“A Glorious Decade (1964-1974)” examines Van Morrison’s decade venturing into the slipstream

By on March 6, 2019

Van Morrison – A Glorious Decade (1964-1974) — now streaming on Night Flight Plus — examines a very productive decade in Morrison’s recording career, first as the leader of the electrified R&B combo Them, and then as a solo artist, venturing into the slipstream and releasing some of the best recordings of his career.

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This two-hour UK-produced documentary (originally released as Under Review 1964-1974) features, as usual, a panel of esteemed experts who discuss Morrison’s recording career: journalist and friend Sam Smyth, biographers Steve Turner and Johnny Rogan, Uncut magazine’s Nigel Willamson and former backing musician Jim Rothermel.

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Their commentary is accompanied by rare interviews, rarely-seen and all-too-brief Van Morrison performance clips, and unusual photographs.

We hear snippets of some of Van Morrison’s classic songs, including “Gloria,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Cyprus Avenue,” “Madame George,” Moondance,” “And It Stoned Me,” “Domino,” “Caravan,” “Jackie Wilson Said,” “Tupelo Honey,” “Wild Night” and many others.

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Van Morrison was born George Ivan Morrison on August 31, 1945, at 125 Hyndford Street, in Bloomfield, East Belfast, in Northern Ireland.

Local points of interest from his neighborhood have frequently found their way into some of Morrison’s best songs.

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For instance, the Hollow, where the Knock and Loop rivers meet — mentioned in his 1967 single “Brown Eyed Girl” (originally “Brown-Skinned Girl”) — is where East Belfast teens met for their first sexual experiences.

“Hey, where did we go? Days when the rains came/Down in the Hollow, playin’ a new game…”

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Morrison formed his first group, a skiffle combo called the Sputniks, at age thirteen.

Morrison actually played an instrument he made himself from a piece of lead pipe — the band called it a “zobo” — that he’d found in the nearby Connswater River (locally the river is called the Beechie).

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Morrison would quit school at age fifteen to join a local R&B band, the Monarchs, who played on military bases throughout Europe after World War II.

When he returned home from touring, he left the Monarchs, and founded several other East Belfast outfits — the Golden Eagles, and the Gamblers — before forming the electrified R&B outfit Them, taking their name from the 1950s sci-fi horror movie Them!

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Heavily influenced by American blues giants like Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter, Them were swept along on the wave of British Invasion bands although the band were not British.

In late 1964, they recorded their debut single, “Don’t Start Crying Now,” but it was their next single, a cracklin’ cover of Big Joe Williams “Baby Please Don’t Go,” which landed in the U.K. Top Ten in early ’65.

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Morrison’s song “Gloria,” the single’s B-side — went on to become one of rock ‘n’ roll’s certified garage rock classics.

It’s been covered by countless acts, including the Shadows of Knight, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Patti Smith and many others, including the Doors, who opened for Them on the last week of their west coast residency at the Whisky a Go Go in May and June 1966.

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The Doors and Van Morrison, 1966 (photo courtesy of George Rodriguez)

Them’s first UK album, The Angry Young Them!, would feature another of Morrison’s classics, “Mystic Eyes.”

The title track of the band’s first U.S. album for Parrot Records — Here Comes The Night — was another Morrison-penned Sixties classic.

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Towards the end of Morrison’s time with the band, producer Bert Berns was using almost exclusively session musicians on their recordings.

Morrison would leave Them after their 1966 U.S. tour promoting their second album, Them Again, leaving the band to soldier on without him.

Read more about Van Morrison below.

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In the Spring of 1967, Berns convinced Morrison to come to NYC to record his first solo recordings for his new label, Bang Records.

During two days of sessions at A&R Studios in late March 1967, Morrison recorded eight tracks intended as singles/B-sides (including “Brown Eyed Girl,” a Top Ten hit that summer).

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When Berns released them, without Morrison’s permission, as his first solo album, Blowin’ Your Mind, Morrison felt betrayed.

He retreated home to Belfast, and the album (featuring the incredible “T.B. Sheets”) failed to chart.

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Then, in late ’67, Bert Berns suffered a fatal heart attack, which freed Morrison from his contractual obligations.

He began writing new songs, which led to him signing with Warner Bros. Records, who in 1968 released his impressionistic poetry & British folk tinged mystical song cycle Astral Weeks.

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Astral Weeks had very little commercial impact, but has since been hailed as one of the true modern masterpieces of the 20th Century.

The title track was exceptionally beautiful: “If I ventured in the slipstream, between the viaducts of your dream, where immobile steel rims crack, and the ditch in the back roads stop, could you find me? Would you kiss-a my eyes?”

Morrison’s 1970 follow-up, Moondance, was his first million-selling album, topping out at #29 on Billboard“s album charts.

The title track — which wasn’t released as a U.S. single until 1977 — became a classic FM radio rock staple.

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Morrison married Janet Planet and relocated to California, which no doubt influenced his next releases, 1970’s His Band and the Street Choir — featuring “Domino,” his biggest chart success — 1971’s Tupelo Honey, and 1972’s Saint Dominic’s Preview.

After their divorce in 1973, Morrison also dissolved his band, the Caledonian Soul Orchestra, who were featured on Hard Nose the Highway and the live album It’s Too Late to Stop Now.

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Morrison moved back to Belfast,  where he recorded 1974’s Verdon Fleece, and he didn’t release another full-length album of new recordings for the next three years.

Watch Van Morrison – A Glorious Decade (1964-1974) on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.