‘Tupelo Honey has always existed … Van was the vessel and the earthly vehicle for it’ (Bob Dylan)
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If a songwriter is very, very lucky they might in their lifetime write one song that becomes the misty eyed anthem of love for devoted couples all over the world. A love song that incarnates love rather than merely describing it. A song that always seem fresh while yet building a patina of fond memories that increase every time it is played.
A song which flowing like a river, never the same twice, still seems to contain the past, the present and the future. A song which takes up residence in the hearts of succeeding generations – for today and every day, someone, somewhere, is discovering that they are in love for the very first time.
By my count (and on The Jukebox my count is the one that really counts) Van Morrison has written at least four songs that meet the criteria outlined above. From his incandescent second solo album the title track, ”Moondance’ with its peerless swooning swing and, ‘Crazy Love’ with its intoxicated, intoxicating, sweet surrender.
From ‘Avalon Sunset’ came the deep, devotional, ‘Have I Told You Lately That I Love You’ – a song especially close to my heart as it was the first song my wife, Clare, and I danced to once we were married.
But, if I had to pick one song to demonstrate the depth of Van Morrison’s romanticism; proof that he was and is the great courtly love balladeer of his age I will always choose, ‘Tupelo Honey’ – a pluperfect song, glowingly alive with love’s grandeur.
Good God, what a hallelujah of a song! A song that shares the blissful total immersion in the sweetness of love with Solomon’s Song of Songs! I love the majestically sure, unhurried flow of the song which sweeps our hearts away, illuminating our deepest wish and need – to love and to be loved.
The team of musicians assembled in San Francisco in 1971 to record Tupelo Honey brought all their technical accomplishment to the track but, no doubt inspired by their mercurial leader, they brought something much rarer – a devotional surrender to the music they were making, so that ‘Tupelo Honey’ really does sound like a direct revelation from Heaven itself.
On drums, the great Connie Kay from the Modern Jazz Quartet, having already played with angelic grace throughout Van’s sublime masterpiece, ‘Astral Weeks’ outdoes himself with his backbeat and fills surging the song forward to greater and greater heights of rhythmic rapture. On guitar Ronnie Montrose plays with a shimmering, harp like delicacy that is endlessly beguiling.
Mark Jordan’s piano takes us by the hand and navigates us through the song assuring us that we can and will find our way to that promised land of love and fulfilment we all believe is out there waiting for us to come home to. Bruce Royston on flute is the harbinger of the miracles to come while Ted Templeman on organ, Gary Mallaber on percussion and ever faithful Jack Schroer on saxophones ensure that the miracles are delivered.
Tying everything together is Van’s vocal which reached pinnacles of inspiration that is beyond the reach of critical language to adequately express. So, I will unashamedly borrow my language from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, ‘God’s Grandeur’.
Van Morrison’s singing on Tupelo Honey flames out like shining from shook foil, it gathers and gathers and gathers to a greatness that elevates everyone who listens to it – inducting them into a vision that encompasses love in all its sacred and sexual incarnations. A vision which once experienced leaves a permanent flaming brand on the heart and soul.
This post dedicated to Clare because she’s as sweet as Tupelo Honey. Because she’s an angel of the very first degree.
There’s a wonderful live version from his 1979 tour of Ireland featuring Toni Marcus on violin and the late Peter Bardens on keyboards which I urge you to investigate.