Van Morrison’s 50 Greatest Songs

the uniqueness of his vision is rooted in experiences that are common ones. He has freely admitted in song and in conversation that he doesn’t feel the need to know exactly what he is doing in the moment of creativity, or what the `meaning’ of such work might be, … As he once sang, `Enlightenment, don’t know what it is. Thus he is on a journey of discovery, down the road, and each fresh moment of performance has the potential to unlock another aspect not only of the song but of the experience that feeds and informs any given performance of it. As Morrison said in an interview for the BBC in 2006, `I don’t want to just sing a song … anyone can do that … something else has got to happen. He also noted that the moments of achievement or of breakthrough are fleeting glimpses (or we might say `beautiful visions, revealed then clouded over once more): `it’s momentary release … the minute it stops, it’s gone. It is this kind of detail which should give us pause to consider Morrison’s work..
–> Peter Mills (Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison)

To create this list we first created our individual top 50 lists and then merged them together. In order to make the final list more interesting and diverse, we restricted our individual lists to include a maximum of 4 songs from any album.
-Egil & Hallgeir

Spotify playlists at the end of the post.





#1 Madame George
Producer: Lewis Merenstein
Album: Astral Weeks (1968)
‘Madame George’ is a whirlpool of emotion and remembrance, of melancholy, joy and empathy. It’s like a beautiful dream that takes you back to a place of innocence and freedom and purity and possibility. Listening to ‘Madame George’ you can hear, you can even smell, those vast blue-sky days of your childhood. ‘Madame George’ is potent music. It’s the eye of Astral Weeks, an album that has been equalled but never bettered. … ‘Madame George’ is thick with atmosphere. The claustrophobia of Madame George’s house, the free air of the kids skipping stones and then it leads up to the coda where Morrison goes into a trance scatting “the love that loves to love” and he’s completely lost into that place beyond words, floating on Davis’ liquid bass lines. Neither Van Morrison nor anyone else has found their way back there.
–> Toby Creswell (1001 Songs. Hardie Grant Publishing)

As Van moved through the songs of Astral Weeks, challenging a rock and roll beat in “Brown-Eyed Girl,” hitting a rave-up with “Sweet Thing,” Van grooving with the bass player, the crowd warmed to him and began to wait, with excitement and patience, for “Madame George,” the most powerful piece of music ever to come from Van Morrison. It’s a story—Van’s words and his voice provide the scary beauty and the instruments the drama. It’s out of Ireland, this song, and in a way it’s something like the childhood tales of Dylan Thomas in Portrait of the Artist As A Young Dog, stories of a child entering into a strange world of adults that can be trusted but cannot be understood. Van moved through the song slowly, getting into it, his singing strong­er with each line, until, gone from Ma­dame George now, he sang his finest verses, a child remembering what childhood meant:

And you know you gotta go
Round that train from Dublin
up the sandy road
Throwing pennies on the bridges down below
Say goodbye to Madame George

It ended softly, Van just whispering with all he had, holding unto the words until the time was right: “The train, the train, get on the train, say goodbye, goodbye…”
–> Greil Marcus (San Francisco Express Times, February 25, 1969)





#2 Into the Mystic
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Moondance (1970)
“Into the Mystic” is the heart of Moondance; the music unfolds with a classic sense of timing, guitar strums fading into watery notes on a piano, the bass counting off the pace. The lines of the song and Morrison’s delivery of them are gorgeous: “I want to rock your gypsy soul/Just like in the days of old/And magnificently we will fold/Into the mystic.” The transcendent purity of the imagery seems to turn endlessly, giving back one’s own reflection.
–> Lester Bangs/Greil Marcus (rollingstone.com)

“Into the Mystic” is one of Morrison’s warmest ballads, an Otis Redding-style reverie with acoustic guitar and horns. The lyrics are truly mysterious: “People say, ‘What does this mean?’ ” said Morrison. “A lot of times I have no idea what I mean. That’s what I like about rock & roll — the concept. Like Little Richard — what does he mean? You can’t take him apart; that’s rock & roll to me.”
–> Rolling Stone Magazine (500 Greatest Songs)

The exception was the ethereal “Into the Mystic,” the only song on the album that might have fit on Astral Weeks. The song has an easy groove, beginning with acoustic guitar and including isolated horn and string charts, as Morrison evokes a sailor’s pledge to come home from the sea to his lover and “rock [her] gypsy soul.” Typical for Morrison, however, the story line is sketchy and, in any case, less important than the mood.
–> William Ruhlmann (allmusic.com)





#3 And it stoned me
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Moondance (1970)
“I suppose I was about 12 years old. We used to go to a place called Ballystockart to fish. We stopped in the village on the way up to this place and I went to this little stone house, and there was an old man there with dark weather-beaten skin, and we asked him if he had any water. He gave us some water which he said he’d got from the stream. We drank some and everything seemed to stop for me. Time stood still. For five minutes everything was really quiet and I was in this ‘other dimension’. That’s what the song is about.”
– Van Morrison

“And It Stoned Me‘ seems to strongly evoke atmospheres within the outside world which reflect the internal life, so that the happiness and joyousness of life felt by the boys in the song somehow brings about the events of the song. The kindness of the old man who gives them the bottles of drink from his great big gallon j ar, the good fortune of the pick-up truck being hailed, and stopping, at the last minute, the wish that it won’t rain all day, followed by `Then the rain let up, and the sun came up’ – there is an atmosphere of harmoniousness niousness and correspondence between desire and experience which is free and uncluttered, undenied and undeniable. These moments may be mistaken as the natural order but are also celebrated and noticed as rare and special: ‘And it stoned me to my soul’ They are not like other special events we notice, but just like Jelly Roll (i.e. analogous to the joy of listening to music) and just like going home (a key desire of the blues idiom, and certainly of Morrison’s own repertoire). Thus the everyday, the easily overlooked, the oft-repeated experience ence is revealed as a continuously flowing source of something marvellous.”
– Peter Mills – Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison (2010)





