Van Morrison, one of rock's finest songwriters and arguably it's finest singer, crafted a number of strong albums, and that's where most should start. However, once you get through ASTRAL WEEKS, MOONDANCE, and the rest, if you still want more, PHILOSOPHER'S STONE is an excellent set to get. The packaging is a bit lacking (incorrect dates and lyric transcriptions, and even though Van wrote track-by-track notes, he decided not to include them), but as far as content goes, this is an excellent selection of unreleased studio material. Unfortunately, it doesn't include any content like demos or outtakes before the 1970's (hopefully there will be a Volume Two that includes them), but what's here is surprisingly consistent. Even the weaker material like "Twilight Zone" is enjoyable for Van's singing.
Few artists merit collections like these, because in order for them to work, one has to be prolific and, more importantly, shelve 'rejects' that hold up to their best work; this set fulfills both requirements. A strong, early version of "Wonderful Remark" arguably trumps the released version. "Madame Joy" and "Contemplation Rose" are beautiful tracks that could've salvaged HARD NOSE THE HIGHWAY (one of his weakest albums); so could've "Drumshanbo Hustle," an angry, vitriolic song against the music industry that miraculously transcends its bitterness. Then there's "Naked Jungle," possibly his greatest stab at funk, and excellent compositions like "The Street Only Knew Your Name" and "I Have Finally Come To Realize" that disprove the notion that he had trouble coming up with new material in the mid-70's (trouble releasing it, but not writing and recording it). Even better is "Crazy Jane On God," which was meant for release but had to be temporarily shelved for legal reasons (based on a Yeats poem, he didn't get permission to use it); in less capable hands, it could've been a pretentious disaster, but it's surprisingly accessible and works very well here.
It's an expensive set at $30, and for that reason, I'd recommend this only if you've already explored his best work: the early classics with Them, ASTRAL WEEKS, MOONDANCE, ST. DOMINIC'S PREVIEW, VEEDON FLEECE, IT'S TOO LATE TO STOP NOW, and INTO THE MUSIC, for starters. If your appetite is still strong by that point, than PHILOSOPHER'S STONE will definitely come in handy.