Make Some Noise: Dancing to Van Morrison’s “Irish Heartbeat”


In preparation for my internship in Ireland this summer, I’ve recently found myself immersed in almost exclusively Irish media. 

From watching “All of Us Strangers” with Irishmen Paul Mescal and Andrew Scott, to intensely returning to my Hozier obsession (especially with the release of his newest EP, “Unheard”) and reading “Normal People” by the widely acclaimed Irish author Sally Rooney, my media consumption has been tailored to prepare me for my upcoming stay in Dublin.

I’ve also revisited another infamous Irish singer, this time from Northern Ireland, Van Morrison. Throughout my life, I’ve come across many songs of his, all of which have become vividly associated with specific memories. To name a few, “Brown Eyed Girl” reminds me of driving to New Jersey for beach trips when I was younger, “And It Stoned Me” always brings up memories of hiking with my family, and “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile)” brings me back to listening to music at all hours of the day during the peak of quarantine. 

And while I’ve loved every song I’ve heard of Morrison’s, I still have never comprehensively listened to his music or even a full album. For this reason, I chose to dedicate this space to dive deeply into his music. 

While I couldn’t fully listen to his vast discography (spanning a head-spinning 45 studio albums), I chose to focus on four. Three were ranked as “Must-Haves” on Rolling Stone’s Essential Van Morrison albums: including “Astral Weeks,” “Moondance” and “Saint Dominic’s Preview.” 

The bonus album I decided to listen to was “Irish Heartbeat,” a celebration of Morrison’s Celtic heritage through traditional and modern folk songs recorded with The Chieftains. 

Astral Weeks (1968)

The only way I can articulate the melodies present in the album is harmonious chaos. This notion especially applies to the song, “Beside You,” as the battling instrumentals come together to create a gorgeous arrangement. “Astral Weeks” reminded me of Joni Mitchell in a way, since Morrison will sing his own riffs that don’t necessarily follow a specific melody, but are backed by intricate and sometimes recurring instrumental melodies. 

Favorite Songs: “Astral Weeks,” “Sweet Thing,” and “Cyprus Avenue” 

Moondance (1970)

“Moondance” showcases a jazzier side to Morrison’s music, especially with its title track. Beyond pure jazz, the album also blends bits of folk, soul, rock and swing, making it an incredibly sonically diverse album. Morrison’s voice also shines on this album as an impressively emotive force: a theme common in all the music of his I’ve listened to. 

Favorite Songs: “And It Stoned Me” and “Glad Tidings”  

Saint Dominic’s Preview (1972) 

“Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile)” is not only my favorite song by Van Morrison, it is arguably one of my favorite songs of all time. I had very high hopes coming into this album, and I was not disappointed. There is a sense of comfort and familiarity conveyed through “Saint Dominic’s Preview” that I can’t quite articulate, but the songs radiate warmth. Incredibly lively and reminiscent of his home, this album is my favorite of Morrison’s I’ve listened to so far. 

Favorite Songs: “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile)” “Listen to the Lion,” and “Saint Dominic’s Preview” 

Irish Heartbeat (1988)

Put briefly, this album was a joy to listen to. While I’ve definitely not listened to a lot of Irish folk music in the past, I was delighted to see how heavily it overlapped with Morrison’s style on other albums. He wonderfully provides his own rendition of traditional songs, such as “She Moved Through the Fair,” while also writing some of his own (“Irish Heartbeat”). The instrumentals are especially moving in this album, recorded by the Irish folk band, The Chieftains. This version solidified that I’ve never heard a version of “I’ll Tell Me Ma” that I don’t like.   

Favorite Songs: “Marie’s Wedding,” “I’ll Tell Me Ma,” and “Irish Heartbeat” 

Put simply, experiencing a wide variety of Morrison’s music was refreshing compared to what I’ve been listening to recently, and I loved every second of it. What thrilled me the most was his unique vocal melodies backed by even more intricate instrumentals. 

Above all, I picked a great time to delve into his music, as it’s perfect for Spring. “Blooming” and “lively” are two words that I feel accurately describe his music, even if they don’t all necessarily have a fast tempo. 

Few artists excel equally at making very repetitive or extremely complex melodies, but Morrison is absolutely one of them. He is a master of both following and breaking traditional song structures, which makes listening to his music continually engaging and exciting. 

With all this said, I would recommend Morrison’s music to absolutely anyone. While it may not be your specific taste, I believe there is something in his music that can speak to everyone.

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