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Van Morrison's second official album, Moondance, was released on vinyl in February 1970, reaching no.32 in the UK in April of that year. It managed to do a little better in the USA where it got to no.29, but as the decades have passed, Moondance has gradually climbed up to classic status and has ultimately gone platinum.
Even people who are not fans of or who are largely unfamiliar with Van's music will be familiar with a few of the songs on Moondance, with the title track having become a standard, up there with the Sinatras of the world.
Although I've been listening to and adoring Van The Man ever since his first singles chart success back in the 1965 with his band Them, I didn't actually get to hear the Moondance album until some time during the late 1970s...but, my first experience hooked me and despite it appearing (initially) rather lightweight compared to much of Van's other work, I still love it just as much as I ever did.
Like quite a lot of Van Morrison's music, the first track on Moondance, And It Stoned Me, is a simple hark back to the rosy times of childhood. The tune is very easy to listen to, simple yet penetrating, with Van's voice backed by gentle piano, percussion and guitar with a welcome interjection of brass periodically. The wistful bite that Van is so famous and admired for is very present in this song, although the mood of it is gently happy. The lyrics are uncomplicated, yet poetic in a down to earth way, simply relating an experience of getting caught in the rain whilst fishing with his friends, marvelling at nature ("and it stoned me...stoned me just like jelly-roll") and being invited into an old man's house for a drink. The middle eight of the song is gentle, thoughtful, and very relaxing to listen to, with a slight jazzy tinge. All in all, a perfect opening to a perfect album.
The title track of this album, Moondance, is one of Van's best-known songs which everybody has heard, and has been covered by many other artists, including Michael Buble's dubious interpretation. The song opens in jazzy style with soft piano and drumming, then Van's voice takes the tune with quite a tender yet soulful tone. Lyrically, Moondance is a romantic song, inviting somebody to enjoy a dance (and perhaps more!) under an autumn moon. For me this is a highly skilful song for someone so young to have written (as young as Van was at the time). The middle eight is largely piano, enhanced by very softly strummed rhythm guitar, followed by an easy to listen to, but quite intricate piece played on tenor sax. Such increases the jazzy feel, along with a flute which then joins in for the rest of the song. Second in line to Brown Eyed Girl, Moondance was probably the song above all others which first drew me deeply into Van's work. Several live versions of Moondance have been performed by Van and various of his musicians over the decades, in many different styles, as the song is very genre-flexible.
The next track, Crazy Love, is a soft, gentle, tender love song. It is extremely easy to listen to, with a simple yet interesting tune. The backing is very quiet guitar and soft female vocals. Even when Van writes lyrics which are simple, as they are on this song, he never fails to inject tastefulness and intelligence into the words he chooses. I wouldn't say Crazy Love is my favourite track on this album or of Van's whole body of work, but it must be remembered that he can do little or nothing wrong for me, and I adore this....it's even better to listen to if you actually are in love.
On Caravan, which opens with a little piano roll accompanied by some soft percussion, Van delves into what he refers to as his 'gypsy soul'. The song has quite a slow tempo, with a few blasts of brass which although it can't really be classed as anything other than middle of the road genre-wise, does lend a jazzy feel. There are little lyrical hints in Caravan of Van coming from a spiritual place as a person, and those snippets (which during some of his later albums became the main focus) add a touch of mysticism. In this song, Van writes of observing a gypsy encampment, with his attention being drawn to a dancing woman. Caravan contains one of my all-time favourite Van lines.... "turn on your electric light so we can see what is really wrong..."
With Into The Mystic, Van takes another step down the route of all things earthly, yet on a spiritual plane. The backing is gentle guitar and drumming, the tune is quite spine-chilling in a good way, and the lyrics are simple yet thoughtful. It's all about being free, letting go, and I suppose 'turning on and tuning in'. Here, Van does speak of rocking his 'gypsy soul', and what a lovely line..... "magnificently we will enfold into the mystic..." In the middle eight of the song is a definite, yet slow-moving, gentle brass section. There is also some orchestration on Into The Mystic, but it is so laid-back that it is hardly noticeable, which for me is a good thing as songs by Van of this nature really shouldn't be over-produced. It also seems from the lyrics that Van is writing of returning home, urging a female to wait for him.
Come Running is a faster song, with an extremely catchy, lively tune. Van's voice is at its very best, and the piano/percussion backing is jaunty, slightly tinged with a little bluesy/jazzy sound. The addition of the brass section is tastefully done, blending in well with the mood of the song. The words of this song aren't particularly deep or mystical, but they are well thought out and intelligent. For me, the most important aspects of Come Running are the tune and the brilliant arrangement.
