50 Years Ago: Van Morrison Keeps Momentum on ‘His Band and the Street Choir’
By springtime in 1970, Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison was riding high on the acclaim he'd earned with his third album, Moondance. So, he entered the studio with a giant wave of momentum to work on his fourth LP, His Band and the Street Choir, which was released on Nov. 15, 1970.
The lead single from Street Choir, "Domino," peaked at No. 9, one spot higher than the song that introduced him as a solo artist in 1967, "Brown Eyed Girl." While that track is among Morrison's best-known songs, "Domino" prepped fans for Street Choir, hitting the airwaves weeks before the album's release. The song was a direct response from Morrison to the record executives at Warner Bros., who had asked him to produce a few more radio-friendly hits.
In general, though, Morrison's mindset entering the production of His Band and the Street Choir was a bit unconventional. He decided he wanted to record an a cappella LP, which would have been a bold move following the commercial success of Moondance. He, his wife at the time Janet Rigsbee and four musicians, left their set-up in Woodstock, N.Y., where Morrison was staying, and relocated to New York City.
But the sessions didn't go as Morrison had planned. Two of his bandmates convinced him to bring in their wives to add harmonies to the vocal arrangements – a move Morrison later said "ruined the whole thing."
Who knows how Street Choir would have sounded without a backing band. Either way, the album stands today as one of Morrison's best efforts, and fully realizes the soulful R&B vibe that he was starting to settle into during the era.
Listen to Van Morrison's 'Domino'
"Domino," a tribute to rock 'n' roll pioneer Fats Domino, remains a riff-packed source of shake-your-butt fuel after all these years. But that infatuation with R&B shines throughout the album on songs like "I've Been Working," which builds up with tight, minimal instrumentation and pushed along by a simple snare beat. But then that drum fill hits at 1:05, the song lights up and those horns kick in.
While "Domino" was the album's biggest single, His Band and the Street Choir also included "Blue Money," which made it to No. 23 on the Billboard chart while riding more of a honky-tonk melody than R&B. Third single "Call Me Up in Dreamland" didn't fare so well, however, barely cracking the Hot 100 at No. 95. But b that time, Morrison's spot in music royalty was already secure.
His Band and the Street Choir ended up part of a string of early '70s successes for Morrison, having been preceded by the classic Moondance and followed by the excellent Tupelo Honey, which included another big single, "Wild Night." While Street Choir made it to only No. 32 on the album chart (Moondance reached No. 29, Tupelo Honey No. 27), and Morrison criticized much of it after its release, it remains a significant work by one of music's most daring artists.