Since the awards were first doled out in 1959, the Grammys have translated into little more than a rubbernecking exercise for millions of watchers baffled by what’s happened to popular music.
Now in its 62nd year, the annual presentation is a proverbial dumpster fire of clashing musical genres and a twisted assemblage of conflicting generational tastes.
The latest chapter of chaos combined with curiosity will be written on Sunday night, at 7 pm CST with the CBS live telecast of the Grammy Awards.
The mish-mash of generational rivalries, wandering attention spans, and awkwardly pigeon-holed acts crammed into misnamed categories have produced many inexplicable (and undeserving) winners.
What follows are my picks for the most outrageous Grammy Award winners of all time, along with my correct choice as to who should have won the award instead for that year.
Dishonorable Mention (11-20):
(20) “Moon River,” by Henry Mancini winning “Record of the Year” in 1962, instead of The Dave Brubeck Group for “Take Five.” Mancini was a wonderful composer and “Moon River” became a huge hit as the accompanying soundtrack to the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But “Take Five” stood the test of time far better and it remains one of the best jazz recordings ever.
(19) “Use Somebody,” by Kings of Leon winning “Record of the Year” in 2010, instead of Lady Gaga for “Poker Face.” It’s not that “Use Somebody” isn’t a well-executed and deserving song. It’s just that Lady Gaga’s exemplary effort was far more innovative and globally infectious — both then and now.
(18) “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” by Bobby McFerrin winning “Record of the Year in 1989, instead of Michael Jackson for “Man in the Mirror.” Somehow, an annoying bubble-gum song with a terrible message (don’t worry, be happy? really? seriously?) topped the far more serious and deserving monster hit by one of the greatest artists in pop history (before his personal scandals). The only explanation for this egregious mistake was that voters must have been suffering from Michael Jackson fatigue, as he pretty much dominated the 1980s music scene and by then some rivals were bitterly tired of him.
(17) River: The Joni Letters, by Herbie Hancock winning “Album of the Year” in 2008, instead of Amy Winehouse for Back to Black. For more than three decades, Hancock has given the world a lot of great music. But this was far from is best career effort. Winehouse was the edgier, far more interesting, crossover-pick for her throwback R&B style and extraordinary vocal interpretations on what remains a flawless album (one of my favorite compositions of the last ten years).
(16) “You Light Up My Life,” by Debby Boone winning “Song of the Year” in 1978, instead of “Evergreen” performed by Barbra Streisand and composed by Paul Williams, which was the only tie in Grammy history. Boone’s embarrassingly cheesy ballad now comes across little more than a wide-lapelled polka-dotted fashion statement and a throwback to a gutless period in popular music dominated by coked-up disco queens and the vanilla saccharine of Barry Manilow. It’s hard to believe nominees the Eagles, Carly Simon, and Glen Campbell all lost to this sappy feather-haired nobody. My two choices would have been either Stevie Wonder (“Sir Duke“) or the brilliantly-composed “Star Wars Theme,” by the great composer John Williams.
(15) “Games People Play” by Joe South winning “Song of the Year” in 1970, instead of anything else from the rich catalog of popular music recorded and released not just within the rock genre, but the golden era of Motown, as well. Even prolific composer Burt Bachrach, who had two nominations in this category (canceling each other out, most likely) was a far more deserving choice. Has anyone ever heard of Joe South since he walked on stage that night, beating out Diana Ross, the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Jackson 5, Neil Diamond, and B.B. King (“The Thrill is Gone” was eligible that year — how did that not win?).
(14) “Roseanna,” by Toto winning “Record of the Year” in 1983, instead of Willie Nelson for “Always on My Mind.” What an awful song and a regrettable pick. A disgrace. An embarrassment. Disreputable. Utterly baffling. Insane. Voters much have been smoking some of Willie Nelson’s weed. “Every Breath You Take” by the Police, “Sweet Dreams” by The Eurythmics, and “Beat It” by Michael Jackson all came out that year. “Roseanna” won over those songs? How?
(13) Two Against Nature by Steely Dan winning “Album of the Year” in 2000, instead of anything else released that year. Give it to Radiohead, Eminem, Paul Simon, or Beck — all who were nominated and then bypassed for the best album that year. Not Steely Dan. My picks would have been Garth Brooks’ live double album or Christina Aguilera’s self-titled debut best-seller.
(12) Hootie and the Blowfish winning “Best New Artist” in 1996, instead of either Alanis Morrissette or Shania Twain. No brainer. Enough said. No excuse for this oversight. Even at the time, anyone could see Morrissette and Twain’s natural talent and staying power as potentially volcanic forces in popular music. Not Hootie. Not the Blowfish.
(11) “Kiss from a Rose,” by Seal winning “Record of the Year” in 1996 instead of TLC’s “Waterfalls.” TLC was a wonderfully gifted R&B girl group, and this was their biggest crossover hit. But that didn’t matter. Seal’s overwrought and melodramatic torture of a song “Kiss from a Rose” won, mostly because the flop from two years earlier got remixed into the Batman movie soundtrack, and then quickly shot up the charts. That wasn’t even Seal’s best song released from that epic album. “Prayer for the Dying” was. Listen to the two songs. It’s no contest.
And now, the worst, least-deserving, most outrageous ten winners of all time:
The Top/Bottom Ten
(10) Milli Vanilli — “Best New Artist,” 1990
It’s easy to see a much clearer picture now, rather than back then, when these two pop music Grammy winners from Germany faked and lip-synched their way to a scandalous victory. Fortunately, their careers ended up on the ash heap of music history, which gives us all hope that the same fate could ultimately befall all the Autotune frauds and phonies. Milli Vanilli was exposed and discredited, their Grammy award was stripped away, and their careers mercifully ended, delighting those of us whose ears still painfully echo with the horrors of stolen music. Using session musicians (and taking the credit) is problematic for any Grammy winner. But committing fraud is another. Good riddance.
Who Should Have Won — Indigo Girls
(9) “Winchester Cathedral” (The New Vaudeville Band) — Best Contemporary Song, 1966
In an astonishing year in music that produced timeless classics including — Born Free, California Dreamin’, Summer in the City, Strangers in the Night, Wild Thing, Good Vibrations, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, The Sound of Silence, Homeward Bound, Wipeout, Land of 1,000 Dances, If I Were a Carpenter, Zorba the Greek, and Yesterday (this is only a partial list!) — guess what song ended up winning the “Best Contemporary Song” Grammy that year? Answer — “Winchester Cathedral” by those rock legends, The New Vaudeville Band. Urgh!
Who Should Have Won — The Beach Boys (“Good Vibrations”)….or maybe not, since all the Beach Boys recordings were really done by The Wrecking Crew.
(8) Burl Ives (“Funny Way of Laughin”) — Best Country and Western Song, 1963
Burl Ives doesn’t get his historical due. He was a multi-talented songwriter, musician, and actor — one of the few to be nominated for both an Oscar and Grammy. He performed folk songs, played villains in movies, did voiceovers, and was even blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Yet, he is perhaps best known today for his iconic song and self-portrayal in the annual “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” television program shown every Christmas season. Ives won a Grammy in 1963 for a song that’s since been forgotten, which wasn’t even a country song, edging out the iconic voice and life of George Jones, someone who would prove to be a giant influence in country music for the next five decades. Jones, then a breakout artist with one of his very first hit recordings, deserved the Grammy.
Who Should Have Won — “She Still Thinks I Can,” By George Jones
(7) Starland Vocal Band — Best New Artist, 1977
Look up the Starland Vocal Band sometime, if you want a good laugh. The group recorded had one lame hit, the wickedly torturous “Afternoon Delight,” the epitome of a musical bologna sandwich and a fitting soundtrack for the decline of Western civilization. Even the rock group Boston, which was nominated in this category, lost to the trifling trio. This was a very bad year for popular music, arguably the worst ever as rock was phasing into disco and (later) new wave. And punk was still considered an oddity, if not outright musical anarchy. Note: This very well could be ranked #1 as the worst, most undeserved Grammy Award ever given, and if you doubt this, check out THIS VIDEO.
