CD Review of Still on Top - The Greatest Hits by Van Morrison
Recommended if you like
The Band, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan
Label
Exile/Polydor
Van Morrison:
Still on Top
The Greatest Hits

Reviewed by Michael Fortes

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T
he problem with anthologizing the work of an artist like Van Morrison is that, as soon as you get the collection out there, it’s already obsolete. Van will have to die before a “definitive” compilation can be issued, quite simply because he won’t stop working. His 1990 collection The Best of Van Morrison was pretty much the definitive single-disc collection on Van the man. The subsequent two volumes extended the story, but didn’t really have enough hits to make them appealing to a huge audience.

So now we have Still on Top – The Greatest Hits, which appears only five months after the release of a similar collection titled At The Movies. The latter collection appeared like it might have done as good a job as Still on Top of improving/updating the 1990 Best Of, but some of the better known tracks (“Domino,” “Moondance,” etc.) turned out to be live versions. Diehards might dig ‘em, but everyone else wants the familiar studio versions. In that regard, Still on Top delivers, though it does not deliver “Tupelo Honey,” “Into the Mystic” or “And It Stoned Me,” so the buyer must still beware.

On the plus side, Still on Top is presented in chronological order, something no prior Morrison compilation ever bothered with. The chronological presentation means that, ultimately, the first half of the disc is probably going to get the most play. After all, everybody loves “Gloria,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Moondance,” “Domino,” “Wild Night,” and all those other big radio hits. Oh and finally, “Wavelength” makes its debut appearance on a best-of! How this great, open-to-interpretation 1978 hit single got ignored all these years on Morrison’s compilations, we may never know.

Beyond the disc’s midsection at about track 12, Still on Top slides from radio hit survey into a lesson on Morrison’s recent history. Sure, “Have I Told You Lately?” is here, but it’s the exception among the remaining 10 cuts, in that everyone will recognize it. Most of these latter-day cuts still generally sound like the work of a man who can and does write catchy, memorable tunes when he feels like it. “Tore Down A La Rimbaud” and “Days Like This” especially fit that description. But then we also get an example of Morrison’s rambling vocal improv on “In the Garden,” where he drags and repeats the song’s Eden-themed lyrics out at the end. Such exercises sounded wilder and more unpredictable in his earlier days, though here, there’s a feeling of a whole different sense of purpose, what with age and the Biblical theme and all.

Of course, there’s only so much time that can be covered on a single disc, so the convenient thing to do was to simply skip past all but one of the albums Morrison recorded for Point Blank/Virgin and Blue Note. Consequently, there’s a six-year gap between 1999’s “Precious Time” and 2005’s “Stranded.” Anyone who wants to catch up on that particular era will do well to seek out the Best of Van Morrison, Vol. 3 double disc, but for most anyone else, this should fit the bill.

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