Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
Click artist names to access those posts:
THE BEACH BOYS
THE BLUES BROTHERS
ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN
HALL & OATES
I just happened on one of your Van Morrison pages by chance and found myself intrigued and reading through the whole thing. Van’s one of those artists who has continued to put out albums at a fairly quick rate and for whom, once I heard one or two slightly off-par efforts (in the 80s or 90s), I got wary of! But when he could pull off something as viscerally sublime as the Chieftain’s collaboration, Irish Heartbeat (in the flippin’ 80s!), it was clear that there was always a risk of missing something spectacular. It’s good to read your perspective and, for the albums I know, it seems to coincide reasonably closely with mine. And so, for the albums I haven’t heard yet, I feel that I can probably trust your judgment! I look forward to reading many of your other posts.
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Thanks for stopping by & sharing your thoughts on Van’s unique catalog. He was the first artist I covered here, nearly 3 years ago, and I was still figuring out how I wanted to revisit each artist’s catalog & write about them. I don’t think I was as thorough in my posts as I eventually became, but I’m still glad I spent that time with his music. I’m glad you & I are pretty much on the same wavelength regarding our favorite Van recordings. Which of his albums are your favorites? I hope to hear from you in the Comments section of one or more of my Van posts, since one of the main purposes of my blog is to have conversations with fellow music lovers, like yourself. Thanks again.
Yes, I realise I should have commented on the Van pages themselves. Sorry about that – but I’m about to compound the mistake by continuing this conversation here!
I actually quite like the way you’re not totally exhaustive or journalistic in your approach and it’s more like having a chat at the pub over a drink.
I’ve heard fewer of his albums than you have, so it’s almost a bit unfair for me to give a favourite, but I like the typical classic early 70s soulful faves like “His Band and the Street Choir”, “Moondance” (but not the title track) and “Tupelo Honey”. And I finally got “Too Late To Stop Now” a few years back and was blown away by the degree to which it lived up to its reputation – it’s almost like James Brown’s band are backing him up!
One of the first CDs we got when we finally bought a player was the first volume of his Greatest Hits and, as a family, we just fell in love with it and played it hundreds of times. Then some years later I picked up Volume 2 and thought, “Great, this will be a well-selected bunch of great stuff from his later albums”, but I have to admit I found it hugely disappointing. In fact I found it almost unbearable. So I guess I’m not impressed by the period that it covered! Some of those later 80s and 90s albums sounded pretty good for a few listens but didn’t really have holding power. I don’t necessarily think it was always Van’s fault – musicians and recording techniques seemed to get worse almost universally from the 80s on, and most artists suffered, and still do.
No need to apologize for posting your comments here. Van’s name pops up here, so it’s as good a place as any to have a conversation. I’m really appreciate your comment about this coming across like a chat at the pub, which is what I’ve been going for since I started the blag nearly 3 years ago. I’ve probably gotten more thorough in my assessments of each artist & album since wrapping up Van’s catalog to start things off, but I always look at my posts as the start of a conversation rather than a lecture about how much I know (especially because I know so much less about these artists going in than I do with my favorite artists).
It’s hard to argue about the merits of the majority of Van’s early-’70s output, even though each fan seems to have different choices for favorites. I even came around to “A Period Of Transition” as something of a lost classic. Your point about “Too Late To Stop Now” is spot-on. His command of that band…that orchestra…certainly shows off a maestro at work.
I have both volumes of his “Greatest Hits.” It’s been a long time since I played either of them since I quickly acquired his individual albums & prefer to listen to those over compilations. I remember the first one being a faultless collection while the second one was merely very good. I’m not sure I agree with your comment about most artists suffering from the recording/production techniques in the ’80s & ’90s, although many did succumb to pressure from their record labels & radio stations. Of course, if you’re referring to most older artists (the ones who began their careers in the ’60s & ’70s), then you’re a lot closer to the truth. I guess the best of them made it through those lean years & came out the other side sounding as good as ever.
Again, thanks for all your feedback. I’m here whenever you’d like to chat about music, whether it’s the artists I’ve covered or anything else. I hope you & your family have a happy New Year.