Who Should Have Won — The Clash
(6) “Most High” (Jimmy Page and Robert Plant) — Best Hard Rock Performance, 1999
Every rock n’ roll and blues fan reveres the music of Led Zeppelin. That said, this was one of the two frontmen’s weakest efforts, no doubt brought about by the opportunity of a potentially lucrative reunion album and tour, however brief that lasted. Meanwhile, Marilyn Manson, Metallica, Pearl Jam, and Kiss were each overlooked by voters in this category. The Grammy voters got it wrong in Led Zeppelin’s heyday from 1968-1978 by not giving them any awards, and then committed and even more atrocious act by bestowing upon them what amounts to an apology award more than two decades later, long after their musical and cultural relevance was over.
Who Should Have Won — “The Dope Show,” by Marilyn Manson
(5) Eric Clapton (“Layla”) — Song of the Year, 1992
It’s painful to include master songwriter and performer Eric Clapton on any “undeserving list.” He’s one of the greatest guitarists in popular music in history and probably deserves far more official accolades. But his 1992 Grammy win for a re-worked acoustical version of a song initially recorded in 1970 made no sense whatsoever, especially given the force the musical force that Nirvana was at the time. The song that should have won instead defined a new sound and an entire generation and continues to receive praise as one of the most innovative rock songs ever recorded. It’s on virtually every “greatest” list of songs.
Who Should Have Won — “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana)
(4) A Taste of Honey — Best New Artist, 1978
Disco was certainly king during the late 70s, and this honor was a mirrored ball tossed to a manufactured cookie-cutter musical group that ultimately became a one-hit-wonder, with that timeless classic “Boogie Oogie Oogie.” Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I don’t know it either. A Taste of Honey disbanded soon thereafter and would be a historical footnote were it not for their mystifying victory as the music industry’s “Best New Artist” in a year with far better nominees.
Who Should Have Won — Elvis Costello
(3) Bobby Russell (“Little Green Apples”) — Song of the Year, 1969
How could voters ignore the Beatles masterpiece “Hey Jude,” which was easily the most deserving song of the year? A landmark achievement, the self-composed track was the first single ever released on Apple Records and was recorded in the summer of ’68 following the group’s return from three-months in India. That turned out to be a gargantuan year for the Fab Four, with several hits coming off the Magical Mystery Tour sessions, followed by the stellar double-disc release only months later, known as The White Album. Oh, and then there were two other popular hit singles, “Revolution” and “Lady Madonna.” Breaking with tradition, “Hey Jude” wasn’t even included on any album collection (until after the group’s final breakup in 1970). The song spent a staggering nine weeks at number one, then a record — this in the midst of an explosive era when society was rapidly changing, racial and cultural barriers were coming down, and so much extraordinary music was being recorded — from rock n’ roll to Motown. “Hey Jude” shattered conventional formulaic radio-friendly thinking at the time, clocking in at more than 7 minutes. What begins as a slow piano-laden ballad with a single voice becomes an orchestral tour-d-force, finishing off with the memorable sing-a-long, “na, na, na — na, na, na, na.” Never has anything so simple sounded so amazing, as this live appearance in the U.K. on The David Frost Show reveals:
So, what won that year, instead? Chew on this. Bobby Russell’s mostly forgettable sleepy lullaby “Little Green Apples,” performed by O.C. Smith. Remember that one? I didn’t either. So, I had to look it up. Here’s the “Song of the Year” winner for what was arguably the greatest year of popular music in history. And besides, the song was recorded by not less than three singers, also released as a single by Patti Page and O. C. Smith on separate occasions that same year. What makes the Bobby Russell version special? Answer — nothing. Russell didn’t even write the song! Outrageous.
What Should Have Won — “Hey Jude” (The Beatles)
(2) Jethro Tull — Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance, 1988
Jethro Tull….heavy metal? Indeed. British rock group Jethro Tull floored the audience and shocked the music world in 1988, winning a Grammy in a category they had no business even being nominated in. The flute-infused rock act dusted off cobwebs from the early 1970s by winning the “Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance” honor, kicking far more deserving Metallica off to the curb. This incomprehensible oversight caused a major shakeup in the way musical genres were classified from that point forward. Two years later, Metallica, which was at the height of their creative peak, did indeed win a Grammy. The metal group took to the stage and famously quipped, “First thing we’re going to do is tank Jethro Tull for not putting out an album this year!”
Who Should Have Won — Metallica
(1) Vaughn Meader (The First Family) — Album of the Year, 1963
Chances are, you’ve never heard of this artist or this mostly-forgotten album, which inexplicably won “Album of the Year” in 1963. In fact, this became one of the fastest-selling albums of all time and racked up with more than 7 million total records sold. Vaughn Meader’s entire act consisted of doing his impression of President John F. Kennedy, lampooning the famous Kennedy mystique, and mocking political events of the day. The first family reportedly hated it, which probably drove up sales even higher due mostly to curiosity. Strangely, way back then “Album of the Year” wasn’t just reserved for music. Comedy was also eligible for consideration (recall Bob Newhart’s landmark win in this category in 1961, which was probably well deserved). However, Vaughn’s off-the-wall album wasn’t even the best comedy performance of the year. That title most certainly should have gone to Lenny Bruce, then at the height of his popularity and in the news constantly at the subject of major controversy. Meanwhile, Vaughn Meader’s one-trick-pony career went into the tank after the terrible events of November 1963, since no one wanted to laugh anymore about dead President. All that’s remembered now is that this album should go down as the worst Grammy Award winner of all time. Here’s the far better choice (here’s what a real singer sounds like without Autotune):
Who Should Have Won — I Left My Heart in San Francisco by Tony Bennett
Most Bizzare Five-Time Grammy Winner of All Time — Christopher Cross
Guess who has more Grammy Awards than the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, Diana Ross, Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Who, or Tupac Shakur — combined?
Answer — Christopher Cross.
This milquetoast music maven won a whopping five Grammys in the year 1980 for his breakthrough debut album, which produced a quick flurry of hit singles. But his syrupy one-dimensional ballads ended up as pop music’s equivalent of pet rocks and beanie babies. In fairness to Cross, he didn’t fit the ideal profile of an MTV-friendly artist, an 80s-era detour, which was entirely based on appearances and superficiality. Within a few years of a smashing debut and five fuddled acceptance speeches at that year’s Grammys, Cross had all but disappeared from the charts. His last Billboard appearance was way back in 1985.
Meanwhile, the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, Diana Ross, Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Who, and Tupac Shakur have never won a Grammy Award.
Yes, this is a commercial but I’m writing the post and this is my story. I feel the need to share because good deeds deserve our praise.
A few years ago, we got a coupon for Chewy.com. It gave us a discount on cat food and pet supplies. Normally, we buy at PetSmart or off the sale rack, but this was too good an offer to pass up. Long story short — we ended up with a monthly delivery from Chewy for about $50 per month (two cats).
In May, our beloved “Alex” died. He was 18. Ginger cat. I loved him so much.
We still had “Faro,” our grey cat (both were adopted from shelters as strays). Faro was 15. However, when Alex died, Faro stopped eating. We tried everything. Six weeks later, Faro was dead. We couldn’t diagnose what went wrong, but we think Faro died of a broken heart. He missed Alex.
I can’t tell you how painful this is to remember, even now, 6-7 months later. This also reminds me to write about taking Faro into the vet one last time, which is a painful memory for me, but one I think could help others who lose their pets. Let me file that away for now. Tearing up, here.
So, we lost Alex and Faro barely two months apart. We went from two cats to none. The house seemed so empty. Those of you who have lost pets will understand “the silence.” It’s deafening.
Distracted by death, Marieta and I forgot about our monthly Chewy delivery. Then, another shipment came. We were billed for $50 for dozens of cans of cat food. It was a delivery we didn’t need.
