I already knew of Van Morrison, long before he released a solo album. In 1964, I bought a single by the band Them, from Northern Ireland. Van Morrison was the lead singer of that group. The song was their version of the old Blues classic, ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, and the B-side was ‘Gloria’. In 1967, Van Morrison embarked on a solo career, though his first album was hardly noticed. The second, ‘Astral Weeks’, received critical acclaim in 1968, but poor sales at the time. I heard the album and enjoyed some of it, but didn’t buy it then. I was only 16, and immersed in Soul Music as well as an early appreciation of Jazz.
Two years later, ‘Moondance’ was released. This grabbed me immediately, with its fusion of musical genres. It had everything in one package, with a Jazz mood on some songs, as well as a nod to Irish culture, and Rhythm and Blues. There was a horn section too, and more orchestration. Just the title track gave instant indication of the quality to come. As soon as it had finished, I put the needle back, to hear it again.
The next track was just as good, though very different in feel. ‘Crazy Love’ began with plaintive vocals from Van, and gentle guitar. Then the backing vocals drifted in, and I drifted away…
Track four was so good, I played it around half a dozen times on the bounce. It remains my top track on this album, and one of my favourite songs ever from Morrison. A classic distinctive vocal that could never be confused with any other singer; the singalong chorus beautifully harmonised with the backing singers, and some wonderful lyrical construction. If you are not in the mood to dance, this is just the perfect song for listening enjoyment.
The last track on side one had echoes of the Folk-themed ‘Astral Weeks’. But the couple of years devoted to writing new songs really shone through. Gentle guitar, slow build-up, and poetic lyrics delivered ‘Into The Mystic’. The perfect end to the first side.
After spending a great deal of time on the first side, I was reluctant to turn over to side two. But there was no disappointment to come, just more great songs. Five tracks again on that side, including the meaningful ‘Brand New Day’. A song where we can all feel the emotion seeping out of the vinyl.
A relatively short album of just ten tracks, but one that had a great effect on me at the age of 18. I have never tired of listening to it to this day, even though I later bought ‘Astral Weeks’, along with almost every album Van has released since. After an illustrious career that has seen him win countless awards, and even a knighthood for services to music, he continues to perform today, aged 72.