Van Morrison made this album in 1970. I guess you'd call it his third "solo album", though the first one seems to have appeared in manifold guises, thanks to a crooked label honcho.
Now, I never did hear the title track from this one until I was well into my twenties, and when I first heard it... Do you remember Billy Crystal's annoying Saturday Night Live character who said "you look mahvellous" over and over, and over, until you just wanted to crawl through the screen and throttle him? I thought "Moondance" was a novelty record Billy Crystal had made, "in" that character. I couldn't think of any other explanation. "Fantabulous"?! Dear God! When I discovered the awful truth, it scared me away from Van Morrison for a few years, until I heard the rest of he album. Oh, yes, the rest of the album.
Holy crap, this is one hell of a good record.
I was born too late to appreciate the lyrics, I suppose, but they don't really get in the way. What you get for your fifteen bucks is one cheesy dud, one decent song spoiled by a gratuitous harpsichord ("Everyone"), and eight songs worth of absolute glory.
Morrison was drawing on soul and R&B here, mainly, and he learned the right lessons:
The rhythm section matters. Make it move right, get some crack players working with a thoughtful arrangement and a tasty horn chart, and you can't go wrong. It helps to have great songs, but all songs deserve care, discipline, love, some oomph deep in the pocket, and a horn chart.
Those are mostly different ways of saying "do it right because it matters, and don't just go through the motions" (that's an ethic there, not just some good advice about making records). It's a shame that so many slick, dull "professionals" have given "professionalism" a bad name, because professionalism in the best sense is hard to beat: These guys here have the chops to be disciplined, to stay glued to it, and still catch fire. It's a joy to hear.
Of special note is "Come Running", one of those up-tempo Morrison songs in the same vein as the incomparable "Domino". Morrison and the horn section chase each other around the bars, and the groove has a wonderful, odd feel to it. And then again, and again, on all of them: Every one of these songs has a reason to be here. When we say "filler", we don't just mean that a song is lousy. We mean that nobody gave a damn. It's an unloved child. It wasn't cherished and raised right and given the chance to grow its own unique personality. You can always paint by numbers, fill in the obvious clichés, and let it go at that. You can do that not only with the arrangement, but when you're writing the song in the first place. An experiment that fails is less shameful than just cranking out facile bullshit the same way, day after day. There's something diseased and repulsive about people who try to get away with that. That didn't happen with any of these songs.
Sometimes, by chance, when you do everything right, you get inspired, too. It doesn't happen often, not even to Van Morrison. Buy the record. NOW. When Van Morrison is inspired, he is very goddamn inspired.
That title track? I'm not saying he didn't love it and nurture it... It's not filler. I'm just saying it sucks.