I didn’t know what to do, so I contacted Chewy’s online support. I asked for a refund and told them the circumstances. Then, I totally lost it after what they did next.
The Chewy rep told me they would refund the $50. She also said not to return the unused cat food. I was advised to take the large box and make a donation to the local animal shelter. All from Chewy.
I was blown away by this act of kindness and a genuine display of compassion. The company wasn’t seeking publicity. They had no idea I am a writer. They didn’t know I would write this, which is entirely deserved.
So, I took the box and later ended up doing some work for a local shelter. It’s so gratifying that all the cats enjoyed what amounted to a full day’s supply of food, made possible by Chewy.com.
We have a new cat now. Another stray. “Cosmo” is nearly 10 months old. We expect him to have a healthy and happy life. He will be a loyal Chewy customer forever.
The kicker to the story is my aunt, Deborah Massoletti posted something similar recently about Chewy.com, which leads me to believe this is their company policy. No one would have take offense if they had a no-return policy. Given the low-profit margins and weight of the shipment, I really didn’t expect them to even respond to the inquiry.
This is how a good company does business. I want to publically thank and endorse Chewy.com as a great supplier of pet products and a group of people filled with love in their hearts.
I dropped this envelope in today’s mail. Yeah, Trump — I got your “contribution” right here.
Whatever flunky Trump toad opens the envelope is in for one helluva’ surprise.
Here’s the Backstory: I presume it’s social media pranksters who sign me up for pro-Trump fundraising and other Republican schemes. I get this kinda’ shit all the time. Usually, this junk mail goes straight to the trash can. But since I was personally invited to become a member of the “President’s Advisory Board” — for a FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTION, of course — well, I had to read the offer.
The RNC sent me a survey, with laughably loaded questions. Survey questions like “Do you believe the Democrats’ impeachment proceedings against President Trump, who was duly elected by the people and has made America great again, is a politically-driven witch hunt?” You get the idea.
I had the option of joining the “President’s Advisory Board” at various levels of commitment. $25 makes me an “Associate Member.” $50 makes me something higher. $75 is the next step. $100 gets me “Inner Circle” status. For $500 or more, my name gets personally seen by the president who will write me a personal “thank you” (done with autopen, no doubt). It all sounds like a giant casino rewards program. All that’s missing is $15 in free slot play and the 2 for 1 buffet coupon.
Well, I had my own idea of a contribution. I’ll just leave it at that. Nothing dangerous or illegal, mind you. But, I want to make sure the Trump Republican fundraisers know that I took their solicitation very seriously. The “$100” handwritten on the outside of the envelope should ensure it’s opened and read by an actual Trumpster.
Please, RNC — send me more surveys and offers. I’ve got plenty more “contributions” to make.
“I write songs. Then, I record them. And, later, maybe I perform them on stage. That’s what I do. That’s my job. Simple.”
THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: WEEK 7
DAY 43 — “Beside You” (1967-68)
You are about to hear two astonishing pieces of music. They are both identical songs, with two completely different arrangments.
The first track is taken from the 1967 Bang Records recording outtakes in New York City in 1967. Later dubbed The Bang Masters, about 40 songs flooded the underground bootleg market and still remain popular with Van Morrison aficionados.
The second recording is the far more polished version — but still only the first take of the revised song that appeared on Van’s much-celebrated mystical musical masterpiece, Astral Weeks. The words and melody are the same, but everything else about the track is very different from Van’s earlier raw demo. What makes this track fascinating is listening to the studio engineers talking and giving instruction at the start of the first take. Then, wham — out of nowhere Van comes in with a gorgeous guitar melody.
Van was very new to New York at the time. He’d barely been in America for a week before it was time for his studio sessions for the new record label created by Bert Burns, who died less than a year later. Also, along with Berns, Bang Records was co-founded by the legendary Ahmet Ertegun, who would sign and record many of the most popular acts in the history of rock music.
The pulsating guitar accompanying Van’s shrilling vocals is masterful. But the track is totally transformed into something far more cerebral on the finished album recording.
This is a really fun comparison to enjoy. Each arrangement in its own way is a standout. In particular, pay close attention to the organ on the unreleased Bang Records bootleg. My only complaint is, I wish they’d crank it up! Yes, this does sound like Dylan.
Revised version, more polished, with studio instructions (First Take):
DAY 44 — “Little Village” (2003)
Here’s another mostly undiscovered masterpiece. What a gorgeous song.
“Little Village” begins with Van Morrison strumming his acoustic guitar. The melody is gradually engulfed by a saxophone. Then finally, we’re uplifted by the strings and flutes of an orchestra. It’s one of Van’s best original songs of the last 20 years.
The track appeared towards the end of the 2003 album release, What’s Wrong With This Picture? That album was nominated for a Grammy. However, none of the 13 original recordings became hits. Most music fans, even the most loyal “Vanatics” would be hard-pressed to name the most popular song from the album.
What’s Wrong With This Picture? was intended to reflect the jazz vibe of New Orleans. However, Westland Studios in Dublin was selected for the recording sessions. Van hired a backup band made entirely of Irish and English musicians.
The accompaniment of rollicking pianos, racy horns, lush strings, woodwinds, and the effervescent heartbeat of the Hammon organ are consistent throughout the collection. What stands out on “Little Village” is the plucking of strings later in the track mixed with flutes which amplifies a staccato-like melody carried by Van’s soulful vocals and lyrics.
The original studio recording is a pristine arrangement. Van obviously likes the song because he’s performed it dozens of times since in live performances, even to the present day. One reason perhaps Van favors the arrangement is that he finds the basic structure liberating.
If you wither around YouTube and listen to various live recordings of “Little Village,” no two sound the same. This is the source of both praise and criticism. For example, listen to a live recording made in Barcelona in 2005. Van changes up the tempo and brings in a clarinet. Some Van fans might also recognize the very strong musical resemblance of certain parts of this live recording with the so-called “Caledonia Soul Music” sessions recorded circa 1970. The mandoline riffs undoubtedly played here by Van, sound identical to the outtakes of that very obscure unreleased bootleg. I find it astonishing that Van recreates the precise guitar riffs from 35 years earlier onstage in this song. The section I’m writing about occurs about 2:45 into the (unauthorized) Barcelona recording. This entire 7 minute-arrangement is well worth a listen, including some brassy sax work towards the end (the live recording is posted second, after the studio track).
While the original track remains a standout, the alternative versions can be equally as fun to explore and discuss, as these two examples will demonstrate.
See if you agree with the beauty and power of “Little Village.”
Live (unauthorized) recording — Barcelona, 2005:
DAY 45 — “Never Get Out of These Blues Alive” (1972) — with John Lee Hooker
Van Morrison collaborated with legendary bluesman John Lee Hooker on countless recordings over three decades. Most of these blues standards, mixed in with some original compositions, went unreleased. Many are only available on bootlegs. However, some sessions are available on YouTube.
Their long friendship began when Van launched his solo career and recorded one of Hooker’s classics. They played on each other’s records many times. Virtually all the recordings were performed spontaneously. Two masters at their craft meeting in the studio and creating magic. It’s difficult to say how much influence Hooker had on Van and his recording style. Hooker, a genius at improvisation, always recorded and performed *in the moment.* Van quickly came to adopt this freewheeling philosophy, that if the session didn’t get the song down in the first take or two, then it “wasn’t working.” The vaults of Van’s rejects overflow with raw, half-written, would-be gold. All the tunes that “didn’t work” could fill several albums. (*see footnote)
Hooker recorded a new album in late 1971 that didn’t chart at the time but has since become regarded as a classic. Van joined Hooker at Wally Heider Studios in San Francisco and they laid down what would become the album’s title track. It’s clear this jam session is entirely unrehearsed. JLH and VM can be heard prompting each other throughout the 10-minute back and forth duo.
Some things don’t need to be explained. Just listen.