#4 Summertime in England
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Common One (1980)

Here, what dazzles about `Summertime In England’ is the way its tempo, lyrical focus and musical dynamics shift gear with an inner logic, like the light on a hillside as the sun is covered then revealed by fast-shifting clouds, and feeling just as natural, unforced and unstoppable.
In this way the song reflects a tradition much older than popular song as we recognise it, and one curiously anomalous within it – the pastoral. This, historically cally speaking, is a tradition of a kind of poetic writing which evokes life lived in the open, reflecting the seasons, the rhythms of nature and the natural world more strongly than those of man-made chronologies which were themselves a kind of nineteenth-century invention, `railway time and all. The nineteenth- century hortatory writers such as John Ruskin, that great aesthete, moralist and one of the first advocates of the mystical qualities of the English Lake District, were concerned that the industrial revolution and the shift to the cities by great numbers of the population meant that they lived their lives enclosed, away from the light, and that they would therefore lose touch with the rhythms of the seasons and an understanding of natural rather than man-made time. We note that the last lines of `Summertime In England’ ask as whether we can `feel the light in England’ as well as `the silence; it is this kind of consciousness which infuses Common One as a through-composition collection and `Summertime In England’ in particular as its absolute centrepiece.
–> Peter Mills (Hymns to the Silence – Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison)





#5 Caravan
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Moondance (1970)
“I could hear the radio like it was in the same room. I don’t know how to explain it … How can you hear someone’s radio from a mile away, as if it was playing in your own house? So I had to put that into the song – it was a must.”
– Van Morrison

“This celebratory shot of Van Morrison-style R&B is as infectious as it is joyous, with scores of horns pumping memorable melody lines to Morrison’s soulful vocal. The lithe mid-tempo groove is buoyed by rolling, rhythmic piano, acoustic guitar accents, and a bouncing bass line with the end of each verse punctuated by syncopated burst, with punching horns matching Morrison’s jubilant “La, la, la’s.””
– Tom Maginnis (Allmusic)

“Caravan, with its plea to the “barefoot Gypsy player round the campfire sing and play”, and its exhortations to “turn it up, little bit higher radio”, seems to nod to how technology has particularly altered the relationship between travelling and music. Once we had the troubadour going from town to town, singing tales of love. Now the radio has become our troubadour of sorts.”
– Laura Barton (The Guardian)





#6 T.B. Sheets
Producer: Bert Berns
Album: Blowin’ Your Mind! (1967)
“`TB Sheets’ is 9.36 of pure performed claustrophobia and clammy, cold, white-hot panic. Randy Newman referred to this song as one of his favourite vocal performances, referring to the `early great acting job he [Morrison] did on that song”‘ In this Newman opens up a question as to the nature of performance itself, live or in the studio, but it is beyond dispute that `acting job’ or not Morrison’s performance on and of `TB Sheets’ here is something unlike almost anything else you’ll hear.”
– Peter Mills – Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison (2010)

“Here is a Dickensian tale of death and decay in a big city. Organ and drums go free form, then a stately groove, fitting Van’s voice like a garrote, led by nagging lead guitar. Van’s harmonica hurts the ear, then he’s like a terrier, lecturing his girlfriend, ‘Julie,’ about it not being natural her staying awake at night, dying.”
– Brian Hinton – Celtic Crossroads: The Art of Van Morrison (1997)





#7 Astral Weeks
Producer: Lewis Merenstein
Album: Astral Weeks (1968)
Back in 1966, Morrison visited the Belfast, Ireland, home of his friend, painter Cecil McCartney. He’d been working on some paintings themed around astral projection, and they caught the singer’s eye; he’d go on to translate the visuals into a song.
When it came time to audition some material for producer Lewis Merenstein at Ace Recording Studio in Boston, Morrison pulled out a tune he’d written around that “astral” theme. “If I ventured in the slipstream / Between the viaducts of your dreams,” he began.
“My whole being was vibrating,” Merenstein later remembered in 2008. “I knew he was being reborn. It was just stunning, and I knew I wanted to work with him in that moment.”
On record, the song climbs and climbs, egged on by Richard Davis’ limbic, octave-leaping bass. By the end, Morrison’s finds the “other side”: “In another time / In another place,” he whispers from his cosmic destination.
Like Gustave Doré’s famous wood engraving The Saintly Throng in the Shape of a Rose, in which Dante and Beatrice behold a blinding vision of paradise, “Astral Weeks” is a gateway into a beatific zone, “way up in the heaven.”
–> Morgan Enos (Astral Weeks – A Track-by-Track Look at Its Unearthly Beauty – billboard.com)





#8 Wild Night
Producer: Van Morrison, Ted Templeman
Album: Tupelo Honey (1971)
“Recorded live in the studio (as all Morrison’s albums are), it sounds intricately layered, highly sophisticated by 2007’s standards, like speeded-up Steely Dan meets Allen Toussaint. It’s fluid but meticulous; ultra-rehearsed but effortless. It promises a party to come.”
– David Cavanagh on Wild Night (Uncut Magazine)

“Is this night wild because of what it holds in store – the perfection of a moment when “all the girls walk dressed up for each other / And the boys do the boogie-woogie on the corner of the street” – or because it’s already blowing up a gale while Van strolls aimlessly in the downpour and recalls, or tries to, how it once was, how he wishes it could be again, how it might be if he only knew how to get in touch with the feeling he had back when he was part of it, not just one of those people who “stare in wild wonder” without really comprehending the magnificence of all that street life?
Structurally, this is hippie soul, right down to the soprano sax solo, but unlike all those Woodstock-to-Martin funk hopefuls, Morrison has the stuff to pull it off, not only because his singing is the ideal blend of blarney and blues, but because his spirit and vision demand both the brightest and the darkest images that can be found.”
– Dave Marsh (The Heart of Rock & Soul – the 1001 Greatest singles ever made, 1989)





