A Classic Recording: Van Morrison’s Moondance

In spite of Van Morrison’s early pop success with the group Them—“Here Comes The
Night” (1965), “Mystic Eyes” (1965), “Gloria” (1966)—and his first (and arguably his most
enduring) solo hit “Brown Eyed Girl” (1967), I don’t think we were prepared for the amazing body
of work that the Morrison would bring to recorded music. Born in Belfast as George Ivan
Morrison (now Sir George), Van Morrison is a singular voice in the canon of the British invasion
and beyond.

While his solo album Astral Weeks was a commercial flop in 1968, these days it is often cited as
a masterpiece (and it may be). But for me, Morrison created a masterpiece a couple of years
later with the release of Moondance (1970). Recorded in New York, the album’s flavor is made
up of equal measures of soul, jazz, and pop, along with the significant weight of his Irish folk
roots.

Moondance is 38 minutes of Morrison, with each track offering a distinct flavor. There’s a
suggestion of Jackie Wilson in “These Dreams of You”, and “Brand New Day” sounds more like
Muscle Shoals than Manhattan (or Belfast). For some, Morrison’s Irish accent might necessitate
multiple listenings to clearly understand all of his lyrics, as in “And It Stoned Me”. He sings of a
worship of water, for drinking, cleansing, swimming, and fishing. The lyrics present his childhood
memory all wrapped in the warm embrace of a horn section that never misses.

And the title track “Moondance”. From the opening bars it dares you to sit motionless, to try and
ignore the compelling rhythm, and of course (particularly those looking for romance,) to step into
the lyrics:

What a marvelous night for moondance
With the stars up above in your eyes
Fantabulous night to make romance
‘Neath the cover of October skies

The musical counterpoint of piano and flute on Moondance reaffirms all of the elements
mentioned earlier: Soul, Jazz, and Pop.

Morrison’s song “Crazy Love” has become a standard, having been covered by dozens of artists
over the years, across multiple genres, and still this original version endures.

And then there’s “Into The Mystic”. Morrison taps into the language and imagery of a century-old
style, and yet makes it a powerful contemporary song for any age.

We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Ere the bonny boat was one
As we sailed into the mystic
Hark now hear the sailor’s cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly
Into The Mystic

For my money, Morrison could have extended “Into The Mystic” another 6-7 minutes to allow the
listener to get completely lost in the music. But that’s just me.

Moondance deserves its place among the greatest albums of the past 50 years.

David SteffenVirgin Wines Writer at Large