- A stunning Green Label early pressing with Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it throughout
- A brilliant example of early-’70s Tubey Magical analog sound and Van’s Masterpiece of blue-eyed soul
- An incredibly tough title to find in clean condition with audiophile quality sound, but we did it, and here it is
- “An album worthy of an Irish R&B singer who wrote a teen hit called “Mystic Eyes” (not to mention a Brill Building smash called “Brown Eyed Girl”), adding punchy brass (including pennywhistles and foghorn) and a solid backbeat (including congas) to his folk-jazz swing, and a pop-wise formal control to his Gaelic poetry.” Christgau – A+ (a grade he does not give out often)
The record Moondance most reminds me of musically is After The Gold Rush. Neil Young set out to make a commercial album that had nothing but strong songs built around catchy melodies, with the highest quality production values. What better describes Moondance? Every song is good, you can sing practically every one of them from memory, and in fact you’ll probably feel like singing along with every one of them as you are playing this very copy.
Van Morrison never made another album as good as this one, and After the Gold Rush is still Neil’s masterpiece (along with Zuma of course). If there are two records on the planet that belong in everybody’s collection, it’s these two. Finding good sounding LPs of both of them is a tricky proposition — unless of course you are a customer of Better Records, where superb sounding pressings of Classic Rock Albums can be found all day every day.
Tubey Magic Is Key
This vintage Green Label pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.
And if you want to hear a copy that is completely devoid of Tubey Magic, and is in fact devoid of good qualities of any kind as far as we tell, try the Rhino Heavy Vinyl.
What outstanding sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1970
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
What to Listen For (WTLF)
This copy has the kind of sound we look for in a top quality Soulful Folk/Pop Rock record: immediacy in the vocals (so many copies are veiled and distant); natural tonal balance (most copies are at least slightly brighter or darker than ideal; ones with the right balance are the exception, not the rule); good solid weight (so the bass sounds full and powerful); spaciousness (the best copies have wonderful studio ambience and space); and last but not least, transparency, the quality of being able to see into the studio, where there is plenty of musical information to be revealed in this sophisticated recording.
Here is a more comprehensive breakdown of what we were listening for when evaluating the sound of Moondance.
Clarity and Presence
Many copies are veiled in the midrange, partly because they may have shortcomings up top, but also because they suffer from blurry, smeary mids and upper-mids. With a real Hot Stamper the sound is TOTALLY INVOLVING, and so is the music.You hear the breath in the voices, the pick on the strings of the guitar, the reedy texture of the sax — these are the things that allow us to suspend our disbelief, to forget it’s a recording we’re listening to and not living, breathing musicians playing real instruments.
Top End Extension
Most copies of this album have no extreme highs, which causes the guitar harmonics to be blunted and dull. Without extreme highs the percussion can’t extend up and away from the other elements. Consequently these elements end up fighting for space in the midrange and getting congested or lost in the mix.
Although this quality is related to the above two, it’s not as important overall as the one below, but it sure is nice to have. When you can really “see” into the mix, it’s much easier to pick out each and every instrument in order to gain more insight into the arrangement and the recording of the material.Seeing into the mix is a way of seeing into the mind of the artist. To hear the hottest copies was to appreciate even more the talents of all the musicians and producers involved, not to mention the engineers.
No rock or pop record without good bass can qualify as a top quality Hot Stamper. How could it? It’s the rhythmic foundation of the music, and who wants a pop record that lacks rhythm?The best copies have note-like, well-controlled bass. If you have a high-fidelity full-range system, this is some serious Demo Disc Quality Pop Sound.
Warner Bros. Green Label Magic
We’ve made a habit of scooping up all the Green and Gold Label Warner Brothers records we come across, albums by the likes of James Taylor, Van Morrison, America, Little Feat, The Doobie Brothers, Peter Paul and Mary, The Association, The Faces, The Grateful Dead and more. When you get the right pressings of these albums they just can’t be beat.
