Van Morrison

Van Morrison is one of rock's most respected figures. The Irish

singer/songwriter has increased his profile by touring with Bob Dylan in

recent years, and this year released one of his most accessible albums

in decades, Back on Top (RealAudio

excerpt of title track).

Morrison was born 54 years ago today in Belfast, Northern Ireland; his

mother was a singer and his father collected blues and jazz records. He

began playing guitar, harmonica and saxophone as a youth and joined an

R&B band called the Monarchs at age 15.

While running an R&B club in Belfast, Morrison formed the band Them. The

group made the UK top 10 with "Baby Please Don't Go" before breaking

onto the U.S. chart with "Here Comes the Night." Another Them song,

Morrison's "Gloria," has since become a rock classic, recorded by acts

such as Patti Smith (on her seminal debut Horses). Them split in

1966.

As a solo act, Morrison had a 1967 U.S. top-10 single with "Brown Eyed

Girl," another rock standard. In 1968 he released Astral Weeks,

a flop at the time which has since become one of the most critically

acclaimed LPs of all time. Astral Weeks charted the course for Morrison's

unique blend of Celtic rhythms, jazz, blues, rock and pop.

Morrison had a top-30 U.S. hit with the more commercial Moondance

(1970), which spawned the hit title song and "Come Running." The same

year, "Domino," from His Band and the Street Choir, made the top

10.

The gold Tupelo Honey (1971) yielded the beautiful title track

(of which Dylan reportedly once said "A song like that could've only

come straight from God") and the top-30 "Wild Night," a top-10 hit in

1994 for John Mellencamp with Me'Shell NdegeOcello.

St. Dominic's Preview (1972) included the popular "Jackie Wilson

Said," a tribute to one of Morrison's influences. After years of

less-popular albums, Morrison had a hit in 1978 with Wavelength.

In the '80s, Morrison experimented further with albums such as Beautiful

Vision (1982) and A Sense of Wonder (1985). In 1988 he and

traditional Irish band the Chieftains issued Irish Heartbeat.

On 1993's Too Long in Exile, Morrison covered some of his musical

heroes such as Ray Charles and Sonny Boy Williamson. The Healing Game

(1997) offered the catchy "Burning Ground" (RealAudio

excerpt).

Morrison's aloofness with the media and with concert audiences somewhat

tarnished his image in the '80s and '90s. But he did much to reclaim his

reputation with a successful combination tour with Dylan in 1997.

Last year came Philosopher's Stone, a collection of unreleased

material. Back on Top put Morrison back on FM radio with such cuts

as "Precious Time."

Morrison has influenced artists ranging from veteran greats such as Bruce

Springsteen to '90s bands such as Counting Crows.

Other birthdays: Jerry Allison (Crickets), 60; Rudolf Schenker (Scorpions),

51; Gina Schock (Go-Go's), 42; Glenn Tilbrook (Squeeze), 42; Tony DeFranco

(DeFranco Family), 40; Chris Whitley, 39; Reb Beach (Winger), 36; Jeff

Russo (Tonic), 30; and Deborah Gibson, 29.