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Playlist: Ten Terrific Songs from Van Morrison

I was putting together his top ten list of Van Morrison songs during the week that Fats Domino passed away. The irony is that the song “Domino” is a tribute to Domino.

Though the timing was odd, it’s not surprising that Morrison was a fan of Domino. George Ivan Morrison was born and grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland. An important element of his childhood was the music brought into the house by his father, George. The elder Morrison, a ship yard electrician, was a huge music fan. He owned what Wikipedia says at that time was one of the biggest record collections in the province of Ulster. The collection, which George had acquired during a stay in Detroit, included a huge range of music, including blues, jazz and country. His dad also bought him a guitar. Young Van learned rudimentary chords from a songbook entitled “The Carter Family Style.”

Van Morrison (Photo: Jarle Vines)

The best short course on Morrison (besides, of course, listening to his music) is an excellent Q&A at Rolling Stone. David Fricke does a great job of capturing Morrison. It’s is informative on the facts but, even more importantly, conveys the tone of what Morrison is like.

He comes across as a genuine guy who does not hold his tongue. He makes it clear that he was not part of the British invasion (even an expansively defined one). Morrison has a good deal of scorn for stars who pose as rebels but in reality are just going along to cash in. He notes that Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent were real rebels because they didn’t conform in order to succeed.

The Q&A also shows a man who is not sentimental, though he has resettled near his birth city after many years of living elsewhere, including the San Francisco Bay area.

Finally, it’s interesting that a kid who grew up listening to American music but separated from the country itself by an ocean loves music of all types, made by people all races and in all parts of the country, equally. The end of the interview points to a special affinity for jazz. But, overall, he sees jazz, country and blues as deeply related and connected. This of course is so. It’s unfortunate that it is not always seen that way here.

I am looking for a playlist app that allows notations next to the songs. In the meantime, here are some notes on the songs in the playlist. Most of this material is from Wikipedia and Songfacts:

“Brown Eyed Girl” was recorded in March, 1967. Morrison didn’t do too well, however: He had signed a contract without legal advice and claims to have received no royalties from the song…”Come Running” was recorded several times, with one of those takes finally making it onto the “Moondance” album. The B side was “Crazy Love.”…”Blue Money” is from the album “His Band and the Street Choir.” One critic said that it was a follow up to Lefty Frizzell’s “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time.”…Bob Dylan is quoted as saying that “Tupelo Honey” has “always existed and that Morrison was merely the vessel and the earthly vehicle for it.” Tupelo honey, by the way, is mild and expensive type of honey produced in the southeast.

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Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.


What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.


The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.

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