Morrison, a six-time Grammy Award winner, was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 but did not even bother to travel to the States to accept his award. Usually uncomfortable in front of an audience, he has always been more of an artist than an entertainer. Catch him on a good night and it's as sweet and smooth as a snort of Old Bushmill's ... followed by a nice cold Guinness, of course.
Astral Weeks (1968): A very slow burn of Irish soul. Long regarded as one of the great contemporary albums, this disc sounds nothing like his first solo hit, Brown Eyed Girl, recorded a year earlier. Astral Weeks had no hit singles and was as difficult to digest after initial listenings as the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds or any of Nick Drake's three albums. Last year, Morrison released a CD and DVD of the album performed live at the Hollywood Bowl, a stunning testament to the importance of this work. Key Tracks: Sweet Thing, Cypress Avenue, Ballerina
Moondance (1970): It's a marvelous night or day for dancing whenever a needle drops on this astounding long-player. Ten ultra-choice slices of a more optimistic Morrison, whose enthusiasm was obviously a carryover from the critical acclaim garnered by its predecessor, Astral Weeks . I've always found it difficult to believe that Warner Brothers issued Come Running as a single instead of the album's stunning title track, but FM radio airplay made a standard out of Moondance anyway. Key Tracks: And it Stoned Me, Into the Mystic, Moondance, Caravan
Tupelo Honey (1971): After the rushed and uneven album His Band and Street Choir , Morrison needed a change. He moved from New York to the pastoral and laid-back "non-confines" of Marin County in California and the West Coast lifestyle turned out to be just what he needed. Tupelo Honey features several new musicians in his band, including guitar wiz Ronnie Montrose, whose funky and infectious riffs propelled the album's first single, Wild Night , into the top 40. John McFee, currently a guitarist in the Doobie Brothers, contributes sweet pedal steel to the proceedings and jazz legends Connie Kay and Gary Mallaber add fine percussion and vibes. I've always wondered what Tupelo-native Elvis Presley thought about this disc. Key Tracks: Wild Night, Moonshine Whiskey, Straight to your Heart (Like A Cannonball)
It's Too Late to Stop Now (1974): Morrison has issued five live albums, but none show the cohesiveness that this two-disc set exhibits. Accompanied by an 11-piece band, Morrison tackles several R&B classics, including Bring it On Home to Me (Sam Cooke), I Just Want to Make Love to You (Willie Dixon), and Sonny Boy Williamson's Take Your Hands. An unexpected bonus is a rollicking rendition of his first U.S. hit, Here Comes the Night, that he had recorded with Them. As with the Stones' Get Your Ya Ya's Out and Otis Redding's Live in Europe , It's Too Late to Stop Now is the perfect party album. KEY TRACKS: Ain't Nothing You Can Do, Warm Love Listen to the Lion
Best of Van Morrison (1990): Morrison selected the tracks on the first volume (there's now three of 'em) of his greatest hits. It's a terrific catch-all to introduce the casual fan to a cross section of his work. The a capella vocal intro on Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile) never fails to send multiple shivers down my spine. Morrison's take on Have I Told You Lately That I Love You is regarded as the version of the oft-covered standard and will melt the coldest of hearts. Also of note is the bar band classic Gloria , a song written by a teenage Morrison in just 15 minutes. This is a must-have disc. Key Tracks: All of them. The album's title says it all.