* Someday perhaps, these dormant recordings will be polished and eventually released. It would be great if Van had a Let it Be musical epiphany — where old tracks that were left vaulted in the studio were given to a Phil Spector-like producer, who cleaned up the Beatles January 1969 studio tapes and pressed the collection into what became the group’s final album.
DAY 46 — “Someone Like You” (1987)
The word *masterpiece* is overused in art and music. But “Someone Like You” is an almost perfect song. It’s a masterpiece.
From the very first lyric….
I’ve been searchin’ a long time For someone exactly like you.
…..we become immersed in song.
“Someone Like You” remains one of Van Morrison’s most endearing compositions and most popular songs, even today, more than three decades after its release. “Someone Like You” is one of the most played and requested songs at weddings and anniversary celebrations. It’s easy to understand why from both the gloriously uplifting melody and the lyrics which promise, “the best is yet to come.”
The track appeared on Van’s 1987 album Poetic Champions Compose. The album received mixed reviews from critics and sold poorly. It peaked at #90 on the album charts in the U.S. “Someone Like You” was also released as a single and did manage to reach #28 on the charts. However, at the height of MTV’s influence and the popularity of music videos with younger and hipper performers, Van’s simple love ballad wasn’t contemporary enough for the times. It was more of a throwback. Nonetheless, as most of the dreadful music from the mid-1980s has since disappeared and been forgotten, Van’s ode to love has become a timeless classic that’s likely to endure for many more years, and even decades to come.
“Someone Like You” includes a simple instrumental arrangement. There are no flashy guitar solos or sax interludes. The stars are Van’s vocals backed with a piano and string section. Critics’ reviews wrote Van’s gruff voice and off-key lyrics don’t quite fit the conventional notion of a romantic ballad. They’re certainly right. That said, the odd imperfection of this mismatched mature baritone gives added authenticity and even surprise to the joy of finding love in the song.
This composition was included in the soundtrack in several hit movies. This list includes Only the Lonely (1991); Prelude to a Kiss (1992); French Kiss (1995); One Fine Day (1996); Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001); and American Sniper (2014). There was even a movie made using the title song, “Someone Like You” (2001).
Van has written, composed, sung, and performed a vast array of musical styles over 55 years as an artist. He’s rarely written short tracks suitable for radio airplay or gone along with the record company marketing and promotion gigs (refusing to make music videos, for instance). This song stands as a notable exception. Van almost seems determined to prove here that he can write a crowd pleaser when he really wants to. Thing is, he’s not much interested in satisfying others so much as pursuing what he wants to do — a life’s mantra which from a fan’s point of view can be both frustrating and exhilarating.
DAY 47 — “I’ll Take Care of You” (1993)
Van Morrison is at his soulful best on Too Long in Exile, a 15-track collection of jazz-and blues-inspired recordings released in 1993. It was an odd album title given that Van wasn’t exactly “in exile,” certainly not from songwriting and performing. Indeed, this was the follow-up project to a successful double album, Hymns to the Silence, which pre-dated a two-year hiatus until this album release. For fans, the wait was well worth it.
Every track on Too Long in Exile sounds timeless. It was the first of a staggering six-albums/in a four-year string with his new Polydor label, arguably his most creative output since the early 1970s. The album rocketed to #4 in the UK and reached #26 in the US, despite producing no hit singles. That reveals the overall quality of the material.
“I’ll Take Care of You” is dominated by Van’s vocals and harmonica. However, this is not an original song. It was written by Brook Benton and recorded by Bobby Bland in 1959, and covered by Van, who has often dipped into the retro catalog of R&B classics. Later, Elvis Costello, Joe Bonamassa, and even Miley Cyrus recorded this song. Van’s version is a standout.
DAY 48 — “You Gotta’ Make It Through the World” (1978)
Van Morrison’s longest layoff from the recording studio lasted nearly three years, from 1975 through 1978. He did record enough material for at least two albums within that time frame, but he wasn’t pleased with the outcome. Songs from those sessions were not released and are only available as outtakes from bootlegs. So, Van’s long-awaited “comeback” album was greatly anticipated but ended up as a critical and commercial disappointment. While much of Van’s music has enjoyed a well-deserved renaissance, this album is often overlooked and forgotten.
A Period of Transition was intended as a definitive statement. “Gloria,” “Brown-Eyed Girl,” and “Moondance” were in the past. 1978 was a new era.
The mid- to late-70s was the height of the disco period. Singer-songwriters disappeared from the charts. Synthesizers and bellbottoms were in. Van’s blues and jazz roots, not to mention his polyester pants and pudgy look, marked him as a relic.
A Period of Transition illustrates this period of confusion and uncertain musical footing. Van’s talent as a songwriter was proven and obvious. But, could he change with the times and be relevant heading into a new decade among a new generation of fans who looked at Van as nostalgia?
This album didn’t answer that question, though it was a noble attempt. In fact, it raised even more questions about Van still being worthy as a voice in music. Wavelength, the best-selling album which came soon after, helped Van get back on track with his fans. Nonetheless, the recordings don’t express a statement, but rather a search. Even iconic songwriters go through ups and downs.
“You Gotta’ Make It Through the World” is from the panned album, which was entirely produced by Dr. John. The track has a catchy 70s Superfly sound, a mix of R&B and funk. It’s a glorious failure, but an interesting revelation into an artist always willing to push boundaries and test new sounds. Dr. John later said there was a real spiritual quality to the song, which is about one thing — survival.
Note: This is a condensed version about half the length of the original album recording.
DAY 49 — “Van Morrison Under Review — Part 2” (Documentary)
Here’s a short documentary clip that covers Van’s career between 1966-68. Later chapters of this film will be attached as this series continues.
Miss a previous week? No problem! Here’s all the prior installments:
Late last night past midnight, ALL 53 REPUBLICAN SENATORS voted AGAINST a Senate resolution to call Trump’s former National Security Advisor, John Bolton to testify in front of the American people.
Think about that.
EVERY single Republican stonewalled the pursuit of truth and justice.
John Bolton, a first-person witness to charges of impeachable crimes, a man who has stated publically repeatedly that he is *willing* to testify — Republicans blocked it.
What is the party of panting Trump lapdogs afraid of? Why did they block one of the most important witnesses in the Ukraine scandal from coming forward and testifying under oath?
This would be like Republicans in 1973 blocking John Dean from testifying in the Watergate hearings. At least most Republicans back then had integrity and were honest. Now, they’ve tumbled into the abyss.
Republicans have ZERO credibility. They’re nothing more than Trump toadies. Every single one of them. Without exception.
Research and polling reveal that about 67 percent of Americans believe Bolton and other key witnesses should be called to testify. More than two-thirds of Americans, and nearly HALF of all Republican respondents. Yet, every Republican blocked the measure. Every motion to allow testimony and additional documents — and there were 11 such instances yesterday — was BLOCKED.
Ask yourself — what are they hiding? Trump even says he would step in and block Bolton from testifying, by invoking “executive privilege.” Hmmm. Does this sound like someone who is *innocent?*
Total scum. Trump. All the Republican senators. His waffling dirtbag attorneys. Every one of them.
So, how are the 2020 New Year’s resolutions going?
Now so good, huh?
You’re not alone. Here’s my 20-day update into the year 2020:
RESOLUTION #1: Lose Weight
People carrying a few extra pounds typically announce that they’re going on a diet when a new year begins. A week later, we’re at the All You Can Eat buffet pounding down a second slice of cheesecake. Sure, we want to lose weight. But why kid ourselves? We’re not chasing a magic number. A weight scale shouldn’t be our barometer of happiness. Instead, our goal should be — to get healthier. To feel better. Losing weight shouldn’t be the end game, but rather one numerical consequence of striving for something higher. There are certainly ways to reduce one’s weight (so, I hear), but they aren’t always healthy. Some are even risky. Our top priority should be to enjoy life to the greatest extent possible. Sure, I’d like to drop a few pounds. But if I get through the year 2020 at 225 pounds (my current weight) and maintain my health, that’s a victory.
