Van Morrison Veedon Fleece

Van Morrison: Five Best Albums

The best albums from Van Morrison's catalogue.

Van Morrison’s voice is an expressive instrument. It combines his Irish heritage with the R&B and jazz that he grew up hearing in Belfast. His exploration of Celtic soul has fuelled his entire career, as he has veered between accessible pop and more enigmatic records. Van Morrison’s first two authorised studio records illustrate this divide; 1968’s Astral Weeks was an expressive song cycle with stream-of-consciousness lyrics, while 1970’s Moondance was a collection of punchy, radio-friendly R&B songs.

Van Morrison kept making interesting music through the 1980s – I lost track after 1991’s Hymns to the Silence, a bloated double album with little innovation. Despite the excellence of records like No Guru, No Method, No Teacher, my favourite Van Morrison albums are all drawn from the 1960s and 1970s.

Van Morrison’s Five Best Studio Albums

#5 – Veedon Fleece


Veedon Fleece was the last album from Van Morrison’s initial run of solo records; subsequently he went into semi-retirement for three years, only emerging to appear in The Band’s The Last Waltz. In some respects, it’s almost the completion of the circle begun with Astral Weeks; returning to Ireland at the end of his marriage, Veedon Fleece is more steeped in acoustic mysticism than any of his releases since Astral Weeks, and it’s similarly loose in feel. It’s also more noticeably more Irish than anything he’d released previously; there’s little R&B here, using more folk-oriented, acoustic instrumentation, and the lyrics reference William Blake and figures from Irish mythology.

#4 – Astral Weeks


The improvised song cycle Astral Weeks is a fascinating record; it sounds different from anything that Van Morrison, or anyone else, has ever created. For adventurous music listeners it’s worth picking up for that reason alone. He’d return to the virtuoso singing, stream-of-consciousness later in his career, like on the second side of Into The Music. Astral Weeks shows it in its purest form, like the epic opener ‘Astral Weeks’ and the celebrated ‘Madame George’.

#3 – Moondance


Astral Weeks showcased the stream-of-consciousness, improvisational side of Van Morrison’s music, Moondance is the converse; based around punchy R&B and concise pop songs. Side one is packed with five outstanding compositions; the title track, where Van plays Sinatra, is the most well known, but ‘Crazy Love’ is pretty, ‘Caravan’ is jaunty, ‘Into The Mystic’ is lovely and esoteric, while ‘And It Stoned Me’ is all of the above.

#2 – Saint Dominic’s Preview


Morrison’s failing marriage informs Saint Dominic’s Preview. The love songs of the “domestic trilogy” (Van Morrison’s three records from 1970 and 1971) are replaced with more eclectic and ambitious material. Saint Dominic’s Preview is the quintessential album of Van Morrison’s early career, covering both punchy R&B pop craft like the opening ‘Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile)’ and artier impulses like the ten minute semi-improvisations that close each side of the original LP.

#1 – Into The Music


Into The Music is a blue-print of the adult contemporary direction than Van Morrison would pursue during the 1980s, but the song writing is so sharp that it’s his best album. It’s slickly produced and loaded with backing vocalists, strings, saxophones, and other adult contemporary paraphernalia, but for these joyous songs the sensory overload approach works beautifully, like being swept away by a wave of intertwined sexual and spiritual power.

These five albums are among Van Morrison’s most well-received, although placing the acclaimed Astral Weeks at #4 is unconventional – it would be a lot stronger without ‘Beside You’ as the second track. Dedicated Van Morrison fans tend to gravitate to his more insular, atmospheric albums like 1980’s Common One and 1986’s No Guru, No Method, No Teacher. My favourite Van Morrison song isn’t drawn from any of those albums – it’s the title track from 1971’s Tupelo Honey.

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  1. You’re top 5 is my top 5 but just in a different order. “Astral Weeks” #1 and one of my top 5 albums by anyone. I don’t think anything he’s done in the past 25 years challenges the top 5 but every album he’s released has some good stuff on it! 1- Astral Weeks 2- Into The Music 3- Veedon Fleece 4- Moondance 5- St. Dominic’s Preview.

    • Cool – there does seem to be consensus with those five on a few things I’ve looked at, although albums like Common One and Tupelo Honey also have their fans.

      I really like Astral Weeks, but find ‘Beside You’ at first drop tough to get through. I really like the live album of it he released in 2008 as well – have you heard that?