#9 Streets of Arklow
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Veedon Fleece (1974)
“…Veedon Fleece is a masterpiece, one that feels like an attempt to be Astral Weeks on side one and Moondance on side two, an audacious ambition if ever there was one. Its first side is perhaps the best 25 minutes of music he ever assembled (Fair Play, Linden Arden Stole the Highlights, Who Was That Masked Man?, Streets of Arklow, You Don’t Pull No Punches But You Don’t Push the River)…”
– Ross Palmer (Songs from so deep)

This sense of exile in one’s own land is further pursued in `Streets Of Arklow‘. It delves deeper again into the established mood, opening with lugubrious, ominous nous rhythms and acoustic guitar picking. Given this beginning, we might not expect a lyric of refreshment and willing abandonment to the moment, yet that is to some extent what we get, despite the music and the lyrics not duplicating each other’s mood exactly. This is at one level a song of joy coming out of darkness ness -And the morning, coming on to dawn’ – but it does not necessarily sound like it. The slow, thoughtful tread of the music matches the cautious mood of the lyric as the song develops, and the light slowly illuminates the scene, the flooding of the land with light mirrored in their own internal awakening of a kind: ‘And our souls were cleaned, and the grass did grow. This duality, being aware of the physical and the metaphysical realms, sees both benefiting from the return of the light, and furthermore demystifies both, placing them on a plane of natural order.
– Peter Mills. Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison (2010)





#10 Cyprus Avenue
Producer:Lewis Merenstein
Album: Astral Weeks (1968)
Van Morrison’s 1968 album Astral Weeks has long been considered one of the greatest recordings of the rock era, and “Cyprus Avenue” is its central song. Like the other songs on Astral Weeks, it has an unusual musical arrangement. Built out of a basic blues structure, it features Morrison on acoustic guitar, Richard Davis on acoustic bass, a flute, a harpsichord, and strings. Davis improvises like the jazz musician he is, and the harpsichord and strings, which are overdubs arranged by conductor Jimmy Fallon, follow his lead, adding their own lines instead of merely supporting the melody. The result is a chamber-music hybrid of folk-blues, jazz, and classical music, and over it Morrison sings a meditative memory lyric about his adolescence in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Cyprus Avenue is a residential street in that city, not far geographically, but a considerable distance economically, from the working-class Hyndford Street where Morrison grew up. ..
–> William Ruhlmann (song review @ allmusic.com)

This is a song about being trapped, ‘conquered in a car seat’, and reduced to tortured silence, just like in (the song) ‘T.B. Sheets’. The need for innocence in the earlier song is now equated to going crazy though the vision which then unfolds is out of time, and sexless. His dream lady in her antique carriage is only fourteen years old. Van’s singing is totally possessed, moving from choked desire to exultation to hushed wonder.
–> Brian Hinton (Celtic Crossroads – The Art of Van Morrison)





#11 You Don’t Pull No Punches, but You Don’t Push the River
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Veedon Fleece (1974)
“Morrison’s most accomplished composition to date, an experimental peak which took a step beyond even his most ambitious work.”
– Johnny Rogan (author)

“You Don’t Pull No Punches, but You Don’t Push The River” is “the mesmerising nine-minute centrepiece” of Veedon Fleece.
– Jason Anderson (the Uncut Ultimate Music Guide: Van Morrison)

“In 1974, on the hypnotizing “You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push the River,” Morrison was searching for the Veedon Fleece—what he named the album the song came from—and no one has ever figured out what that was. The Veedon Fleece seemed to float above the churning music, which soon enough—a lift from an acoustic guitar, a piano thinking it over even as the boat is untied, drums on the offbeat, a flute as second mind, strings as a single rhythm instrument—was that river itself. There was a feeling caught in Once Upon a Time in the West, not even the movie, merely the title; suspense rose like a cloud. “The real soul people, the real soul people,” Morrison chanted, pointing toward “the west coast,” though he didn’t say of what; as he summoned William Blake and the Eternals they were a band, just as the Sisters of Mercy he called for would become one, and together they sought the Veedon Fleece, but now the bridge was underwater, every shape shifting as you tried to see your way to the bottom. The nearly nine minutes of the song went by like wind.”
– Greil Marcus – When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison (2010)





#12 Saint Dominic’s Preview
Producer: Ted Templeman, Van Morrison
Album: Saint Dominic’s Preview (1972)
“The song was stirring. It was exhilarating. The singer’s commitment to his every word passed over to the listener even if the listener had never wasted a thought on Northern Ireland; there was a sense of engaging with the world on your own terms. As the scene shifted from Belfast to San Francisco to New York, shifted in phrases that barely made more narrative than a single word, as the story went from people being shot down in one street to people looking away from others as they walked down another to a rock ’n’ roll singer at a party to promote his new album, what could have been felt as a slide from the profound to the trivial remained a story that stayed on its feet, that surrendered not a single measure of moral right from one side of the story to the other. When the song ended, you could feel you’d been around the world.”
–> Greil Marcus (When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison)

“..by some distance, the densest and most allusive songs on the record and one of the most striking in the Morrison canon.
…. So, how would I interpret the song? As a series of largely autobiographical shards from a young man who has travelled the world and achieved a great deal, but doesn’t feel nearly as settled or satisfied as people might expect. If the writer was ten years older one might say that it was a song of incipient midlife crisis – but he had already packed a lot into his life and his homeland was on the brink of civil war so maybe that is still an apt description. There is a kaleidoscope of memories and impressions and an attempt to corral them within a framing vision; a look forward to (or a preview of) a hoped-for time when things will be calmer and make more sense.”
–> Peter Wrench (Saint Dominic’s Flashback: Van Morrison’s Classic Album, Forty Years On)