RESOLUTION #2: Travel Less
I love traveling. That is, once I get there. Unfortunately, the journey getting from point A to B is often a miserable experience. Flown lately? Been strip-searched by overzealous TSA agents? Paid nearly the cost of the air ticket for baggage fees? Been sardined into a middle seat? Sat beside the rapper yapper or the screaming infant? Leisure travel can be a tremendously rewarding experience. But traveling just for the sake of going somewhere and then returning home again is often more stressful than a typical workday spent at home. Especially if you’ve got kids or pets and have to board them (board the pets I mean). I hope to travel less in 2020 unless there’s a first-class hotel and wine involved.
RESOLUTION #3: Manage My Stress Better
Zen philosophy is becoming increasingly popular. I can certainly understand why. The problem with Zen is, it encourages us to disengage from challenges. I wholeheartedly reject this approach. Some things in life must be confronted. Always. Always. Always. And passion is the rocket fuel that lights the engine. Vested emotions and intensity can be a great motivator. Sorry, but Zen people don’t usually change the world. Action-minded people do. Those with passion do. I want to get fired up about life, not skate through it calmly. Forget worrying about rocking the boat. Rock the hell out of it. That’s my motto.
RESOLUTION #4: Drink Less Alcohol/Quit Drinking
If drinking is a problem in your life, then, by all means, do try to cut back and/or get some help. But let’s face it. Drinking serves as a wonderful bonding experience for many people. Without drinking, I doubt many people would be as close as they are. Booze is both a sugar cube and a truth serum. While this freedom can be dangerous when abused (and there’s lots of abuse), the loss of inhibitions can also be tremendously liberating. Think of it another way. I have a theory that outlawing bars (and forbidding drinking/intermingling of sexes) in Muslim countries frustrates the hell out of a lot of people, especially young men, and that’s what causes much of the world’s problems. Here’s a thought: Open bars all over the Middle East. Acts of terrorism would be cut in half. Yes, I believe that. As for me, I plan on drinking exactly the same amount with the same frequency in 2020 as I’ve done in the past. I see no reason to make changes. And, to reiterate my point — some places in the world need a lot more drinking, not less.
RESOLUTION #5: Get Out of Debt
I’d love to be debt-free. I’d also like to be 25-years-old again and a member of the Rolling Stones. Fact is, when the date December 31st, 2020 rolls around, most of us are still going to be in hock up to our asses to the banks. We’ll still owe on our mortgages, own credit card debt, and have to beg some joker dressed in a golf shirt for a new car loan. I take a much simpler approach, a goal I can actually achieve. It’s this. Try and stop the bleeding first, which means not to take on any more debt. That’s the first goal everyone currently in debt should have, since our poor spending and saving habits likely got us into trouble in the first place. Especially me.
RESOLUTION #6: Eat Healthier
I don’t believe in diets of denial. I want to eat good food and plenty of it. That means I won’t be ashamed of enjoying my large portions, my red meat, my loaded baked potato, my real butter, my rich desserts, my deep-fried foods, and pretty much whatever I want. That said, I refuse to eat fast food or consume prepackaged garbage that’s sold in supermarkets because that’s poison. And, I’ll never drink a soda, which is packed with sugar and chemicals. Never! So, that means I can enjoy just about everything else so long as it’s natural. A side note: I suffered a health scare late in 2019, so this might change — but all tests showed diet wasn’t a factor.
RESOLUTION #7: Be a Better Father/Husband/Friend/Son/Whatever
Sounds all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it. The mantra goes something like this — I don’t spend enough time with so and so, which means I must change. Says who? You work hard, right? You earn the bread, right? You love your family and friends and are there for them when they need support, right? I think it’s vital to be comfortable in our own skin. You also need your time, just for you. If people get offended by the things you say or do, maybe the problem lies with them — not you. Think about that. Be who you are and take time for yourself. You probably deserve it. And there’s no reason to apologize for feeling this way, just as those you care about also deserve their own time and space.
RESOLUTION #8: Go Back to School/Get an Education
I’m all for learning. But getting an education doesn’t have to cost you 30 grand a year. The education lobby and the lending cutthroats have warped our sense of reality. They’re loading up millions of kids with crushing amounts of debt, and then providing few tools to escape the chains other than slaving away for years to pay off the loans (this is entirely by design). Yes, I believe people should learn as much as they can, and get an education. However, it’s far easier to read a book on your own, or become part of a social club, or join an Internet group which provides opportunities to learn just as much. And, it’s basically all free. Self-learn. Take a guitar lesson online. Get a library card. Volunteer to coach a kid’s soccer team. I’ve done all three. Learning shouldn’t be a once-a-year resolution. Education should be a lifelong mission that never ends.
RESOLUTION #9: Donate Blood/Give to Charity
This one will piss-off some people. I’ve donated blood before. Many times. However, many blood banks (and drives) are nothing but scams. Make sure the blood you give is really going to someone needy and won’t be sold off for a profit by some medical company. When it comes to donating time or money to a charity, be sure they do what they say. And check out the salary of the head honcho running the show (non-profits are required to make this information public). Some of the biggest charities in America are detestable, horribly-managed, money-making enterprises. I give to charity when I can. But I refuse to give anything to a charity that pays fat salaries to its executives or is based in ridiculously expensive cities like New York and Washington. Move the charity to someplace where operating costs are significantly cheaper so more good can be done. The point is — give, but with greater discretion. I also volunteer, once a week. I wish I could do more, but this is the right balance. I recommend trying to find your own balance, whatever it is.
Alan Dershowitz has been picked to be on Donald Trump’s legal team in the U.S. Senate’s upcoming impeachment trial. Here are my thoughts on this high-profile legal celebrity.
I keep on hearing that Alan Dershowitz is a great legal scholar. Yet, what I’ve observed over the past 25 years is an artfully-crafted illusion, the concatenation of a media-obsessed subterfuge of publicity willing to argue *any* side of *any* legal controversy, no matter how ridiculous, so long as he gets to appear on television and reinforce his own mythology. I haven’t seen nor heard Dershowitz argue *anything* convincingly since the Von Bulow trial, and that fabrication four decades ago was spun by a movie.
First, let’s get one thing out of the way. I have no issue with any attorney taking any case to provide the best legal defense possible. I need not explain that to readers. If you don’t understand it or disagree, then please stop reading. We have zero common ground. What I take exception to, and hereby question is Dershowitz’s presumed commitments to justice when he’s so often been on the opposite side of is own arguments. Moreover, I’m not casting aspersion to the legal defense of murderers and scumbags, rather — I’m stating Dershowitz has demonstrated an appalling lack of ability to persuade and be effective, despite countless opportunities to argue in dozens of settings and cases.
Dershowitz’s willingness to play the provocateur of persuasion is certainly good for theatrics. He’s a master ringleader of any political circus once he enters the big tent. Yet, he’s become so soiled with personal and professional contradictions, it’s now impossible to take him seriously, on anything. Especially anything with a political connotation. Go back and watch Dershowitz’s commentary on the Clinton impeachment during the late 90s, or his countless appearances in defense of murderer O.J. Simpson. They’re cringeworthy.
Do you want a better example of Dershowitz as a legal and political failure? I’ll give you three, each off the top of my head:
1. Years ago, ESPN did a mock civil trial on Major League Baseball and the battle between big-market and small-market teams. The question was on baseball’s competitive balance. It was a bold three-hour experiment on live television. Dershowitz argued on behalf of small-market teams, a view which I was vociferously in agreement with. Yet, Dershowitz was destroyed by opposing counsel Bruce Cutler. It was a major league ass-kicking. I had several arguments swirling in my head while watching, which Dershowitz failed to bring up. It was an embarrassing performance and the first hint that Dershowitz wasn’t nearly as smart or gifted as we thought.
