It’s not really accurate to say that Van Morrison went through a religious phase. That would imply that he had a non-religious phase. He was born into Northern Irish Protestant Anglicanism, had some childhood exposure to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, later on flirted with both Scientology and Rosicrucianism, explored Zen Buddhism, and nowadays simply describes himself as a Christian mystic (a la Kerouac). Accounting for the curiosity, he once explained, “I got interested in studying the religious thing because it was never shoved down my throat, whereas most of the people I grew up with or went to school with, it was really imposed on them.”

Not surprisingly, his music has always reflected this religious fixation, this spiritual restlessness, veering here and there, often on the same record. And it means he’s produced more than his fair share of straight gospel, one of the most successful examples, imho, being “Full Force Gale” off of 1979′s Into The Music (he and Dylan could have done a package tour!). Here he is performing the song with a superb backing band in Germany in 1982. Anyone else think his resemblance to Chris Hitchens is uncanny? It’s hard not to respect the leather members-only outfit:

There’s a lot more where that came from. But just for good measure, here’s Van in all his purple leisure-suited glory bringing the house down at The Last Waltz. The high kicks are Elvis-worthy: