Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

1. Van MorrisonAstral Weeks

This is the absolute top of the charts, nailed on for all time. Van Morrison’s first six or seven albums, I think, are all flawless masterpieces. My mum had a wonderfully classic 80s divorcee playlist. So I was brought up on Dire Straits, Chris De Burgh, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Simon & Garfunkel, Paul Simon Van Morrison and then the odd sort of venture into Tom Petty, maybe Marillion, on compilation tapes she was made by friends. And I think what I’ve taken from that is I have a real soft spot for melody. Sometimes some of the stuff Elis listens to, when he says “I like music that sounds wrong”, when he listens to The Fall or Can or Neu!, I just have a part of me that that music can’t access because I would rather listen to Chris De Burgh with an amazing melody than The Fall. And I don’t mind that about myself. Yeah as much as I can appreciate how interesting it is musically, and how intellectually it’s everything I love, part of me will always be an eight-year-old going “What’s this, Mum? This is Fleetwood Mac? It’s FANTASTIC.” And Van Morrison’s albums were part of that.

So I was into all the rest of them, but Astral Weeks was the one you’d see in all the lists. I know it’s one of the most-chosen albums, and I would imagine every single person that’s chosen it has had a story about listening to the first time and just not really liking it. And for a while I was listening to all the other stuff and I’d put on Astral Weeks every month or two and I’d get the of snippet of a song I liked. I think the stumbling block to it is the second track, ‘Beside You’ which is the key to the album, I think. And then suddenly it just opens up.

And people do talk about it like it’s something other than an album. The Lester Bangs review of it is quite famous, and it’s brilliant, and I disagree with some of some of it,m but I sort of agree when he says that it’s not some “vision of the emerald beyond” but it’s about people trapped in moments. I definitely think that’s true. But I don’t really know how to describe what it means to me without sounding like I’m making out that it’s somehow magical. It is just the best album ever made.

I love reading about how he was in another room and didn’t speak to the musicians, and he recorded the vocal tracks and they thought this was sounding rubbish and it was all out of time. It was recorded in like four days. He was 22 or 23, and it all seems to be so wise at the same time as being incredibly youthful. And I think people who turn to music in their youth, and for whom music goes on to be their sort of crutch, often have that thing of on the one hand being very youthful and naïve, and on the other hand feeling sort of wise beyond their years. Because you know, what better analogy than that is there for listening to The Smiths as a teenager? You understand everything about life and yet you’re a blushing awkward 16 or 17 year-old. I think you have to remember this for Astral Weeks: he was 21 when he wrote it, so he can’t be wise, and yet it is. And just the strangeness of some of it. Lke there’s a line in ‘Beside You’ where he’s talking about “the dynamo of your smile caressed the barefoot virgin child to wander past the window with a lantern lit”, and you’re like, “Well, I need to pick that apart.” It sounds like it’s a Bob Dylan thing that’s just rolled off, but you don’t sit down and write that and cross bits out and think “Maybe if I swap that”. That’s just something that just comes out.

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