2. Following the 2000 presidential election debacle (the Florida results went to the Supreme Court), Dershowitz wrote a book titled How the High Court Hijacked Election 2000. Entirely sympathetic to Dershowitz’s argument, I was seeking supporting material on my own for Gore’s case. So, I bought and read the book. Rarely has any text ever swayed me in the opposite direction, but somehow this legal scholar managed to do exactly that. This book, written for laypeople (non-legal people like me, was an appalling misfire. How does an author manage to defeat his own argument within his own text? I vowed never to waste $25 on another Dershowitz book again.
3. A few years later, Dershowitz wrote The Case for Israel, supposedly a defense of the Jewish state. Eager to expose myself to opposite points of view, I cracked open the book at a Barnes and Noble and spent an entire afternoon suppressing disbelief at how poorly-constructed Dershowitz’s written arguments were, both morally and politically. Any contributor to Foreign Affairs could easily have deconstructed and destroyed Dershowitz’s so-called “defense” of Israel. Once again, he managed to move a reader *away* from his side of the argument.
In fairness to Dershowitz, I’ve seen him debate numerous times (twice in person). Once, he debated Alan Keyes on the topic of religion in government. Predictably, Dershowitz took the secular side and mopped the floor with Keyes, which wasn’t exactly saying much. More recently, Dershowitz (I thought) won a heated debate about BDS (sanctions against Israel) against Dr. Cornel West, who appeared woefully unprepared in the back and forth. Those are the only two moments of Dershowitz’s lengthy career when he advanced his case in any way, and both wins were softballs.
Now, Dershowitz somehow gets pegged for Trump’s legal defense. Call me unimpressed.
This week, I made THREE wagers. I’m wagering $917.50 to win $750. Here are my thoughts:
TENNESSEE at KANSAS CITY (-7) — Total 53
Andy Reid-coached teams have a history of folding at this stage of the playoffs. However, this appears to be his most talented team. Certainly, the Chiefs field an explosive offense, which as was proven last week, can put up lots of points quickly. Kansas City stunned just about everyone by overcoming a 24-0 deficit en route to a convincing 51-31 win. They are rightly favored big in this game. However, Tennessee might be the worst possible opponent for the Chiefs in this spot. The red-hot Titans have pulled off three straight road wins, all versus division winners.
The Titans’ defense has been suffocating, holding the Texans, Patriots, and Ravens respectively to 14 points or less each time. The big question is — can the Titans’ power running attack do it one more time? If RB Derrick Henry runs anything like he’s done in the last two months, that does more than help Tennessee move the ball. More important perhaps, success at running the ball keeps the Chiefs’ offense on the sidelines. Tennessee has proven itself capable of upsetting solid teams. They’ve also defeated Kanas City earlier this season and beat Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium in a playoff game two years ago.
While there’s been considerable change in personnel since then, Tennesee looks like a very attractive underdog getting plus-7. At plus-7.5, they are absolutely worth a wager. But I can’t get that number, so this is a pass.
Betting this total to go over looks way too obvious. Both teams score plenty of points. Both offenses are explosive. Weather doesn’t appear to be a major factor although temperatures will be cold (20 degrees at game time). Temperatures in this range have not impacted scoring, historically speaking. No wind is in the forecast. What the total doesn’t reflect, however, is the recent play of both defenses. Both units have stepped up significantly in recent games. In the seven games since the mid-season loss at Tennesee, Kansas City has posted 5 unders and just 2 overs. The defense has allowed only 16 points-per-game.
Meanwhile, Tennessee’s defensive numbers are equally as impressive, surrendering just 18 points-per-game over their past seven contests. The total at 53 is the highest of any Titans’ game this season. The Chiefs have seen five games with a total at 53 points or higher — producing 2 overs and 3 unders. Given this total is considerably higher than average, especially for a championship game, there are compelling reasons for contrarians (gamblers who like fading the public and popular perception) to bet under.
One other statistic worth noting: QB Tannehill has completed only 15 passes in his two playoff starts this season (both wins). This is a startling stat, especially in the modern pass-crazy NFL. The Titans’ unproven passing game with the pressure gives even more confidence to the under.
Bottom Line: I expect Tennessee to run the ball heavily, milk the clock, and not commit costly turnovers. This should play into a lower-scoring game than is projected.
TENN/KC UNDER 53 — Laying $330 to win $300
GREEN BAY at SAN FRANCISCO (-7.5) — TOTAL 46.5
Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers has been in plenty of big games before. He’s posted a 10-7 career playoff W-L record. For all the accolades the 49ers so rightly deserve for earning the NFC top seed, Rodgers’ experience should be weighed heavily here when picking a side. Moreover, Green Bay was held to their fewest points of the season (a trash touchdown with a 2-point conversion) in a humiliating 29-point loss at San Francisco in mid-season. We should look for a far better effort this time around.
The Packers’ defense has also carried much of the load en route to a 13-3 season. Green Bay’s defense allowed just 17 points-per-game the last six contests. This is the kind of team that’s traditionally a strong value — experienced QB, solid defense, getting points.
However, San Francisco has demonstrated its ability to completely shut down opponents and looks to be the superior unit. When the 49ers defense plays at peak level, this team looks unbeatable. Offensively, the 49ers have been explosive — eclipsing the 30-point mark in half of their games. They’ve also faced a considerably stronger schedule of opponents. The 49ers are rightly favored, but should they be laying more than a touchdown?
Several factors appear to neutralize each other when weighing the evidence. However, getting the added half-point with the underdog is a tipping point. The Packers are more than capable of winning this game outright. Getting more than a touchdown makes them a compelling team to bet on in this situation.
The total opened up at 45 and has been bet up to 46.5. Some handicappers think this total could reach 47 by kickoff. However, let’s presume the betting total is 46.5 for the purposes of discussion.
The betting public likes betting overs and these two teams could deliver points. However, both defenses are also capable of domination. If either defense flexes its muscles, the number should fall below the total.
Here are a few significant stats to look at from last week: QB Jimmy Garopollo was just 11/19 for 131 versus Minnesota, which wasn’t impressive. He’ll have to do much better than that against Green Bay. Second, the 49ers rushed by more than a 2 to 1 margin last week, with 47 rushes and just 19 passes. Assuming a similar game plan carries over, the 49ers stressing the running attack will drain the clock and significantly help under bettors.
This is a very challenging total to handicap. No discernable edge appears to exist. It’s best to pass on the total, in my opinion.
However, Green Bay’s team total is posted at 19.5 (-125). This seems a fraction low, even with the high juice. Green Bay has scored 20-plus points in six straight games. QB Aaron Rodgers has produced 20-plus points in all 17 of his career playoff appearances. Read that again: 17-0 to the “OVER 20.” Based on history, a wager on the Packers team total to go over 19.5 is worth the risk. Note that I got burned on this wager last week with the Vikings, but the Packers are a superior team with a much better QB.
Bottom Line: I expect Green Bay to stay with San Francisco most, if not all of the game. Rodgers can never be counted out of any playoff matchup, and it’s rare to get so many points with a veteran QB in a championship game. Give me the +7.5 and the Pack to get to 20.
Game Line: GB +7.5 vs. SFO — Risking $275 to win $250
Green Bay Game Team Total Over 19.5 (-125) — Risking $312.50 to win $250.
