Hozier: Five Essential Van Morrison Songs
Hozier (photo by Alex Lake, PR)
Back in October 2014, the Irish singer and songwriter Hozier covered Van Morrison's "Sweet Thing" for a London production company. It was a perfect, poetic choice for the fast-rising musician, real name Andrew Hozier-Byrne. He had released his self-titled debut album that same month, on this heels of a hit single and EP, 2013's Take Me To Church, and another EP, From Eden (released after FUV recorded a mini-session with Hozier at 2014's SXSW). And here, with Hozier's heartfelt Morrison cover, was a gentle acknowledgment of that undeniable bridge between the Belfast-born legend and the County Wicklow-raised newcomer.
Hozier has since gone on to great success — he's been Grammy-nominated, he's toured the world, and his debut album went platinum globally. He did a memorable FUV Live concert at Electric Lady Studios too. Although he released a single, "Better Love," this past summer, taken from the The Legend of Tarzan soundtrack, Hozier's been off the road of late, focused on songwriting and working on his second album.
But when FUV decided to celebrate Van Morrison as one of our FUV Essentials, we reached out to Hozier, wondering if he might write about Morrison, an artist he deeply admires. Charmingly, the first of Hozier's "Five Essential Van Morrison Songs" is the very track he once covered so poignantly:
Hozier: Five Essential Van Morrison Songs:
"Sweet Thing," Astral Weeks (1968)
Found on that gem, Astral Weeks. There are few songs I can point to that exhibit that singular, natural, wild kind of joy that eludes us for most of our lives. The one that’s found in a flash of simple doing or looking or walking — or that marvels itself into existence through a loving thought and is gone in an instant. Far more than mere happiness. Much of this album reminds me of the finer aspects of living and breathing on planet Earth and this song exemplifies much of those reminders: “Hey, it’s me I’m dynamite and I don’t know why.”
"Baby Please Don’t Go," single (a Joe Williams cover, 1964)
A track from early in Van Morrison’s career when he was singing with Them. I love this rendition for the tension that the bass hangs onto throughout; also that razor sharp lead guitar and how it showcases the tightly-wound energy of his voice at a younger age. It’s a sound very much of its era: young bands in the UK and Ireland being blown away by songs and sounds coming out of Black America and trying to explore it on tape and onstage. As a kid discovering R&B and soul, examples of this showed me time and time again how everything comes back to the blues.
"Astral Weeks," Astral Weeks (1968)
The title track and opener from Astral Weeks. I love this song so much. The percussive way he phrases rhythmic lines like, “where immobile steel rims crack and the ditch in the backroad stop.” There’s a great sense of place in a line like that and it reminds me much of Ireland. The song exhibits the man’s ability to create something that at once feels tightly wound, something pregnant with energy, and yet still feels incredibly loose and free. “Could you find me? Would you kiss my eyes and lay me down, in the silence easy, to be born again."
"Caravan," Moondance (1970)
It’s hard to pin down exactly what’s conjured by Van Morrison in some of his music, that hybrid of Celtic gypsy soul. It’s found in a big way on Astral Weeks and throughout the Moondance album. "Caravan" and "Into the Mystic" sit side by side on Moondance and are fine examples of this spirit, the identity of which seems to be known intimately by the singer and yet not known at all. His live performance of this track with The Band on The Last Waltz is stellar and worth a watch also. “Sweet lady of the night, I shall reveal you.”
"Domino," His Band and the Street Choir (1970)
The opening track to the His Band and the Street Choir album. I remember listening to this song over and over when I first heard it as a young teenager. That rhythm guitar just does the business. It’s an example of him working with more of a Southern soul style. It’d be wrong of me not to also mention "Jackie Wilson Said" along the same vein. I’ve always loved how soul music at times regards and references itself, like in Sam Cooke’s "Having a Party" or Arthur Conley’s "Sweet Soul Music" — the song an ode to soul music itself. Much of Morrison's work tips its hat in this way: “Hey Mr. DJ… I just want to hear some rhythm and blues music on the radio.” A fine sentiment, and why not?
- Andrew Hozier-Byrne