Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Van Morrison 37: The Great Recession

While Van Morrison is very interested in the music of the past, that doesn’t include his own past. As evidenced by his prolific if not stellar release schedule over recent years, he’s more concerned with creating than revisiting. So it’s rare indeed when anything comes out of the vaults, yet in the space of one year, three separate yet hardly distinct collections were released, each with a different angle, and none definitive.

At The Movies, helpfully subtitled “Soundtrack Hits”, was designed to appeal to people who only know “Baby Please Don’t Go” from Good Morning Vietnam or “Have I Told You Lately” and “Someone Like You” from any number of rom-coms. The badly researched liner notes made a point of calling out how many times Martin Scorsese used Van’s music in his films, from the terrific performance of “Caravan” from The Last Waltz through the definitive version of “Wonderful Remark” to, strangely enough, his rendition of “Comfortably Numb” with members of The Band from Roger Waters’ 1990 all-star staging of The Wall in Berlin. A live version of “Moondance” with overdubbed vocals and an alternate of “Brown Eyed Girl” were dangled as rarities, but there were enough Van standards to make it all listenable.

Going on two decades since the first two Best Of collections, Van himself compiled a third volume covering those heavily plowed but not exactly fertile years. The Best Of Van Morrison Volume 3 wasn’t just a double CD, but was loaded with about a dozen duets, certain to woo those consumers excited by Ray Charles, Tom Jones, John Lee Hooker, and B.B. King, to name a few. That means you also get a lot of Brian Kennedy, and way more covers than originals. Those collaborations also up the ante for everyone who already bought each of the albums, as many come from other artists’ albums, various artists sets, obscure CD singles, and whatnot.

Then, after trying to convince us that the least exciting span of his career needed two discs to encapsulate, a re-signing with PolyGram dictated that a single disc should somehow sum up four decades. Still On Top—The Greatest Hits repeated ten tracks from At The Movies while replicating about half of the first Best Of. Four songs were picked seemingly at random from Best Of Volume 3, yet a grave disservice was rectified by the inclusion of “Wavelength” and “Tore Down A La Rimbaud”. (Overseas, Still On Top was issued as a double CD, the second disc being equally as satisfying and maddening as the first. Another limited edition added a third disc of worthy selections and head-scratchers.)

So we’re not saying that the recession of 2007 was a result of such shelf-stuffing, but today these collections are basically moot. Because labels don’t like to leave anything alone, once Sony got their hands on Van’s catalog in 2015 they felt compelled to put out their own double-disc overview. The Essential Van Morrison starts with “Gloria” and goes on to cover the ‘60s and ‘70s fairly well, hitting on all the big albums but choosing “Hungry For Your Love” over “Wavelength”. “Cleaning Windows” comes from the Belfast Opera House album, and everybody likes “Caravan” from The Last Waltz, but “Spanish Rose”? Disc two manages to speed through the better part of three decades in the same time, skipping No Guru, No Method, No Teacher but still touching most of the albums from this century.

Van Morrison At The Movies—Soundtrack Hits (2007)—3
Van Morrison
The Best Of Van Morrison Volume 3 (2007)—3
Van Morrison
Still On Top—The Greatest Hits (2007)—
Van Morrison
The Essential Van Morrison (2015)—

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