Is Van Morrison's 'Astral Weeks' the best choice for an Irish desert island disc?

Shane and John discuss the Belfast musician's acclaimed 1968 album

It was the final Cultural Toolbox choice of the year on this week's Sunday Show, and John Fardy's pick was one he believed "is hard to disagree with".

Yes, it was Belfast-born Van Morrison's breakthrough album Astral Weeks up for discussion.

Released in 1968, how does the veteran performer's second LP hold up today? 

"This is one of the greatest albums ever made," John proclaimed. "You can hear its influence on everything from Bruce Springsteen's early albums right up to the Fleet Foxes, and everything in between.

"It's an album of poetry, and mythology, and in a weird sort of way I don't know what it's about," he added.

On one hand it's a classic story about a man and a woman, but as John said there is a lot of other things going on - "it's rooted in Belfast, and 'gardens wet with rain'... and all these crazy, cryptic 'ideas'. But it's all anchored by that gorgeous, wonderful guttural voice of Van Morrison".

He admitted many people don't find Morrison's voice particularly powerful, but for him it is 'bruised and beautiful'.

Is it a concept album? "This wasn't an album of singles," Shane observed, especially compared to some of the musician's other work.

John agreed, describing it as a 'song cycle'. But he added there is a lot of strong tracks on it nonetheless.

"One of the standout ones for me is Madame George," he explained. "Again I don't really know what it's about - it may be about a transvestite somewhere in Belfast, [but Van Morrison] has said it's not about that at all".

Shane admired the production, praising the variety of instruments. "I don't think I'd ever heard it as well before - violin, flute... it's really gorgeous".

However, he said that while he listened to it a lot twenty years ago, "I put it on recently... and I knocked it off. It didn't do an awful lot for me. It's an extraordinary album... but is it something you've got to be in a certain frame of mind for?"

John suggested "it's a beginning, middle and end album - it's good to listen to the whole thing". He added that "if I had two Irish desert island albums, it would probably be this and Achtung Baby".