Tupelo Honey

Van Morrison

Song Review by Bill Janovitz

Bob Dylan, a like-minded soul mate of Van Morrison, has said that "Tupelo Honey" has always existed and that Morrison was merely the vessel and the earthly vehicle for it. Dylan intended his comment, of course, as the ultimate compliment. Morrison responded in a Rolling Stone interview in 1984 that "That's the only way I write. That's the only way I can write." In other words, these writers, like Keith Richards, feel that the best songs are in the firmament, the collective unconscious, and great artists have their "antennas" up (Richards' metaphor) to receive them. "Tupelo Honey" does indeed have that timeless quality of, say, the Band's songs from the same era. Morrison had tapped into the "mystic" already starting on his masterwork Astral Weeks, and his explorations of the soul, on all its levels -- transcendence, exuberance, misery -- continued through the 1970s on records like Moondance and Veedon Fleece. His muse during this period was clearly his wife, Janet Planet (formerly Janet Rigsbee and now known as Janet Morrison Minto), who he had met during his tenure with the seminal Irish R&B outfit Them and who had inspired many of his early great songs like "Ballerina. "Tupelo Honey" is an ebullient look at the domestic bliss Morrison had found. Morrison's lyrics, singing, and phrasing are so free and natural on the country-soul song that it is indeed hard to imagine that the song, and the original recording of "Tupelo Honey," has not always been there. "Men with insight, men of granite," which Morrison playfully pronounces "gran-eyete," no one and nothing can stand in their way "to freedom." There is loose a joie de vivre, a peaceful contentment to Morrison's near-perfect recording, which begins with drummer Gary Mallaber's jazzy shuffle and a bittersweet theme -- played on flute (Stuart "Boots" Houston), organ (Ted Templeman, who is also the record's producer), and vibes (Mallaber) -- which reoccurs throughout the piece. By the time of the vamp at the end of the song, Morrison and the band have kicked it up a bit into a joyful incantation. Dusty Springfield, as per her reputation, did the song justice on her 1973 record Cameo. Other top-notch song interpreters like the soulful folk singer/guitarist Richie Havens and jazz-folk diva Cassandra Wilson have done unique and lovely versions of "Tupelo Honey" as well. Dylan himself played a duet with Morrison on the tune during their co-headlining tours of the 1990s.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Tupelo Honey 1971 Polydor 6:54
Still on Top: The Greatest Hits 2007 Polydor
The Essential Van Morrison 2015 Exile Productions / Sony Legacy 6:56
Sound Choice Karaoke: Classic Rock, Vol. 15
Sound Choice / Sound Choice Distribution 7:08