Archive for ‘Albums You Should Own By Now’

May 2, 2012

Albums You Should Own By Now: Van Morrison, ‘Astral Weeks’

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.

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March 14, 2012

Albums You Should Own By Now: Pixies, ‘Doolittle’

In 1994 I was a thirteen-year-old kid so painfully shy and awkward that it must have been difficult for adults to look at me without showing their pity. In hindsight we all know that eighth grade is like that for most of us, but when you’re going through it, it is the single most isolating feeling ever. I’m not even sure why they force children to go to classes during the early teen years. We were all so focused on trying to find our social identity and figure out how we fit in that we really didn’t absorb much else. Most schools re-teach all of the same stuff in ninth grade that you were taught in seventh and eighth.

I bring this up because that was the year that I began to find my social identity and figure out how I fit into it all. It was that year, just across the street from my junior high, that a pretty girl with pink hair gave me a cassette tape with a colored pencil drawing of a cheerleader with X’s over her eyes on the cover and one simple, beautiful word across the top: Pixies. That tape changed everything.

I had never heard of them, but Anna was really pretty and she smoked cigarettes. She had pink hair and she always looked like she’d just woken up … but in really hot way. So when she gave me the tape and said, “Check this out, this band always reminds me of you,” I pretty much fell in love with her and Pixies immediately.

For the longest time I thought the tape was a sort of “best of” that Anna had put together. It wasn’t until a year later when I started hanging out at punk shows that I found out the truth. The tape I’d been listening to non-stop. The album I’d nearly worn out in a year was in fact, in its correct order, the album Doolittle.

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