You’ve certainly re-ignited my desire to catch up on a lot of Van’s records that I’ve missed. I only have a completist mentality for a very few select artists. I love Neil Young very dearly, for example, so much so that I even bought his ridiculously expensive Archives Blu-ray set (although I waited a long time to get it at a good price!) but i don’t think I even own half of his albums! I think if money was no object I would have them all, but even in this day and age, when music is relatively cheap, I tend to spend my money on increasing the breadth of my collection, rather than the depth, if that makes sense.
I noticed, when I looked up Van’s discography, that there’s a volume 3 of his Greatest Hits – a 2007 double album supposedly compiled by Van himself, comprising material from later than Vol. 2. I suspect that might be a good way for someone like me to catch up with the wide range of music he’s released in recent years.
I agree with what you said about older artists: “the best of them made it through those lean years & came out the other side sounding as good as ever” – the most obvious examples being Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash, I guess. I always think about how some of the artists who died might have followed the same trajectory. Rick Nelson is one person I think had a lot to give and if he’d survived you could easily imagine him having joined the Traveling Wilburys or released an album produced by Rick Rubin!
In Van Morrison’s favour, I’d say he was one whose lean years were a lot LESS lean than many other artists. He really did keep his quality relative high all along, and I don’t think ever released any unlisteneable or embarrassing rubbish (unless you count those 60s contractual obligation songs about Danishes!)
Happy New Year to you and yours too!
Consider yourself fortunate that you only have the completist mentality for a handful of artists. I used to be a lot worse, but at some point I had to cut out certain artists. Even with Van Morrison, there are a handful of his albums I never got, but they’re more recent & I’m sure even the most devoted Van fan would forgive me.
I’ve had my eye on that Neil Young “Archives” Blu-ray box, but the price has never come close to what I’d be willing to pay. When I wrapped up my series on his catalog last year I was pretty burned out on his music, but if I ever find that box set for an affordable price I’ll gladly dive right back in.
Orbison & Cash are excellent examples of artists who came through those lean years stronger than ever, and that’s a great point about Rick(y) Nelson. I’m not an expert on his music (I only own a 25-song compilation), but he had a great voice & surrounded himself with top-notch musicians. Had he not died so tragically it would have been nice to see him get a late-career resurgence.
Back to Van for a second. One of my acquisitions at Christmas was the “Moondance” 4CD+Blu-ray package. I’ve already enjoyed the surround sound mix and in the coming days I’ll be checking out the audio discs. By the way, what are your thoughts on “Astral Weeks”?
“I’ve had my eye on that Neil Young “Archives” Blu-ray box, but the price has never come close to what I’d be willing to pay.”
Aren’t there various versions of this where each version has a song which is available nowhere else? If there is one thing I hate, it is stuff like this—essentially saying: buy 100 songs you already have in order to get one new one. This is the modern version of the “greatest hits” album with two “unreleased bonus tracks”, which obviously couldn’t have been hits. Same difference if it is a “best of” rather than “greatest hits”.
This is related to another gripe: I never got the concept of a box set. A typical box set contains: greatest hits, b-sides and so on, live versions, radio tracks etc. Now, the fan already has all the albums, and someone looking to explore will probably have a best-of, so why have the greatest hits in the box set? On the other hand, the casual listener won’t be interested in the rare and obscure stuff.
Jethro Tull did the right thing with Nightcap: a release of only the rare stuff.
I can see the point of adding related bonus tracks to a CD release of an album, since there is more room on a CD. However, this should be done, if at all, the first time a CD is released—not in a second release a couple of years later. (One might be able to live with it being done on a second release if that second release is many years after the first and is substantially better in quality. Fortunately, I had all the vinyl albums by my favourite artists, such as Jethro Tull, the Beatles, Rush, Pink Floyd, so didn’t buy the first release of CDs but waited until later, when they really were much better. However, only Jethro Tull had bonus tracks (which had been on Nightcap, Living in the Past and a couple of best-ofs). Just a few years after the box of remastered albums, Floyd came out with the Discovery and Immersion editions. I didn’t buy a single one. If the new stuff were available separately, I might.)
