Poetic Champions Compose

Poetic Champions Compose is the seventeenth studio album by Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison, released in 1987 on Mercury Records. It received generally positive reviews from critics, most of whom viewed it as adequate mood music.

Poetic Champions Compose
Studio album by
ReleasedSeptember 1987
RecordedSummer 1987
StudioThe Wool Hall Studios in Beckington and Townhouse Studios in London
ProducerVan Morrison
Van Morrison chronology
No Guru, No Method, No Teacher
Poetic Champions Compose
Irish Heartbeat
Singles from Poetic Champions Compose
  1. "Did Ye Get Healed?" b/w "Allow Me"
    Released: August 1987
  2. "Someone Like You" b/w "Celtic Excavation"
    Released: November 1987
  3. "Queen of the Slipstream" b/w "Spanish Steps"
    Released: April 1988

Recording and composition

Poetic Champions Compose was recorded in summer 1987 at Wool Hall Studios in Beckington with Mick Glossop as engineer.[3]

Morrison was quoted during this time period as saying "Psychologists will tell you that artists have to be in a state of despair before they produce great work, but I don't think that... In my case I know it doesn't create better work. I produce better work if I'm content. I can't create that feeling if I'm in a state of conflict." [4] Johnny Rogan felt that it emphasized his "commitments to creating a more contemplative style of music" and that what came across most in the album was "Morrison's heightened sense of ecstasy, purification and renewal."[4]

Morrison originally intended the album to consist wholly of jazz instrumental works, but later said that "when I did three numbers I thought, 'No, I don't wanna do that,' and changed my mind."[5] Nonetheless, each side of the album opens with an instrumental, "Spanish Steps" and "Celtic Excavation", and the album closes with another, "Allow Me". As described by Brian Hinton: "It is an album which is more than the sum of its parts, exuding an overall sense of calm and optimism."[6]

According to Hinton, "Spanish Steps" is "a tune as calm as a millpond."[7] Morrison's philosophy reading list is evident in "Alan Watts Blues", and Socrates and Plato are mentioned in "I Forgot That Love Existed", as well as Rudolf Steiner's pronouncement about the importance of "thinking with the heart and feeling with the mind". Fiachra Trench writes the string and woodwind arrangement on "The Mystery", which strikes a spiritual theme. The album features two love songs that have had an enduring popularity, "Queen of the Slipstream" and "Someone Like You".[4] The only song not penned by Morrison is the Negro spiritual "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child". Writes Hinton, "It is 'Mother Ireland' whom Van is missing and his world weary vocals are like sobs of pain."[8] "Give Me My Rapture" and "Did Ye Get Healed?" are powerful and optimistic statements of the deep spiritual priorities in Morrison's music.

Critical reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
Chicago Sun-Times[10]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[11]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[12]
The Village VoiceB+[13]

In a contemporary review for The Village Voice, music critic Robert Christgau wrote that Poetic Champions Compose is somewhat dull but tasteful "dinner music" because "in his current spiritual state", Morrison "doesn't much care about interesting. He just wants to roll on, undulating from rhythmic hill to melodic dale."[13] Rolling Stone magazine's Jimmy Guterman wrote that some of the music and lyrics sound boring and do nothing but set a mood, but even without any progression by Morrison, the album is "another worthy installment in his series of soulful, meditative explorations".[14] Don McLeese from the Chicago Sun-Times said most of the songs "could be categorized as mood music. But musical moods are rarely this sublime".[10] In a rave review, Audio magazine hailed it as a prime example of rock music being rendered on the then-new CD format, as the music is "grounded in superb instrumental and vocal performances captured in a way which reflects a sonic reality rather than a fabrication."[1]

Poetic Champions Compose was voted the 21st best album of 1987 in The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics poll.[15] In a retrospective review for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine said only a few songs distinguish themselves from the album's dulcet, arty mood and mid-tempo balladry, but concluded that "this record is warmer, stronger than many of its predecessors, one of his highlights from the '80s."[9] Colin Larkin highlighted "Spanish Eyes", "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child", and "Someone Like You" in The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (2006), finding the songs "moving".[11] Rob Sheffield was less enthusiastic in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), deeming the album one of several "cranky self-imitations" that plagued Morrison's "painful slump in the '80s".[12]

Track listing

All songs written by Van Morrison except as noted.

Side one

  1. "Spanish Steps" – 5:20
  2. "The Mystery" – 5:16
  3. "Queen of the Slipstream" – 4:55
  4. "I Forgot That Love Existed" – 4:17
  5. "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" (traditional) – 4:27

Side two

  1. "Celtic Excavation" – 3:17
  2. "Someone Like You" – 4:06
  3. "Alan Watts Blues" – 4:24
  4. "Give Me My Rapture" – 3:44
  5. "Did Ye Get Healed?" – 4:06
  6. "Allow Me" – 3:53




  • Producer: Van Morrison
  • Engineer: Mick Glossop
  • Photography: Steve Rapport, Direct Art Green Ink.
  • Coordination: Sian Williams
  • String and Woodwind arrangements: Fiachra Trench
  • Synthesizer Programming: Paul Ridout



Billboard (North America)

Year Chart Position
1987 The Billboard 200 90

UK Album Chart

Year Chart Position
1987 UK Album Chart 22



Year Single Chart Position
1987 "Someone Like You" Adult Contemporary 28


  1. Audio. 71: 141. 1987. All of this is intended to preface the fact that Van Morrison's latest record is a brilliant meeting of the rock genre and the CD. Poetic Champions Compose is grounded in superb instrumental and vocal performances captured in a way which reflects a sonic reality rather than a fabrication.CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
  2. The Rough Guide to Rock
  3. Heylin, Can You Feel the Silence?, p. 525
  4. Rogan, No Surrender, p. 367
  5. Heylin, Can You Feel the Silence?, p.412
  6. Hinton, Celtic Crossroads, p. 265
  7. Hinton, Celtic Crossroads, p. 263
  8. Hinton, Celtic Crossroads, p. 264
  9. Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Poetic Champions Compose". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 September 2010.
  10. McLeese, Don (1987). "Van Morrison sets mystic mood on 'Champions'". Chicago Sun-Times (17 September). Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  11. Larkin, Colin (2006). Encyclopedia of Popular Music (4th ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 11–12. ISBN 0195313739.
  12. Sheffield, Rob (2004). "Van Morrison". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 559–561. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  13. Christgau, Robert (1987). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice (1 December). New York. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  14. Guterman, Jimmy (1987). "Poetic Champions Compose". Rolling Stone. New York (3 December). Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  15. Anon. (1988). "The 1987 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". The Village Voice (1 March). New York. Retrieved 28 July 2015.


  • Collis, John (1996). Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, Little Brown and Company, ISBN 0-306-80811-0
  • Heylin, Clinton (2003). Can You Feel the Silence? Van Morrison: A New Biography, Chicago Review Press, ISBN 1-55652-542-7
  • Hinton, Brian (1997). Celtic Crossroads: The Art of Van Morrison, Sanctuary, ISBN 1-86074-169-X
  • Rogan, Johnny (2006). Van Morrison: No Surrender, London:Vintage Books ISBN 978-0-09-943183-1
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