INVESTMENT GROUP [37 persons Active]
Investor —- Amount —- Pct. of Total Fund
Heldar $ 211 2.51%
Watanabe $ 100 1.19%
Peter Lucier $ 1,000 11.91%
Kramer $ 302 3.60%
Finbar O’Mahoney $ 200 2.38%
Howler $ 100 1.19%
Linda Keenan $ 500 5.95%
John Pickels $ 100 1.19%
Patrick Kirwan $ 100 1.19%
Sean McGinnis $ 300 3.57%
Jim Anderson $ 252 3.00%
Chad Holloway $ 200 2.38%
Eric Schneller $ 500 5.95%
Randy Collack $ 351 4.18%
Dave Lawful $ 100 1.19%
Paul Harris $ 1,000 11.91%
Dan Goldman $ 51 0.61%
Sharon Goldman $ 51 0.61%
Ken QB $ 102 1.21%
Chuck Weinstock $ 102 1.21%
Peter Taki Caldes $ 102 1.21%
Kenny Shei $ 51 0.61%
Jeff Deitch $ 51 0.61%
Kevin Un $ 128 1.52%
Becca Kerl $ 22 0.26%
Corey Imsdahl $ 102 1.21%
Don Bingo Rieck $ 102 1.21%
Jeff Siegel $ 1,000 11.91%
Stephen Cohen (payment pending) $ 100 1.19%
John Reed $ 114 1.36%
George Wattman $ 51 0.61%
Mickdog Patterson $ 51 0.61%
Larry Lubliner $ 100 1.19%
Grizz Berentsen $ 100 1.19%
Edmund Hack $ 100 1.19%
Bob Feduniak $ 500 5.95%
David “Quick” Horowitz $ 102 1.21%
TOTAL $ 8,398 100.00%
Part 6 (Days 36-42) of an ongoing retrospective on the music and career of Van Morrison
“I write songs. Then, I record them. And, later, maybe I perform them on stage. That’s what I do. That’s my job. Simple.”
THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: WEEK 6
WAIT! IS THAT VAN MORRISON OR MICK JAGGER?
THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 36
“Go On Home, Baby” (1965)
Some of Van Morrison’s earliest recordings with the Northern Irish band, Them, are often misidentified as Mick Jagger with the Rolling Stones. It’s easy to understand why listeners — both then and now — would presume the vocals belong to Jagger. However, Van’s voice was always a slight bit raspier. Moreover, Van never went commercial, sold out his music, nor played the fame game like most of the so-called “British Invasion” groups (a misnomer that absolutely incensed members of Them, who were proudly and distinctly Irish!).
Here’s an obscure track that could have been from any recording by Them at the time. It’s from the album titled, The Angry Young Them, which was marketed as a rebel statement and sound, which now seems terribly dated and ultimately failed to connect in the same way other groups such as the ‘Stones and the Animals were able to exploit the bad-boy image.
The album’s only hit single was the iconic “Gloria.” It contained several original Van Morrison compositions, which was still unusual at the time (Bob Dylan and the Beatles largely broke the record company’s stranglehold on bands being their own songwriters and studio players). The album also included Van’s cover of the John Lee Hooker classic “Don’t Look Back,” considered by many to be the standout track. Van’s early love for Hooker’s blues became a lifelong devotion. It would result in Hooker inviting Van into the studio in 1972 to record a duet on what would become Hooker’s most acclaimed album. More to come on that album in a future lesson.
But for today, let’s go back to one of Van’s early recordings, from 1965. The intent here is to notice the similarities in Van’s vocals with Mick Jagger, but also to notice that Van sounds a bit edgier. Perhaps sound engineers tried to intentionally make Van sound rough and mean. Now 55 years later, Van in his mid-70s, is a deep baritone and would have no shot to replicating this vocal range.
THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 37
“Comfortably Numb” (1990)
Van Morrison rarely performs in gigantic rock extravaganzas, opting for reasons best left for him to explain, to decline every invitation except those connected to various charities in his beloved native Ireland (where he’s done several public appearances). For instance, he opted to skip Live Aid, the “We Are the World” recording session, the Concert for Bangladesh, Woodstock, California Jam in the 70s, and virtually all concerts with a cavalcade of rock stars.
Notable exceptions to Van’s self-imposed segregation from rock stardom were his connections to The Band (and the much-celebrated The Last Waltz concert in 1978) and his appearance at the Berlin Wall in the summer of 1990 for the epic “Live in Berlin” concert (and album) organized and hosted by and headlined by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters.
Waters performed The Wall album in an epic setting, witnessed by 350,000 spectators and really, the entire world which was witnessing one of the seminal events of the 20th Century. The Pink Floyd co-frontman invited several musicians to attend. Many were committed to tours elsewhere that summer. However, Van happened to be touring in Germany and took an express to Berlin where he was asked to perform the lead vocals on one of Pink Floyd’s best-known songs.
Van looks like a middle-aged insurance salesman who somehow slipped onto the stage in the middle of the act. He’s about as unappealing as imaginable given the panoply of rock stars who were present. However, Van’s vocals are soaring on this track. It’s rare for a substitute vocalist to generate the same electricity as the original, but Van manages to fill in nicely.
On a far more personal note, while this concert was happening I was living and working in Romania, which had also undergone a revolution, albeit far more violent. During the same week of this Berlin concert, I did a TDY in Frankfurt, West Germany. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t travel to Berlin, instead (which would have been just as easy). Germany that summer was a rocking spectacle, as the Germans won the World Cup played in Italy. The Iron curtain fell and was ended. The West and East would reunite as one nation, soon thereafter. And, Pink Floyd’s music was the perfect soundtrack.
Back then, everything seemed ideal. The worst was behind us — or so we thought.
THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 38
“These Are the Days” (1989)
These are the days of the endless summer These are the days, the time is now There is no past, there’s only future There’s only here, there’s only now
The lyrics and message of “These Are the Days” couldn’t be more clear. Live life for the here and now.
Van Morrison’s words are set to an elegant melody accompanied by guitar, an accordion, a string section, and superb backing vocals. Characteristic of many of Van’s compositions, the song begins softly and builds gradually towards a stirring crescendo.
“These Are the Days” is the final track on Avalon Sunset, which received favorable reviews but a more lackluster reaction from the public. The album sold well in the UK but barely cracked the Top 100 in the US market. Nonetheless, all 12 original tracks stand the test of time well and could just as easily be released today.
Van rehearsed his new songs in two days along with his backing band (which included organist Georgie Fame for the first time) and then went into a London studio and recorded all the tracks in another two days. This is one of several albums essentially crafted in less than a week’s time. However, to its great credit “Avalon Sunset” sounds far more polished than the jazz and blues recordings he typically rushed off the studio assembly line in other projects.
After the recording sessions, guitarist Arty McGlynn remarked about the band’s feelings — “we still don’t know if it’s an album, or maybe a demo for an album.” The answer to that question was abundantly clear: Van was aiming for spontaneity. This was evident on finalized tracks where Van he can be heard barking out chord changes to his bandmates and occasionally mumbling his approval when the sound matches the vision.
Indeed, even inside the recording studio, Van lives and follows his own lyrics:
There is no past, there’s only future There’s only here, there’s only now.
THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 39
“Brand New Day” (1970)
The extraordinary gift of a song can inspire us and change who we are. A song heard in a crisis can become a turning point. There are people who have written and said the paradigmatic melody and lyric of a song can spur hope and even save a life.
“Brand New Day,” an original composition from Van Morrison’s 1970 Moondance album is precisely such a song.
Van has written dozens of catchy tunes stoked with optimism. “Brand New Day” may convey this simple concept the best. Van later admitted he wrote the song during a low point in his career following the commercial failure of Astral Weeks. Van’s recording contract was a disaster, leaving him broke. He spent the winter of 1968-69 living in Boston while playing small gigs in bars and nightclubs throughout New England.
“Brand New Day’ expressed a lot of hope. I was in Boston and having a hard job getting myself up spiritually,” Van recalled. “Then one day this (other) song came on the FM station and it had this particular feeling and this particular groove and it was totally fresh. It seemed to me like things were making sense…..I didn’t know who the hell the artist was. It turned out to be The Band. I looked up at the sky and the sun started to shine and all of a sudden the song just came through my head. I started to write it down, right from (the first lyric), “When all the dark clouds roll away.”
Although 50 years old now, the song remains as fresh and meaningful as ever. Unfortunately, the track was somewhat lost and forgotten amidst the collection of treasures on arguably Van’s most popular album, Moondance, producing no less than six songs which received widespread airplay. Most notably, this included the title track (“Moondance”), Crazy Love (later covered and made into a hit by Ray Charles), and the timeless masterpiece “Into the Mystic.”
