- 15 Sep 20
The 10 Best Van Songs You Mightn’t Know But Should! Two of Hot Press’ resident Vanoholics delve deep into the Morrison well.
1. 'The Street Only Knew Your Name' from The Philosopher's Stone (1998)
While there’s a version of this on 1983’s Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart, it suffers a bit under the production that plagued that album. Go instead for the glorious soul knees-up on this superb outtakes album. Van’s magnificent soul yelp goes back to the time before fame, singing songs under the street lamp just for sport.
Morrison Moment: The pure gospel of the backing vocal oohs and the piano at the end of the chorus.
2. 'Avalon Of The Heart' from Enlightenment (1990)
The mentions of the holy grail, Avalon, Camelot, and “the viaducts of my dreams” might sound to some like lyrics spat out by a Van Morrison algorithm, but this is a towering beauty of a song, from the piano and distant horns at the start to the lump-in-your-throat finish. It’s a great arrangement, but it’s the voice, celebrating his legendary and mystical island of the soul, that moves you.
Morrison Moment: When he says ‘Ok, blow” to introduce his own harmonica as the choir swells.
3. 'Ancient Highway' from Days Like This (1995)
Praying to his higher self, mentioning Belfast and the town called Paradise. Another meditation in the line that stretches from as far back as ‘T.B. Sheets’ up through Astral Weeks, ‘Listen To The Lion’, side one of Veedon Fleece, ‘In The Garden’, and all his other hymns to enlightenment.
Morrison Moment: When Van goes beyond language for the last minute; growling, then singing at the top of his range, then blowing into the harmonica, then stabbing at the Hammond organ, all at the same time. Probably.
4. 'Behind The Ritual' from Keep It Simple (1998)
Gentle, rolling candidate for best late period Van song as, again, he finds the spiritual in the everyday. Drinking wine in the alley is always a fine notion but Van makes it sound positively sacramental. Driven by gentle guitar and tambourine, it’s a second cousin to ‘And The Healing Has Begun’.
Morrison Moment: When the man sings “Blah, blah, blah” about fifty times in a row. No one else would even attempt that, much less get away with it.
5. 'Dark Night Of The Soul' from Three Chords & The Truth (2019)
Proof, from only two years ago, that Van is still a long ways from losing it. A bluesy shuffle that returns to the message that is like a seam of precious metal throughout his work – “I’m on my way to understanding things that I might yet not know.” As he says himself, meditate on this, keep searching, and you will get healed.
Morrison Moment: That voice, repeating the title phrase at the song’s end, hollering and moaning, as only he can.
1. 'Bring It On Home To Me' from It's Too Late To Stop Now (1974)
Few could come close to delivering a worthy rendition of this Sam Cooke classic. Recorded a decade after Cooke’s immortalised Live At The Harlem Square Club 1963 performance, Morrison goes toe to toe with the King of Soul on this gutsy offering.
Morrison Moment: When he seamlessly slips in some classic Van ad libs “I gave you all the money I had in the bank/Not one time, did you say thanks.” You know who you are.
2. 'Purple Heather' from Hard Nose The Highway (1973)
You can hear the master at work on a song that’s been belted out at many a wedding, funeral and lock-in. He delicately teases out each line as you wait to see where he takes it next. If you don’t know this Irish/Scottish folk song you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s his. A soothing soundtrack to see out your summer with.
Morrison Moment: When he vocally shadows each touch of the piano with a string of “de-de-de-de-de-da’s”
3. 'You're My Woman' from Tupelo Honey (1971)
Love songs written about women are, in the words of Morrison ‘ever present everywhere’ but where can you find such an adoring “thank you” to a woman for bearing a child and going through labour? This is a deeply intimate and soulful celebration of domestic bliss that’s sure to blow you away.
Morrison Moment: How he goes from tenderly singing the verses, to build and build and utterly belt out the chorus. Powerful stuff.
4. 'Drumshanbo Hustle' from The Philosopher's Stone (1998)
A cautionary tale of the dodgy dealings of the music industry, by which Morrison and many of his contemporaries were sickeningly shafted. Inspired by an incident at the Mayflower ballroom in Leitrim in the early 1960s, this should be up there with ‘Lisdoonvarna’ or ‘Carrickfergus’ for this embittered exposé.
Morrison Moment: When Van, in payback mode, spits out: “You were puking up your guts/ When you looked at the standard contract you just signed”.
5. 'He Ain't Give You None' from Blowin' Your Mind (1967)
Effortlessly oozing with soulful blues, it’s hard to believe this was written by a 20-odd year old East Belfast boy. A sultry tale, it showcases Morrison’s swagger, his trademark name checking of streets and place names, and the first of many nods to his beloved Jelly Roll Morton. Blue-eyed soul at its best.
Morrison Moment: When he casually laughs to his former love interest, “You can leave now/If ya don’t like what’s happenin”.
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