They sound so right in so many ways that you find yourself completely ignoring the sound and just getting lost in the music. This is one of those albums.
And It Stoned Me
Into The Mystic
These Dreams Of You
Brand New Day
The yang to Astral Weeks’ yin, the brilliant Moondance is every bit as much a classic as its predecessor. Van Morrison’s first commercially successful solo effort, it retains the previous album’s deeply spiritual thrust but transcends its bleak, cathartic intensity to instead explore themes of renewal and redemption.
Long ago, Van Morrison reached that point where the influences on his music no longer mattered. It is as pointless to attempt to detect those influences as it would be for any musician to try to imitate him.
Van Morrison’s music cannot really be imitated, because, as with Dylan’s music, what one hears is not style, but personality. With each record — Them Again, Astral Weeks, or Moondance — one gets a sense that Van has achieved some ancient familiarity with his band and with his songs; no matter how the music changes, the long inventions of Van’s singing, his full command of the musicians that play with him, and the striking imagination of a consciousness that is visionary in the strongest sense of the word, creat an atmosphere that instantly sets its own terms. Morrison’s powers are clear: his strong gift for melody, his ability to move freely within virtually any sort of contemporary instrumentation, his verbal magic as inventive and literate as Dylan’s, and most of all, the authenticity of his spirit.
Moondance is his first album in over a year. Unlike Van’s masterful Astral Weeks, this one will be immensely popular; Van’s picture already fills the windows of record stores and his new music is getting more airplay on FM stations than anything in recent memory.
Van’s new album might send one back to the bright enthusiasm of “Brown-Eyed Girl” and the magic blues of Them Again; Van now sings with a magnetically full electric band, complete with piano, organ, vibes, and intricately controlled saxophones and flute. The band’s performance has a stately brilliance; and if it recaptures some of the feeling of the earlier music, the past is serving as a rite of passage toward the celebrations of Moondance.
Van opens with “And It Stoned Me,” a tale of boys out for a day’s freedom, standing in the rain with eyes and mouths open, heads bent back: “Oh, the water, let it run all over me…” The sensuality of this song is overpowering, communicated with a classical sort of grace. “And it stoned me/To my soul/Stoned me just like jelly roll…” There is no strain for meaning in Van’s words or in his voice. “Let it run all over me…” — you feel the exhilaration almost with a sense of astonishment. The band, playing subtle, gentle rock and roll, surrounds the singer; here, as everywhere on Moondance, the horn arrangements are absolutely exquisite, as eloquent as a sermon in a backwoods chapel.
With “Caravan” one might begin to remember the early Impressions: the instantaneous aura of fantasy and desire that Curtis Mayfield created for “Gypsy Woman” tumbles down again as a fanfare on piano and the roll of drums and guitar open a composition of seductive grandeur. “Caravan” is a strange song; the images are easily real and the music is profoundly comforting, yet there’s the edge of a story here that fades without ever revealing all it has to tell. “Now the caravan has all friends/Yes, they’ll stay with me until the end…Gypsies…tell me all I need to know…” Woven between the fragments and framed by the textures of the horn with blazing imagination: “Turn up your radio/And let me/Hear the song/Turn on your electric light/So we can get down/To what is really wrong.” The singer moves from the gypsy campfire to his lover and back again, with a lovely sort of affection. Van’s singing is pure expression, pure sound; the band moves off and then forward again. A graceful soprano saxophone holds notes behind Van’s words: “Now, the caravan is painted red and white/That means everyone is staying overnight…”
“It’s a good thing he doesn’t have much stage presence,” said a friend after watching Van perform this song. “Otherwise it’d be too much to take.”
“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. Van’s more abstract songs are mosaics of brilliantly chosen metaphors — ambiguous and instantly recognizable. Morrison communicates directly even when he is most obscure; his visions have power, and the ambiguity of those visions is always unified by the sympathy of the music — there is no “backup band” on Moondance any more than there is an “Lay Lady Lay.” Something’s been made; it stands, it won’t be broken down.
