Beautiful Vision

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Beautiful Vision
Studio album by Van Morrison
Released February 1982
Recorded The Record Plant
Sausalito, CA
May to summer, 1981
Genre Celtic, jazz, folk, R&B
Length 45:31
Label UK Mercury
USA Warner Bros.
Producer Van Morrison
Van Morrison chronology
Common One
(1980)
Beautiful Vision
(1982)
Inarticulate Speech of the Heart
(1983)
Singles from Beautiful Vision
  1. "Cleaning Windows" b/w "It's All in the Game"
    Released: March 1982
  2. "Scandinavia" b/w "Dweller on the Threshold"
    Released: June 1982
  3. ""
    Released:
  4. ""
    Released:

Beautiful Vision is the thirteenth studio album by Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison. It was released February 1982 (see 1982 in music) by Warner Bros. Records in the US and Mercury Records in the UK. As with many of Morrison's recordings, spirituality is a major theme and some of the songs are based on the teachings of Alice Bailey. Other songs show Morrison's Celtic heritage and reminiscence of his Belfast background.

The album garnered modest chart success when released, peaking at number 31 on the UK album charts and number 44 on the Billboard 200. It has received mixed reviews over the years, while biographer Johnny Rogan has credited it as one of Morrison's most impressive albums.

Recording[edit]

The first recording session started in May 1981 at The Record Plant studios, Sausalito, California, near the Golden Gate, San Francisco.[1] Although only "Scandinavia" was released on Beautiful Vision from this session,[2] "Cleaning Windows" and "Celtic Ray" were re-recorded for Beautiful Vision later on.[3] All the other songs or instrumentals from the session were included on one of Morrison's later albums: the instrumentals "All Saints Day" and "Daring Night" appeared with lyrics on the albums Hymns to the Silence and Avalon Sunset,[4][5] and "Down the Road I Go" was renamed "Down the Road" and used as the title track on Down the Road.

On 27 July Morrison entered the recording studio to record "Cleaning Windows" and "Aryan Mist".[2] Morrison brought in different musicians for this session, including his former drummer Gary Mallaber and guitarist Mark Knopfler.[6]

Morrison concluded recording in the summer, when he recorded the rest of the songs for the album. Four songs were not used from this session, including the future singles "Real Real Gone" and "Tore Down a la Rimbaud".[3] Neither Knopfler nor Herbie Armstrong were able to produce the guitar tone Morrison wanted, so engineer Jim Stern suggested Chris Michie: "I got the call when I was doing a session in San Francisco. Van's producer Jim Stern said 'Can you get to the Plant [in Sausalito] in twenty minutes?' I said 'Yeah.' I walked into the studio with my gear as the band and Van were doing ... basic tracks. I was set up and playing before the end of the song 'She Gives Me Religion'". Michie later added lead guitar overdubs to "Cleaning Windows" and "Aryan Mist". Knopfler's contributions still featured on the final release, but are not as audible as Michie's.[6]

Composition[edit]

According to the liner notes, some of the lyrics derive from the book Glamour: A World Problem by esoteric writer Alice Bailey.[7][8] It is also said to have been strongly influenced by his new girlfriend, Ulla Munch, from Vanløse in Copenhagen, Denmark.[1] The album also emphasized the distance Morrison had moved away from R&B and was inspired by Irish music. He commented at the time, "It's important for people to get into the music of their own culture... I think it can be dangerous to not validate the music of where you're from, for anybody, whether it's Bulgaria or whatever."[9]

The opening song, "Celtic Ray", was one of the first songs to be written for the album.[10] It is concerned with the singer's connection to the ancient Celtic culture. The song has the concept of messages coming through the ether from Mother Ireland. "Northern Muse (Solid Ground)" adds a young woman in County Down to a similar theme. Morrison commented in an interview with Hot Press in 1982 that "Some of the material [on Beautiful Vision], when it started, was more traditional. Some of the songs - like 'Solid Ground' and 'Celtic Ray' - they basically started out as folk-oriented stuff, and ... ended up being integrated as folk/R&B."[11]

