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Culture Vulture Schmulture – A

In a feature shamelessly “inspired” by The Times’s Culture Vulture, British Expat brings you the above titled (subtitled “Things you should own, if they’re the sort of thing you might like…”)

As I am currently a poor civil servant, and soon to be a poor student, I cannot afford many new CDs, videos, etc. So I thought I’d trawl through my collection and try and find “Things that you should own, if they’re the sort of things you might like, which I do” (all together now…). By way of a gimmick, I’m going to attempt to do it alphabetically. This is purely so that I have six months to find something worth owning beginning with the letter Z. It also means I have 19 weeks to decide the battle of the heavyweights – namely The Shawshank Redemption and Schindler’s List. In a break with tradition, I’m going to start the alphabet with the letter A.

The runners-up include the Avalon Sunset LP by Van Morrison, the play Artist Descending a Staircase by Arthur Miller and another LP, Automatic For The People by R.E.M.

There was only ever going to be one winner in my mind. Beating yourself into second place is something only Spanish football teams competing in the European Champions’ League seem capable of. But Van Morrison can do it too. If you don’t already own it, then the Astral Weeks LP really is “Something which you should…” You get the picture.

Van the Man was just shy of 23 when he wrote and recorded this, arguably one of the most complete albums ever made. Alongside Sgt Pepper, Dark Side of the Moon and OK Computer, Astral Weeks actually hangs together as more than just a set of songs. One line from the album succinctly portrays the whole. In “Beside You”‘s repetition of “you breathe in, you breathe out…”, gathering pace and volume all the while as if guarding against a panic attack (Q magazine’s words, not mine), you can sense exactly how losing control of everything might feel – yet the control is never lost, much like The Beatles’ version of “Twist and Shout”. One of my personal favourite songs of all time, “Sweet Thing” – almost child-like in its relative simplicity – is contrasted with storytelling muses such as “Madame George” and “Cypress Avenue”. You could almost be there. You wish you were.

Stunningly enough, it wasn’t a fantastic commercial success when first issued. Released in 1968 when things musical were getting more experimental, the lilting harmonies and seeming lack of aural oomph should have consigned it to the scrapheap. Warner Bros. were committing commercial suicide releasing it, but then we all know geniuses are never appreciated in their own time.

Van Morrison thinks he was “onto something”. I’ll say. This amount of space and my scribe skills do it no justice whatsoever. Buy it.

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