These Dreams Of You is presented in a lazy style, tinged with a jazzy mood. It's a happy-sounding song, but I'm not quite able to work out what the words are supposed to signify (if anything). There does appear to be an element of lost-love in there, but just judging by the feel of the song rather than the words, one wouldn't immediately notice it. Of course, it's also possible it could be one of Van's first (of latterly many) digs at the insincerity of the music business. Overall this is a very pleasant song to listen to, and is yet another perfect arrangement of guitar, percussion and a brass section, with a rather nice sax piece in the middle-eight. Reference is made in the second half of the song to a time, many many years ago, when Ray Charles was shot at one of his concerts, but bravely managed to carry on singing.
Brand New Day is probably my least favourite track on this album, although I still love it. It is a quiet song, with soft percussion and some rather poignant-sounding piano. Slow in tempo, and lyrically uplifting in a spiritual way, Brand New Day I suppose is an overall praise of merely being alive, gaining greatest pleasure from the simple things such as nature. The description of these occasional natural high moods we are lucky enough to get is put across so very well in this song, especially from the aspect of having been down in a black pit, then rising up to become quietly happy again. If listened to properly, the words of Brand New Day are quite thought-provoking, but I perhaps would have liked to hear it performed a little faster. There is a lovely piano break during the middle-eight which sounds like running water and is very soothing to listen to. If you focus hard enough, you can hear an occasional little guitar roll in the background which contains tons of that Van 'wistful bite'.
Everyone is a pleasant little ditty which begins with a harmonium, sounding almost medieval. The tune sounds quite simple, but is actually fairly complicated...jerky, yet interesting. The lyrics aren't amongst Van's most thought-provoking or unfathomably deep offerings, but nonetheless this is a good, well put together little song which seems to concentrate on celebration, dancing, singing and joining together embracing a Celtic spirit. A light and airy-sounding flute takes the middle-eight, and the whole song seems to dip a little toe into the folksy mood which was around the edges of society during the early 1970s.
The final track on Moondance, Glad Tidings, opens with some interesting guitar, percussion and soft handclapping. Van's voice is rich, warm and soulful, then is enhanced by a brass section joining in. The tune of the song is very pretty, almost sugary, yet very good. There are lyrically a couple of small digs at the music business, but overall the words wander from one topic to another, and are very poetic. Even though initially, until you listen to it properly, Glad Tidings sounds a bit 'empty' due to its almost nursery rhyme content tune-wise, the Van 'wistful bite' appears about midway through, accelerating as the song progresses, almost seeming as if to pave the way for all that was to come through the following years from this amazing singer/songwriter/poet/multi-instrumentalist known as Van Morrison, or affectionately, The Man.
Moondance was Van Morrison's second official album offering after the deep and complex Astral Weeks which although has gone down as a hallowed classic, perhaps was too difficult for most people at the time. Moondance sweetened Van's load somewhat, quite likely drawing new listeners to him who'd found Astral Weeks totally baffling and impossible to get to grips with.
Overall, it does seem as if Moondance is a 'surface' album compared to Astral Weeks and some of Van's later work, largely due to its immediacy of impact, easy-listening quality and pretty tunes, but if time is taken to focus on the not so obvious undertones, Van's depth is up, running and functioning just as highly as on any of his other albums - it is just that the auditory wrapping is prettier.
All through the Moondance album, Van's voice is on top form, although it does contain that higher quality which later deepened as he aged. Some people aren't too fond of his high notes when he was younger, but for me I got used to it as I delved deeper into his work once having first discovered him....got used to it to the point where he grew in my estimation and has become my most admired soul/R&B/blues/Celtic/rock'n'roll singers, not to mention his gently penetrating songwriting skills and unique way with words.
Moondance definitely in my opinion is a perfect album with which to introduce yourself to Van Morrison if you aren't very familiar with much of his work, and aren't quite sure where to start. As said above, a couple of the songs have become standards (especially the title track), and people may have become familiar with one or two others due to them having been used as part of various film soundtracks - to me such use is sacrilegious, but it must be borne in mind that as far as Van The Man is concerned, I am dedicated and bull-headedly biased.
Moondance (the album) is, in my opinion, an absolute must for everybody's music collection, and chances are high that even your granny would love it!
