While it's unusual for a decade-defining record to come out in that decade's first year, it was clearly the case with Moondance. Coming after 1968's expansive, acoustic, jazz-inflected Astral Weeks, Moondance marks a complete about-face. The album would solidify Van Morrison as an FM radio mainstay, act as a midwife for the burgeoning genre of "soft rock," and help usher in the 1970s in America.
The famed title track started as a jazz saxophone instrumental, and Morrison played that original sax solo he wrote for the song. He told Rolling Stone magazine: "I used to play this sax number over and over, anytime I picked up my horn."
The flute is a big part of this song. It was played by Collin Tilton, who replaced John Payne on the instrument for the Moondance album.
Pianist and organist Jeff Labes recalled the recording of the track to Uncut: "I remember 'Moondance' itself was a big question mark. It was jazzy, and didn't seem to belong to the pack. The first time we recorded it, it came out really well, but Van thought there must be a catch. So we did it about a dozen times, and ended up going back to the first one, He liked to sing live along with the track, because Sinatra did that. He loved having a first-take vocal. He was looking for the magic."
The R&B influence that had been part of Morrison's toolkit since his days fronting them truly came to the fore at last across the album's landscape. "Crazy Love," "Caravan," and "Brand New Day" could have been covered by any great soul singer, even as they redefined "soul" through the filter of Morrison's eclectic sensibilities. An openhearted record full of truly inspirational moments, Moondance is Van at the absolute top of his game.