"Dweller on the Threshold" and "Aryan Mist" are credited to the religious writings of Alice Bailey.[12] Her book discusses the New Age ideas of "glamours" or "mental illusions", which formed a fog that covers the "spiritual warrior" and the "Aryan race" from the world. When the "dweller on the threshold" was covered with the light of the soul or "Angel of Presence" illumination came. Some of these ideas were quoted in the two Morrison compositions, both co-written with Hugh Murphy.[13] In 1982 Morrison revealed in an interview: "I've read Glamour four or five times, and I get different things out of it each time. [Alice Bailey]'s saying a lot of things. It's depth reading. You might read it on Wednesday and on Thursday you pick it up again and get an entirely different thing. I don't feel qualified to speak about what it's about - you really have to read it yourself ... because there's so much i there."[14]

"Beautiful Vision" can be interpreted as either a vision of heaven or of his girlfriend, who also influences "She Gives Me Religion" and "Vanlose Stairway" (which refers to the stairway in the apartment where she lived.) Biographer Clinton Heylin believes the songs "'Vanlose Stairway' and 'She Gives Me Religion' [were] perhaps Morrison's most captivating love songs since the days of Veedon Fleece."[5]

"Cleaning Windows" is about Morrison's first full-time job and the last carefree days of his adolescence in the years 1961 to 1962, and is a metaphor for the idea that his music alters people's perceptions of life.[8] Biographer Steve Turner believes in this song Morrison "captured the balance between his contentment at work and his aspirations to learn more about music. It conveyed the impression that his happiness with the mundane routine of smoking Woodbine cigarettes, eating Paris buns and drinking lemonade was made possible by the promise that at the end of the day he could enter the world of books and records ... ".[15] The melody is very upbeat and embellished with organ and guitar, reminiscent to the music of The Band. The song is written in a similar fashion to Morrison's 1970 song, "And It Stoned Me".[8]

It is widely interpreted by Morrison's biographers that "Across the Bridge Where Angels Dwell" is literally about the bridge that separated Morrison's Mill Valley, California home from the San Mateo house where his daughter, Shana lived with Morrison's ex-wife Janet Rigsbee.[9][16][17]

Beautiful Vision ends with the instrumental "Scandinavia", with Morrison on piano and prominently features Mark Isham's synthesizer.[18] "Scandinavia" was nominated in the Best Rock Instrumental Performance category for the 25th Annual Grammy Awards.[19]

Packaging[edit]

The cover of the album was a concept by Rudy Legname (later known as Rudi). It consists of a hand reaching up to a circle of cloud, containing a crescent shape, stars and a prismatic rainbow.[20] Lack of a lyric sheet and much of the original vinyl pressings being cut off-centre were due to production problems that resulted in a lack of quality control and "shoddy packaging" made note of by at least one biographer.[11]

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3/5 stars[21]
Robert Christgau A−[22]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[8]

In 1982, in his review for Rolling Stone, John Milward had a mixed response to the album saying, "Beautiful Vision is so emphatically half-great that if you dumped the four bad tunes, put the borderline case on hold and didn't judge the instrumental, the LP's sequential and thematic integrity would be strengthened." Contradicting the lukewarm review, the album received a four out of five star rating by Rolling Stone.[8] In 2007, Rolling Stone ranked Beautiful Vision as Morrison's worst album, by listing it as #4 on "Rolling Stone's "15 worst albums by Great Bands".[23]

Robert Christgau gave the album an A- rating and noted that "After a period of transition, Van has finally achieved the eternal Kansas City—this music is purely gorgeous (or at times lovely), its pleasure all formal grace and aptness of invention."[24]

Allmusic reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine believes that "Beautiful Vision shares much sonically with its predecessor, Common One, being heavy on long, winding song-poems, moderate tempos, dense lyricism, and dated production. Still, this winds up being a stronger articulation of what Morrison was attempting to do on Common One", but goes on to say that "the record reveals such charming moments as 'She Gives Me Religion', 'Beautiful Vision', and 'Cleaning Windows'".[21]

