Bob Dylan – ‘Desire’

So, in 1992 I discovered three incredible albums. Neil Young’s After The Goldrush, David Bowie’s Hunky Dory and Bob Dylan’s Desire. I used to make my own mixtapes. I had dozens and took them to France, but once these three incredible albums hit my ears my tapes took a back seat. All three dominated my headphones and were the soundtrack to my summer. Neil Young gave me sentiment, sincerity, honesty and hit my emotions with as much ferocity and ruthlessness as words and music can muster. Bowie was the ultimate musical stargazer, the supreme dreamer, romancer, chancer and whimsical rock earthling. And Dylan? The ultimate seductive storyteller and Desire was a book I couldn’t stop reading.

Obviously I was aware of Dylan’s legend, but Desire was my first album experience. The best stories take you places and paint beautiful pictures. They excite and exhilarate you, urging you to discover more. The opening track, Hurricane, did that and more. I heard it, dissected it, loved it and learned it. I read about Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, and read some more. The song does his legend perfect justice, with Dylan’s protest able to capture the injustice in a cinematic eight minutes, aided by Scarlet Rivera’s rampant violin and Ronnee Blakley’s backing vocals.

One of my many loves on Desire is the juxtaposition between Dylan’s vocals and his backing singers, Blackley and Emmylou Harris. Many songs, vocally at least, sound like one-takes with Blackley and Harris struggling to match Dylan’s rhythm, imperfect but utterly impeccable. With the exceptions of Hurricane and Joey, Desire is largely an album full of seductive folk tales, it blends and flows to create a beautiful whole, a romantic vision of outlaws, gypsies, drifters and gunslingers, set in some Mexican mountain wilderness. Accordions, castanets, harmonicas and Scarlet Rivera’s sumptuous violin act as colourful characters to the gypsy cowboy theme.

That gypsy vision radiates through songs like Romance In Durango, One More Cup Of Coffee and Black Diamond Bay. The former’s opening is literally searing…

“Hot chilli peppers in the blistering sun
Dust on my face and my cape
Me and Magdalena on the run
I think this time we shall escape.

Sold my guitar to the baker’s son
For a few crumbs and a place to hide
But I can get another one
And I’ll play for Magdalena as we ride.”

Desire was the first, and still my biggest Dylan love. Many more albums would follow, containing songs that would surpass these. But as with my biggest musical loves it’s the feel, the emotion, the warmth and the huge sense of taking you to a particular time and place, occupied by the most colourful and truly believable characters, that sets Desire apart.

Van Morrison – ‘Moondance’

By 1988 I had developed an unhealthy relationship. Charivari had been my chapel of joy, but for a year or two it was the gym, or a swimming pool, or a very steep hill. My employ had changed too. Still retail, but I was selling cricket bats, football boots and tennis rackets instead of shit clothes. I’d go swimming before work, to the gym straight after and punched bags, skipped, did squats, pull ups, aerobics, ran up zig-zags at Bournemouth beach and generally anything to generate a pool of sweat. I was about to get as fit as fuck, but become a bore. Fitness became a shallow addiction. My passion for music however, was flourishing as much as my strength.

I’ve no idea how I came about Van Morrison, and Moondance in particular, but it was bound to happen at some point. I was aware of his legend and had dug his stuff with Them in the mid ’60s, but another beautiful musical discovery was about to unfold. I love Van’s story, his musical heritage and knowing he could be a cantankerous sod, up there with the best of them in his stubborn single-mindedness. Astral Weeks was a year or two down the line for me, and would rival Moondance for top spot, but Moondance was my first love, and for that reason alone, the best.

Moondance has a swing, a groove, it’s a beat more uptempo and a touch less dark than Astral Weeks and therefore slightly more accessible. I’ll listen to either endlessly, depending on my mood, but it’s the soul and the gorgeous overwhelming feel of Moondance that gripped me. Van’s lilt bleeds emotion, whether it be the subtle beauty of Crazy Love or the gypsy soul of Caravan.

“I can hear her heart beat for a thousand miles
And the heavens open every time she smiles
And when I come to her that’s where I belong
Yet I’m running to her like a river’s song

She give me love, love, love, love, crazy love
She give me love, love, love, love, crazy love”

Crazy Love

My Van Morrison catalogue would expand to double digits over the years with his ’74 live double LP It’s Too Late To Stop Now blowing my mind, but since this first purchase one song has remained my favourite. Into The Mystic has it all. The aura, the sentiment, the arrangement lifts me, coming as close as any song to affect me spiritually.

Then there’s the subtle simplicity and Van’s restrained passion, cut loose when the fog horn blows…

“And when that fog horn blows
I will be coming home
And when the fog horn blows
I want to hear it
I don’t have to fear it

I wanna rock your gypsy soul
Just like way back in the days of old
Then magnificently we will float
Into the mystic”

The few times I’ve seen Van Morrison live have been a disappointment, but I’ll forgive him anything for the sheer beauty contained in his music, being one of those artists that just connects with your soul. Van, is indeed, the Man.