Morrison’s persona as a hypnotic vocalist with the soul of a modernist poet. The record’s overview of love and compassion sent accredited journalists, including Lester Bangs, swooning over Morrison’s songwriting. To this day, Astral Weeks is included in every publication’s listings of greatest albums of all time. Among these publications is Time Magazine, who refer to it as the “greatest album ever made.” Its significance is also reflected in the influence of other future prolific songwriters including Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt and Bono.

Critics and fans alike expected Morrison to continue the streak of consecutive well-received records and singles. But no one anticipated to how Morrison would follow-up “Astral Weeks.” The 1970 release of Moondance would garner Morrison’s first multi-platinum seller in the U.S. with over 3 million copies sold. Commercially and artistically, Morrison would be described by critics as an “individual who will remain in the public consciousness for the decades to follow.” The captivating track of “Caravan” expressed the songwriter’s spiritual side with the concept of life and death being discussed. But it would be the single “Into the Mystic” that would cement his legacy with many critics referring it as the “heart of the record.” The stoic appeal of soft guitar strumming, and ballad-like instrumentation encompass would makes the single so timeless. The composition, along with Morrison’s heart-wrenching lyrics and generational relevance led it to be included in the list of 500 Greatest Songs Ever Written by Rolling Stone.

Morrison continued the trend of releasing records that expressed his artistic side with the ability to bend genres. The influence of his Irish roots and compelling poetic side would continue to keep him grounded with the release of Veedon Fleece. A Celtic inspired record that blurred the lines of labelling music with hit singles “Comfort You” and “Bulbs.” For the rest of the 70s Morrison would experiment with a more symphonic sound that included an ensemble of stringed and horned instruments. These produced the hit singles “Troubadours” and “Bright Side of the Road” which gained excessive airplay throughout the 80s.

For his contribution to music, Morrison has received numerous Grammy nominations and even knighthood. But his induction in the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and lasting influence on artists such as: Ed Sheeran, Bob Seger, Tom Petty, Elton John and many others exasperates his illustriousness. Morrison continues to write and perform in front audiences worldwide with his latest record, Three Chords and the Truth, topping the charts across the UK. Morrison shows the same attitude and drive as he did after Them had disbanded. He continues to show that he is not finished.

Written by Trenton Luber


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