This year marks the 10th anniversary of Van Morrison’s 2000s masterpiece Magic Time, his only album for Geffen Records. “Stranded” is the first and best track from the record, featuring lulling, doo-wop harmonies and a rare performance by Morrison on alto saxophone. Magic Time deserves more accolades than it gets in the music press, and this gorgeous tune is the first reason why that is the case.
6. “Days Like This”
Most know of this title cut hit from Morrison’s 1995 chestnut on account of its placement in a particularly sweet scene from the 1997 Oscar award-winning film As Good As It Gets. But true Van fans consider “Days Like This” a favorite because of its status as one of the singer’s most golden classic R&B turns, highlighted by a money horn section featuring the tenor talents of Pee Wee Ellis, the former saxophonist of longtime Morrison hero James Brown.
5. “Wild Night”
Like David Bowie, Van Morrison has always harbored a penchant for hiring ace guitarists to assist him in the craftsmanship of his catalog. The relationship between the Irish singer and American guitar icon Ronnie Montrose is rarely recognized, even as it’s proven to be one of Van’s most fruitful collaborations. Montrose plays a tasty Stax-like lick against bassist Bill Church’s funky walk, opening Van’s 1971 classic Tupelo Honey with a major boot in the booty.
4. “T.B. Sheets”
The best track off Van’s 1967 solo debut Blowin’ Your Mind is this mercurial near-10 minute blues ramble about the claustrophobic discomfort of being trapped in a sickroom with a young girl dying of tuberculosis. Morrison and Eric Gale form a double six-string fusion virtuoso, creating a barbed slow burn groove that would later be covered by John Lee Hooker and sampled by Ghostface Killah.
Since it screamed out of Northern Ireland a half-century ago, the debut single from Van’s group Them has become a gold standard in the world of garage rock, its maximum R&B growl laying the groundwork for the proto-punk invasion of the mid-‘60s that spawned such legendary acts as The Stooges, MC5, and more. Patti Smith might have might have carjacked it and took it for a joyride on her auspicious 1975 debut Horses, as did scores of other artists and acts these last 50 years. But none sound as definitive as the original coming from the angry, young Them.
2. “Madame George”
Morrison’s second studio album as a solo artist has long been considered one of the most important recordings in pop lore, even though it took Van himself 40 years since its initial release to perform the songs live in concert. And at nearly 10-minutes-long, this alleged tale about a transvestite socialite is the stirring nucleus of Astral’s refined and definitive multi-genre bisque that remains one of the most magnificent and visionary works recorded for a major record label. The vibraphone heavy alternate take on the upcoming Astral Weeks expanded edition is a revelation.
1. “Into the Mystic”
”’Into the Mystic’ is the heart of Moondance,” Lester Bangs once wrote about the musical centerpiece. There is a certain warmth to Van Morrison’s solo music that seems to get to the heart of everything we hold dear in jazz, folk and soul idioms simultaneously. With “Mystic,” he does so in one sprawling, romantic ballad that captures a message of love more effectively than anything in his half-century career. And whether you grew up hearing its mellow gold flow out of your transistor radio over the last 45 years or first experienced it as Jim and Michelle’s first dance song in American Wedding, there is no denying the impact “Mystic” has had on generations of gypsy souls rocked by its soothing sway.