Released: February 1970
Chart Peak: #29
Weeks Charted: 22
Certified Gold: 11/19/76
Long ago, Van Morrison reached that point where the influences on his music no longer mattered. It is as pointless to attempt to detect those influences as it would be for any musician to try to imitate him.
Van Morrison's music cannot really be imitated, because, as with Dylan's music, what one hears is not style, but personality. With each record -- Them Again, Astral Weeks, or Moondance -- one gets a sense that Van has achieved some ancient familiarity with his band and with his songs; no matter how the music changes, the long inventions of Van's singing, his full command of the musicians that play with him, and the striking imagination of a consciousness that is visionary in the strongest sense of the word, creat an atmosphere that instantly sets its own terms. Morrison's powers are clear: his strong gift for melody, his ability to move freely within virtually any sort of contemporary instrumentation, his verbal magic as inventive and literate as Dylan's, and most of all, the authenticity of his spirit.
Moondance is his first album in over a year. Unlike Van's masterful Astral Weeks, this one will be immensely popular; Van's picture already fills the windows of record stores and his new music is getting more airplay on FM stations than anything in recent memory.
Van's new album might send one back to the bright enthusiasm of "Brown-Eyed Girl" and the magic blues of Them Again; Van now sings with a magnetically full electric band, complete with piano, organ, vibes, and intricately controlled saxophones and flute. The band's performance has a stately brilliance; and if it recaptures some of the feeling of the earlier music, the past is serving as a rite of passage toward the celebrations of Moondance.
Van opens with "And It Stoned Me," a tale of boys out for a day's freedom, standing in the rain with eyes and mouths open, heads bent back: "Oh, the water, let it run all over me..." The sensuality of this song is overpowering, communicated with a classical sort of grace. "And it stoned me/To my soul/Stoned me just like jelly roll..." There is no strain for meaning in Van's words or in his voice. "Let it run all over me..." -- you feel the exhilaration almost with a sense of astonishment. The band, playing subtle, gentle rock and roll, surrounds the singer; here, as everywhere on Moondance, the horn arrangements are absolutely exquisite, as eloquent as a sermon in a backwoods chapel.
With "Caravan" one might begin to remember the early Impressions: the instantaneous aura of fantasy and desire that Curtis Mayfield created for "Gypsy Woman" tumbles down again as a fanfare on piano and the roll of drums and guitar open a composition of seductive grandeur. "Caravan" is a strange song; the images are easily real and the music is profoundly comforting, yet there's the edge of a story here that fades without ever revealing all it has to tell. "Now the caravan has all friends/Yes, they'll stay with me until the end...Gypsies...tell me all I need to know..." Woven between the fragments and framed by the textures of the horn with blazing imagination: "Turn up your radio/And let me/Hear the song/Turn on your electric light/So we can get down/To what is really wrong." The singer moves from the gypsy campfire to his lover and back again, with a lovely sort of affection. Van's singing is pure expression, pure sound; the band moves off and then forward again. A graceful soprano saxophone holds notes behind Van's words: "Now, the caravan is painted red and white/That means everyone is staying overnight..."
"Into the Mystic" is the heart of Moondance; the music unfolds with a classic sense of timing, guitar strums fading into watery notes on a piano, the bass counting off the pace. The lines of the song and Morrison's delivery of them are gorgeous: "I want to rock your gypsy soul/Just like in the days of old/And magnificently we will fold/Into the mystic." The transcendent purity of the imagery seems to turn endlessly, giving back one's own reflection. Van's more abstract songs are mosaics of brilliantly chosen metaphors -- ambiguous and instantly recognizable. Morrison communicates directly even when he is most obscure; his visions have power, and the ambiguity of those visions is always unified by the sympathy of the music -- there is no "backup band" on Moondance any more than there is an "Lay Lady Lay." Something's been made; it stands, it won't be broken down.
Perhaps "Glad Tidings," which ends Moondance, is the song that most makes one want to come back to this album without even thinking about it. "Glad Tidings" is a vital, leaping promenade through the streets of the town; fast, clean rock and roll moves it along as striking horns guide the song, until they cue the chorus into an explosion of real joy: "Yeah, we'll send you glad tidings/From New York/DO DO DO DOOT DO DO/Open up your eyes that you may see/DO DO DO DOOT DO DO/Ask you not to read between the lines/Hoping that you come right in on time."
