The Album List: #53 Van Morrison “Moondance”

I could say something snarky and funny, but it’s Van Freakin’ Morrison, people.

Putting this list together was a nightmare. I had to make a bunch of arbitrary rules and stick to them, and then there is the mood one is in when you create the master list. At the time I was kind of annoyed with Morrison, who is actually among my top twenty artists of all time. I now regret having him down here at this number. Certainly the man deserves top fifty on some random blogger’s favourite albums list.

Well, yeah. But I don’t know who I would move down the list.

So here I sit, with one of my all time favourite records not even in the top fifty of my list.

Since my arbitrary rules include not putting absolute favourites in the top ten for a reason I can’t quite remember almost a year later and thinking about not just quality and the impact each record had on my life as opposed to just giving everyone a list of Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Beach Boys, and Who records and saying “There you are- greatest albums ever”, I decided to expand the field and ultimately make me think hard about what I love about each album. I love Van. I adore him. He’s a sonofabitch. But he creates such beauty.

Morrison had been in the garage band Them before embarking on a solo career. He scored a massive hit with the very sixties pop hit “Brown Eyed Girl”, famed for its “sha-la-la” chorus (I love “sha’la’la” choruses). But Moondance, Morrison’s third solo record, sounds nothing like that dated but still charming ditty. It’s steeped in jazz and blues. The title track has become a jazz standard, after all, covered by Michael Buble and Bobby McFerrin. Completely with a  memorable walking bass line,  a beautiful and elegant piano line, and sweet saxophones and flutes, the romantic and lush “Moondance” is an adult love song. It’s not coy or fluffy. It’s sensible but beautiful. It remains his most beloved song, and the song he has played the most.

Morrison of course was part of the background of my childhood- my parents were in no way fans of the man, but he was a favourite of their radio station. Between Morrison’s first three solo records, they played him often enough to create a fan out of the young me. Blowing You Mind! housed “Brown Eyed Girl”, and follow-up Astral Weeks often appears on many a top one hundred list. Moondance always appealed to me simply because it was closer to pure jazz/pop hybrid I craved.  My deep affection for jazz often leads me to poorly constructed jazz-pop records that I defend for years before collapsing in grief and exhaustion. I have more Jamie Cullum albums than I should really own.

Van Morrison is my favourite artist.  His varied and enduring career has produced many great albums and some of my favourite songs. Just like I couldn’t live without the Kinks, I can’t live with Van Morrison. He’s ambitious, bold, and unafraid of genre. He has jumped from garage to skiffle to country to jazz and blues without so much a blink, and has proved adept at them all. His work with Them set the stage for punk rock a decade and a half later- “Gloria” is one of the most covered songs of all time. he has consistently put out records over the last thirty plus years, and still does several gigs a week, an amazing achievement for a man now retirement age. Despite a reputation for being slightly on the assholish side of humanity, Morrison has been a frequent collaborator, working with Ray Charles, Mark Knopfler, and John Lee Hooker. He is a man in love with music. I understand that love.

Moondance stands out to me in Morrison’s discography due to its pure jazz heart, and its gentle optimism. Optimism doesn’t play well in pop music- to often it ends up being “Shiny Happy People”. This is why the quietness of songs like “Crazy Love”, “And It Stoned Me”, and “Into the Mystic” sit with me better than other records of this era. The music is subtle. The lyrics are subtle. The album is unassuming. But it’s so beautiful that you cannot help but love it.

The other thing I love is Morrison’s voice. It sounds so different on a song like “Glad Tidings” than it does of something sweeter and slower like “Crazy Love”. The former, a Stax-like thumper that soars with vocal harmonies reminiscent of “Brown Eyed Girl”, is growlier, more cynical sounding. The latter is smoother, sweeter, with no hint of the nasal quality it can have when he sings those rougher songs.  If these songs were not on the same record, you’d never know they were being sung by the same man.

The album also has the blues track ” These Dreams of You”, the country jump of “Come Running”, the piano jazz of “Caravan”, the  punched up folk of “Everyone”, and the rich country jazz of “Brand New Day”.  It is one of the greatest experiences I have ever had, listening to this album for the first time about fifteen years ago.  It remains a true pleasure every single time.

I simply love this album too much. I wish I could put it higher.

I probably should have.



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