Phillip, I’m pretty sure that each version of the Neil Young “Archives” box set has different material, but that’s merely based on the space available via each medium. At least he didn’t put material on the CD box that wasn’t on the DVD box. It seems like the higher end product you buy, and more money you shell out, the more material you end up with.
As for the box set question in general, I’ve seen them done extremely well and also miss opportunities. I own over 200 box sets, and depending on the artist (or subject of a various artists collection) I have varying expectations. I agree that Tull did it the right way with “Nightcap,” but they also released the “20th Anniversary Box Set” which, if my memory is correct, included remixed versions of their best known songs on one disc, and rarities on the other two. The “25th Anniversary Box Set” (in the cigar box) was all rare live recordings, right?
It’s true that the average box set buyer is probably enough of a fan to already own the “hits” and many album tracks, so a box set that includes too many of those isn’t as enticing. I personally prefer when someone like Springsteen releases the 4-CD “Tracks” box set, but then the record company gets greedy & releases a single-disc distillation of that box set…with three new rarities. That’s REALLY annoying.
I’ve been enjoying a lot of the “Complete Albums” box sets that have been all the rage the last few years, but only when they at least attempt to include most or all of the original packaging elements. Giving me an LP replica without any of the inner sleeve photos, lyrics, credits, etc., means you’re missing some vital info. These are often a great way to get the bulk of an artist’s catalog in one place for a reasonable price, so I can look past the packaging issues. The Billy Joel “Complete” set is one of my favorites, as they reproduced everything. I also love the Rush “Sector” boxes, which were a great upgrade from my ’80s-pressed original CDs.
As for various-artist collections, the “Nuggets” box sets are hard to beat. I’m happy to let the compilers sift through the crap & give me what they think is the best of a particular genre or era.
I could go on, but you get the point. We have similar complaints about box sets, but when done right they are very rewarding.
“At least he didn’t put material on the CD box that wasn’t on the DVD box.”
Actually, I thought he had done this. Or something on DVD which wasn’t on Blu-Ray.
“I agree that Tull did it the right way with “Nightcap,” but they also released the “20th Anniversary Box Set” which, if my memory is correct, included remixed versions of their best known songs on one disc, and rarities on the other two. The “25th Anniversary Box Set” (in the cigar box) was all rare live recordings, right?”
Right on the 20th. The 25th also had a remixed (not remastered) “best of”. Some of the recordings were old ones, like the complete Carnegie Hall which had shown up on Living in the Past, while some others were recorded for the box set. Some of these are quite good, such as Dave Pegg playing all instruments on an instrumental version of “Pussy Willow”.
Various-artists box sets are something different altogether.
I would have to look into the “Archives” sets in more detail, but I was under the impression that the DVD set had everything from the CD set and more, and the Blu-ray had all of that and more. I didn’t think there was anything exclusive to just the CD or DVD sets. If so, that’s a bad move on Neil’s part.
My wife Marjorie went through a phase of being a MASSIVE Rick Nelson fan and so I got to hear far more of his music than I ever knew existed, as well as finding out more about the man. He certainly did work with the best musicians, and it was also clear that his heart was really in exploring musically but that he was always held back by audience, management and family expectations for him to be a mere nostalgia act singing his teen idol hits. Obviously this is all crystallized (rather nicely) in Garden Party, but it really does seem to have been his heart’s desire. Listening to his earliest country rock sides, around 1965, I think, I felt that he really could have been called “The father of country-rock”. He didn’t write a lot of songs, but a few of them are really top-notch and show what he was capable of doing. Garden Party is one of them, and there’s another really great song called “Life” which I covered for a Rick Nelson tribute album which came out last year.
The Neil Young Blu-Rays are really brilliant if you’re a fan! Well, having said that, I’ve only explored the first one, which deals with his earliest years, Buffalo Springfield and some early demos. But we, as a family, were actually really surprised how much fun it was after we’d learned how to navigate it! It felt like a return to having a nice big gatefold sleeve, listening to an album carefully all the way through, WITH other people, except the experience was magnified many times. There are so many photos, scans of documents, lyrics, videos etc on the disc. And you can navigate through them while the music keeps playing (warning – you can’t do that on the DVD version). It was as captivating as I had hoped for at my most optimistic. And the SOUND on those really early recordings was wonderful. You imagine old crackly recordings but they’re not like that at all. I really can’t wait to explore the other nine discs (plus a bonus live disc). The packaging is also extremely well done, with a very nice, thick book full of interesting material.
