Moondance (Van Morrison song)
|Single by Van Morrison|
|from the album Moondance|
|B-side||"Cold Wind in August"|
|Recorded||A & R Studios, August 1969|
|Genre||Soft rock, jazz rock|
|Producer(s)||Van Morrison and Lewis Merenstein|
|Van Morrison singles chronology|
|Moondance track listing|
Morrison did not release the song as a single until November 1977, seven and a half years after the album was released. It reached the Billboard Hot 100, charting at #92. The single's B-side, "Cold Wind in August", had been released in the same year, on his latest album at the time, A Period of Transition.
"Moondance" is the song that is most frequently played by Van Morrison in concert.
Composition and recording
The song is played mostly acoustic, anchored by a walking bass line (played on electric bass by John Klingberg), with accompaniment by piano, guitar, saxophones, and flute with the instruments played with a soft jazz swing. It's a song about autumn, the composer's favorite season. Towards the end of the song, Morrison imitates a saxophone. The song also features a piano solo, played by Jeff Labes, which is immediately followed by an alto saxophone solo by Jack Schroer. The song ends with a trill on the Flute during the cadenza that fades out. Schroer's solo is often noted as one of the most influential saxophone solos in popular music. The scale used in Schroer's "Moondance" solo is A Aeolian (A, B, C, D, E, F, G) or could simply be considered as a C major scale and is played primarily over a D minor to A minor vamp that resolves via a sharp V (♯5 = F7) to natural V (5 = E7♯9) dominant chord.
Music journalist Erik Hage wrote that the significance of the song "lies in its direct jazz approach", expanding that observation with "Astral Weeks had suggestions of jazz, but this song would take the genre head on. It would become Van Morrison's most successful and definitive jazz composition."
“Moondance” was written and developed while Morrison was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He has commented, "With 'Moondance' I wrote the melody first. I played the melody on a soprano sax and I knew I had a song so I wrote lyrics to go with the melody. That's the way I wrote that one. I don't really have any words to particularly describe the song, sophisticated is probably the word I'm looking for. For me, 'Moondance' is a sophisticated song. Frank Sinatra wouldn't be out of place singing that." The guitar player in his band at that time, John Sheldon, remembers that during the summer of 1968, at a rehearsal, the band was fooling around with a Broadway tune called “Lazy Afternoon” released in 1967 in a jazz version by Grant Green. Morrison requested some changes and began singing a melody that would eventually become “Moondance.” 
"Moondance" as originally recorded on the album Moondance is one of the songs on the compilation album, The Best of Van Morrison, released in 1990 and also on the compilation album Still on Top - The Greatest Hits, released in 2007. Several live performances have been released by Morrison on albums over the years.
A medley with "My Funny Valentine" appears on the 1994 live double album A Night in San Francisco, a live be-bop influenced version of the song is on the 1996 album How Long Has This Been Going On, and is performed with Georgie Fame at the Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club. An edit of said version is also included on the 2007 compilation album The Best of Van Morrison Volume 3. Another live version appears on the 2006 limited edition CD Live at Austin City Limits Festival. A previously unreleased live recording of "Moondance", recorded at the Greek Theater in 1986, with a recreation of The Caledonia Soul Orchestra is included on the 2007 compilation album, Van Morrison at the Movies - Soundtrack Hits.
"Moondance" was one of the songs performed on Morrison's first video Van Morrison in Ireland, released in 1981, and it also was performed as a medley with "Fever" for Morrison's second video Van Morrison The Concert, released in 1990. Morrison also released a live version of "Moondance" as the 10th song performed on the 1980 disc of Morrison's DVD released in 2006, Live At Montreux 1980/1974.
The Allmusic reviewer describes "Moondance" as "one of those rare songs that manages to implant itself on the collective consciousness of popular music, passing into the hallowed territory of a standard, a classic."
Biographer John Collis praised the song for being more commercially accessible for most radio stations than a lot of his earlier work. He calls "Moondance" "an important song in the development of Morrison's career, since it indicated to radio station programmers a previously unsuspected versatility. Stations that would never have considered playing, say 'Slim Slow Slider' found that the smooth, jazzy sophistication of 'Moondance' was more to their taste."
"Moondance" was listed as #226 in Rolling Stone magazine's December 2004 feature "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". It is also one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
In popular culture
"Moondance" is one of the moon-themed songs used in An American Werewolf in London, a comedy-horror film released in 1981. It is heard during the sex scene between David Naughton (as David, the young man bitten by a werewolf) and Jenny Agutter (as Alex, his nurse and eventual girlfriend).
The song also plays a role in the 2007 movie August Rush, in which it is sung by Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and played by Wizard (Robin Williams) on the harmonica. The soundtrack also features an instrumental version of the song by Chris Botti.
Actor George Clooney included the song as one of his eight Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 on 23 February 2003. Space scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock also included the song as one of her Desert Island Discs on 7 March 2010.
The song is played in the UK sitcom Peep Show (episode "Big Mad Andy"), as Stephanie sets a romantic mood after her dinner with Mark.
The song is featured in the penultimate episode of the third season of the NBC series The West Wing, "We Killed Yamamoto," which originally aired on 15 May 2002. The song is playing on character Amy Gardner's home stereo during a visit from her boyfriend, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman. Another Van Morrison song, "Caravan," appears in the same episode.
- Van Morrison - vocals, guitar
- John Klingberg - bass guitar
- Jeff Labes - piano
- Gary Mallaber - drums
- John Platania - guitar
- Jack Schroer - alto saxophone
- Collin Tilton - tenor saxophone, flute
There have been many recorded versions of the song and it is also a very popularly performed instrumental band song. "Moondance" is the opening tune on I Feel You, the 2011 album released by Herb Alpert and Lani Hall. Covers by Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Chris Botti were featured on the 2007 movie August Rush. Michael Bublé released a cover on his self-titled album in 2003. Ramsey Lewis and Nancy Wilson covered "Moondance" on the 2002 album Meant to Be. Other covers by notable musicians and entertainers include: Greg Brown, Georgie Fame, Kathie Lee Gifford, Ute Lemper and Will Martin.
Van Morrison on cover versions of the song:
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- Collis, John (1996). Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, Little Brown and Company, ISBN 0-306-80811-0
- Heylin, Clinton (2003). Can You Feel the Silence? Van Morrison: A New Biography, Chicago Review Press, ISBN 1-55652-542-7
- Hage, Erik (2009). The Words and Music of Van Morrison, Praeger Publishers, ISBN 978-0-313-35862-3
- Hinton, Brian (1997). Celtic Crossroads: The Art of Van Morrison, Sanctuary, ISBN 1-86074-169-X