Behind the Song: Van Morrison – ‘Crazy Love’

‘Crazy Love’ is the third track from Moondance, Van Morrison’s second proper solo release. Astral Weeks had appeared on Warner Bros. in November 1968; with Blowin’ Your Mind! a compilation of recordings Morrison had made for Bang Records, originally intended for release as four singles, but put out as an album in September 1967 by label head Bert Berns without Morrison’s consent.

Morrison’s dispute with Berns began as an artistic concern, Morrison unhappy with Berns’ attempts to steer him in the direction of chart music, and fearing that his songs were being overproduced. After the death of Bert, owing to a heart attack, in December 1967, Morrison’s relationship with Bang Records and Bert’s widow, Ilene, became more acrimonious. He was rendered unable to record new music, and prevented from playing in the clubs of New York, where he had been based – after moving from Belfast – since undertaking the Bang Records recordings the previous March. Also facing visa troubles, Morrison married and moved, around the turn of the year, from New York to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

It was in the clubs of Boston that Morrison honed the compositions that would appear on Astral Weeks. Warner Bros. in the meantime prised Morrison away from Bang Records, leaving a set of conditions between Morrison and his former label which he managed to disparagingly fulfil. However many of the songs on Astral Weeks – including most notably its two centrepieces, ‘Cyprus Avenue’ and ‘Madame George’ – had been born in Belfast; while ‘Ballerina’ stemmed from a stop in San Francisco during a tour of the United States, with his band Them, between May and June of 1966.

Following the recording of Astral Weeks, Morrison moved to upstate New York, near the town of Woodstock. It was here that he wrote much of Moondance, which was recorded at A & R Studios in New York City between August and December 1969, and would be released on Warner Bros. at the end of February 1970.

Lewis Merenstein had served as the producer for Astral Weeks, and worked with Morrison again for Moondance – although Morrison co-opted production responsibilities, and was ultimately listed in the album’s credits as ‘Producer’, with Merenstein given the title ‘Executive Producer’. In Ritchie Yorke’s Van Morrison: Into The Music, published in 1975, Morrison stated regarding the Moondance recording sessions, ‘no one knew what I was looking for except me, so I just did it’.

While Astral Weeks had received extensive critical acclaim upon its release – Rolling Stone even named it album of the year – the record had not proved a commercial success. Moondance – retaining Morrison’s richly exploratory vocal manner, his abstract imagery and the sense of spiritual yearning, but on an upbeat record, infused with R&B rhythms yet with a more discrete sound palette characterising each of its ten songs – established Morrison’s reputation as a major artist with a wide appeal. The album reached number 29 on the Billboard albums chart; and while Morrison has described himself as near-starving even after the release of Astral Weeks, Moondance provided him with the base upon which to build a lasting career.

Alongside Van’s voice, Moondance is defined by its rhythm section and horns. Merenstein had sought to reunite Morrison with the core musicians of Astral Weeks. These included guitarist Jay Berliner and percussionist Warren Smith, and bassist Richard Davis, who had previously worked, respectively, with Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy. They had been significantly responsible for the free jazz sound of Astral Weeks; but Van declined to work with them on this second occasion. In came saxophonist Jack Schroer, guitarist John Platania, and keyboardist Jef Labes, who would become mainstays of Morrison’s band across the early 1970s, featuring as part of his Caledonia Soul Orchestra until the end of 1973.

Horns play a key part on the title track, but following its swinging jazz, the sweet soul of ‘Crazy Love’ sounds especially fine. ‘I can hear her heart beating / For a thousand miles’, Van begins; and while the gentle structure of the song foreshadows the title track of 1971’s Tupelo Honey, the falsetto he easily adopts looks forward equally to ‘Who Was That Masked Man’ from Veedon Fleece. Van inhabits the song, the closeness of his voice complemented by the distant cooing of the female backing vocals.

‘Come Running’, from the second side of the album, was the only single released at the time from Moondance (the track ‘Moondance’ was not released as a single until 1977). It came out in May 1970, with ‘Crazy Love’ as the B-side, and peaked at number 39 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the Netherlands however, the single was flipped, with ‘Crazy Love’ as the A-side and ‘Come Running’ on the reverse. The cover of the single featured Morrison in a thick sweater with his then-wife Janet ‘Planet’ Rigsbee, in a photograph taken by Elliott Landy: the official photographer of the 1969 Woodstock Festival, whose photographs featured on Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline as well as Moondance.

Crazy Love 1

‘Crazy Love’ has been one of Van Morrison’s most covered compositions. Helen Reddy had a hit with the song on the adult contemporary chart in 1971, a feat which Aaron Neville would repeat in 1996; and Cassandra Wilson sang the track on the tribute album No Prima Donna: The Songs of Van Morrison, released in 1994. The song’s name was used for the title of Michael Bublé’s fourth studio album, released in 2009; with his cover version emerging as the album’s fourth single.

In June of 1989, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan performed ‘Crazy Love’ together atop Philopappos Hill in Athens. Dylan had just finished the European leg of his ‘Never Ending Tour’, performing the night before at Panathenaic Stadium; while Morrison was travelling with the BBC, filming for an Arena documentary which aired in 1991 under the title One Irish Rover – Van Morrison in Performances. Overlooking the Acropolis with their acoustic guitars, Morrison and Dylan played several of Van’s songs – Dylan was apparently adamant about not performing any of his own – including ‘Foreign Window’, ‘One Irish Rover’, and the Moondance opener ‘And It Stoned Me’.

In 2003, upon Morrison’s induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Ray Charles this time accompanied Morrison on ‘Crazy Love’. Charles played piano and sang the first verse and chorus before Morrison made his entrance; and Charles later remarked that ‘It meant a lot to sing ‘Crazy Love’ on stage that evening. This duet appeared on Charles’ 2004 album Genius Loves Company.

2 Comments

  • My husband is a huge Van Morrison fan and I appreciated this snapshot in time to share with him. Well written, and your site as a whole appears to be a good find too. Thank you.

  • Crazy Love was just released in a cover by Thea Gilmore. It is a wonderful song. I think it is a tribute song to Our Mother Mary Immaculate. Her heartbeat is a thousand miles away. Heaven opens when she smiles.
    She takes away his trouble and grief. Her love makes him righteous and whole in his soul. He loves her in return.

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