Ranked: Van Morrison Albums From Worst To Best

The dizzying highs and stomach-churning lows of a forty-five year career.

by Nick Keppler

Van Morrison has proven to be the most prolific of the mid-'60s rock stars, averaging a new effort every year and a half for forty-five years. This week sees the first new Van Morrison album, Born to Sing: No Plan B, in a record four years. So we're talking a look back at Morrison's hulking discography, before he makes it any bigger.

33. Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1983)
Fresh from a flirtation with Scientology, Morrison included a "special thanks" to L. Ron Hubbard in the liner notes for this album. Hubbard isn't exactly known for inspiring people to make good decisions; maybe that explains why Morrison stuffed this album with instrumentals. Robbed of his two greatest assets — his voice and lyrics — Morrison has little to offer. "Cry for Home" is the only track with any oomph.

 

32. Common One (1980)
The line between good Van Morrison and bad Van Morrison is thin. When inspiration is missing, looseness can turn to sloppiness, loftiness can become pretentiousness, and lack of commercial appeal can be an excuse for lack of appeal, period. Case in point: Common One, a turgid attempt to recreate Astral Weeks that delivers six snooze-worthy tracks over fifty-five minutes. Saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis adds a little life to "Haunts of Ancient Peace."


31. You Win Again (2000)
You've got to give credit to Linda Gail Lewis, who sings with the same Southern grit as her more famous brother, Jerry Lee; it takes brass to sing alongside a voice as robust and familiar as Morrison's for forty-two minutes. Still, the two seemed to think rollicking old songs from Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, and Jerry Lee himself would work as duets between two old people. It turns out they do not.


30. Hard Nose the Highway (1973)
Here's a phrase that should inspire suspicion: "complete creative control." Morrison cut this record in a home studio, sequestered from record-label influences, so no one could tell him an ode to fall weather didn't need to be ten minutes long, or that he'd sound unintentionally hilarious covering Kermit the Frog's famous "Bein' Green."


29. Poetic Champions Compose (1987)
Morrison's whole New Age seeker thing and jazz leanings both get soupy on the ridiculously titled Poetic Champions Compose. Though "Did Ye Get Healed" and "Queen of the Slipstream" contain a few fine "Into the Mystic"-isms, the melodies seem paced for a supermarket's PA.


28. Irish Heartbeat (1988)
Irish singer/songwriter Morrison teamed up with Celtic band The Chieftains for an album of traditional Irish songs called Irish Heartbeat. If that sounds corny, that's only because it is. While a bunch of supremely talented Irish guys playing national standards like "Star of the County Down" and "She Moved Through the Fair" is never a bad thing, this primer of Celtic-ism doesn't tap far into either party's range.


27. Hymns to the Silence (1991)
Oddly, Morrison didn't seem to have any big plans when he cut his first double album. Hymns to the Silence is just a velvety double dose of the remembering-days-of-old-this and deep-spiritual-craving-that that had been making it onto every release. I can't say he does anything wrong, but I'm also hard-pressed to remember any unique detail about it an hour after listening to it.


26. Back on Top (1999)
An R&B-ish album set at a toe-tapping pace, Back on Top is fairly nondescript within Morrison's catalogue, even if this style has always fitted Morrison like a glove. The standout track, "Precious Time," puts some rhythm to the realization that death is certain.


25. A Period of Transition (1977)
Returning after two years of writer's block, Morrison seemed to tell fans not to get too excited with a title like A Period of Transition. The album is slow, smooth, and well-crafted, but lacks the primal energy of the work he was putting out just five years prior. Still, "The Eternal Kansas City" has a great hook.


24. How Long Has This Been Going On? (1996)
Morrison once spent a pleasant afternoon performing a handful of his old songs and some jazz and pre-rock pop standards with a band of longtime friends. Venerable jazz label Verve put out the recordings, with no second takes or overdubs. How Long Has This Been Going On? is, by design, nothing spectacular, but it's obvious songs like "Blues in the Night" and "That's Life" are close to Morrison's heart.


23. A Sense of Wonder (1985)
There is some impressively heady stuff on A Sense of Wonder — Blake quotes, mysticism, a reference to French wordsmith-cum-arms dealer Arthur Rimbaud put into a catchy chorus — but musically, it's mercilessly slow and basic. Even the crescendos come in expected places.


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