January 27 – Van’s Dance Into The Mystic And Acclaim

It’s been called the “blueprint for Blue-eyed soul” as well as the starting point of “soft rock.” Quite a legacy, no matter what your opinion of those two “genres” is (and here, we like both just fine.) There could be debate aplenty as to what record, if any one did, merited such accolades, but definitely Van Morrison‘s Moondance, of which that was said, is a contender. It came out this day in 1970.

Moondance was Van’s third solo album, but second on a big label, Warner Bros., and it came out just over a year after its first, Astral Weeks, to which it seems to always be compared. Astral Weeks had been loved by critics, but generally totally ignored by record buyers, much to both Van and Warner’s dismay. So Van the Man decided to change things up a bit rather than record a direct, folky sequel. He brought in a horn section, wrote some songs that were a bit more upbeat and at times jazz-tinged, and took over producing the record himself. “No one knew what I was looking for except me, so I just did it,” he said about that. “When I go into the studio, I’m a magician. I make things happen.”

He did that with the ten song effort. It was written and recorded in the summer of ’69, a happy time for Van. He was in a state of “domestic bliss” with his first wife Janet. They were living in the Woodstock, New York area (surprisingly he left the area by the record’s release, finding it becoming too busy for him after the famous concert nearby) and taken by the natural beauty of the Appalachians. Many critics have noted how most of the songs seem to touch on the spiritual nature of life and the spirit of nature he was surrounded by.

Of the ten songs, five became “classics”, all of them on Side 1 of the LP version as it happened : “And It Stoned Me”, the title track, “Crazy Love”, “Caravan” and “Into the Mystic.” Curiously, Warner Bros. only put one single out off it, “Come Running”, from Side 2. Years later they’d issue “Moondance” itself out as a 7” when the album’s legacy was growing.

Many “classic” albums are ignored in their own time, but such was not the case with “Moondance.” It was a rare one almost all critics seemed to approve of right away. The Village Voice, for instance, gave it an “A” and told readers to “forget Astral Weeks! This is a brilliant, catchy, poetic and completely successful LP.” Years after that, they’d still think it sucessful, putting it as the seventh best album of the 1970s. Rolling Stone at the time were a bit surprised by its “horn-driven, bass-heavy” sound but still liked it and declared “Caravan” and “Into the Mystic” were songs which “will carry it past many good records we’ll forget in the next few years.”

Perhaps so. To this day, it garners lots of respect and accolades. Rolling Stone, retrospectively, have constantly placed it among the 200 Greatest albums of All-time (most recently #120) applauding its “more structured, less acoustic” sound compared to Astral Weeks and terming it “the blueprint for Blue-eyed Soul.” Time magazine has it listed among its All Time 100 best albums and Ptichfork, giving it 8.5/10 note that “it would solidify Van Morrison as an FM radio mainstay (and) act as a midwife for the burgeoning genre of ‘soft rock’”. British journalist John Tobler, of the NME and other publications declares Van’s singing “charismatic” and adding “the first side of the LP is almost perfect.” Allmusic grade it a perfect 5-stars and suggest “Into the Mystic” is the “quintessential Morrison moment.”

For all those kudos, the public was not as swayed. It did sell much better than Astral Weeks, getting to #29 on the charts in the U.S. and #32 in the UK, but it only made the top 10 in the Netherlands. It sold adequately, but after becoming an FM staple, it kept selling and it’s now his biggest-selling record, being triple platinum in the U.S.

If you want the dance to keep going after its 38 minutes, you have options. Van’s put out 40 studio albums since Moondance.


16 thoughts on “January 27 – Van’s Dance Into The Mystic And Acclaim

  1. That’s pretty high on my list, those songs had amazing staying power. It was likely around 1975 I would have bought that. That first solo effort has some great tunes, he has a lot of them. Always think of him as an album artist.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. This was the only one of his studio albums I ever had (GH aside), back in 80s because I was dating a girl who was a big fan of his. I’m not a huge fan , but I respect him, but like the one reviewer said Side 1 of that Lp is pretty close to perfect. Could be his five best songs in a straight row, in my opinion.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Badfinger (Max)

    Love me some Moondance! His 5-6 albums after Astral Weeks were fantastic and many after that. I love the guy…as difficult as he can be…his voice is like no other. Absolutely the best singer I’ve heard live.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Interesting, best singer you’ve heard live. I agree he’s easily recognizable and to me, a whole lot better than his erstwhile friend Bob Dylan. I don’t mind most of what I hear by him, but don’t really get excited by it either…but the Side 1 of this album really is very very good.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Badfinger (Max)

        Yes…of everyone I’ve seen… live…he is a completely different animal. I was a huge fan but he knocked me out live. I think he was on my top 3 of best voices when I did a post.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. This is truly an album that is a work of art. It is just so good. I was familiar with Moondance because my mother loved it and it was on many eight track or cassette recordings that my dad had made for her to play in the car. When I started DJing weddings on a regular basis, the song was one that a bride and groom used for their wedding song. I didn’t have the album, so I picked it up on cd.

    It was one of those albums that I’ve never heard all the way through until I picked it up and played it in the car. Into The Mystic jumped out of the speakers at me like something I’d never heard before. I would probably have to pick that as my all-time favorite Van Morrison song.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I want to be a Van fan, and I keep trying, but for the most part the songs don’t connect with me. He’s so universally appreciated that I know the problem is me and not him. The exception is ‘Into the Mystic’, which is one of those that the mere mention sends me to Youtube to play it. Way back when, I bought the album just for this song.

    Liked by 1 person

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