Cover Versions, Dylanish, Gone but not forgotten

Van Hailin’

Van Morrison‘s Astral Weeks is a critics’ wet dream of an album, consistently frothed over and placed at the upper reaches of ‘Best Albums Ever’ lists. It’s a particular kind of album; a heady mix of rock, folk, jazz, and soul which doesn’t always hit the mark for me, but, when it does, bullseye!


The critics considered The Way Young Lovers Do to be the stand-out track, but, they reasoned, for all the wrong reasons.

Reviewing Astral Weeks, self-styled barometer of hip opinion Clinton Heylin said it “sticks out like Spumante at a champagne buffet.

Pffffft! What does he know? Compared to the brevity and substance of the majority of the tracks, The Way Young Lovers Do is light and airy. It features a lyric that you don’t need a degree in English and/or codebreaking to decipher. It is, ‘serious’ music fans, a 3 minute pop song. For me, The Way Young Lovers Do is the stand-out track, but for all the right reasons.


It skitters along on a weird time signature of jazzy triplets played on a lightly brushed drum kit that’s doing it’s best to keep up with a frantically scrubbed acoustic guitar. The musicians on the track, all time-served jazzheads, were delighted to find they’d be given free reign to play as they fancied. The stand-up double bass player can’t quite believe his luck. He’s all over the track like a free-form be-bop rash.

Not one to labour over the small details in the studio, Van sketched out the track on his acoustic guitar and encouraged the others to fall in behind him. Going against the grain of late 60s studio work, Van didn’t prepare chord charts or musical scores. Instead, the whole thing was kept together with head nods, subtle glances and the unspoken telepathy that happens between seasoned pros. What was recorded for posterity is essentially the first run-through of the track.

Van MorrisonThe Way Young Lovers Do 

And what a track!

Van scats and scooby-dos like a hard-boppin’, finger-poppin’ Celtic Louis Armstrong, wailin’ those words with a phrasing and maturity that belies his 23 years. Stabs of brass more usually found on a primo slice of Stax soul puncture the ambience like an accusing finger in the face of a non-believer. “Whaddayamean you’ve never bin in love, ell, yoo, vee…..

A vibraphone shimmers like one of those self-same young lover’s hearts, while the strings (overdubbed later) swoon and sweep as the melody rises. This is pure joy abandon, as good as it gets, really.

On this track alone, Van really is The Man.

jeff buckley tele

Contrast Van’s original with Jeff Buckley‘s extended, improvised take. Borne out of the cafe culture that fashioned his sound, Jeff’s version is just him with his beautifully-toned Telecaster playing through a Fender Twin Reverb amp, a combination of delicate, ringing picking, muted riffing and high intensity. A staple of his live shows, he never seemed to play it or sing it quite the same way twice. Jeff’s version often exceeded the 10 minute mark, with some versions approaching Zeppelin-esque proportions. Here’s an incredible version from the Bataclan in Paris taken from the European release of the same name. Intense, moody, stratospheric. You might even say it’s funky.

Jeff BuckleyThe Way Young Lovers Do (Live from the Bataclan)

starsailor

And then we have Starsailor. Currently residing alongside Toploader and Embrace in the Rewind section of Poundland, here was a band that pinned their flimsy influences to their poorly-tailored sleeves. Naming the band after an obscure Tim Buckley album, they took his vocal leaps and phrasings, welded them to the guitar stylings of the boy Jeff and had the sheer cheek to do their own version of The Way Young Lovers Do with all the grace (no pun intended), all the soul, all the nuance and style stripped from it. It’s a well-produced version, just not very good.

StarsailorThe Way Young Lovers Do

Cover Versions, Double Nugget, Hard-to-find, Sampled

Van Go!

Van Morrison has the dubious honour of being the most boring, souless, bum-numbing act I’ve ever had the misfortune to endure live in concert. Sometime in the mid 90s (94? 95? I can’t quite remember) we went to see him at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow. It’s a terrific venue, unlike the vastness of the SECC it’s built for purpose, and everytime I’ve been there I’ve left wishing all my favourite arena-sized acts would play there. Van’s show that night was memorable for two reasons.

Firstly, Van was playing two nights in Glasgow on this tour. Our tickets, bought and paid for months in advance had gone missing in transit. By the time admin had caught up with this fact, the night we’d planned to attend was sold out. We were offered tickets for the next night instead, in prime middle of the house seats. Problem was, this night clashed with the football, and as a season ticket holder at Kilmarnock FC, I was torn between the big match with Rangers at home or the Van Morrison concert, an act I’d never yet seen live. I chose Van.

Secondly, and more crucially, Van had a bloody cheek to bill his show as a ‘Van Morrison‘ concert. His co-vocalist (I’d say backing vocalist, but as it transpired as the night unravelled, backing vocalist would have been a label more suited to Van himself) was Brian Kennedy, a Butlins’ Red Coat version of Marti Pellow, a Mr Darcy of a plank with flowing locks ‘n red suede coat ‘n cheshire cat grin ‘n all. To say Brian loved/loves himself would be a massive understatement. He posed and he preened and whenever Van gave him the nod, which was often, he’d let his Irish tenor’s warble loose on the best bits of Van’s back catalogue. It was criminal. Van seemed content to scowl and scat and hang onto his saxophone for comfort. Housewives’ favourite Brian performed his expensive take on karaoke for nigh on two hours and we all went home thoroughly underwhelmed. To put the tin lid on it, I think Killie secured a rare victory over the lavishly bonused tax dodgers from the Southside.  Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated, as someone once quipped.

Anyway, long before Van was singing about brown eyed-girls or reminding us how much he loved us, he was Ivan Morrison, vocalist in Belfast’s Them.

van them

A Northern Irish equivalent to The Animals or The Troggs, Them played thumping caveman rhythm and blues with a snap and a snarl. On their second LP you’ll find I Can Only Give You Everything.

Them I Can Only Give You Everything;

A feral Van welds his vocal to a nagging fuzzed-up garage punk stomper. It‘s crazed, demented and absolutely magic; a glorious Cuban-heeled clattering racket, the sort of record that makes me want to throw Jaggeresque handclapping poses, grow my hair into a bowlcut and squeeze my fat feet into snooker cue-thin Chelsea boots.

Talking of haircuts, Beck sampled the riff for his own Devil’s Haircut tune, but you probably knew that already. Actually, he may have played the riff live, rather than merely sample it. Either way, Beck built his record around the riff.

I Can Only Give You Everything is everything you need in a record – it’s just over two and a half minutes long but you know how it goes after two and a half seconds. The fuzz guitar riff NEVER changes at all. A Farfisa (?) organ appears during the second verse before leading the inevitable instrumental break and key change halfway through. Throughout, Van sings with a soul and passion much missing in action that mid 90s Glasgow night. The whole thing kicks like a mule.

*Bonus tracks!

Here’s Patti Smith doing Them‘s Gloria, no doubt at the insistence of Lenny Kaye, guitarist in the Patti Smith Group and also the compiler of the terrific Nuggets LP, the Bible of garage rock.

lenny kaye

I like to think that Lenny discovered Them as a wide-eyed teenager and it was this that prompted him to learn guitar. Who knows?

Patti Smith Group Gloria

Jimi Hendrix Experience Gloria

Van Morrison and Them Gloria