Van Morrison’s 50 Greatest Songs Countdown – #45 Rave On, John Donne

John Donne

Rave on John Donne, rave on thy Holy fool
Down through the weeks of ages
In the moss borne dark dank pools

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
-John Donne

TOC

    1. Facts
    2. Quotes
    3. Lyrics
    4. Live versions

Facts


Wikipedia:

Released on Morrison’s album “Inarticulate Speech of the Heart” in March 1983.

Personnel (album)

  • Van Morrison – guitar, piano, Fender Rhodes, alto saxophone, vocals
  • David Hayes – bass guitar
  • Mark Isham – synthesizer, trumpet
  • John Allair – Hammond organ, piano, Fender Rhodes
  • Pee Wee Ellis – tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute
  • Tom Donlinger – percussion, drums
  • Mihr Un Nisa Douglass – backing vocals
  • Stephanie Douglass – backing vocals
  • Pauline Lozana – backing vocals
  • Arty McGlynn – acoustic guitar
  • Davy Spillane – Uilleann pipes, alto flute
  • Chris Michie – guitar
  • Annie Stocking – backing vocals
  • Bianca Thornton – backing vocals
  • Peter Van Hooke – drums, tambourine

Live:

  • Known Performances: 92
  • First performance: March 5, 1983 in Oxford, UK
  • Last performance: March 7, 1989 in New York City

Quotes

‘Rave On, John Donne’ was to jostle for position with ‘Summertime in England’ as the Morrison litany song in live shows of the period. Apart from being one of the all-time great rock’n roll song titles, who besides Van could unite the spirit of Buddy Holly and the great 17th Century metaphysical poet in the same breath? Only Morrison had the balls to be so explicitly pretentious. ‘Rave On, John Donne’ was a season ticket into Van’s library. It showed you where he had been, and where he was going: Walt Whitman, Omar Khayam, Kahlil Gibran, and lest we forget, “rave on Mr Yeats!”
Despite the bargain-basement poetry, philosophy, nature and theosophy, this is the sort of song which hurls Morrison into the vanguard. In anyone else’s hands it would be preposterous, and even in Van’s hands it teeters on the brink; but there is something in that urgent Irish/American voice begging, pleading, cajoling and ordering his cast of characters into action, which simply cannot be ignored.
It is Morrison’s ability to make the words rave on the printed page as well as in your heart. It is the audacity and boldness of his epiphany that moves and touches. In this song – which manages to be both farcical and somehow strangely affecting – you find yourself warming to Van Morrison and his unashamed, naiv hymn of devotion to those who have inspired him.
–> Patrick Humphries – The Complete Guide to the Music of Van Morrison

The major song on the album is in fact a poem – yes, a real one, recited, though Morrison cannot stop himself breaking into song, and a slow saxophone ends the proceedings. ‘Rave On, John Donne’ sounds like a Ginsberg rant of joy, with the metaphysical Elizabethan and other dead poets brought up to date, as beacons of light. Walt Whitman, Omar Khayam, WB Yeats as well: an Open University reading list of visionaries. David Hayes confirms that a forty-five minute version was recorded live in the studio. “….It was some session, it was like being in a church.”
–> Brian Hinton – Celtic Crossroads – The Art of Van Morrison

A glorious exception is “Rave On, John Donne”, which even people who don’t like the album agree is an important piece of work. Morrison finally puts the emphasis on words, and plenty of them, as he recites a stream-of-consciousness encomium to the stellar poets of England (Donne), Ireland (WB Yeats), America (Walt Whitman), Persia (Omar Khayam) and Lebanon (Kahlil Gibran). ..he shows us rapture: “Rave on down through the industrial Revolution/Empiricism, atomic and nuclear age/Rave on down through time and space, down through the corridors.” As he stops reading and starts to sing, an alto sax drifts in on a milky cloud. It feels like a special place to be.
–> David Cavanagh – The Ultimate Music Guide – Van Morrison by UNCUT Magazine

