Thursday, November 29, 2018

50 years ago: Van Morrison released Astral Weeks

Astral Weeks

Van Morrison

Released: November 29, 1968

Charted: --

Peak: --

Sales (in millions): 0.5 US, -- UK, 0.5 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: folk rock


Song Title [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to charts.

  1. Astral Weeks [7:06] (32 CL)
  2. Beside You [5:16]
  3. Sweet Thing [4:25] (2/6/71, --)
  4. Cyprus Avenue [7:00]
  5. The Way Young Lovers Do [3:18]
  6. Madame George [9:45] (31 CL)
  7. Ballerina [7:03]
  8. Slim Slow Slider [3:17]

All songs written by Van Morrison.

Total Running Time: 47:10

The Players:

  • Van Morrison (vocals, acoustic guitar)
  • John Payne (flute, soprano saxophone on “Slim Slow Slider”)
  • Jay Berliner (guitar)
  • Richard Davis (double bass)
  • Warren Smith Jr. (percussion, vibraphone)
  • Connie Kay (drums)
  • Larry Fallon (string arrangements, conductor, harpsichord on “Cyprus Avenue”)
  • Barry Kornfield (acoustic guitar on “The Way Young Lovers Do”)


4.068 out of 5.00 (average of 24 ratings)


(Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

Astral Weeks was the second studio album from Van Morrison, the Northern Irish singer/songwriter who was formerly “the pint-sized head thug for the ruffian R&B combo Them” EK “which achieved immortality with the garage anthem ‘Gloria.’” TL This album was considered a radical departure from his first album, 1967’s Blowin’ Your Mind,which produced “the irresistible singalong ‘Brown-Eyed Girl.’” TL He then signed to Warner Bros. Records and “assembled a bunch of jazz-based players, took them into a New York studio, and emerged two days later with Astral Weeks.” TL It “is generally considered one of the best albums in pop music history,” AMG although Morrison has dismissed such lofty praise. WK

“It is one of rock’s least-likely masterworks;” TL “in fact, it isn’t a rock & roll album at all,” AMG but “a jazz record disguised as a rock record.” JM It also draws from folk, blues, and classical. It has been described as “achingly beautiful,” EK “an emotional outpouring cast in delicate musical structures,” AMG “an ingenious orchestration of poetry and mysticism” RV and “a languid, impressionistic, utterly gorgeous song cycle.” TL

Morrison told Los Angeles Times, “The songs are poetic stories, so the meaning is the same as always—timeless and unchanging. The songs are works of fiction that will inherently have a different meaning for different people. People take from it whatever their disposition to take from it is.” WK

“Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, Morrison sings in his elastic, bluesy voice, accompanied by a jazz rhythm section.” AMG Among the musicians are drummer Connie Kay, who played with the Modern Jazz Quartet; bassist Richard Davis, who worked on Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch; and guitarist Jay Berliner, who worked with Charles Mingus and others. EK In addition, John Payne is on reeds, Warren Smith, Jr. on vibes, and a string quartet is overdubbed. AMG

It “sounded like nothing he had done previously — and really, nothing anyone had done previously.” TL Kay and Davis, “in particular push what are actually pretty simple songs with an empathy that’s seldom seen outside jazz.” EK “The leap from all that to a delicate, graceful musing on romanticism is basically unprecedented. It’s as if Lost in Translation had starred Tony Danza.” EK

Astral Weeks more or less sank without a trace upon its release. It’s mostly through the critical rehabilitation of guys like Lester Bangs that this album achieved its widespread standing.” EK The album isn’t without its detractors with comments like, this “is a rambling record with a heavy jazz influence, lyrics that rival beat poets, and the average track goes on for seven minutes. It’s no wonder no one cared when it came out.” JM

However, the Warner Bros. publicity department hyped it as “the closest rock music has ever gotten to literature.” EK Morrison “spouts stream of consciousness lyrics like the James Joyce of music.” RV “The title track finds Morrison at his most idyllic.” RV He “takes us from slipstreams and viaducts of your dreams to his lady-love doing her kid’s laundry, possibly while our hero is slumped on the couch watching Green Acres. Van has continued to do this throughout his career…but it’s never been quite as seamless” EK as it is here. The song “encompasses a lifetime in a mere five minutes, making the journey from innocence to experience with all of the heartache such a pilgrimage entails.” RV

“Morrison sings of lost love, death, and nostalgia for childhood in the Celtic soul that would become his signature.” TL He crafts “stories about the people of Ireland, characters searching for the solace and companionship that eludes them. Madame George is an ode to an aging transvestite” RV which is “hypnotic and compelling instead of a three-chord drone.” EK Meanwhile Cyprus Avenue could serve as the theme song for obsessive romantics too nervous to speak to their muse.” RV

Astral Weeks’ “mystic poetry, spacious grooves, and romantic incantations still resonate in ways no other music can.” TL Morrison has created “a beautiful sonic painting.” RV “He never made another record quite like Astral Weeks again.” EW


In 2008, Van Morrison performed all eight of the album’s songs live. It was recorded on November 7 and 8 at the Hollywood Bowl and released as an album the next year.

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First posted 11/30/2013; last updated 1/10/2023.

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