Van Morrison

Into the Mystic

Composed by Van Morrison

Song Review by

"Into the Mystic" was originally released as the last song on side one of Van Morrison's third album, Moondance, in February 1970. Moondance, issued 15 months after its predecessor, Astral Weeks, was a very different record for Morrison. Astral Weeks had been dominated by meditations on his youth in Belfast, Northern Island, with an unusual musical mélange that combined elements of folk, blues, jazz, and classical music, played by session musicians. By the time of Astral Weeks, Morrison had moved from New York City to rural Woodstock, NY, and organized his own backup band, which played on Moondance. The new album was imbued with the bucolic pleasures he had recently enjoyed, as well as his domestic harmony with wife Janet Planet. The exception was the ethereal "Into the Mystic," the only song on the album that might have fit on Astral Weeks. 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. When Moondance was released, Warner Bros. remarkably passed over such obvious choices as the title song, "Caravan," and "Into the Mystic," and released "Come Running" as the album's only single. It reached the Top 40. Meanwhile, Johnny Rivers, who built a career out of having fantastic ears for new music and covering great songs before anybody else, quickly recorded "Into the Mystic," replicating Morrison's groove, but streamlining the arrangement (for example, he reduced the horn charts to a single, rock & roll-style tenor saxophone); his single release got into the Top 40 in June 1970. "Into the Mystic" has earned a handful of covers since 1970, but remains best-known in its composer's version. In his concert performances of the early '70s, Morrison took the phrase "too late to stop now," which he had muttered at the end of his recording of "Into the Mystic," and moved it over to his song "Cyprus Avenue," ending it with what became a fierce declaration, "It's too late to stop now!" He used the phrase (borrowed by Jon Landau for the title of a 1972 book of essays) as the name of his 1974 live album, which featured both "Into the Mystic" and "Cyprus Avenue." Moondance became a steady seller, racking up sales of over three million copies, which made it Morrison's best-selling regular album release.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Moondance 1970 Rhino / Warner Bros. 3:27
Vanthology: A Tribute to Van Morrison 2003 Evidence 4:00
Still on Top: The Greatest Hits 2007 Polydor
Astral Weeks/Moondance/His Band and the Street Choir 2008 Rhino 3:30
Latest & Greatest Singer Songwriters 2013
Various Artists
Union Square Music / USM Media 3:29
Songs: The Very Best of Acoustic - The Collection 2015
Various Artists
Rhino 3:28
The Essential Van Morrison 2015 Exile Productions / Sony Legacy 3:26
Acoustic '70s [Warner] 2017
Various Artists
Rhino / Warner Music
No Image
Original Soundtrack
Warner Bros. 3:25