      • Yes I like the live Astral Weeks too- I am currently going through the Van catalog again- I am up to the late 1970’s and “Into The Music” is next.

  2. Hard to argue with that list, though I’d have Tupelo Honey in there instead of Into The Music. So, maybe #1 Astral Weeks, #2 Tupelo Honey #3 Saint Dominic’s Preview #4 Moondance #5 VeedonFleece. Maybe!

  3. I have to declare that I must make a concerted effort to listen to more of Van’s music. I love “Moondance” and like “Astral Weeks” but other than that haven’t delved into the rest of his back catalogue

  4. I enjoyed reading this, thanks. A top 5 is very hard to put together from Van but mine in no order as that IS too hard would look like this today: 1. No Guru, No Method, No Teacher; 2. Beautiful Vision; 3. Common One; 4. Into The Music. 5. Poetic Champions Compose: 6. Veedon Fleece. Sorry top 6! Just underneath those would be Astral Weeks and The Healing Game.

    Post ’91 for me, obviously The Healing Game, which is a mighty record backed up with some career highlight reaching live performances, Keep Me Singing which is just a lovely record. In between those Down The Road is probably my favourite.

  5. Veedon Fleece and ITM aside I’m not a huge fan of the 70s albums. St. Dominic’s Preview is probably the closest to a consistently good record for me other than the two above.

  6. Hello, I enjoyed your top 5 of Van’s catalog of work and agree for the most part. I’d only add that with Van it’s often about what mood I’m in as his work is so strong in feeling and “mood”. So yes, when in an upbeat, celebratory mood, there’s not much higher you can go then Into The Music or Moondance. When in a pensive, introspective mood, I agree with others you mentioned like Common One. Astral Weeks tops critics lists, and I can’t argue how unique and astounding it is, given the recording story, but it’s not as accessible for me (don’t hurt me!). In other words, it deserves all respect it’s due, but I don’t listen to it often. Finally, for a recommendation for after 1991 work, I offer What’s Wrong With This Picture? on Blue Note. For me, it is deeply enjoyable for the vibrancy and vitality of Van and his selected musicians on this one. And maybe also the production. The horns are remarkably fresh and vibrant, Van employs sense of humor all over the place, as well as thought provoking sincerity. “Evening In June” is a particular stand out for me – displaying Van’s subtle nuances in an overall pretty tender piece. Anyway, I hope this is interesting and helpful to you and thank you for your list here.

    • Hi Scotty – thanks for writing in! And thanks for the What’s Wrong With This Picture recommendation.

      I appreciated Astral Weeks a bit more after hearing the live version – it’s a bit punchier. I also think ‘Beside You’ as the second track makes the album more difficult than it would be otherwise – take that out and it’s more accessible.

    • Thanks – I’ve fixed that video. He’s pretty consistent in his general vibe – if you dig his stuff, I think there’s a lot to like right through the 1980s as well, and probably further.

    • I think this list is pretty conventional in terms of its 5 choices – the most unusual thing is putting Into The Music at number one. Van Morrison sounded really good with those lush commercial arrangements – had enough voice and personality to shine through.

  7. There is a moment a few minutes in to When The Healing Has Begun when Van starts to whoop with sheer joy (not the most regular thing) and then there is the bit where he slows it down and starts semi-speaking/singing about coming home from a gig and playing some Muddy Waters, and the bit where he bellows “I want you to put on that red dress…”.

    That is why Into The Music is one of my all-time favourites too.

    Another classic Morrison moment for me is half way through Take It Where You Find It on Wavelength, when the melody suddenly changes, an evocative acoustic guitar comes in and the backing singers start to sing “change come over”. Morrison Heaven. Gets me tearful every time.

    • I like Wavelength a lot too – more than I was expecting from its reputation. Although I think Beautiful Vision is probably closer in tone and in quality to Into The Music.

  8. I cannot help but ranking Astral Weeks at the very top of this list and, very likely, somewhere among the three top positions of every list I could ever think of: “it sounds different from anything that Van Morrison, or anyone else, has ever created”. “Lorca” by Tim Buckley belongs to this category but it does not reach my soul as deeply as astral weeks.

    • I find Beside You a pretty tough listen, especially so early in the album. Morrison’s approached it a few times I think, Common One and No Guru…

      I have a bunch of Buckley’s early stuff but haven’t spent enough time with it yet. I’ll get there sometime.

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