Monday, December 18, 2006

"Jackie Wilson Said" / Van Morrison

Van Morrison is a law unto himself; some days you're getting a wild-eyed Irish mystic, some days you're getting a jazz-flavored folksinger; but on his best days, I think, you're getting one of the great R&B singers of all time. I'm not talking about the gritty, mournful blues that channeled through his British contemporaries like the two Erics, Burdon and Clapton; I'm talking that irrepressible offshoot called rhythm & blues, as sung by Ray Charles or Sam Cooke . . . or Jackie Wilson. How a doughy-faced redhead from Northern Ireland came out with this voice is a marvel indeed; I think it proves the existence of God.

Here Van pays homage to the underrated Jackie Wilson (the song's on his 1972 album St. Dominic's Preview), with 2:58 minutes of pure fun from start to finish. It's not about Jackie Wilson, but it's the essence of Jackie Wilson, distilled in one finger-snapping, upbeat love song. Van scats his way through half this number with nonsense syllables, right from the opening "Doo-doo-dih-dihs" and the goofy "ding-a-ling-a-lings"; when you get to the refrain it isn't a whole lot deeper -- "I'm in hea-EH-von when you smile," he repeats over and over.

It's a sunny, syncopated exclamation from the heart of a guy who, well, just adores his girlfriend. The way she walks, the way she smiles, turns him on, and that's all there is to it: "The kind of love you got knocks me off my feet," he declares, and he urges her again and again to "let it all hang out." Love has got him high, but in a good way -- "You know, I'm so wired up / Don't need no coffee in my cup," he says gleefully. Yeah, love can do that sometimes, and my heart is completely won over by his effervescent joy.

I dig the tight horn section on this, something that Van, as a saxophonist himself, instinctively understood how to use; as I listen to this track, it strikes me that his horn playing probably also taught him a lot about how to sing. The way he punches the syncopated beats ("you make my heart go boom boom boom") or shimmers with a deft trill on the word "smile," the giddy little wails he throws in from time to time -- his vocal instrument is pretty damn close to a sax in terms of supple power and tunefulness.

I saw Van once in concert and he was so weirded out that he left the stage after a few numbers, never to return. I could have been pissed off -- except that I've always factored a little strangeness into the Van equation. Like I said, a law unto himself. But remember how he came onstage for a guest spot in The Last Waltz, The Band's farewell concert, and completely blew everybody away with his performance on "Caravan"? It made me just sit back and grin. Van the Man. When he's on he is on.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Holly,
I enjoy the blog. This is one of my favorite Van Morrison songs on perhaps my favorite VM album. I think of the lyrics as conveying a feeling (like many of his songs)--one of exaltation and joy as inspired by Jackie Wilson. The lyrical content or its meaning is somewhat secondary. Though that's not very different from what you wrote.


--Dave K.