Moondance is an album of musical invention and lyrical confidence; the strong moods of "Into the Mystic" and the fine, epic brilliance of "Caravan" will carry it past many good records we'll forget in the next few years. Van Morrison plays on.
- Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs, Rolling Stone, 3/19/70.
His Astral Weeks album was overlooked by the charts and praised as the aesthetic success of '69 throughout the underground. Morrison's new masterpiece should cure the public of its previous oversight with a more commercial entry, still rich with the soul/folk nuances of this sensitive lrish song surrealist. "Stoned Me," "Caravan" and "These Dreams of You" should bring this unique musical personality to rock and folk lovers.
- Billboard, 1970.
An album worthy of an Irish r&b singer who wrote a teen hit called "Mystic Eyes" (not to mention a Brill Building smash called "Brown Eyed Girl"), adding punchy brass (including pennywhistles and foghorn) and a solid backbeat (including congas) to his folk-jazz swing, and a pop-wise formal control to his Gaelic poetry. Morrison's soul, like that of the black music he loves, is mortal and immortal simultaneously; this is a man who gets stoned on a drink of water and urges us to turn up our radios all the way into (that world again) the mystic. Visionary hooks his specialty. A+
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
The album following Astral Weeks was the first Morrison release that could be considered a commercial success, going gold in the US and scratching the UK top forty. Though "Come Running" was a minor American hit single, the breathtaking action is on side one, where song after song is both a complete work and part of a greater, deeply affecting whole. The last number, "Into the Mystic," takes the listener on one of the most entrancing journeys in rock.
Oddly enough, Johnny Rivers achieved chart honours with "Into the Mystic" and Helen Reddy got there with "Crazy Love." Stranger still, Morrison himself inched into the Hot 100 with "Moondance" in 1977!
In 1987, Moondance was chosen by a panel of rock critics and music broadcasters as the #52 rock album of all time.
- Paul Gambaccini, The Top 100 Rock 'n' Roll Albums of All Time, Harmony Books, 1987.
Robert Christgau said it best: "Morrison's soul, like that of the black music he loves, is mortal and immortal simultaneously; this is a man who gets stoned on a drink of water and urges us to turn up our radios all the way into...the mystic." This is as good as it ever gets. The CD suffers from consistent hiss and a slight tendency to overbrightness in Van's vocals, but, on the positive side, it's detailed and dynamic with a warm, spacious sound. A+
- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.
After Astral Weeks, Morrison switched gears for Moondance, a flawless collection of more accessible R&B-rooted material, which drew from easygoing swing ("These Dreams"), upbeat shuffles ("Come Running"), gospel-influenced song structures like "Crazy Love," and "Caravan," the latter a celebration of radio that didn't pander to that medium's more self-congratulatory nature. The jazzy title cut is a classic, as is "Into the Mystic," a song that essentially encapsulated Morrison's artistic bent. Moondance's tasteful production imbued the music with a timeless quality. * * * * *
- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Van Morrison's early solo records for Warner Bros., especially the warm country/soul of Moondance, His Band and Street Choir, Tupelo Honey and St. Dominic's Preview reflect the rural hippie aesthetic of the period and his Woodstock, N.Y., surroundings. Moondance and His Band and Street Choir, both released in 1970, would have made would have made an extraordinary double album, with numerous youthful examples of the Morrison acoustic soul magic including "Into the Mystic," "Caravan," "Crazy Love," "Domino," "Blue Money" and "Call Me Up in Dreamland." * * * * *
- Leland Rucker, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
There is an undeniable warmth and affirmatory tone to Moondance that makes it a remarkable work in its own right. The opening "And It Stoned Me" uses a childhood fishing trip to eulogize nature, with a lyric that perfectly conveys a child's sense of innocence and wonder. With "Moondance," jazz in introduced into the melting pot of musical styles on the album, which also includes blues, folk, country, gospel and soul. Morrison's vocal swoops and soars, perfectly complemented by a free and easy flute, playful piano and buzzing sax. The marvellous "Crazy Love," which comes on like a Marvin Gaye soul classic, is tenderly romantic. Moondance is a celebration -- of love, of spirituality and of the world itself. It's there in the lyrics of "Glad Tidings," with its feelgood Stax beat, and the gospel-influenced "Brand New Day," anticipating a release from darkness into "that beautiful morning sun." "Everyone," highlighted by a trilling harpsichord and flute, offers hope for a brighter future with almost child-like faith, while the gorgeous "Into the Mystic," features strings that positively shiver with anticipation at spiritual rebirth. Van Morrison's vision of life as a holy and precious thing makes Moondance a tonic for jaded souls.