#13 In The Garden
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986)
“There’s a song on the album called ‘In the Garden‘ where I take you through the meditation program. From about half way through the song until the end. But I take you through a definite meditation process, which is a form of transcendental meditation. It’s not TM. So forget about that. That takes you right from the middle to the end. and if you listen to the thing carefully, you should have gotten yourself some sort of tranquillity by the time you get to the end. So when this happens in the song, I say, ‘And I turn to you and I said, ‘No Guru, No Method, No Teacher. Just you and I and nature, and the Father and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” So really – you have to do the whole line to know what it means.”
– Van Morrison (interview Mick Brown)

“In The Garden” is one of his great songs. He started playing and we rolled in and came up with parts really quickly. I found it really close to what he was saying on Astral Weeks and Veedon Fleece. I had the same feeling while I was doing it, because it was all coming off the phrasing and the lyrics. That’s what you have to do with him, follow the words and the voice. On that album he was as connected to that space as he had ever been.
– David Hayes, Bass (Uncut Magazine)





#14 Tir na nog
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986)
The second side of the album begins with “Tir Na Nog,” another track full of imagery, mysticism and mystery. It speaks of reincarnation, spirituality and destiny, the strings reflecting Morrison’s voice, as he creates a sense of yearning, of wanting to stay forever young. ‘Tir Na Nog’ is the Irish mythological ‘land of the young’.
–> Alan Ewart (soundofsummer.org)

“Tir Na Nog’ is the Irish mythological land of eternal youth, another kind of garden. Through love, one recaptures the child within. There is another echo of Astral Weeks, the line about “you kissed mine eyes”, along with a soulful cello. A strange song which gets odder the closer you look at it, with all kinds of faiths and mythologies packed in. It is like one of those pilgrimages that Seamus Heaney write about in ‘Station Island’, climbing a mountain on one’s knees.
–> Brian Hinton (Celtic Crossroads – The Art of Van Morrison )

Thankfully, “Tir Na Nog” – named for the realm of everlasting youth and beauty in Irish folklore – extends that state of grace for a further seven minutes. With its “Ballerina”-style string arrangement, it’s another moment that risks paling next to Morrison’s greatest triumphs, but actually deserves a similar degree of veneration.
–> Jason Anderson (The Ultimate Music Guide – Van Morrison)





#15 Troubadours
Producer: Van Morrison, Mick Glossop
Album: Into the Music (1979)
Three other songs on the first side all allude to Morrison’s spiritual journey. ‘Stepping out Queen’, ‘Troubadours’ and ‘You Make Me Feel So Free’ are all superb positive anthems, full of joy the piano, flute, violin and brass, all adding texture and feel. As always though it is Morrison’s vocal that pulls it all together, ensuring it makes sense. He is famous for his phrasing and timing and even a casual listen of this album shows why.
– The Sounds of Summer

“Troubadours” is a rather unique ballad with instrumentation that includes fanfare, flutes, and violin all over Jordan’s simple piano and the bass rhythms of David Hayes.
– ClassicRockReviews





#16 Tupelo Honey
Producer: Van Morrison, Ted Templeman
Album: Tupelo Honey (1971)

`Tupelo Honey’ is a slow-dripping declaration of love, free of the murk of the blues – the gentleness and determinedly non-blues tone of Morrison’s vocal flags up the coming of the otherworldly falsetto which emerged on `Warm Love and Veedon Fleece. It feels like a country song, yet if we listen we find no pedal steel, and the languid yet busy drum pattern is closer to a jazz skitter. Vibes settle gently on the offbeat, and Morrison’s acoustic guitar runs anticipate his 80s style. Approaching the first climax of the song, an extended improvisation around the chorus, which drops down back into a repetition of the first verse with one of Morrison’s characteristic mispronunciations, dropping ping `Chyneaer’ from the line, his singing of the line `She’s as sweet as Tupelo Honey’ from 5.35-43 is the emotional heart of the song. This is the place the song has been building up to, or earning access to, and the rest of the tune is an exploration of that moment, once reached.
–> Peter Mills (Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison)





#17 Bulbs
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Veedon Fleece (1974)
“Of course, the best and most immediately memorable song on Veedon Fleece is “Bulbs“. Coming about as close to laying down a groove as he does on the album, the song quickly makes dust of its acoustic start, leaping headstrong into a Waylon Jennings’ style bass-roll, rump heavy and plush, pianos shimmering and fingerdense.”
– Derek Miller (Stylus Magazine)

“There are a string of brilliant short, sharp and sweet Van Morrison songs – Crazy Love, Glad Tidings, Domino, Jackie Wilson Said, Warm Love to name but a few – but one overlooked and enigmatic gem is Bulbs, which features Morrison’s singing, growling and tr-la-la-ing to fine effect. John Platania’s guitar playing is sweetness itself and the song also comes from the album Veedon Fleece, which Morrison said was the favourite of his own works alongside Astral Weeks.”
– MC (The Telegraph)





#18 And The Healing Has Begun
Producer: Van Morrison, Mick Glossop
Album: Into the Music (1979)