I saw what you wrote on Astral Weeks and was gearing up to respond but didn’t get a chance. I’ll maybe write something now… in the right place for once!
I just listened to your performance of the Rick Nelson song on that tribute CD. Excellent job. Thanks for sharing. Hopefully some of my readers will check it out as well when they visit these Comments. How did you get involved in that project?
Nice to know that your family can share in the Neil Young experience, and music in general. I was aware of that feature on the Archives blu-ray where you can browse through the, well, archives while you listen to the music. I also like the feature where Neil posts additional songs that can only be accessed via the blu-ray and an internet connection. I just saw the set at a record store last week, but there was no way I could justify paying $350 for it. I’m not sure what my acceptable price is, but I have a friend who works at Warner Music Group and if he can get me his employee discount it might be worth splurging before it goes out of print.
Lots of stuff in those comments but I’ll briefly touch on a few of them.
I’m almost certain that all of the main audio tracks are present in each version (CD, DVD & Blu-Ray) of the Neil Young Archives. Naturally, the videos that are in the latter two aren’t included in the CD set.
It’s possible that there are some “Easter eggs” in the video discs that are not in the CD set but I’m not sure. And of course there is the extra downloadable material on the Blu-Ray, which I haven’t actually tried yet. It would be nice if CD/DVD set owners had some sort of code to download that material too, as it becomes available – perhaps they do.
Certainly the CD set is much more affordable than the Blu-Ray – even here in Australia (which is generally a lot more expensive than the US) you could get it for $100 which isn’t bad for ten discs.
As for the subject of Box Sets in general, I can understand those complaints that you made, Phillip.
In my case, I actually quite *like* the way most of them work, with a mixture of the most famous/best tracks with rarities, but I can see how it would be annoying for some people.
For me, I like the fact that they’re usually fairly good value – you might get four or five discs with 25-30 tracks each for the cost of perhaps three full-price albums with only 10-15 tracks each. And also a nice booklet and packaging if it’s done well.
Also, discs that are ALL rarities can be a little hard to listen to as many of the rarities might be in some way substandard. But if they’re interspersed with the great tracks then they’re easier to enjoy.
I also like them because they can allow you to listen to the best album tracks from the less good albums, without having to plod through (or even buy) them. So, for example, on the Kinks box set you can sample the good tracks from a whole multitude of albums that you probably won’t even buy. I’m a huge Kinks fan but there’s no way I would buy every dodgy album they made after their classic period. So the box set is great for that. A simple “Greatest Hits” disc wouldn’t do because it wouldn’t go deep enough into forgotten but worthwhile album tracks.
As I mentioned, the price to pay – buying tracks you already have – is largely ameliorated by the fact that you get loads and loads of tracks for your $50-60 expenditure. (This depends on cost and location, of course, but that’s how much I paid for my Kinks set.)
The Neil Archives, of course, is a whole other kettle of fish. Yes, there are lots of tracks that one already has. But the whole experience of the Blu-Ray set takes it to another level beyond that of an ordinary CD box set. If someone expected 10 discs full of video they’d be disappointed. But I was very pleasantly surprised (and so were my wife and our son) by how much fun it was to be able to look at all kinds of visual archives while listening to the music, with occasional videos as well.
Having said that, I would never have paid the full AUSTRALIAN price of something close to $600! But I got it for a little over $200 from http://www.popmarket.com and – for me, as a cheapskate who doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on luxuries – that turned out to be worthwhile.
Another thing about box sets is that, at least now with iTunes etc, you can buy the rarities you want without having to but the whole set. I suspect that if you did so you’d wish you had bought the CDs instead, but at least the option is there.
Things like that Bruce Springsteen Rich mentioned (“single-disc distillation of that box set…with three new rarities”) definitely ARE really annoying though. That is just baiting the completist in the worst possible way, and I think almost everyone would agree.