At the time of writing, Moondance can be purchased on CD from Amazon as follows:-
New: from £3.93 to £36.27
Used: from £1.72 to £21.71
A delivery charge of £1.26 should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
From the first time I heard Van Morrison in my teens when I first came across recordings of a group called Them, already disbanded by then, I've been a fan. Even back then, his voice was distinctive and possessed a quality of soul rarely heard in a white British singer. At that time, white soul and R&B singers like Van Morrison were frequently referred to as singing 'blue eyed soul' but in my opinion that's a derogatory label and there is no difference between the soul in his voice and that of, say, Otis Redding or Sam Cooke. Van Morrison's soul music is every bit as good and just as relevant.
If I could only own one of his albums, Moondance is the one I'd choose because more than any of his others, this perfectly showcases the full range of Van the Man's stunning musical abilities. From the soul-inspired and slightly spiritual 'And It Stoned Me' through to the final dying notes of the saxophones on 'Glad Tidings', this 10 track album is a tour de force. To my mind, ever since those early days with Them, Van Morrison has been head and shoulders above other singers but with this album, he demonstrated once and for all that he has a talent which encompasses nearly every modern musical idiom, all of which he manages to make uniquely his own and I'd have to include this album in my top ten favourites of all time. Moondance was his third solo album, recorded in America and released in 1970. Although most of his music is firmly rooted in soul and R&B, it's no secret that Van Morrison is a deeply spiritual man and many of his songs on this early album reflect that burgeoning spirituality.
If you're a fan of Van Morrison, I'm sure you'll have your own favourite album but for me this is it. And for those of you who've been unfortunate enough never to have come across this genius, this musical giant, give some of the links below a listen and I guarantee you'll be a convert.
The album kicks off with 'And It Stoned Me' which is about one of those rare instances when everything comes together into one perfect moment in time and that childhood experience obviously had a strong enough effect upon him for Van to write this song. The sound here is pure soul R&B with piano, guitars and saxophones providing a suitably bluesy backing along with an almost metronomic percussion accompaniment. This track has some similarities to The Band's 'The Weight', which was released around the time this song was originally recorded, not that I'm accusing either them or Van of plagiarism but the similarities are definitely there, certainly in terms of tempo and rhythm.
There can't be many people who don't recognise the title track 'Moondance' which is such a great song that it's now become a jazz classic and has been covered by several other artists. Van's version whilst still jazzy is rather pared down in parts to just the jazz/swing beat without all those twiddly bits most jazz musicians like to add in. In the acoustic middle section, however, flute, saxophone, guitar, soft percussion and especially the piano add much more to the jazzy feel and considering his voice is really more suited to soul and rock, Van Morrison makes an excellent hand here at being a jazz singer.
'Crazy Love' is a simple jazz/soul fusion which has Van vocally stretching himself by singing, if not quite falsetto, certainly in a much higher register than usual. The soft and breathy tones perfectly suit the mood of the song and the acoustic backing is mainly restricted to percussion and guitar with gospel sounding backing singers.
The fourth track, 'Caravan' goes ever so slightly up tempo with percussion, guitar and piano providing the rhythm and the saxophone backing becoming less strident than on previous tracks. If I'm honest, this track is the most dated sounding on the album and during the 'la la la' bits, I always get visions of the Banana Splits whenever I listen to it! This is an OK track but couldn't be described as a standout song.
On my old vinyl LP, this was the last song on side one. 'Into the Mystic' is one of my favourite songs of all time and is Van Morrison at his most soulful and spiritual. This fifth track is that perfect moment when the words, the music and that fabulous voice all blend into one fantastic whole and although I can't pretend to understand the lyrics, I love this piece. From the first notes of the acoustic guitar and gentle piano and percussion accompaniment, this ballad grabs hold and makes the listener want to join with Van and 'let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic'.
'Come Running' is an up tempo rather rocky sounding little song and is in a much lighter vein than most of the other tracks on the album. The backing is piano, guitar and drums with the saxophones back to full stridency. I don't know whether it's intentional but at the point where Van's singing about the train coming round the bend, the percussion seems to replicate the sound of a steam train.
The mood becomes more blues oriented at the beginning of 'These Dreams of You' with a harmonica being added into the musical mix. This morphs into more R&B rhythms as the song progresses and it has a great saxophone riff in the middle.
'A Brand New Day' has a real gospel feel to it which is further enhanced by the backing singers repeating many of the musical phrases. The backing is simple with mainly piano and percussion and backing singers for emphasis. This is a song filled with hope which is both spiritual and uplifting.
The beginning of 'Everyone' could have the listener thinking they'd strayed into an 18th century drawing room with an electronic piano mimicking a spinet or harpsichord. This is soon joined by guitar, flute and percussion plus Van's voice. This is another fairly light song with a cheerful, up tempo beat and another song with hope-filled lyrics.