Perhaps “Glad Tidings,” which ends Moondance, is the song that most makes one want to come back to this album without even thinking about it. “Glad Tidings” is a vital, leaping promenade through the streets of the town; fast, clean rock and roll moves it along as striking horns guide the song, until they cue the chorus into an explosion of real joy: “Yeah, we’ll send you glad tidings/From New York/DO DO DO DOOT DO DO/Open up your eyes that you may see/DO DO DO DOOT DO DO/Ask you not to read between the lines/Hoping that you come right in on time.”
Moondance is an album of musical invention and lyrical confidence; the strong moods of “Into the Mystic” and the fine, epic brilliance of “Caravan” will carry it past many good records we’ll forget in the next few years. Van Morrison plays on.
– Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs, Rolling Stone, 3/19/70.
An album worthy of an Irish r&b singer who wrote a teen hit called “Mystic Eyes” (not to mention a Brill Building smash called “Brown Eyed Girl”), adding punchy brass (including pennywhistles and foghorn) and a solid backbeat (including congas) to his folk-jazz swing, and a pop-wise formal control to his Gaelic poetry. Morrison’s soul, like that of the black music he loves, is mortal and immortal simultaneously; this is a man who gets stoned on a drink of water and urges us to turn up our radios all the way into (that world again) the mystic. Visionary hooks his specialty. A+
– Robert Christgau, Christgau’s Record Guide, 1981.
NOTES FROM OUR FIRST BIG SHOOTOUT IN 2009
It took us a long time to build up enough copies to get this shootout rockin’, a fact that anyone who has ever sought out a copy of this album will certainly understand. Clean originals just aren’t hanging around in the bins, and when you do find one it usually costs a pretty penny. Add on the fact that most copies just don’t sound all that hot and you can forgive us for thinking that we might never list a Hot Stamper copy again.
Well, folks, I’m pleased to report that today is the day that you Moondance Maniacs have been waiting for. Here’s the copy that will finally enable you to put away the CD, trash the heavy vinyl version, and unload your half-speed pressing on eBay!
We played a serious stack of copies recently and MAN, was it ever a struggle! We’re talking about YEARS worth of copies that we’ve picked up — most of them just didn’t deliver or were too noisy to sell. We even threw a good number of the half-speed mastered Super Disk pressings in the mix for good measure. Some of them were actually in a league with the better Green Label originals, but unsurprisingly The Real Thing finished on top when it was all said and done.
What are the biggest problems with pressings of this album? Hardness, edge, and grit to the mids; lack of extension up top; veiled mids; tubby bass (practically epidemic); lack of energy; thin vocals and pinched brass. Sounds fun, right? You should have seen us halfway through side one. We were ready to run out of here screaming.
Eventually we started to recognize the hallmarks of a properly mastered copy and were able to eliminate some of the more painful pressings before they spent too long on the table. A copy like this makes all the trouble worthwhile; it’s a real treat to hear this amazing music with the kind of top sound that had eluded us for years.
A Great Side One, An Incredible Side Two
Side one is big, bold, and lively with a ton of tubey magic. The flute sound is lovely — airy and sweet. There’s dramatically less hardness and edge to the overall sound than on most of the copies we’ve played. The bass could stand to be a bit punchier and I wouldn’t mind just a little more presence. That said, most side ones out there aren’t going to come anywhere near this one.
Side two is PHENOMENAL. It’s got all the energy, all the tubey magic, all the top end extension and virtually none of the hardness and edge that we’ve come to expect! The bass is much cleaner than on the typical pressing of any vintage. The hand percussion sounds amazing and really comes through nicely. The overall sound here is open, spacious and transparent with a silky sweet top end. Both the lead and background vocals are incredibly full-bodied and clear. We’ve played a TON of copies and in our experience, side two just don’t get any better than this!