As for the Rick Nelson cover, I’m glad you liked it, Rich! I think I managed to make it sound like something from Sgt Pepper. The original is an acoustic ballad. The chap who put the album together, Adam Waltemire, is a radio DJ in Florida (www.popgardenradio.com) who played some of my earliest songs back in the MySpace days, long before I ever put out an album. He asked me if I was interested in doing a cover and I was absolutely amazed that anyone would want me to record something for an ACTUAL ALBUM! As it turned out, it wasn’t released until more than five years later, but it really did a lot to boost my confidence when I was just starting out singing, as a “late bloomer”.
By the time it came out, my wife Marjorie also recorded a song for it, a cover of an old jazz standard which Rick Nelson also covered: Stars Fell On Alabama. There’s a cute video for it at http://youtu.be/J3vUZ0gIVEU
I was also asked to do a Jellyfish cover around the same time as the Rick Nelson cover, and even though I wasn’t particularly a Jellyfish fan, I decided to have a go, and that album actually was released. I think it’s still available on iTunes. I made my first ever video for that song, “I Wanna Stay Home”, which you can see here: http://youtu.be/TE3dRIhU02Y
DC, thanks for confirming my suspicions about Neil’s various “Archives” box sets. It didn’t seem like something he would do. In fact, if it was up to him, his music would likely only be available on whichever format offers the best audio (Blu-ray? SACD?), so he probably had to concede to releasing the “lesser” CD & DVD boxes.
Thanks for sharing those clips of you & your wife, respectively. They’re both excellent. I like the film you used for her song, which was also used by the French band Air on their most recent release, Le Voyage Dans La Lune. They actually had access to a recently restored & colorized version of the film. Highly recommended, if that’s something you’re into.
I was a Jellyfish fanatic almost from the second I hear their music when Bellybutton was released. I saw them open for World Party and they were so much better than the headliner that I left a half hour into World Party’s set. I also saw them on the tour for the second (and final) album, and I still don’t think I’ve ever seen/heard a stronger blend of voices. Those harmonies were simply stunning. I have nearly everything the members of the band have done since they split, with Jason Falkner’s solo work being my favorite. I really like what you did with “I Wanna Stay Home,” and the video is captivating as well. As for “Stars Fell On Alabama,” just a perfect arrangement & performances all around. Very impressive.
Thanks Rich – glad you like our songs. I appreciate your comments, and apologise for not replying earlier! Working very hard on finishing my new album so I’ve got way behind with emails.
If you email me I can give you links to download both our albums for free, if you’re interested 🙂
I didn’t know about Air’s use of that film – must have a look!
Hi DC. I’ll email you later about your albums. Thanks for the offer. I rarely listen to downloads since I have a constantly growing pile of new CD/LP purchases and I’ve always got a number of albums to listen to for my blog posts. Hopefully I’ll find the time to check yours out.
If you check out that Air video, let me know what you think. In my opinion, they did a great job.
Hi Rich – just going through emails and finding that I hadn’t replied to you yet – sorry! I’m just watching that Air video and it’s OK but, to me, the colouring job is one of the more amateur efforts I’ve seen – oversaturated, blocky looking and more distracting than anything. And I can’t really work up any enthusiasm for music like this Air music, which sounds to me like the aural equivalent of a whole lot of different cuttings hastily pasted into a scrapbook without a lot of aesthetic care taken. A vaguely pleasant sound but it sounds like a child could do it on a laptop. Perhaps if I heard the individual tracks I’d prefer them.
But, after writing that, I saw that one of the commenters had this to say,
“Imagination born from ignorance has a kind of purity doesn’t it.The imperfections of the colouration enhance my viewing experience and the sound track compliments the visuals nicely.”
Which, oddly, rather reinforces my judgement! 🙂
Air’s music isn’t for everyone, and you do need to be in a particular frame of mind for it to have the proper impact, but I thought the combination of their music & the “imperfect” colorization created an audio/visual wonder. It’s not my favorite of their works. For that I would recommend “10,000 Hz Legend,” which is their most proggy release (not sure if that’s a selling point for you).
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