- Collins Gem Classic Albums, 1999.
Earthier and more accessible than Astral Weeks, this charming ode to romance is the ultimate hookup disc, brimming with warmth and depth, fantastic jazz-style accompaniment and exultant vocals. Such pastoral hippie poetry swoon the smitten who fall for lyrics that speak from the heart, beautifully manifested in tracks like "Into the Mystic Caravan" and the title track. Filled with whimsy and enchantment, it puts you under a shady oak tree on a sunny June afternoon. * * * *
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
An enormous step in the progress of Van Morrison, Moondance also established him as an FM radio staple in the early seventies, with songs like the title track, "Caravan," and "Into the Mystic." The album represented a new kind of songwriting for the artist -- rustic and earthy, based on more conventionally melodic music figures. This was partly due to Morrison's new band, whose even-tempered intuition helped keep Morrison focused. As a result, songs like "And It Stoned Me" and "Crazy Love" revealed an artist almost giddy with natural wonder. Not surprisingly, the album was a big hit among hippie couples settling into complacent domesticity -- once again, along with the work of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, James Taylor, and Paul McCartney, it was a harbinger of "adult rock" being born.
Moondance was voted the 32nd greatest album of all time in a VH1 poll of over 700 musicians, songwriters, disc jockeys, radio programmers, and critics in 2003.
- Joe S. Harrington, VH1's 100 Greatest Albums, 2003.
Moondance was chosen as the 65th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.
- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.
Van Morrison's 1968 LP Astral Weeks had made him a cult hero. But Moondance was his first U.S. Top 30 album, and also his first to go platinum.
Morrison was living in Woodstock's rural paradise when he wrote many of these songs, although he left the area following the influx of people after the celebrated festival. Some of the musicians he assembled for the album remained with him for several years, including guitarist John Platania, horn player Jack Schroer, and Jeff Labes on keyboards.
Moondance showcases Van Morrison as a masterly songwriter and charismatic vocalist. In contrast to the acoustic Astral Weeks, the sound is bigger, meatier, with a horn section to add punch; the songs are more tightly structured, less improvisatory. The first side of the LP is almost perfect. "And It Stoned Me" paints a vignette of adolescence with a storyteller's eye for detail, while the smoky, jazz-infused title track remains one of Morrison's best-loved songs. Ethereal sailor's ballad "Into The Mystic" is a moving meditation on the splendor of love; the shivering strings are a wonderfully appropriate complement to his vocals. Elsewhere, a celebratory air, bordering on spiritual joy, haunts many of the tracks -- witness the closing trio of "Brand New Day," "Everyone," and "Glad Tidings."
Helen Reddy had a 1971 U.S. hit with "Crazy Love," while Johnny Rivers' version of "Into The Mystic" charted in 1970. Van himself had a U.S. Top Forty hit with "Come Running." His solo career was on the rise.
- John Tobler, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.
(2013 Deluxe Edition) "Here we go to the main course!" ad-libs Van Morrison on an extended "Caravan," one of the shaggy outtakes on this five-disc unpacking of the Belfast bard's 1970 jazzy-pop masterpiece. That LP is nearly all main course, and if the numerous alternate takes here often feel incomplete without their sublime, brassy final arrangements, they compensate with intimacy -- see "Into the Mystic," take 11, mainly just Morrison and acoustic guitar. The set's grail is the long-lost outtake "I Shall Sing," a Carribean-style confection that became a signature for many (Miriam Makeba, Judy Mowatt, Art Garfunkel). Its author delivers a meaty, scatted-up reading here, alongside a ferocious early version of the soul burner "I've Been Working" (His Band and the Street Choir) and a roadhouse-piano reading of Bessie Smith's "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" -- the sound of an Irish bluesman cruising at high altitude. * * * * 1/2
- Will Hermes, Rolling Stone, 11/7/13.
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