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500 Greatest Albums

Here’s our list of seminal international albums including The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones among others

Rolling Stone India May 19, 2011
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19. Astral Weeks – Van Morrison

This is music of such enigmatic beauty that, thirty-five years after its release, Astral Weeks still defies easy, admiring description. There was no precedent for it in Van Morrison’s previous vocal and songwriting success: the bright, rolling pop of his 1967 Top Ten hit, “Brown Eyed Girl”; his earlier spell as the leader of Irish R&B punks Them and writer of the garage-rock standard “Gloria.” And Morrison ”” a notoriously private man for whom singing and songwriting have long been a form of emotional armor as well as release ”” never sounded as warm and ecstatic, more sensual and vulnerable, as he did on Astral Weeks. It was, in part, the sound of sweet relief. Morrison was newly signed to artist-friendly Warner Bros., after a rough ride with his previous U.S. label, Bang, when he made Astral Weeks in the summer of 1968. This was to be his first full-fledged solo album, and he used the opportunity to explore the physical and dramatic range of his voice in his extended poetic-scat singing in “Beside You” and “Ballerina.” Morrison also turned his back on straight pop-song structure, setting these hallucinatory reveries on his native Belfast (the daydream memoir “Cypress Avenue,” the hypnotic portrait of “Madame George”) to wandering melodies connecting the earthy poetry in Celtic folk and American R&B. The crowning touch was the superior jazz quintet ”” including acoustic bassist Richard Davis and drummer Connie Kay of the Modern Jazz Quartet ”” created by producer Lewis Merenstein to color the mists and shadows. Years later, Davis claimed that the album’s basic tracks were all done in one three-hour session, and that Morrison never told the musicians what he wanted from them, or what the lyrics meant. Maybe he didn’t know how. Astral Weeks is Morrison going deep inside himself, to the far corners of his life and art, without a net or fear. He was never this open, and naked, again.

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