And The Healing Has Begun’ iş the central song here, and perhaps in Morrison’s whole career. It starts just like ‘Cyprus Avenue’, no coincidence as the line about “songs from way back when” hints, and with a walk down the avenue (of dreams), to the sound of a haunted violin. A song of full, blazing sex as well as revelation. The healing here is like that in Arthurian myth, the wounded King restored through the action of the Grail, but it is also through as graphic a seduction, almost, as the original live version of ‘Gloria’. Van even names the drinks and musical accompaniment – Muddy Waters of course.
Talking later to Dermot Stokes of Hot Press, Van goes into ancient teachings he is resurrecting here: “In the old days if someone was sick, they’d get a harp and play a chord for a certain thing – to heal this affliction or whatever. And these teachings are still floating around in various religious sects. They’ve been lost but you can still dig them out.” Largely due to the work of the likes of Morrison, these ancient techniques are very much part of the contemporary “healing arts” movement. My own local hospital in Southampton now employs a musician to play to sick children, and help their recovery, through sounds of joy.
–> Brian Hinton (Celtic Crossroads – The Art of Van Morrison)





#19 Full Force Gale
Producer: Van Morrison, Mick Glossop
Album: Into the Music (1979)
“Essentially a brisk pop tune, Morrison sings it with great fervour and commitment, delivering simple couplets such as ‘In the gentle evening breeze/In the whispering shady trees/I will find my sanctuary in the Lord’ with immense skill. The arrangement is also magnificent, with the fiddle part a particular joy…Into the Music is one of Van Morrison’s finest albums, and ‘Full Force Gale’ is arguably its finest track. “Full Force Gale” is one of the finest flat-out, good time pop songs that Van Morrison has ever wrote, and is a true testament to his new found faith.
– P.G. Ward (allmusic)

‘Full Force Gale’ has the cheerful punch of the best gospel singing, and sees Van ‘lifted up by the Lord’ … as with Wordsworth, the divine is perceived not through religious teachings but through nature … “
-Brian Hinton – Celtic Crossroads: The Art of Van Morrison (1997)





#20 Listen To The Lion
Producer: Ted Templeman, Van Morrison
Album: Saint Dominic’s Preview (1972)
Across 11 minutes, he [Morrison] sings, chants, moans, cries, pleads, shouts, hollers, whispers, until finally he breaks away from language and speaks in Irish tongues, breaking away from ordinary meaning until he has loosed the lion inside himself. He begins to roar: he has that sound, that yarrrrragh, as he has never had it before. He is not singing it, it is singing him.
–> Greil Marcus (greilmarcus.net)

Listen to the Lion has almost no words, just the phrase ‘Listen to the Lion inside of me’…He sings the phrases like an incantation, sometimes desperate and longing for love and at other times boasting of the power of his passion; and then at other times he sings in despair that these emotions have brought him nothing but ruin. He doesn’t need to speak, there’s nothing more to be said, but to let yourself drift off beyond the words and the narratives and just feel the rush and the pause and savour those moments.
–> Toby Creswell (1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time and the Artists, Stories and Secrets Behind Them)





#21 Moondance
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Moondance (1970)
…the significance of the song “lies in its direct jazz approach…Astral Weeks had suggestions of jazz, but this song would take the genre head on. It would become Van Morrison’s most successful and definitive jazz composition.
– Erik Hage (The Words and Music of Van Morrison, 2009)

“Moondance” was belabored over in the studio, attempted dozens of times in different tempos and styles before finding its sweet spot. “It’s so strong you almost can’t mess with it,” said musician Jef Labes of the track that has become the official anthem of your cousin dancing with his new bride at their wedding. Morrison was especially proud of this new “sophisticated” composition, noting that even Frank Sinatra could perform it.”
-Ryan H. Walsh (Pitchfork)





#22 Linden Arden Stole the Highlights
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Veedon Fleece (1974)

Aside from being one of the best-ever Morrison song titles, ‘Linden Arden Stole The Highlights’ is also one of his most haunting compositions. Shadowed by a piano and covered by strings, Morrison tells of Linden Arden (outlaw? rebel? hero?) and his time spent taking the law into his own hands. Morrison truly lets rip on this short song, and the song’s last line: “living with a gun”, usher in ‘Who Was That Masked Man’ a rather weaker variant of ‘Linden Arden..’.
–> Patrick Humphries (The Complete Guide to the Music of Van Morrison)





#23 Gloria
Producer: Dick Rowe
Album: The Angry Young Them (1965)

Into the heart of the beast … here is something so good, so pure, that if no other hint of it but this record existed, there would still be such a thing as rock and roll … Van Morrison’s voice a fierce beacon in the darkness, the lighthouse at the end of the world. Resulting in one of the most perfect rock anthems known to humankind.
– Paul Williams (Rock and Roll: The 100 Best Singles, 1993)





#24 Coney Island
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Avalon Sunset (1989)

With “Coney Island” we are back in lush pastures, all harps, strings and mournful French horn. Yet instead of drifting into the ether, Morrison delivers a wry prose poem hymning the pleasures of bird-watching, autumn sunshine and pottered herring along the coast of County Down (a boyhood haunt). It’s an earthly idyll whose final line. “Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?” urges us to get a little more paradise in our lives. A two-minute gem.
–> Neil Spencer (The Ultimate Music Guide – Van Morrison – UNCUT Magazine)





#25 Vanlose Stairway
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Beautiful Vision (1982)

It is one of my favourite Morrison songs, a perfect ball of love and desire, belief and rock’n’roll, and, perhaps more oddly, one of the most frequently performed songs at his shows. Peter Mills, in Hymns to the Silence, refers to it as “this dark horse of a song” – a way to describe the surprising appeal of a song that was never a hit, but has proved compelling to many… Vanlose Stairway, that dark horse of a song, perhaps it is simply the strange and beautiful majesty of finding the Gita, and the Cochran, and the moonlight, in the pale brick, small balcony, and broad, blank windows of an ordinary apartment block in Copenhagen.
– Laura Barton (The Guardian, 2011)





