A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Track #34 on Thommy Ford’s Playlist
One day, maybe a decade or so ago, I decided to do a little research on a name I had seen popping up in the liner notes of a few jazz albums. Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch!, and Booker Ervin’s Freedom Book and Blues Book all featured a bassist named Richard Davis. My research confirmed 1.) yes, it was in fact the same Richard Davis playing on those three albums; 2.) that I was not the only person to be taken by his playing, turned out Richard Davis is widely regarded as one of the greats; and 3.) a small fact that peaked my interest, this same bassist had played on a Van Morrison album called Astral Weeks.
I’m embarrassed to admit it now, but at that point I had never thought of listening to a whole Van Morrison album. I mean I loved “Domino” and “Wild Night” and held a secret passion for some of his slower things like “And it Stoned Me” and “Into the Mystic,” but I had stopped there. Van Morrison was a singles compilation artist as far as I was concerned. But, in what is surely a great rarity, I went out and bought a copy of Astral Weeks because I was interested in the session bassist.
The album’s been a favorite ever since, and the third song, “Sweet Thing,” might be my favorite love song, period. Not only is there Richard Davis’ propulsive upright bass, the beating heart of the song, but there’s a whole band of talented jazz and classical musicians that add a wild, improvisational mood under Van Morrison’s soulful singing and poetic lyrics. Guitarist Jay Berliner, a seasoned studio musician, is as much a revelation as Davis.
It would come to nothing, though, if Morrison didn’t supply just the right words, and just the right voice for the performance. His lyrics are a heartfelt evocation of young love:
I shall drive my chariot
Down your streets and cry
Hey, it’s me, I’m dynamite
And I don’t know why
And you shall take me strongly
In your arms again
And I will not remember
That I ever felt the pain…
And I’ll be satisfied
Not to read between the lines
And I will walk and talk
In gardens all wet with rain
And I will never, ever
Grow so old again.
Oh sweet thing, sweet thing
The lyrics are rigidly rhymed, but Morrison doesn’t sing them that way. He sings in a free form soul shout that could rival Sam Cooke and Otis Redding.
“Sweet Thing” is a perfect mix of song-craft and remarkable musicianship. I’m still somewhat amazed that it was my habit of digging for hard to find jazz albums that led me to my favorite pop/rock love song—I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere.
Review by Matthew