Van Morrison was born on August 31, 1945 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. More than two decades later, in 1968 Van Morrison released Astral Weeks, an album of astonishing originality and inventiveness that stretched the frontiers of rock music. On his follow-up record, Moondance (1970), he deployed a snappy rhythm-and-blues band behind tautly structured songs. Morrison has always seemed oblivious to public taste and reaction to him, and his artistry and later albums such as Back on Top (1999) and What's Wrong With This Picture? (2003) continue to explore different modes of self-expression.
George Ivan (“Van”) Morrison was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on August 31, 1945. Morrison says he began listening to records around age two or three, and when he was 15, the music bug grabbed him and latched on, and he dropped out of school to pursue a music career. His first full-time effort was with a local band called the Monarchs. The band toured Europe, often playing military bases, but by the time he was 19, Morrison had left the Monarchs behind to open a Belfast R&B club and form a new band called Them.
The band made a solid living playing covers as the club’s house band, but they managed to break out with several songs in the mid-1960s, including “Don’t Start Crying Now” and “Baby Please Don’t Go.” The success of these singles allowed the band to move its base to London, where they recorded more music amongst a lineup that couldn’t seem to hold. In 1966, Them headed west, embarking on an American tour, the culmination of which would mark Morrison’s departure from the band.
Soon after Them broke up, Van Morrison was reborn as a solo artist, and he recorded four singles in New York with producer Bert Berns. One of the singles, “Brown Eyed Girl,” hit the top 10, going on to become one of the classic songs associated with Morrison and be enshrined in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Berns died of a heart attack soon after their collaboration, and Morrison moved to Boston to collect himself and write more songs. Before long, he signed with Warner Bros. and headed back into a New York studio with several jazz musicians.
'Astral Weeks' and 'Moondance'
After only a two-day session, Morrison emerged with Astral Weeks, an unconventional, eclectic record that defied categorization. Morrison himself said of the work, “It’s got it all: jazz, blues, folk, classic. You name it.” Its unique nature ensured that it wasn’t a strong seller out of the gate but it nonetheless went on to become a classic that eventually sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
For his follow-up, Morrison headed north to Woodstock, New York, where he lived while writing and recording Moondance, released in 1970. The title track and “Come Running” both made their way to the charts as singles (“Come Running” took seven years to get there), while the album itself was Morrison’s first to get into the Top 100. The album didn’t make a major splash at the time, but it went on to become a strong contender for fan favorite alongside Astral Weeks and eventually sold more than three million copies.
Fertile Period Continues
Morrison packed up and next moved west to Marin County, California, where he released his album His Band and the Street Choir and married a woman called Janet Planet. This was a fertile artistic period for Morrison, and he produced four more records in succession: Tupelo Honey (1971; which featured the hit single "Wild Night," later to be covered by John Mellencamp and Meshell Ndegeocello), St. Dominic's Preview (1972), Hard Nose the Highway (1973, the same year Morrison and Janet Planet were divorced) and Veedon Fleece (1974).
One thing to note is that while Morrison wasn’t burning up the charts as many of his contemporaries were, he was building a large, passionate fan base and a serious reputation with critics as an artist to respect.
After a break, Morrison got busy again heading towards the late 1970s, appearing in The Last Waltz, the 1978 Martin Scorsese film capturing the farewell concert of the Band, and releasing the albums A Period of Transition (1977), Wavelength (1978) and Into the Music (1979). The songwriter kicked off the 1980s with Common One (1980), Beautiful Vision (1982) and Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1983), the last of which saw him adding a "special thanks" in the liner notes to L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology. Later in the decade Morrison collaborated with famed folk group the Chieftains on the album Irish Heartbeat (1988).
Morrison continued making music throughout the 1980s and 1990s, always keeping himself at arm’s length from both the media and workings of the music industry. In 1990, The Best of Van Morrison was released and sold more than four million copies in the U.S., making it the best-selling album of his career. Four years later, he became the first living Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee to skip the ceremony.
The 2000s saw Morrison release albums such as Magic Time (2005) and Keep It Simple (2008), and his discography passed the 40-album mark.
Van Morrison has two children with his wife, Michelle Rocca, whom the singer met in 1992. His daughter with former wife Janet Planet, Shana Morrison, appears on Van Morrison's 2015 album Duets: Re-Working the Catalogue. Others featured on the album include Michael Buble, Taj Mahal, Mavis Staples, Steve Winwood and Joss Stone.
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