#26 It’s All In The Game/You Know What They’re Writing About
Producer: Van Morrison, Mick Glossop
Album: Into the Music (1979)

The album ends with one of Morrison’s great feats of interpretation. Taking crooner Tommy Edvards’ 1958 hit, “It’s all in the game”, as a mere sketch for a masterpiece, he embarks on an 11-minute act of exploration (the unedited studio version apparently lasted a full half-hour). Incorporating his own improvised refrain, “You Know What They’re Writing About”, it’s a vaulting exercise in musical telepathy, the entire band locked in tight, following each twist as Morrison takes a stately love song by the scruff of the neck and turns it into a jubilant, spontaneous hymn to love itself. By the end of it all, he is lost in the transformation. The song, and the album, slips away in a muted symphony of sighs and whispers. Having travelled so deeply into the music, Morrison has finally emerged on the other side, ready for the next journey – into the silence.
–> Graeme Thomson (The Ultimate Music Guide – Van Morrison – UNCUT Magazine)





#27 Dark Night Of The Soul
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Three Chords & the Truth (2019)

First single “Dark Night Of The Soul” is classic Van Morrison — a lovely and organic six-minute ramble about depression. It sounds like it was recorded live, even if it wasn’t, and it shows that Morrison’s incredible voice is still in fine form.
– Tom Breihan (Stereogum)

“Dark Night of the Soul” references the metaphorical spirituality and hypnotic musicality that informed his records between 1980’s Common One and 1991’s Hymns to the Silence.
– Thom Jurek (allmusic)





#28 Warm Love
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Hard Nose the Highway (1973)
“Next is the ingratiatingly melodic ‘Warm Love’, which embodies in all its details a sensuous appreciation of life and music.”
– Stephen Holden (Rolling Stone Magazine)

Although it marks a decline from the astonishing run of five great albums Van Morrison had made from 1968 through 1972, Hard Nose the Highway is still a respectable, if uneven, effort, notably containing “Snow in San Anselmo” (which features the Oakland Symphony Chamber Chorus) and “Warm Love.”
– William Ruhlmann (Allmusic)





#29 A Sense of Wonder
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: A Sense Of Wonder (1985)

Among Morrison’s finest songs of the decade, it’s a metaphysical meditation which moves from the esoteric (“You may call my love Sophia, I call my love philosophy,”) to the deeply personal. Unfolding languidly over seven minutes, it returns Morrison once again to a vividly reimagined Belfast childhood. Working towards a mood of ecstatic nostalgia, the singer summons up humdrum memories and elevates them to the epiphanic: “Pastie suppers down at Davey’s chipper/Gravy rings, barmbracks, Wagon Wheels, Snowballs… a sense of wonder.”
In contrast to the album’s otherwise polite, familiar blend of soul, jazz and R’n’B, “A Sense of Wonder” features Irish folk-rock collective Moving Hearts, led by bouzouki wizard Donal Lunny and Uilleann piper David Spillane. ..
–> Graeme Tomson, The Ultimate Music Guide – Van Morrison (UNCUT Magazine)





#30 I’ve been working
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: His Band and the Street Choir (1970)

“His music is rooted in the era just before James Brown changed the rhythmic rules. Morrison’s hardly devoid of groove: “I’ve Been Working,” from 1970’s His Band and the Street Choir, chugs so hard that a producer named Rayko turned it into a disco edit; a pair of ten-minute run-throughs of the same song from the 2013 box of Moondance outtakes burn like contemporary James Brown”
– Michaelangelo Matos (NPR – about the version on “It’s too late to stop now”)





#31 Domino
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: His Band and the Street Choir (1970)
A punchy affair, with words that mean little, though threatening the whole feelgood thrust of the album… The music is something else again, toughly joyful, with an early Van hymn of praise to the radio…
–> Brian Hinton (Celtic Crossroads – The Art of Van Morrison)

As befits hits, “Domino” and especially “Blue Money” are more celebratory if no more joyous than anything on Moondance, showing off his loose, allusive white r&b at its most immediate.
–> Robert Christgau (http://robertchristgau.com)

“Domino” is his highest charting single. The funky guitar lick, left-hand piano rumbling, driving, Memphis-style horns, and pumping bassline kick things off in grand party style.
–> Thom Jurek (allmusic.com)





#32 Hard Nose The Highway
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Hard Nose the Highway (1973)

“Hard Nose the Highway is psychologically complex, musically somewhat uneven and lyrically excellent. Its surface pleasures are a little less than those of St. Dominic’s Preview and a great deal less than those of Tupelo Honey, while its lyric depths are richer and more accessible than those of either predecessor. The major theme of Hard Nose is nostalgia, briefly but firmly counter-pointed by disillusion.”
– Stephen Holden(1973 Rolling Stone magazine)





#33 Fair Play
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Veedon Fleece (1974)

In album opener `Fair Play, he uses a strange, back-of-the-throat style, which brings a kind of watery, melancholic smile to the tone of his voice. The key lyrics in this song are, unexpectedly, `architecture, `Geronimo’ and the line `only one meadow’s way to go. That `o’ sound is central to the slow wisdom of this performance, formance, the voice possessed of sensual openness which is also at one remove from the appetites and rhythmic diktats of the body. The voice does not simply suggest or reflect this state of temperate bliss, it somehow is it. Thus the appeal to the mind offered and requested by `Tell me of Poe / Oscar Wilde and Thoreau’ is also physically slow and sensuous. He doubles `mystery’ (2.12) and at 2.38-45 allows the word `dream’ to slide into a soft mist of sound, as he does on the `love that loves to love section of `Madame George.
–> Peter Mills. Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison





#34 You make me feel so free
Producer: Van Morrison, Mick Glossop
Album: Into the Music (1979)

