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Van Morrison: Favourite Five Albums

Van Morrison

Van Morrison’s voice is an expressive instrument which synthesises his Irish roots with the R&B and jazz that he grew up hearing in Belfast. His exploration of Celtic Soul has effectively fuelled his entire career, as he veered between commercial pop and more uncompromising efforts. Even if his solo career can sometimes feel obstinate and inconsistent, his body of work is uniquely his own, and he should be remembered as a giant of his era; U2 are perhaps his only competition as Ireland’s greatest musical export.

I’ve been working through Van Morrison’s discography this week – while I’ve left many gaps, I’m confident on what my five favourite Van Morrison albums are. So (drumroll please) presenting my five favourite Van Morrison studio albums:

Honourable Mention:
Beautiful Vision (1982):
van-morrison-beautiful-visionBeautiful Vision is one of Van Morrison’s most settled, comfortable albums, like a calmer take on the Into The Music sound, and it’s relatively insular with its low key explorations of spirituality and Irish heritage. Even if he’s sometimes treading water musically, there are plenty of great songs here, and it’s one of his more consistent, most substantial records, even if it’s less adventurous and less universal than his earlier work.

#5 Veedon Fleece (1974)
van-morrison-veedon-fleeceVeedon 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 (1968)
van-morrison-astral-weeksAstral Weeks is a fascinating record; it sounds different from anyone Van Morrison or anyone else has created, and for adventurous music listeners it’s worth picking up for that reason alone. Although Morrison arguably balanced jazzy exploration with more accessible work on subsequent albums like St. Dominic’s Preview and Veedon Fleece, Astral Weeks is his most extreme statement which alone makes it essential as a unique effort in the canon of popular music.

#3 Moondance (1970)
van-morrison-moondanceAstral Weeks showcased the stream-of-consciousness, improvisational side of Van Morrison’s music, Moondance is 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 (1972)
van-morrison-saint-dominics-previewMorrison’s failing marriage informs his music on Saint Dominic’s Preview. The love songs of the “domestic trilogy” are replaced with more eclectic and ambitious material. Saint Dominic’s Preview is perhaps 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 (1979)
van-morrison-into-the-musicInto 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.

While these five albums tend to be among his most well recognised, putting the acclaimed Astral Weeks at #4 is probably unconventional. Hardcore Van Morrison fans tend to gravitate to his more insular 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:

More coverage of Van Morrison here: https://albumreviews.blog/reviews/van-morrison/

Do you have a favourite Van Morrison album? Or a favourite song? Should I be checking out his post 1991 career?

19 thoughts on “Van Morrison: Favourite Five Albums Leave a comment

  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.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 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?

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      • 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.

        Liked by 1 person

  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!

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  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

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 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.

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