Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks is considered one of the most impactful albums in music history. It’s inspired countless musicians since its release in 1968.
The eight songs recorded for the album speak of dreams, love, mystic imagery, and nostalgia. The musical arrangement of each track adds to the beauty of this masterpiece.
Some have said that Astral Weeks is a concept album due to the common threads found within the songs. But is it really?
Let’s take a deeper look into this recording to see if we can figure out the answer to that question for ourselves.
What Is a Concept Album?
The Merriam-Webster definition of a concept album is “a collection of songs about a specific theme or story.” Recurring characters or ideas are woven throughout the songs to reveal an overarching concept.
Musicians often create concept albums as a whole piece, writing the songs specifically to be recorded together. The composition and placement of tracks on the album are intentional. As a result, they tell a story from beginning to end.
Examples of a concept album include The Who’s Tommy and Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
Frank Sinatra’s 1946 album The Voice of Frank Sinatra is considered by many to be the first concept album. The lyrics were composed to flow from song to song, creating something similar to a story script.
Sometimes, albums may seem to be telling a story through the sequential tracks, even if that wasn’t the writer’s intention. This is where the debate about whether Astral Weeks is a concept album or not comes into play.
Van Morrison didn’t purposely write the songs on this album to fit together in any specific way. However, listeners of Astral Weeks may get the sense the songwriter is describing the cycle of life throughout the record.
Can it then be considered a concept album since some might identify a theme throughout the songs? Let’s find out more about this album and see if we can answer that question.
About the Astral Weeks Album
Astral Weeks is Van Morrison’s second studio album. It was recorded and released in 1968.
Many people know him as the singer of the pop hit Brown Eyed Girl, released in 1967. If that’s the only song you know from this talented songwriter from Ireland, listening to Astral Weeks may surprise you.
This album is musically intricate, with beautiful lyrics that can reach down into your soul.
Morrison wrote the eight tracks on Astral Weeks over five years before finally recording the album in 1968. He mainly wrote them as individual pieces without intending to create links between the songs. This is why some people might not consider the record a concept album.
However, since its release, music critics have identified certain themes throughout the album. Musicologist, Charlie Gillett, described Astral Weeks as having “meditative songs that combine themes of nostalgia, drama, and Morrison’s personal mysticism.”
So maybe it is a concept album after all since we detect common themes woven through the songs.
How Long Did it Take to Record Astral Weeks?
Morrison recorded Astral Weeks in 1968 over three recording sessions in New York City.
Leading up to these sessions, Van Morrison performed shows in venues across New England with local musicians. Some of the songs on Astral Weeks were in regular rotation and were essentially being fine-tuned by Morrison.
Music producer Lewis Merenstein orchestrated the three studio sessions. He opted not to include the band Morrison had recently played with, instead choosing a whole different group of musicians.
He handled the recording session in a rather interesting way. While Van Morrison sat solo in a studio booth recording vocals and guitar, the rest of the band recorded their parts in another room.
Known to be a temperamental artist, Morrison kept his interactions with the other musicians to a minimum. He’d strum a bit of the song to give them an idea of the tune, then would let them improvise their parts.
Did Van Morrison Like the End Result?
They didn’t use stringed instruments like the harpsichord during the three recording sessions. But Merenstein decided to add them for the final production, much to Morrison’s dismay.
When asked about this addition later, Morrison had this to say. “They ruined it. They added strings. I didn’t want the strings. And they sent it to me, it was all changed. That’s not ‘Astral Weeks.’”
Only the first and third sessions produced recordings of the eight tracks on Astral Weeks. Both had been held in the evenings, while the second session took place during morning hours. It seems the muse was strongest in the latter part of the day.
While many consider Astral Weeks one of Morrison’s finest albums, it wasn’t initially received well by the public. The year after its release, music critics began to give the album more attention. From then on, it’s been thought to be one of the most influential albums in music history.
Bruce Springsteen, U2’s Bono, and even filmmaker Martin Scorsese have cited Astral Weeks as influencing their art.
Is There a Book About Astral Weeks?
Indeed, there is a book about the album. Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968, written by journalist and musician Ryan Walsh, was published in 2018. It coincided with the 50th anniversary of the album’s release. The book details all the stories involved in making this epic album.
From the Muse: Buy the Astral Weeks book and read it while listening to the album.
Is Van Morrison Touring?
You can get your chance to see Van Morrison at one of his scheduled dates in 2022. While most of the tour takes place outside the US, he does have shows planned in February for Florida and Las Vegas.
Is Astral Weeks Really a Concept Album?
Some may still consider Astral Weeks a concept album, and they wouldn’t be wrong. There are similar concepts and ideas woven throughout the tracks on the album.
Regardless of the debate, this album is a musical treasure. If you haven’t listened to it before, take the time now to do so. Your ears, heart, and soul will thank you!