Van Morrison, or Van the Man as he’s lovingly referred to, is one of the heavyweights of modern song. With a career spanning over 50 years, he’s one of the most influential songwriters of a generation.
Is he a folk musician? No, not really. A rock musician? Hmm, definitely not, but there are elements of rock (especially rock n’ roll) in his sound. A jazz musician? It’s true that much of his music is infused with jazz overtones, but his music is far from jazz. R&B? Of course there’s that sound there, but he’s not an R&B artist.
So what is he? Well, he’s Van Morrison. He is his own genre. And want to know his biggest secret? His songs are some of the most uplifting tunes ever written.
One of the most influential singer songwriters of the past 50 years, here’s our pick of the 11 best Van Morrison songs, ranked.
Table of Contents
G-L-O-R-I-A – This classic was one of his early hits with his Belfast based garage band “Them”, released in 1964, appearing on the album “The Angry Young Them” (love that name.) It’s a superb example of how you only need 3 chords to make a song (or a “three chord trick”, as it’s known). The way the name is spelt out is reminscent of Muddy Water’s Mannish Boy, Van was a huge fan of blues music, so it’s probably no accident. Lyrically, the song is simple enough – Van is boasting out his “baby”, a woman called Gloria who makes him feel “alright” – though she does like to “play around” (cheat). He doesn’t seem to mind! That other Morrison, Jim Morrison of The Doors, like the song so much they’d do their own version of it. When both bands shared the same bill at West Hollywood’s Whiskey A-Go-Go, both bands played the song together on the final night.
10. And It Stoned Me
Ok, one of the albums you have to know about is this one, Moondance. It’s a total masterpiece, one of the best albums ever (and one of the best album sleeves…er, maybe). This one has got a seriously laid-back vibe. Some fine brass going on too. This Van Morrison song is about the innocence of youth, and, yeah…maybe that thing too (its in the title, right.) It’s such an evocative song. You also gotta love the acoustic guitar solos.
9. Bright Side of the Road
Imagine for a moment a street in a city with tall building. You’re on 5th avenue in NYC, for example. During most of the day one side of the street is in complete shadow, and the other is always bright. Here, Morrison uses the street as an analogy for life. Which side do you want to be on? He’s happy to be on the sunny side. The gospel-influenced song is upbeat, optimistic, and immensely gives us a little message about the brevity of life, “let’s enjoy it while we can”. The song includes an incredible harmonica solo played by Van the Man himself.
8. Brown Eyed Girl
This is Van’s most popular song, but popularity doesn’t make it his best. In fact, he doesn’t even like it. In a way, the song is a victim of its own success, as it’s been overplayed to death at just about everywhere (especially at weddings if the bride is a brunette). It’s one of his most covered songs, which we included on our list of best Irish songs.
7. Days Like This
Whenever I’m having a shocker of a day (it happens quite often), this song often pops up in head. It’s reminds me that some days just suck, period, and you’re better off just accepting that, and looking forward to the next (it’s when you have consequtive rubbish days that you have something to worry about). The song has cropped up all over the place: in the 1997 Jack Nicholson movie “As Good as It Gets”, in the Netflix TV series “Money Heist” – it even became the official anthem of the peace movement in Northern Ireland in the ’90s.
6. Crazy Love
One of the most gorgeous, poetic love songs ever written. Van wrote this song after marrying a certain Janet Planet (yes, real name) at the end of the ’60s. The marriage didn’t last, but the song remains one his best. In a special moment in pop history, in 1989 Van Morrison and Bob Dylan met up in Athens, Greece, and sat atop Philopappos Hill, traditionally known as the Hill of the Muses, a place in Athens where the ancients believed the muses lived.
5. Jackie Wilson Said
From 1972’s “Saint Dominic’s Preview” album, the incredible “Jackie Wilson Said” is a slice of upbeat R&B that celebrates the life of the soul singer. The brilliant opening “ba de de de dop..”, the incredible band playing tight as anything, and the lyrics….oh, the lyrics. It’s a song of absolute joy. It tells you to “let it all hang out”. “I’m so wired up, don’t need no coffee in my cup”, “I’m in heaven, when you smile”. ’80s band Dexy’s Midnight Runners had a hit with a cover of this song. When they played live on the BBC’s Top of the Pops show in 1982, the set designers used a huge picture of Scottish darts player Jocky Wilson as the back drop. It’s still a subject of debate whether it was a mistake or a practical joke. But it ain’t half funny!
4. Sweet Thing
There’s an album in Van Morrison’s discography that deserves a special mention. That album is “Astral Weeks”. It’s deep, dense, complex, and arguably one of the best records ever made. There are no radio-friendly pop songs on it. Instead, it’s a moving, poetic work, a bit like Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, that people go to re-set their brains. One of the best moment on the album comes in the form of “Sweet Thing,” The song builds and builds, dipping and diving with that infectious double bass, some incredible string sections, the flute, and lyrics like “It’s me and I’m dynamite and I don’t know why,” and “I will walk and talk in gardens all misty wet with rain.” Music doesn’t come much more poetic than this.
3. Wild Night
We all need a blow out sometimes. A bit of craziness on the tiles to contrast with the mundanity of weekdays (especially Tuesday, damn you Tuesday!). Wild Night brilliantly captures the thrill of a big night out, I love the line “the wind catches your feet and sends you flying”. The music here is totally on it too. The funky organ, jumping bass line, those horn’s, the bluesy guitar. It makes me want to ditch the day job and hit the town. At noon on a Monday 🙂
Related: check out more night time songs.
For any children of the ‘80s, you won’t be able to hear this song without thinking about the horror flick An American Werewolf in London where the song appears. Anyway, this title track (from the album of the same name) is an epic tune in it’s own right. Morrison’s soulful vocal works brilliantly against the bouncing bass line. There’s a blisteringly good sax solo too.
Related: see more love songs about the moon.
1. Into the Mystic
The opening line (“We were born before the wind”) is one of the strongest opening lines ever recorded. It’s a empassioned song about life, where passing into the “mystic” one assumes means facing our own mortality, and approaching death (or “home”, as in the line “when the foghorn blows I will be coming home”). It’s Van Morrison at his most poetic, and only rivalled in the music industry by perhaps Leonard Cohen for the brilliant use of imagery. It’s even, according to a survey done by the BBC, one of the most popular songs used by surgeons while operating (thanks to it’s calming vibe).
2 thoughts on “11 Best Van Morrison Songs You Will Love”
Number 6 lists the title “Crazy Love” but has the synopsis and plays “Jackie Wilson Said.”
However, because of your excellent taste in music and camper vans, you get a pass on your one tiny flaw. 🙂
Seriously though, I can’t believe I’ve just now discovered you. Great playlists—love the variety of music you list.
Thanks for spotting that, fixed! It’s great to know people out there are enjoying these lists, the internet is a bit of a void sometimes. Glad you like campervans too 🙂