“Van was having a good time making the record. It felt like a new beginning. It was cut in about four days, all live, but he worked a little bit more on the arrangements with us. We even did a couple of days’ rehearsing in a hall.”
– David Hayes, bass (to Uncut magazine)

“Van enjoyed having a few English people around, he likes that humour. He can be a very funny guy.”
– Peter Van Hooke, drums (to Uncut magazine)





#35 Orangefield
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Avalon Sunset (1989)

Orangefield hits a familiar theme, the purity of young love back in Ulster days, and lyric doesn’t elaborate much, but Morrison is in strident, inspired voice and he ladles on arrangements to match; thumping drums, banging grand piano, torrents of strings. Although retrospective, the lyric insists that the singer “loves you now in Orangefield”, as if the intervening years don’ matter; the moment is out of time, ever-present.
–> Neil Spencer (The Ultimate Guide to Van Morrison – UNCUT Magazine)





#36 Stranded
Producer: Van Morrison for Exile Productions
Album: Magic Time (2005)

“Stranded” has a gorgeous faux doo wop lilt, and an elegant, timeless piano that cascades from the ether as a nocturnal alto saxophone (Morrison) who announces a stolid yet world-weary vocal that unhurriedly moves along to a backing chorus. One can hear traces of The Platters’ “Twilight Time” and The Penguins’ “Earth Angel” in its grain.
– Allmusic





#37 Sweet Thing
Producer: Lewis Merenstein
Album: Astral Weeks (1968)

After two and a half minutes, Davis seems to want to shut the song down. His bass makes a clacking sound, as if to put the brakes on the rhythm as everyone else rushes ahead; the brakes don’t hold. My my, my my, my mmm-my my, my my my, Morrison muses; he takes a breath, and in one of the highest points in a song made of high points—“And I will run my merry way and jump the hedges first,” is the first line; the image is so thrilling you never lose sight of it as the song moves on, and the singer never does stop jumping—he shifts into a higher gear. He finds an image that is as adult as the first is childlike, carrying specters the grown man cannot gainsay, an image that is less abandoned, more determined, but as much a sign of freedom, saying “And I will raise my hand up into the nighttime sky”—
And I will raise my hand up into the nighttime …
skyyyyyyyyyy
—and like the sound of the triangle, which is the song itself pausing for an instant to draw a breath, the moment of suspension is everything.
–> Greil Marcus – When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison





#38 One Irish Rover
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: No Guru No Method No Teacher (1986)

One Irish Rover is the penultimate song and can be found on his Best Of Van Morrison Volume Two album along with In the Garden…Van’s vocal performance here is the highlight again with one of the warmest parts of the album – at least in the melody. It is while listening to this gentle, steady little number that you realise that the standard of music has been consistently strong throughout the album.
– Mark Holmes (Van Morrison 20 best albums – A guide)





#39 Rough God Goes Riding
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: The Healing Game (1997)

The opening song ‘Rough God Goes Riding’, sets the tone for the whole album, as dark as it’s cover. Van’s voice is as dark as Leonard Cohen on his album The Future – basically there isn’t one – or Dylan’s wracked vocal on his last decent album Oh Mercy. Everything is broken. Van’s album begins with “mud splattered victims” on the TV, WB Yeats’ “rough god” – a figure from the Apocalypse and his poem ‘The Second Coming’, and Van being staked out by the tabloid press. Ellis’ saxophone solo is masterful, the same slow scream as Van’s throaty shout. Van asks for a Bible.
–> Brian Hinton – Celtic Crossroads – The Art of Van Morrison





#40 The Master’s Eyes
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: A Sense Of Wonder (1985)

We used to meet and talk about metaphysics. He has a voracious appetite for the esoteric and a great interest in the mystical poets. … Van saw his music not just as entertainment but as a form of meditation, a vehicle for his own spiritual ideas.’
-Mick Brown





#41 Dweller on the Threshold
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Beautiful Vision (1982)

The pounding ‘Dweller On The Threshold’ is one of Morrison’s most convincing depictions of his frequent quest for spiritual enlightenment. It is a journey from the darkness into light, and propelled by Tom Dollinger’s relentless drum and cymbal rhythm, Van takes you along for the ride.
–> Patrick Humphries. The Complete Guide to the Music of Van Morrison





#42 Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile)
Producer: Ted Templeman, Van Morrison
Album: Saint Dominic’s Preview (1972)

Somehow he is able to congeal the feeling of listening to one’s favorite music and/or looking at a loved one’s smile into song, and it just may be the most immediate and euphoric recording in his entire catalogue—it inspires a rush of emotion.
– Erik Hage (The Words and Music of Van Morrison)





#43 Days Like This
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Days Like This (1995)

..Immediately following “Songwriter” comes a stunningly simple piece of introspection called “Days Like This” — classic Van Morrison, as though he knew he would need to atone pretty quickly. With its steady, churchgoing easiness, “Days Like This” is everything “Songwriter” is not: a gentle, understated gospel prayer invested with lyrical poise and old-soul insight. Here is the man who is concerned with soul healing and salvation, his every pronouncement buttressed by terse horns and firm piano triads. Here is the worshipful Irish aspirant to the soul throne.
–> Tom Moon (rollingstone.com)





#44 Redwood Tree
Producer: Ted Templeman, Van Morrison
Album: Saint Dominic’s Preview (1972)

“Redwood Tree” is a song of reconciliation, which seems to graft Van’s Belfast childhood onto California, where redwoods actually grow, “Keep us from all harm”, an invocation to the spirit of the ancient wood.
– Brian Hinton (Celtic Crossroads: The Art of Van Morrison)





#45 Rave On, John Donne
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1983)