.. the wonderful, if slightly eccentric, Rave On, John Donne. The subject matter is the renowned poet and cleric of The Church of England, John Donne. Maybe Morrison identified with Donne’s predicament – that his work did not always receive critical blessing. Once again, we have gentle keyboards to create a warm, floating backdrop for the man to name check a series of people whom he presumably holds in esteem – either that or he’s just name-dropping to look good! The listener can at one moment latch onto a name they’ll recognise (such as Yates) the next, become befuddled by lyrical imagery that sounds very enticing yet without obvious meaning. This may be new age music but it is masterfully executed. Morrison goes from the spoken word to singing accompanied by some lovely saxophone. Indeed, it’s the wonderful saxophone that brings the whole song to its blissful finale. I’m not actually clear from my CD sleeve notes who is responsible for the saxophone on this track, with both Van and Pee Wee Ellis both generally credited for the instrument across the whole album. Anyway, the whole thing is a gentle, irresistible concoction that sits comfortably with the whole tone of the record. It is not only possibly the most popular song on the record but is a key track here in terms of theme and style.
–> Mark Holmes – Van Morrison 20 Best Albums: A Guide.

Lyrics

original:
Rave on John Donne, rave on thy Holy fool
Down through the weeks of ages
In the moss borne dark dank pools

Rave on, down through the industrial revolution
Empiricism, atomic and nuclear age
Rave on down through time and space down through the corridors
Rave on words on printed page

Rave on, you left us infinity
And well pressed pages torn to fade
Drive on with wild abandon
Uptempo, frenzied heels

Rave on, Walt Whitman, nose down in wet grass
Rave on fill the senses
On nature’s bright green shady path

Rave on Omar Khayyam, Rave on Kahlil Gibran
Oh, what sweet wine we drinketh
The celebration will be held
We will partake the wine and break the Holy bread

Rave on let a man come out of Ireland
Rave on on Mr. Yeats,
Rave on down through the Holy Rosey Cross
Rave on down through theosophy, and the Golden Dawn
Rave on through the writing of “A Vision”
Rave on, Rave on, Rave on, Rave on, Rave on, Rave on

Rave on John Donne, rave on thy Holy fool
Down through the weeks of ages
In the moss borne dark dank pools

Rave on, down though the industrial revolution
Empiricism, atomic and nuclear age
Rave on words on printed page

Live at the Grand Opera House in Belfast, 1983 – version:
Rave on John Donne, rave on thy holy fool
Down through the weeks of ages
In the moss borne dark dank pools
Rave on, down through the industrial revolution
Empiricism, the atomic and nuclear age
Rave on down through the corridors
Rave on words on printed page

Rave on, Walt Whitman, nose down in wet grass
Rave on, fill the senses
On nature’s bright green shady path
Rave on Omar Khayyam, Rave on Kahlil Gibran
Oh, what sweet wine we drinketh
The celebration will be held
We will drink the wine and break the holy bread

Rave on let a man come out of Ireland
Rave on on Mr. Yeats,
Rave on down through thy Holy Rosey Cross
Rave on down through theosophy, and the Golden Dawn
Rave on through the writing of “A Vision”
Rave on, Rave on, Rave on,
Rave on, Rave on, Rave on

Rave on John Donne
Rave on thy holy fool.
Down through the weeks of ages
In the moss borne dark dank pools

Rave on, down through the industrial revolution
Empiricism, the atomic and nuclear age
Rave on words on printed page

Tonight, ‘neath the silvery moon, tonight
And the leaves shakin’ on all the trees
And the cool evening summer breeze
And the people passing in the streets
And everybody that you meet

Tonight, you will understand the Oneness
Tonight, you will understand the One
You will understand
The Oneness, The Oneness,
The Oneness, The Oneness
The Oneness, The Oneness
The One

And the truth that you sang about in your song
And its real, what you sang about in your song
I said come back baby, can we talk it over?
Tonight, you will understand the One
The Oneness

Tonight, ‘neath the silvery moon, tonight
Tonight, let it all begin, tonight,
You will understand the Oneness
The Oneness, The Oneness, The Oneness,
Yeah, the truth, what you sang about in your song

I said,
No, no, no, no, no, no,
no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no
no, no, no, no, no, no,
no, no, no, no

Tonight, you will understand the One
Tonight, you will understand the Oneness

And the leaves shakin’ on all the trees
And the cool evening breeze
And the people passing on the street
And everybody that you meet
Tonight, Tonight
When your love has gone
tonight, tonight..

Live versions

Grand Opera House, Belfast – March 1983

 

Berkeley, US – July 25, 1986

 

Rotterdam, September 28, 1986

 

Amsterdam – September 29, 1986

 

Glastonbury Festival, Somerset, England, June 21, 1987

Sources

-Egil

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