|Studio album by Van Morrison|
|Released||27 January 1970|
|Recorded||August – December 1969|
|Studio||A & R Studios in New York City|
|Genre||Rhythm and blues, soul, rock, jazz, pop, Irish folk|
|Producer||Lewis Merenstein (exec.), Van Morrison|
|Van Morrison chronology|
|Singles from Moondance|
Moondance is the 1970 third studio album by Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison. After the commercial failure of his 1968 album Astral Weeks, Morrison moved with his wife to an artistic hamlet in upstate New York and began writing songs for Moondance. There, he met the musicians he would record the album with at New York City's A & R Studios in 1969.
Morrison abandoned the abstract folk compositions of Astral Weeks in favor of more formally composed songs on Moondance, which he wrote and produced himself. Its lively rhythm and blues/rock music was the style he would become most known for in his career. The music incorporated soul, jazz, pop, and Irish folk sounds into ballads and songs about finding spiritual renewal and redemption in worldly matters such as nature, music, romantic love, and self-affirmation.
Moondance was first released by Warner Bros. Records on 27 January 1970 and became both a critical and commercial success. It helped establish Morrison as a major artist in popular music, while several of its songs became staples on FM radio in the early 1970s. Moondance has since been cited by critics as one of the greatest albums of all time. In 2013, the album's remastered deluxe edition was released to similar acclaim.
Recording and production
After leaving the rock band Them, Morrison met record producer Bert Berns in New York City and recorded his first solo single, "Brown Eyed Girl", in 1967. When it became a hit, Morrison was offered a recording contract from Warner Bros. Records and recorded his first album for the label, Astral Weeks, in 1968. Although it was later acclaimed by critics, its collection of lengthy, acoustic, and revelatory folk-jazz songs was not well received by consumers at the time and the album proved to be a commercial failure.
After recording Astral Weeks, Morrison moved with his wife to a home on a mountain top in the Catskills near Woodstock, a hamlet in upstate New York with an artistic community. Because of the album's poor sales figures, the singer wanted to produce a third record that would be more accessible and appealing to listeners: "I make albums primarily to sell them and if I get too far out a lot of people can't relate to it. I had to forget about the artistic thing because it didn't make sense on a practical level. One has to live." He began writing songs for Moondance in July 1969. The musicians who went on to record the album with Morrison were recruited from nearby.
Morrison recorded Moondance from August to November 1969. He entered A & R Studios in New York City with only the basic song structures written down and the songs' arrangements in his memory, developing the compositions throughout the album's recording. Without any musical charts, he received help with developing the music from band members Jef Labes, Jack Schroer, and Collin Tilton. According to Morrison biographer Ritchie Yorke, all of the "tasteful frills" were generated spontaneously and developed at the studio. Most of Morrison's vocals were recorded live, although he later said that he would have preferred to cut the entire album live.
Moondance was the first album where he was listed as producer. He later said of the role, "No one knew what I was looking for except me, so I just did it." Lewis Merenstein, the album's executive producer, had brought in Richard Davis, Jay Berliner, and Warren Smith, Jr. from Astral Weeks for the first recording session, but Morrison, according to John Platania, "sort of manipulated the situation" and "got rid of them all. For some reason he didn't want those musicians." According to Shelly Yakus, the album's recording engineer, Morrison was "very quiet and really introverted" during the sessions, only recalling when Morrison asked him to put "more bottom on his voice" while being recorded.
Music and lyrics
For Moondance, Morrison abandoned the abstract folk compositions of Astral Weeks in favor of a rhythm and blues sound and formally composed songs, with more distinct arrangements that included a horn section and chorus of singers as an accompaniment. The album also found Morrison using more traditional melodic figures, which VH1 editor Joe S. Harrington said lent the songs a "rustic and earthy" quality. In Robert Christgau's opinion, the album showed the singer integrating his style of Irish poetry into popular song structure while expanding on his "folk-jazz swing" with lively brass instruments, innovative hooks, and a strong backbeat. Music journalist John Milward called it "that rare rock album where the band" polished the arrangements thoroughly and the solos were performed by the saxophonist rather than the guitarist. In The Rolling Stone Album Guide (1992), Paul Evans observed upbeat soul music, elements of jazz, and ballads on the "horn-driven, bass-heavy" record. Rob Sheffield said it marked the appearance of the musical style Morrison would become known for, a "mellow, piano-based" fusion of jazz, pop, and Irish folk styles.
Morrison's lyrics throughout Moondance deal with themes of spiritual renewal and redemption. It departed from Astral Weeks' discursive, stream-of-consciousness narratives as the singer balanced his spiritual ideas with more worldly subject matter, which biographer Johnny Rogan felt offered the record a quality of "earthiness". As the "yang to Astral Weeks' yin", AllMusic critic Jason Ankeny believed it "retains the previous album's deeply spiritual thrust but transcends its bleak, cathartic intensity" by rejoicing in "natural wonder". According to Christgau, the essence of Morrison's spirit was, much like the African-American music that inspired him, "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." Morrison's "giddy"-sounding preoccupation with "natural wonder" on the album was a product of his different approach to composition and the mellow feel of his new band, Harrington said. In his opinion, the record's exuberant spirit and theme of self-affirmation were partly inspired by the singer having "settled into a life of domestic bliss". Musicologist Brian Hinton argued that Morrison was celebrating a "natural alternative" in his music after quitting soft drugs around this time because they had impeded his productivity.