There’s not much to the song instrumentally. Its weight stems from lyrics that move the mind and melt the heart. And that’s more than gratifying.
THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 40
In 1968, Van Morrison departed his native Belfast and spent the next six years living in the United States. Although he toured extensively throughout North America, he didn’t perform live in the U.K. or Ireland during this period. A century after millions of his ancestral countrymen had written their own chapters in the disparate story of the American experience, Van had become an immigrant.
In the middle of 1973, Van divorced his Texas-born wife Janet Planet and returned to Ireland for a much-needed vacation. He’d hoped to stay in Belfast, but the brutal terror of The Troubles made this way too dangerous. So, Van took a sabbatical from recording and touring to focus extensively on songwriting while staying on an estate in the southern part of the Irish Republic.
Three weeks later, he had enough fresh material for a new album, which would soon become Veedon Fleece.
Veedon Fleece is frequently cited as Van’s sequel to Astral Weeks, recorded six years earlier. The same stream of consciousness remains fluid throughout the 12-song collection, rooted in Celtic traditions with a distinctly country-folk twist. It’s a perfect distillation of bi-national sentiment, though Van clearly remains emotionally and spiritually attached to the homeland. The album cover includes a photo of Van sitting in an open field flanked by two Irish wolfhounds.
Many of the titles and lyrics are intentionally vague, open to broad interpretation. For instance, what does “Veedon Fleece” mean? Van later explained it was simply a phrase he made up on the spot, a sort of musical allegory “about people stunned by life, completely overwhelmed, stalled in their skins, their ages and selves, paralyzed by the enormity of what in one moment of vision they can comprehend.”
“Bulbs” is one perplexing piece of Veedon Fleece’s expansive puzzle. The song seems rooted in immigration and the unbreakable bonds between the past and future. One verse goes as follows:
She’s leaving Pan American Suitcase in her hand I said her brothers and her sisters Are all on Atlantic sand.
“Bulbs” begins acoustically, then uses various instruments as building blocks until the end when there’s a towering celebration of sound. There may be different ways to interpret Van’s intent, but it remains a prized gift of self-revelation which not only speaks to the composer’s complexities, but our own, as well.
Even “Bulbs,” the enigmatic song title appears to have duel meanings. It’s both the origin of a flower and the first sight one sees when landing at an airport. Note — “blue bulbs” appear in the lyrics referring to the lights on a runway.
Enjoy the journey.
THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY
“Rough God Goes Riding” (1997)
For many readers, The Healing Game will be one of many yet undiscovered gems in the vast Van Morrison pantheon of albums and songs. Let this latest installment allow the light of day to shine on this extraordinary collection of original tracks.
The 1997 album begins with “Rough God Goes Riding,” an odd title for the first song on an album constructed around themes of redemption, healing, and undying love. Music critic Greil Marcus even penned a book with a title based on this song. In Marcus’ bold narrative, he wrote:
The deep burr of Morrison’s voice buries the words, which cease to matter; you might not hear them until the tenth time you play the album, or long after that. ‘It’s when that rough god goes riding,’ he sings, drawing the words both from Yeats and down in his chest, and you might never know it’s the Angel of Death that has you in its embrace.
True to form for so much of Van’s music composed during the 80s and 90s (certainly a mellower period in contrast to his combustible early career), a single was released and reached only as high as #168 on the charts. Now, more than two decades later, the song is regarded as one of the best racks on one of Van’s most deeply personal albums. The album was recorded mostly in late 1996 in Dublin, Ireland.
Side Note: The extended (2008) re-issue of this album is astounding, complete with 30 studio recordings (including some notable collaborations), plus another 14 live tracks taken from Van’s 1997 appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Four discs and 44 total songs — an amazing output.
This live recording here is simply outstanding, especially if you like watching the interplay between great musicians. Georgie Fame, Brian Kennedy, Pee Wee Ellis are wonderful. The dueling sax solos about two minutes in makes the live recording a killer. Van is in top form here and clearly enjoying himself singing his new song, which at the time of this live concert had not yet been released. In fact, it’s obvious this is the first time Van and the band had performed this song live.
Introduced to the audience by Van as simply “Rough God” (perhaps the rest of the title was added later), the song sounds fresh and vibrant, an ideal kick-off to an outstanding album that will be covered later in some detail in this MasterClass series.
“SIR” VAN MORRISON
THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 42
Then and Now: Two Interviews — 50 Years Apart
It’s all about the music. Not fame. Not being a celebrity. It’s always been about just one thing — the music.
Van Morrison is a great songwriter and musician. But he’s a terrible rock star.
Multiple musical aficionados have noted that had Van wanted to be on the perch of Sinatra of Elvis, he could certainly have pulled it off. But superstardom wasn’t ever in the equation. Becoming famous wasn’t an ambition. It was the price.
Accordingly, his interviews tend to awkward, even painful. It seems the last thing Van likes talking about is himself.
Consider these two interviews done nearly 50 years apart. The first shows Van months after leaving the group Them on the way to a solo career. He’s interviewed by a Dutch television station. Burned out on the rock scene at 22, Van calls the music industry “phony.”
“It isn’t real,” he insists.
The next interview shows Van in quite a different setting. He’s being knighted by Prince Charles, thus earning the royal title, “Sir” Van Morrison. Surely, given his long history of refusing accolades, he had to be somewhat reluctant to be honored in this manner. Recall the Van didn’t even show up for his own Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction. In this short interview outside Buckingham Palace Van can’t help but take a shot at celebrity. “I want to get into the music,” Van insists.
The more Van changes musically, the more he stays the same in his devotion to core principles.
Miss a previous week? No problem! Here’s all the prior installments:
RESTAURANT REVIEW: HAFEZ PERSIAN CUISINE (LAS VEGAS)
I’ve enjoyed Persian (Iranian) cuisine for more than 30 years. Ever since I ordered my very first Koobideh, the authentic preparations from that part of the world have me completely hooked.
Persian food often gets miscategorized as Lebanese, Turkish, Armenian, and even Greek. Indeed, some of the dishes and many of the basic ingredients are very similar to other nations in the area. However, Persian food, which dates back many centuries, is distinct for its glorious mix of spices and flavors, meticulous preparation and attention to detail, and a few odd ingredients specific to the land which is now Iran.
Las Vegas has half a dozen or so decent Persian restaurants. Zaytoon’s within walking distance of my home, has been a family staple for more than a decade. Shiraz, on Decatur, is also very good. Now, let’s add Hafez to that list of dependable, delicious, and affordable restaurants.
Owned by a family that immigrated to the US many years ago (their photo hangs on the wall and they work in the restaurant), the location is somewhat the outlier. Hafez is smack dab in the middle of Chinatown, which means it’s easy to miss and not so easy to find. But the search and journey is well worth it.
On Monday, Marieta and I enjoyed the house lunch special which is offered 7 days a week. Koobideh (and other items) are complete and sell for only $9.95. What a steal. Marieta added an Aush soup, as well, and noted it was the best she’s tried since Royal Persis (LV’s first Persian establishment, now closed). The soup was plenty large (easily enough to share).
Hafez, named for a 14th Century Persian poet, is a spotless restaurant. The decor is modern and tastefully done. Large television screens with visuals of nature and animal life compliment a bright room that is open and airy. Modern Middle Eastern music was playing during our visit, which was just the right volume and vibe. There’s also a bakery connected to the restaurant. Everything is made in-house.
Dinner prices are about one expects from the typical Mediterranean establishment in Las Vegas. Main entres are priced in the $12-20 range. This makes the lunch special quite a bargain (same food for essentially half the price, though the portion is smaller).
Hafez deserves a visit, especially if you enjoy Middle Eastern cuisine. And even if you don’t give Hafez a try. They merit a strong recommendation and deserve to succeed.