Biographer Johnny Rogan believes the album was "Well structured and arranged ... which offered depth and listenability. It also underlined the extent to which Morrison had moved away from the R&B stylings which had made him such a hit on American FM radio."[9]

In an article published in The Guardian in 2011, Laura Barton writes that, "There are Morrison albums I like better, but Beautiful Vision has never struck me as dull; on the contrary, its particular strangeness has always proved appealing – an exploration of Celtic heritage, distance, reminiscence, spirituality and the writings of Alice Bailey."[25]

Aftermath[edit]

Morrison was eager to include the new material recorded for Beautiful Vision in concert. Before the album was released he performed three-quarters of it at shows in California in October 1981.[26] However his live performances at this point were increasingly confined to the San Francisco Bay Area. His manager, Bill Graham, was concerned that Morrison was not promoting the album with a nationwide tour of the US. Morrison fired Graham on stage in San Francisco. Herbie Armstrong remembered "He was taking Van in the wrong direction. He was trying to commercialize him." Warner Brothers persuaded Morrison to allow Tom Dowd to produce the album but after Morrison became suspicious of Warner's motives, Dowd's services were not used and Morrison took over production of the album.[27]

Morrison performed four shows at the Dominion Theatre, London to promote the album.

After the release of the album, Morrison performed a series of concerts at the Dominion Theatre, London, opened by Herbie Armstrong with an acoustic set.[28] Paul Charles, who managed Morrison's business affairs at the time, commented that

"The idea [behind the Dominion residencies] was [to go against the] 'come into town, do one show, get all the press down, get the radio and TV and record-company people' [mentally]. My logic was, 'Look, with Van it's not just a rock & roll tour. It's not just here's the hits, here's the new record, please buy it, whatever.' It was a performance. ... A certain number of people would come back every night, [knowing that] Van will not have a set-list that he adheres to religiously ... So I thought, 'Here's a way. Van is not having any singles. Van doesn't do TV. How can we get attention to him doing what he does?' Well, the best thing that he does is perform live. I think we did four [concerts] the first time. We ended up doing eleven [in 1984]. We got a lot of coverage, we got a lot of attention, without him having to do something he didn't like."[29]

Morrison's love of live performing was reignited by this set of concerts and he commented at the time that it was "more like appearing in a play, going to the theatre and doing your job every day - which I prefer to touring because that's very fragmented and disorientating."[30] According to Johnny Rogan, these performances "are still regarded by many as his most memorable since the glory days of the Caledonia Soul Orchestra.[9] A concert on 3 to 4 April 1982 at the Grugahalle, Essen, Germany, was broadcast in many European countries as a TV/radio simulcast in the Rockpalast TV series by German TV station WDR. Seven of the songs that were performed were from Beautiful Vision.[31]

In March 1983, Morrison performed a series of four concerts at the Grand Opera House; six of the Beautiful Vision songs were featured on the live album Live at the Grand Opera House Belfast that was composed of the two best concerts performed at this venue.[28] On 27 January 1984, Morrison performed at another Rockpalast TV special from the Midem at Cannes, where he promoted Inarticulate Speech of the Heart and included seven songs from Beautiful Vision.[32]

"Vanlose Stairway" is one of the songs that Morrison has performed most frequently since the release of the album; the song has featured in over seven hundred of Morrison's shows, behind only "Moondance", "Gloria" and "It's All in the Game" (as of 2010).[33]

A remastered version was released in 1998.[34] On 29 August 2008 an extended remastered version with alternative takes of "Cleaning Windows" and "Real Real Gone" was planned to be released in the Remasters series, but got postponed until 9 January 2009 and was eventually cancelled.[35]

Track listing[edit]

All songs by Van Morrison except as indicated.[21]

Side one[edit]