The opening song, "And It Stoned Me", was written about receiving feelings of ecstasy from witnessing and experiencing nature. The lyrics described a rural setting with references to a county fair and mountain stream. Morrison said he based it on a quasi-mystical experience he had as a 12 year old fishing in the Comber village of Ballystockart, where he once asked for water from an old man who said he had retrieved it from a stream. "We drank some and everything seemed to stop for me", the singer recalled, adding that it induced a momentary feeling of quietude in him. According to Hinton, these childhood images foreshadowed both spiritual redemption and—in Morrison's reference to "jellyroll" in the chorus—sexual pleasure. AllMusic's Tom Maginnis believed the singer was instead likening the experience to the first time hearing jazz pianist Jelly Roll Morton. The largely acoustic title track featured piano, guitar, saxophone, electric bass, and a flute over-dub backing Morrison, who sang of an adult romance set in Autumn and imitated a saxophone with his voice near the song's conclusion. "This is a rock musician singing jazz, not a jazz singer, though the music itself has a jazz swing", Hinton remarked, noting how its rhythm is played in triplets rather than rock's quadruple time signature. "Crazy Love" was recorded with Morrison's voice so close to the microphone that it captured the click of Morrison's tongue hitting the roof of his mouth as he sang. He sings in falsetto, producing what Hinton felt was a sense of intense intimacy, backed by a female chorus.
"Caravan" and "Into the Mystic" were cited by Harrington as examples of Morrison's interest in "the mystifying powers of the music itself" throughout Moondance. The former song thematizes music radio and gypsy life—which fascinated the singer—as symbols of harmony. Harrington called it an ode to "the transcendent powers of rock 'n' roll and the spontaneous pleasures of listening to a great radio station", while biographer Erik Hage regarded it as "a joyful celebration of communal spirit, the music of radio, and romantic love". "Into the Mystic" reconciles Moondance's R&B style with the more orchestrated folk music of Astral Weeks, along with what Evans described as "the complimentary sides of Morrison's psyche". Harrington believed it explores "the intricate balance between life's natural wonder and the cosmic harmony of the universe". Hinton believed the song evoked a sense of "visionary stillness" shared with "And It Stoned Me" and the gypsy imagery of "Caravan", while working on several other interpretive levels. Its images of setting sail and water in particular represented "a means of magical transformation" for the writer, comparable to Alfred Lord Tennyson's poems of leave-taking such as "Crossing the Bar", which had "the same sense of crossing over, both to another land and into death". The lyrics also deal with "the mystical union of good sex", and an act of love intimated by Morrison's closing vocal "too late to stop now"--a phrase he would use to conclude his concerts in subsequent years.
"Come Running" was described by Morrison as "a very light type of song. It's not too heavy; it's just a happy-go-lucky song." By contrast, Hinton found the song's sentiments tender and lustful in the vein of the 1967 Bob Dylan song "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight". He argued that "Come Running" juxtaposed images of unstoppable nature—wind and rain, a passing train—against "which human life and death play out their little games", which the narrator and his lover dream will not end "while knowing of course it will". According to the writer, "These Dreams of You" manages to be simultaneously accusatory and reassuring. The lyrics cover such dream sequences as Ray Charles being shot down, paying dues in Canada, and "his angel from above" cheating while playing cards in the dark, slapping him in the face, ignoring his cries, and walking out on him. Morrison said he was inspired to write "Brand New Day" after hearing The Band on the radio playing either "The Weight" or "I Shall Be Released": "I looked up at the sky and the sun started to shine and all of a sudden the song just came through my head. I started to write it down, right from 'When all the dark clouds roll away'." Yorke quoted Morrison as saying in 1973 that "Brand New Day" was the song that worked best to his ear and the one with which he felt most in touch.
"Everyone" opens with Labes' clavinet played in 6
8 time. A flute comes in, playing the melody after Morrison has sung four lines, with Jack Schroer playing the harmony underneath on soprano saxophone. Although Morrison says the song is just a song of hope, Hinton says its lyrics suggest a more troubled meaning, as 1969 was the year in which The Troubles broke out in Belfast. The album's closing song, "Glad Tidings", has a bouncy beat but the lyrics, like "Into the Mystic", remain largely impenetrable, according to Hinton. In his opinion, "the opening line and closing line, 'and they'll lay you down low and easy', could be either about murder or an act of love." According to biographer Erik Hage, "'Glad Tidings' was a premonition of the future, as for the next four decades, Morrison would continue to use a song here and there to vent about the evils of the music industry and the world of celebrity."