The album comes to a very satisfactory end with another up tempo number 'Glad Tidings' which brings the full backing ensemble into play, plus backing singers and some gospel style hand clapping. The overall impression is R&B with a strong rhythm and the saxophones enhancing the R&B feel. This song was played during the episode of the Sopranos in which Tony Blundetto was killed which seems appropriate as the killing coincided with the line "And we'll send you glad tidings from New York."
Track list (some with YouTube links)
1. And It Stoned Me (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hX8nAZftZL4)
3. Crazy Love (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ky_Uh2mKvAc)
5. Into the Mystic (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0DJ8hWgNes)
6. Come Running
7. These Dreams of You (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WapeKX1J1B0)
8. Brand New Day
10. Glad Tidings (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPdShWevWoU)
Moondance - Van Morrison (1970) Every now and then, I get the need to dig out a long lost CD and listen to something that, despite it's greatness, has been collecting dust for years. Ironically, this Van Morrison offering predates the CD by nearly two decades, but has stood the test of time and greatness. Instrumentally, the album relies on just about every type of saxophone there is, flutes, keyboards, guitars, drums to produce a mellow but strangely catchy feel. Lyrically, every track is credited to the man himself. One of my favourite tracks opens, "And It Stoned Me", followed by the title track itself. "Moondance" the track is a beautifully seductive track, telling a tale of love and seduction. "Crazy Love" and its delightful chorus moves from seduction to worship in love and the lyric "she gives me some sweet lovin' brightens up my day". Ah, I could sing it to you now if only this medium would allow! "Caravan" is a livelier offering, full of gypsy references, which appear again in my favourite track, the unmistakeable and memorable "Into The Mystic". As well as featuring prominently in a Glenn Close film (the name of which escapes my memory) it is arguably Van Morisson's finest moment. "I just want to rock your gypsy soul, just like way back in the days of old, then magnificently we will float into the mystic". The all too short "Come Running" is a cracker, the style of which was reproduced more recently on the "Enlightenment" album, while "These Dreams Of You" fall back on the bluesy influences of the Irish band "Them" where Morrison was lead singer, although it is fair to say this isn't the highlight of Moondance by any stretch of the imagination! If you ever feel low, "Brand New Day" can capture your mood and lift you to a plateau from whi
ch to rebuild. It is a truly inspiring lyric drawing on the inner strength we all have when things are against us and the gospel backing really makes this a cracker. The almost medieval start to "Everyone" gives way to a more typical, if forgettable sound before the more arousing finale "Glad Tidings" with its message from New York. If you've heard and liked "Brown Eyed Girl" (that's the one that turns up on every compilation album ever made), then "Moondance" is a fine album to introduce you to the real van Morrison. For those who've bought the commercially successful material of the late eighties and early nineties, go retro and invest in this. And if you've never really given him any thought, this is worth £8 for "Into The Mystic" alone. Still available in all record shops of any repute and at Amazon.
This album came after "Astral Weeks", regarded by many as Van the Man's best, but I find "Moondance" every bit as good, in fact more enjoyable to listen to. It has a timeless quality about, and it really doesn't sound like it's 30 years old. Overall, it has an American feel to it - the first song, "And it stoned me", reminds me a lot of The Band, and the brass, which is used throughout, sounds a lot like Springsteen / Southside Johnny / The Blues Brothers. The album has a very soulful vibe. On a couple of the songs there's even a gospel flavour. ("Come running" and "Crazy love") Then there's the swing tempo on "These dreams of you", and the slightly jazzy title track. "Everyone" has a more English (though perhaps I should say Irish, as Morrison's Irish) sound, with folky instrumentation, even a flute. It all makes for a varied listen, but it all gels together really well. Morrsion's voice is extremely passionate. When he sings "I want to rock your gypsy soul" in "Into the mystic" he makes it sound like there's nothing more important in the world. The album has a romantic, feel-good kind of atmosphere - it's good late night music. Favourite moment on the whole album: "Turn it up? Turn it up? a little bit higher" (in "Caravan"). If you prefer Van Morrison when he was recording songs like "Brown Eyed girl" and singing with Them, then you should love "Moondance", but I can't see anyone else being disappointed by it. Anyone who doesn't like it must have no soul.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Stoned Me
3 Crazy Love
5 Into The Mystic
6 Come Running
7 These Dreams Of You
8 Brand New Day
10 Glad Tidings