Welcome to another edition of Versionality!
I had originally intented to make this a monthly feature, but, well, you know what they say about good intentions. So, this will more likely become a bi-monthly feature — or just a “when I have time” feature.
Since I’ve chosen March to post this next installment of the series, I figured it would only be appropriate to choose a song by an Irish artist. The first song that popped into my head was my favorite Van Morrison song, which also happens to be one of my favorite songs of all time, “Into the Mystic.”
I hesitate to admit this to you, but since I’m also the person responsible for Soundtrack Saturday, I doubt it will come as much of a surprise that the first time I heard this song was in a movie.
Growing up in the ’80s, I watched a lot of random movies on cable, most of which I stumbled upon and watched for no other reason than I was bored. One such movie was the 1989 dramedy Immediate Family. It stars Glenn Close and James Woods as an infertile couple who decide to adopt the baby of a teenage couple, played by Mary Stuart Masterson and Kevin Dillon, and their experience getting to know their baby’s birth parents while waiting for the child’s arrival.
In one scene, Close’s and Stuart Masterson’s characters bond over their shared love for “Into the Mystic,” lip synching and playing air sax as the song plays on the turntable. While this was certainly not my first exposure to Van Morrison, it was my first time hearing this particular song (I know, I know) and I was immediately enthralled. I had to own it, though it would be several years before I got my hands on my first copy of Morrison’s Moondance, the album on which which “Into the Mystic” first appears.
While I was researching this song and its many covers, I found some interesting quotes about it — from Morrison himself and from reviewers — that do a much better job summing up what makes it so wonderful than I ever could.
From Morrison, a quote from a book called Celtic Crossroads: “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.”
And from a review by Lester Bangs and Greil Marcus in the March 17, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone:: “‘Into the Mystic’ is the heart of Moondance; the music unfolds with a classic sense of timing, guitar strums fading into watery notes on a piano, the bass counting off the pace. The lines of the song and Morrison’s delivery of them are gorgeous.”
“Into the Mystic” is one of those songs that I will never tire of hearing. It always cheers me up when I’m feeling down and never fails to calm me down when I’m stressed out. I love turning the volume up all the way while listening and singing along, while playing air sax, just as Glenn Close and Mary Stuart Masterson do in Immediate Family.
In choosing to discuss one of my all-time favorite songs for this column, I knew I’d run the risk of being very disappointed by the covers I’d find. And while I did find quite a few fantastic versions of “Into the Mystic,” most were pretty boring and not at all special. Many of them either recreated the song note-for-note without adding any kind of special flare or they slowed the song down so much it was practically coma-inducing. So, I’ve spared your ears and haven’t included any of these shitty versions.
Of the covers I’ve included, my favorites are performed by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, Ben E. King, Johnny Rivers, Esther Phillips, Greg Laswell, the Wallflowers and the instrumental take by the Vitamin String Quartet. And even though it’s entirely too short, I think Jackson Hawke’s version is kind of fun.
What really surprised me as I was researching this song is that not many women have taken it on — I don’t think I found more than six covers by female artists and of those, I only liked the two I’ve included here. I’d love to hear Rosanne Cash, Adele or Cat Power give it a go.
In addition to the covers, I’ve also included a live version performed by Morrison, recorded at the Fillmore West in 1970. Oh, and the Zac Brown Band’s version is bookended by the song “Free,” so if you only want to listen to their cover of “Into the Mystic,” skip to 4:00 and stop at 6:15.
Big thanks to some of the Popdose staff for donating a few of these tracks.
Van Morrison – Into the Mystic (Live at the Fillmore West, 1970)
Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová – Into the Mystic
The Wallflowers – Into the Mystic
Johnny Rivers – Into the Mystic
Michael McDonald – Into the Mystic
Joe Cocker – Into the Mystic
Ben E. King – Into the Mystic
Paul Carrack – Into the Mystic
Marc Cohn – Into the Mystic
Colin James – Into the Mystic
Esther Phillips – Into the Mystic
Greg Laswell – Into the Mystic
Jen Chapin & Rosetta Trio – Into the Mystic
Jackson Hawke – Into the Mystic
Lowen & Navarro – Into the Mystic
Vitamin String Quartet – Into the Mystic
The Allman Brothers Band – Into the Mystic (Live)
Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes – Into the Mystic (Live)
Zac Brown Band – Free/Into the Mystic (Live)
The Dead – Into the Mystic (Live)