Skip to main content

Robyn Hitchcock: Five Essential Van Morrison Songs

Robyn Hitchcock (photo by Laura Partrain, PR)

Robyn Hitchcock (photo by Laura Partrain, PR)

by

Although he's based in Nashville these days, London-born singer and songwriter Robyn Hitchcock, the solo artist and founding member of The Soft Boys, was in his late teens and twenties when Van Morrison, this week's FUV Essentials artist, released some of his most influential albums, like Astral Weeks and Veedon Fleece.

Hitchcock, who just released a new single on October 3 with Emma Swift, the bittersweet "Love is a Drag," has covered Morrison in the past too: "Linden Arden Stole The Highlights" and "Fair Play" are both included on the 1991 Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians promo single release of "Oceanside." One of those tunes is also on Hitchcock's list of his "Five Essential Van Morrison Songs," which he kindly wrote up for FUV.

Hitchcock and Swift will also be at New York's City Winery together on November 19.

Robyn Hitchcock: Five Essential Van Morrison Songs:

"Astral Weeks," Astral Weeks (1968)
The Alpha and Omega of Van's œuvre. He really captures that sense of unbelonging that can come upon you when you're young: "I ain't nothing but a stranger in this world...I got a home on high...waaaayyyyyy up in the heavens." His voice elongates into an instrument and Van sings a requiem for us all.

"Who Was That Masked Man," Veedon Fleece (1974)
Again, as in all my fave VM songs, isolation wins through. Here he intones in a melancholy falsetto how it might feel to be a newly minted outlaw: fresh in a town with no friends, yet unable to gain any safe distance. "You can hang suspended from a star, wish on a toilet roll/You can soak up the atmosphere like a fish inside a bowl." Sublime.

"Linden Arden Stole The Highlights," Veedon Fleece (1974)
Apparently, another Wild West song: set in California, Caledonia, or Ladbroke Grove? I love the way Van sings "Cleaved their heads off with a hatchet" about some unfathomable hero who also "loved the little children." Great men so often turn out to be great killers. Jeff Labes' piano makes a winding pathway for Van's voice to rise and fall upon.

"Mechanical Bliss," Mechanical Bliss (an unreleased 1975 album)
An anomaly that shows VM's sudden and unsettling sense of humour. Peter Buck played me this, way back in Athens, Georgia; he'd found it tucked away on a B-side.

"Madame George," Astral Weeks (1968)
Another inscrutable scenario. Belfast in the 1950s? Van evokes another nostalgic, autumnal mood; we're in his psychic landscape on Cypress Avenue, the epicentre of his inner monologue. But then we meet "...in a corner playing dominoes in drag, the one and only Madame George." Like all the best songs, this doesn't tell you exactly what's going on; it lets you picture it for yourself.

- Robyn Hitchcock
September 2016

Read more of FUV's Five Essentials.

WATCH