Open up any ‘Greatest albums of all time’ list online, and I guarantee, when you finally scroll to the last five or so, there is one album that will occupy a space – Astral Weeks. Highly original and hugely influential, Van Morrison’s masterpiece is regarded as one of the most significant albums of all time.
It marked a big departure from the poppy ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ material found on his previous album. With his second effort, Morrison wanted to push himself creatively and explore new musical terrains, including folk and jazz.
It was this decision that led the appointed producer to enlist a small group of musicians with strong jazz backgrounds for the album’s recording. Morrison had written all the songs prior to the studio sessions but if the musicians were expecting to hear his thoughts on how to play each song, they were in for a surprise.
On the first day of recording, without even a hello, Morrison walked into a recording booth, and there he stayed. He played all the songs to the newly assembled band on his acoustic guitar but gave absolutely no direction. When one of the musicians finally asked what he wanted him to play, Morrison simply replied “Play whatever you want’.
Now this may sound crazy but Morrison knew exactly what he was doing. He didn’t want to tell the musicians how to play his songs, he wanted to know how they would play them. And in doing so, Morrison heard musical ideas he never would have heard if he’d just told them what to do.
All he had to do was attract the right type of talent into the process and give them the freedom to express themselves. Once Morrison achieved that, the hard part was done.
In advertising, we obsess about the ‘big idea’ but sometimes forget about the very thing that makes it – the people.
No one, no matter how good you are, can do it all. That’s why you need to constantly recruit and surround yourself with people who can do things better than you. Creativity is at its strongest when every single person in the process brings something entirely different to the table from the next person. Better writers. Better organisers. Better sellers. Better tech-heads. Better work.
Get this right and everything begins to flow so much easier. Instead of spending your time discussing what’s wrong with all the ideas on the wall, you’re spending time finessing the idea you collectively cracked days before. Adding depth and strength that’s impossible to achieve in isolation.
The idea isn’t everything. People are.
Cypress Avenue, recorded at The Rainbow, London ’73 (featuring an impromptu guest appearance from his three-year-old daughter).