Van Morrison has said that Astral Weeks was recorded in two eight-hour sessions, with a few hours of overdubs. For an album that has been heralded by every music publication you can name as one of the most influential albums of all time, that is pretty remarkable. As a musician, it’s nothing short of maddening.
In 1967 Morrison released his first solo album, Blowin’ Your Mind, on Bang Records. The album included the hit, “Brown Eyed Girl” and was originally to be released as a group of singles. Morrison later said that he wasn’t aware of the album’s existence until a friend of his called to say he’d purchased a copy. This is indicative of the relationship he and Bang Records had. At one point, Ilene Berns, wife of owner Bert Berns, used a clause in Morrison’s contract to try to have him deported. It’s said that after Bert’s untimely death in late ’67, Ilene blamed the tension between him and Morrison for his heart attack.
In early ’68 Morrison was being held out of the studio. Most club owners in New York wouldn’t book him for fear of retaliation from the record company. But after his girlfriend agreed to marry him, assuring he wouldn’t be deported, he moved to Massachusetts and began playing acoustic gigs in coffeehouses and bars. At first it was just Morrison on guitar and Tom Kielbania playing stand up bass (man I wish I could have seen that), and eventually he’d add a flautist. The down-scaled band freed Morrison to try a more improvised approach with his vocals.
In early ’68 Warner Bros. Records signed on to put out a Van Morrison record, likely imagining they’d be getting more pop hits like “Brown Eyed Girl.” But when a Warner Bros. producer went to one of the “coffeehouse” shows and heard Van playing what would later become the titular track from Astral Weeks, he said he literally broke down and cried. He completely identified with the direction Morrison was heading in and wanted very badly to record his next album.