1968: Van Morrison Risks His Life & Career For 'Astral Weeks'

By Jacob Shelton
Singer/songwriter Van Morrison performs with flutist Artie Kaplan and his upright bass player at a Warner Brothers party at Steve Paul's The Scene nightclub on January 27, 1969 in New York, New York. (Photo by PoPsie Randolph/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty I

The story behind Astral Weeks, Van Morrison’s landmark album, is fraught with bad decisions, angry record executives, and the mafia. The short version of the story is that Morrison didn’t want to work with his then-current label, so to get out of his contract he recorded an album full of unreleasable nonsense songs. He also had to buy that contract back from mobsters for $20,000 in order to he make the jump to Warner Bros. Free from his former contractual obligations he recorded the album with a bunch of jazz musicians without telling them what to play. According to everyone who ever worked on the album, Morrison never introduced himself and just told them to play whatever they felt like playing.

Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks is an anomaly in 1968. It’s a jazzy pop record that slips in and out of time signatures with little regard for what was then cool or hip. It was the same year that saw The Beatles (or the "White Album") and the first album by The Doors. This seminal piece of music went underappreciated for decades and by all accounts, it almost didn’t exist.

Morrison got in his own way during the writing and recording of his album, but somehow the stars aligned and after three sessions of long takes Astral Weeks was born.