Greatest Songs, #480: “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison

Album: Moondance (Warner Bros. Records)
Year: 1970
Written by: Van Morrison

 From Rolling Stone:

“Into the Mystic” is one of Morrison’s warmest ballads, an Otis Redding-style reverie with acoustic guitar and horns. The lyrics are truly mysterious: “People say, ‘What does this mean?’ ” said Morrison. “A lot of times I have no idea what I mean. That’s what I like about rock & roll — the concept. Like Little Richard — what does he mean? You can’t take him apart; that’s rock & roll to me.”

From Wikipedia:

The song has soothing, calm, medium-paced tempo. It is among the most popular songs doctors listen to while operating, according to a survey made by BBC.

The lyrics are about a spiritual quest, typical of Morrison’s work. “Bass thrums like a boat in motion, and the song comes back to water as a means of magical transformation.” “At the very end Van sings: too late to stop now, suggesting that the song also describes an act of love.”

Morrison remarked on the song:

“Into the Mystic” is another one like “Madame Joy” and “Brown Skinned Girl”. Originally I wrote it as “Into the Misty”. But later I thought that it had something of an ethereal feeling to it so I called it “Into the Mystic”. That song is kind of funny because when it came time to send the lyrics in WB Music, I couldn’t figure out what to send them. Because really the song has two sets of lyrics. For example, there’s “I was born before the wind” and “I was borne before the wind”, and also “Also younger than the son, Ere the bonny boat was one” and “All so younger than the son, Ere the bonny boat was won”…I guess the song is just about being part of the universe.

From allmusic:

The song has an easy groove, beginning with acoustic guitar and including isolated horn and string charts, as Morrison evokes a sailor’s pledge to come home from the sea to his lover and “rock [her] gypsy soul.” Typical for Morrison, however, the story line is sketchy and, in any case, less important than the mood. As a lyricist, Morrison is often less interested in using words for meaning than for sound, and that is the case here. He once said that his original title for the song was “Into the Misty,” and he may have intended a meaning such as “into the mist,” since the song refers to fog horns among other things nautical. The only dictionary definition for the noun “mystic” (a favorite word of Morrison’s, which he previously used as an adjective in Them‘s “Mystic Eyes”) is a person who practices mysticism, and that is not the sense in which the word is used in the song. Morrison also said that, when the time came for him to submit a lyric sheet of the song, he couldn’t decide exactly what the opening lines were. Was the first line “We were born before the wind” or “We were borne before the wind”? Was the second line “Also younger than the son” or “All so younger than the son”? Was the third line “Ere the bonny boat was one” or “Ere the bonny boat was won”? The original LP release did not contain a lyric sheet, but when the album was reissued on CD in the 1980s, it did, and someone had decided that the song went, “We were born before the wind/Also younger than the sun [not son]/Ere the bonnie boat was won.” But the literal words don’t matter; what matters is the feeling the words as sung evoke over the music.