Release and reception
|Christgau's Record Guide||A+|
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|Los Angeles Times|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
Moondance was released by Warner Bros. on 27 January 1970 in the United Kingdom and on 28 February 1970 in the United States. Its original vinyl release was packaged with an album cover that folded out revealing A Fable, the short tale written by Morrison's then-wife Janet Planet, about a young man and his gifts. The cover photo was taken by Elliot Landy, the official 1969 Woodstock Festival photographer.
Moondance reached the top 30 of the American albums chart in 1970, and although it never topped the charts, it sold continuously for the next forty years of its release, particularly after its digitally remastered reissue in 1990. In 1996, the record was certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, having sold three million copies in the US. After the commercial failure of Astral Weeks, Moondance was seen by contemporary music journalists as a record that redeemed Morrison, establishing him as a young, commercially successful, and artistically independent singer-songwriter with great promise. It also made the singer a popular radio presence in the early 1970s, as several of its songs became FM airplay staples, including "Caravan", "Into the Mystic", and the title track. According to Harrington, the album was a precursor to the decade's adult-oriented rock format—typified by the music of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, James Taylor, and Paul McCartney—and was very successful with hippie couples who were "settling into complacent domesticity". It was also the first hit album for mixing engineer Elliot Scheiner, who went on to have a prolific career engineering some of the decade's most popular recording artists.
Moondance received widespread acclaim from contemporary critics. Writing in 1970 for The Village Voice, Robert Christgau claimed that Morrison had finally fulfilled his artistic potential: "Forget Astral Weeks—this is a brilliant, catchy, poetic, and completely successful LP." Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs jointly reviewed the album in Rolling Stone, hailing it as a work 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." Fellow Rolling Stone critic Jon Landau found the singer's vocals overwhelming: "Things fell into place so perfectly I wished there was more room to breathe. Morrison has a great voice and on Moondance he found a home for it." Ralph J. Gleason from the San Francisco Chronicle also wrote of Morrison's singing as a focal point of praise: "He wails as the jazz musicians speak of wailing, as the gypsies, as the Gaels and the old folks in every culture speak of it. He gets a quality of intensity in that wail which really hooks your mind, carries you along with his voice as it rises and falls in long, soaring lines."
In subsequent years, Moondance was frequently ranked as one of the greatest albums ever. According to Acclaimed Music, it is the 102nd most ranked record on critics' all-time lists. In 1978, it was voted the 22nd best album of all time in Paul Gambaccini's poll of 50 prominent American and English rock critics. Christgau, one of the critics polled, named it the 7th best album of the 1970s in The Village Voice the following year. In a retrospective review, Nick Butler from Sputnikmusic considered Moondance to be the peak of Morrison's career and "maybe of non-American soul in general", while Spin deemed it "the great white soul album" in an essay accompanying the magazine's 1989 list of the all-time 25 greatest albums, in which Moondance was ranked 21st. In 1999, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and in 2003, it was placed at number 65 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Time included the record in its 2006 list of "The All-Time 100 Albums", and the following year, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame named it as one of their "Definitive 200" albums, ranking it 72nd. In 2009, Hot Press polled numerous Irish recording artists and bands, who voted Moondance the 11th best Irish album of all time.
On 22 October 2013, Warner Bros. released a deluxe edition of Moondance. It featured a newly remastered version of the original album, three CDs with previously unreleased music from the sessions, and a Blu-ray disc with high-resolution, surround sound audio of the original album. The packaging included a linen-wrapped folio and a booklet with liner notes written by music journalist Alan Light and Scheiner. The deluxe reissue was met with highly positive reviews from critics, including Record Collector, who called it an aural "marvel", and The Independent, who said the remastering "strips away centuries of digital compression and makes the music sound as if you’ve never heard it properly".
|1.||"And It Stoned Me"||4:30|
|5.||"Into the Mystic"||3:25|
|7.||"These Dreams of You"||3:50|
|8.||"Brand New Day"||5:09|
Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.
- Judy Clay – backing vocals (tracks 3 and 8)
- Emily Houston – backing vocals (tracks 3 and 8)
- John Klingberg – bass
- Jef Labes – organ, piano, clavinet
- Gary Mallaber – drums, vibraphone
- Guy Masson – conga
- Van Morrison – vocals, guitar, rhythm guitar, tambourine, harmonica, producer
- John Platania – guitar, rhythm guitar
- Jack Schroer – alto and soprano saxophones
- Collin Tilton – flute, tenor saxophone
- Jackie Verdell – backing vocals (tracks 3 and 8)
- Bob Cato – designer
- Steve Friedberg – engineer
- Elliot Landy – photographer
- Tony May – engineer
- Lewis Merenstein – executive producer
- Neil Schwartz – engineer
- Elliot Scheiner – engineer
- Shelly Yakus – engineer
|American Albums Chart||29|
|British Albums Chart||32|
|Dutch Albums Chart||9|
|German Albums Chart||56|
|Italian Albums Chart||42|
|New Zealand Albums Chart||36|
|Norwegian Albums Chart||19|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Gold||100,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||3× Platinum||3,000,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone
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