The major song on the album is in fact a poem – yes, a real one, recited, though Morrison cannot stop himself breaking into song, and a slow saxophone ends the proceedings. ‘Rave On, John Donne’ sounds like a Ginsberg rant of joy, with the metaphysical Elizabethan and other dead poets brought up to date, as beacons of light. Walt Whitman, Omar Khayam, WB Yeats as well: an Open University reading list of visionaries. David Hayes confirms that a forty-five minute version was recorded live in the studio. “….It was some session, it was like being in a church.”
–> Brian Hinton – Celtic Crossroads – The Art of Van Morrison





#46 Why must I always explain?
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Hymns to the Silence (1991)

The song starts off with a nice Celtic touch, courtesy of the accordion. It has slight echoes of The Pogues and their rustic song, A Pair of Brown Eyes from the dynamic Rum Sodomy and the Lash album. The track lasts just under four minutes and Morrison doesn’t waste a moment. There are two aspects that make it rise effortlessly above the fray. The first is Van’s powerful vocal delivery; you definitely get the feeling of utter indignation. His phrasing of key words and sentences are simply superb. One thing you can’t accuse him of is faking it. The other aspect that makes this so strong is the melody.
–> Mark Holmes (Van Morrison 20 Best Albums: A Guide)





#47 Avalon of the Heart
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Enlightenment (1990)

‘Avalon Of The Heart’ is Morrison’s most explicit homage to the inspiration and insight brought to him by his relationship with the idea of Avalon.46 It features a gusty performance from London vocal choral group the Ambrosian Singers. .. Perhaps aware of its summative nature, Morrison certainly throws everything thing into, and at, the song. While it captures one of his best studio vocal performances of the period, perhaps spurred on by the great surging wave of sound always just coming to its crest behind him, the experience of listening to song is somehow, with topographic appropriateness, flat. … In the lyric, Avalon is unambiguously located in the internal realm (the heart) as firmly as a landscape through which one might go riding. The landscape is thus appropriately a mix of mythological elements, some of which are universal or public in that they are drawn from the lore of Glastonbury – the enchanted ancient vale, Camelot – some from the intersection of Arthurian and Christian fable – the Holy Grail, `the upper room’ – and some are local or personal to Morrison, most notably the unexpected reintroduction of a detail of the emotional architecture of ‘Astral Weeks; in the reference to `the viaducts of my [as opposed to `your’ in the older song] dreams’
–> Peter Mills – Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison





#48 Did Ye Get Healed?
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Poetic Champions Compose (1987)

Music is like a healing thing, and we are all being healed. I’m being healed. That’s what I know, what I feel. It’s what I’m going through and we all go through. Any kind of art or music is involved in healing, whether it’s rock `n’ roll or classical music, it’s all healing. People go to a rock and roll show and they come away feeling better. All this is just the foreground, but the background is something else..
–> Van Morrison, to Chris Welch in 1979





#49 – Cleaning Windows
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Beautiful Vision (1982)

Though not the best known, Morrison’s greatest love song, in my view, is the .. `Queen Of The Slipstream, but that tune could never have become a standard in the way that `Have I Told You Lately’ has, partly because its lyrical and musical symbologies are so closely associated to Morrison himself. Can we imagine Rod Stewart blandly crooning about the slipstream and the poetic champions as he does the lyric to `Have I Told You Lately’? It seems unlikely.
–> Peter Mills. Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison





#50 Queen of the Slipstream
Producer: Van Morrison
Album: Poetic Champions Compose (1987)

Hung on a metaphor as clear as glass, ‘Cleaning Windows’ applies one night’s notions to a lifetime. It’s the LP’s musical highlight as well, with a guitar-organ combination reminiscent of the Band, and a jumping sax solo to boot. Shaking himself awake each morning, the dedicated romantic looks to see how he’s grown. Peppered with fraternal details that recall ‘And It Stoned Me,’ ‘Cleaning Windows’ boldly restates the self-help maxim that you are your own best friend.
– John Milward (Rolling Stone Magazine, 1982)

Spotify Compiled top 50 Van Morrison:

 

Playlist of songs that were sadly left out:

10 thoughts on “Van Morrison’s 50 Greatest Songs

    1. Actually it’s not 🙂 We considered the tracks you mention, but as it says in the last post, we tried to not go overboard with choosing too many songs from just a few albums. The list is meant to reflect the diversity in Van Morrison’s songwriting. All of Astral Weeks, Moondance or Veedon Fleece (well almost) could be on the list. Finding enough songs wasn’t hard, it was the narrowing down that was agonising.

      Thanks for the feedback!

  1. Two thoughts…
    The more you to Saint Dominic’s Preview (the song) the better it gets. Top five — easily — for me.
    Also Crazy Love, Glad Tidings, and Real Real Gone have to be omissions.
    Nevertheless,kudos, for an impressive job. Van has recorded over fifty albums! Easily 350 songs. Without question the most prolific musician/performer/musical artist of the last fifty years.

  2. Did I miss it or did u forget “Ballerina” and “Wonderful Remark” on both list…the 8 minute version of “Wonderful Remark” is sublime, should b in top 10

    1. We love so many of his songs, and Wonderful Remark is one that I, in hindsight, think should be on at least my list
      Thanks for the comment

  3. What a truly phenomenal list. I listen to Van the Man constantly and have done so for 40+ years. Any of my comments are just quibbling. Here goes anyway…I have listened to “When Heart is Open” more than a thousand times. It is one of the most beautiful and peaceful things I have heard, but I understand most/many people would listen to it and really dislike it. “Affirmation” would also be on my top 50, and perhaps “I Am Tired Joey Boy” even though you kind of capture it with “Coney Island” since it is really a continuation of Coney Island. I think you could have called the second side of “Into the Music” a single song and snuck in three more in your top 50! Also, thank you for not putting Brown Eyed Girl on the list! Thank you for compiling this! Great work

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