MOONDANCE – Van Morrison – Warner Brothers – 1970
Sequestered away in Woodstock, New York, at the end of the 1960s, Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison was on a quest. His previous album, Astral Weeks, was floundering commercially, and no one knew quite what to make of this Celtic troubadour who sang of mysticism and “gardens all misty wet with rain.”
Out of this artistic sabbatical came 1970’s Moondance, an album that drew influences from blues, pop, and jazz to create a through line of music that was at once inherently accessible, and, as the ensuing decades would prove, universally relatable. Within these melodies, Morrison used imagery of his trademark gypsies and mists and dreams and stories, while placing them within frames of groove-able basslines, wistful guitars, and even trendy (for the period) flutes. This amalgamation of influences proved to be just the right combination that Morrison needed to cement himself within the lexicon of great singer-songwriters, and why Moondance has since gone on to become one of the best-loved albums ever recorded.
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Episode notes and postscript corrections
- We spared you a bunch of background info about Van Morrison’s pre-solo career and what happened when Astral Weeks was released, but if you want to learn more, there’s this cool thing called Google that will tell you all about it.
- See our further reading notes below for more about that childhood memory that informed “And It Stoned Me.”
- For a refresher on our feelings on saxophones in rock, revisit our Hall & Oates episode.
- We’ve discussed our distaste for the flute before. IT RARELY WORKS.
- Benmont Tench agrees with us. Here’s his opinion on the “Moondance” flute.
- So, yeah. If someone could please get us and Benmont Tench a mix of “Moondance” done without the flute, we’d love you forever.
- Check out our master playlist on Spotify to hear the similarities between “Crazy Love,” “Waiting on the World to Change,” and “People Get Ready” side by side.
- Shoutout to John Klingberg, who is a true MVP on this album.
- See our further watching links below for the can’t-be-missed performance of “Caravan” from The Band’s iconic 1978 concert film The Last Waltz
- “Caravan” clocked in at 181 on Pitchfork’s 200 Best Songs of the 1970s list. We’ve discussed our displeasure with this list countless times throughout our episodes, but add the fact that only one Van Morrison song makes an appearance on it to the list of reasons why we think it needs an overhaul.
- Fun fact: Nick Hornby wants the version from The Last Waltz played at his funeral. Here’s some great writing on how great this version is.
- To really see how Morrison’s use of homophones can change the meaning of “Into the Mystic,” take a peek at the Genius lyrics.
- Also check out our further watching links for the live cover version of “Into The Mystic” by Zac Brown Band and Clare Bowen.
- For a refresher on how we each feel about non-sequitur, surprise songs in albums, revisit our discussion on “Before They Make Me Run” from the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls.
- See our further watching links for this cool documentary where Van Morrison talks about and plays with John Lee Hooker, as well as that Fillmore East show.
- And if anyone can get us more info about John Klingberg, that would be super cool. Thanks!
- Okay, special exception to the flute thing with “Everyone.” It works there.
- Honestly, Wes Anderson uses it so, so well in this scene do not fight us on this.
Van Morrison — Rhythm guitar, vocals, tambourine
Jack Schrorer — Alto and soprano sax
Collin Tillton — Tenor sax and flute
Jeff Labes — Piano, organ, and clavinette
John Platania — Lead and rhythm guitars
John Klingberg — Bass guitar
Garry Malabar — Drums and vibraphone
Guy Masson — Congo drum
Emily Houston — Backing vocals
Judy Clay — Backing vocals
Jackie Verdell — Backing vocals
Favorite track(s): “Into the Mystic” (Carly) | “Caravan” and “And It Stoned Me” (Carrie)
Least favorite track: “Brand New Day” (Carly) | “Come Running” (Carrie)
John Mayer – “And It Stoned Me” | 2014
Zac Brown Band ft. Clare Bowen – “Free >> Into the Mystic” | 2013
Van Morrison: Another Glorious Decade | 2003
Van Morrison Cue The Music TV documentary | 1991
Van Morrison and The Band – “Caravan” | The Last Waltz (1978)
Van Morrison live at Fillmore East | 1970
The Words and Music of Van Morrison | 2009
Celtic Crossroads: The Art of Van Morrison | 2003
Moondance re-release review | The Au Review (October 2013)
500 Greatest Albums of All Time – Moondance | Rolling Stone (May 2012)
Van Morrison: The Poet | Rolling Stone (November 1978)
Moondance review | Rolling Stone (March 1970)