|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, jazz, pop, Irish folk|
|Producer||Lewis Merenstein (exec.), Van Morrison|
|Van Morrison chronology|
|Singles from Moondance|
Moondance is the third studio album by Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison. After recording his commercially unsuccessful 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 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, and romantic love.
After Moondance was released in 1970 by Warner Bros. Records, it became both a critical and commercial success, helping establish Morrison as a major artist in popular music. It 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, Morrison 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 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 more formally composed songs, with more distinct arrangements that included a horn section and chorus of singers as an accompaniment. According to Paul Evans in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (1992), the album's "horn-driven, bass-heavy" music featured upbeat soul music, elements of jazz, and ballads. Rob Sheffield said it marked the appearance of the musical style he would become known for, a "mellow, piano-based" fusion of jazz, pop, and Irish folk styles. In the opinion of Robert Christgau, the album showed Morrison 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.
Morrison's lyrics dealt with themes of spiritual renewal and redemption. Unlike his discursive, stream-of-consciousness narratives on Astral Weeks, Moondance 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."
The opening song, "And It Stoned Me", according to the singer, depicts a true tale of a day in his childhood. The lyrics show that the setting of the song is rural, including references to a county fair and mountain stream. The title song is mostly acoustic but also includes electric bass and piano, guitar, saxophone, and a flute over-dub played softly behind Morrison's voice, which imitates a saxophone towards the song's end. Musicologist Brian Hinton says, "This is a rock musician singing jazz not a jazz singer though the music itself has a jazz swing." "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, with the backing of a female chorus. "Caravan" is about gypsy life, which fascinated Morrison, and also about the radio. The song opens with Jef Labes trilling on piano, the drum kit then comes in, whilst Morrison sings the line "And the caravan is on its way". The non-lexical vocable "la la la la, la la la" is sung by him and the band as the song's chorus. John Platania then improvises around Morrison's voice with softly plucked guitar notes. Journalist and Morrison biographer Erik Hage called the song "a joyful celebration of communal spirit, the music of radio, and romantic love".
According to Morrison, "Into the Mystic" was originally called "Into the Misty" but as he had thought there was "an ethereal feeling to it" he changed the name. Morrison has also said that some of the songs lyrics could have more than one meaning: "I was born before the Wind" could also be "I was borne before the wind" as well as "Also younger than the son, Ere the bonny boat was one" being "All so younger than the son, Ere the bonny boat was won". The song includes Collin Tilton's tenor saxophone imitating a foghorn blowing, and ends with the words "Too Late to Stop Now" – a phrase he would famously use to conclude concert endings in the 1970s. After a dynamic stop-start ending to "Cyprus Avenue", Morrison would bellow this phrase and then stalk from the stage. This phrase also served as the title to his acclaimed 1974 live album. These lyrics have also been used at the end of "Friday's Child" in his concerts. According to Evans, "Into the Mystic" reconciles Moondance's R&B style with the more orchestrated folk music of Astral Weeks, along with "the complimentary sides of Morrison's psyche".
"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." The song starts with Jef Labes improvising on piano. The two saxophones then split apart, playing different rhythms during the chorus, and come back together for "You gotta rainbow if you run to me". According to Hinton, "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 FM 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'." Ritchie 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 Jef Labes' clavinet 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|||
|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. 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. The album reached the top 30 of the American albums chart, 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, it was certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, having shipped three million copies in the US.
When Moondance was released, it received widespread acclaim from critics. 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." In the San Francisco Chronicle, Ralph J. Gleason 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." Jon Landau found his 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." Robert Christgau, writing for The Village Voice, argued that he had finally fulfilled his potential: "Forget Astral Weeks--this is a brilliant, catchy, poetic, and completely successful LP."
According to Acclaimed Music, Moondance is the 102nd most ranked record in 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 cited it as the peak of Morrison's career and "maybe of non-American soul in general", while Spin called 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. It was packaged in a linen-wrapped folio and a booklet with liner notes written by music journalist Alan Light and Elliot Scheiner, one of the album's original engineers. The deluxe edition 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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