  1. "Celtic Ray" - 4:11
  2. "Northern Muse (Solid Ground)" - 4:05
  3. "Dweller on the Threshold" (music: Morrison; lyrics: Morrison, Hugh Murphy) - 4:49
  4. "Beautiful Vision" - 4:08
  5. "She Gives Me Religion" - 4:33

Side two[edit]

  1. "Cleaning Windows" - 4:43
  2. "Vanlose Stairway" - 4:10
  3. "Aryan Mist" (music: Morrison; lyrics: Morrison, Murphy) - 4:00
  4. "Across the Bridge Where Angels Dwell" (music: Morrison; lyrics: Morrison, Murphy) - 4:31
  5. "Scandinavia" - 6:41

Personnel[edit]

Musicians[edit]

Production[edit]

  • Producer: Van Morrison
  • Engineers: Jim Stern and Hugh Murphy
  • Assistant Engineer: Ann Fry
  • Business Arrangements: Paul Charles
  • Cover Concept, Photograph and Design: Rudi Legname

Charts[edit]

Album[edit]

Chart (1982) Peak
position[20]
UK Albums Chart 31
US Billboard 200 44

Singles[edit]

Year Single Peak positions
US UK
1982 "Cleaning Windows"
"Scandinavia"
"—" denotes releases that did not chart.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Collis 1996, p. 155
  2. ^ a b Heylin 2003, p. 523
  3. ^ a b Heylin 2003, pp. 523–524
  4. ^ Rogan 2006, pp. 344–345
  5. ^ a b Heylin 2003, p. 371
  6. ^ a b Heylin 2003, p. 372
  7. ^ Drury 1985, p. 60
  8. ^ a b c d e Milward, John (1982-03-04). Van Morrison: Beautiful Vision. RS 364. Rolling Stone Magazine. Retrieved 2011-04-14. 
  9. ^ a b c d Rogan 2006, p. 338
  10. ^ Heylin 2003, pp. 368–369
  11. ^ a b Hinton 1997, p. 234
  12. ^ Mills 2010, p. 217
  13. ^ Rogan 2006, pp. 336–337
  14. ^ Heylin 2003, p. 370
  15. ^ Turner 1993, p. 31
  16. ^ Hinton 1997, pp. 235–236
  17. ^ Brooks 1999, p. 95
  18. ^ Hinton 1997, p. 236
  19. ^ "Rock on the Net: 25th Annual Grammy Awards-1983". rockonthenet. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  20. ^ a b Brooks 1999, p. 93
  21. ^ a b c Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "allmusic review". allmusic.com. Retrieved 2010-05-19. 
  22. ^ Christgau, Robert. "Robert Christgau review". robertchristgau.com. Retrieved 2010-05-19. 
  23. ^ "Rolling Stone’s 15 Worst Albums By Great Bands". rollingstone.com. Archived from the original on 2008-06-21. Retrieved 2009-12-09. 
  24. ^ Christgau, Robert. "Van Morrison". robertchristgau.com. Retrieved 2009-12-09. 
  25. ^ Barton, Laura (2011-03-31). "Hail, Hail, Rock'n'Roll". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  26. ^ Heylin 2003, p. 373
  27. ^ Rogan 2006, p. 337
  28. ^ a b Collis 1996, p. 156
  29. ^ Heylin 2003, pp. 373–374
  30. ^ Heylin 2003, p. 374
  31. ^ Becker, Gunter. "ivan.vanomatic.de". ivan.vanomatic.de. Retrieved 2010-06-18. 
  32. ^ "VAN MORRISON Midem Cannes 26.01.1984". rockpalastarchiv.de. Retrieved 2010-06-17. 
  33. ^ Mills 2010, p. 219
  34. ^ Becker, Gunter. "ivan.vanomatic.de". ivan.vanomatic.de. Retrieved 2010-06-17. 
  35. ^ Becker, Gunter. "ivan.vanomatic.de". ivan.vanomatic.de. Retrieved 2010-06-17. 

References[edit]