Van Morrison’s 50 Greatest Songs Countdown – #16 Tupelo Honey

You can take all the tea in China
Put it in a big brown bag for me
Sail right around all the seven oceans
Drop it straight into the deep blue sea

TOC

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

Facts


Wikipedia:

The title song from his 1971 album, Tupelo Honey. The title derives from an expensive, mild-tasting tupelo honey produced in the southeastern United States. Released as a single in 1972, it reached number 47 on the U.S. pop chart.

The melody, which has a catchy, soulful feel to it, was borrowed from Morrison’s song “Crazy Love“, released the previous year. This same melody was later used by Van Morrison on the song, “Why Must I Always Explain?“, on his 1991 double album, Hymns to the Silence. Morrison has played “Tupelo Honey” in a medley with both “Crazy Love” and “Why Must I Always Explain?” in concert.

Musicians

Live:

  • Known Performances: 379
  • First performance: August 8, 1971 in San Anselmo, US
  • Last performance: November 26, 2013 in New York City, US

Here is the San Anselmo 1971 version:

And here the NYC 2013 version:

Quotes

`Tupelo Honey’ is a slow-dripping declaration of love, free of the murk of the blues – the gentleness and determinedly non-blues tone of Morrison’s vocal flags up the coming of the otherworldly falsetto which emerged on `Warm Love and Veedon Fleece. It feels like a country song, yet if we listen we find no pedal steel, and the languid yet busy drum pattern is closer to a jazz skitter. Vibes settle gently on the offbeat, and Morrison’s acoustic guitar runs anticipate his 80s style. Approaching the first climax of the song, an extended improvisation around the chorus, which drops down back into a repetition of the first verse with one of Morrison’s characteristic mispronunciations, dropping ping `Chyneaer’ from the line, his singing of the line `She’s as sweet as Tupelo Honey’ from 5.35-43 is the emotional heart of the song. This is the place the song has been building up to, or earning access to, and the rest of the tune is an exploration of that moment, once reached.
–> Peter Mills (Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison)

But the most gorgeous number on the album was the title song, and it was too good not to be true. At almost seven unfolding minutes, it was a kind of odyssey. .. It began with the most reassuring organ sound, gently picked notes on a guitar, a vocal that caressed the first verse, then ached through the chorus. You could miss the scrambled imagery of freed slaves and Camelot, “the road to freedom” and “knights in armor bent on chivalry”; you could catch it and feel part of a drama whose beginnings were lost in time and that would never end. “She’s an angel,” Morrison sang. “She’s an angel,” repeated the male voices behind him, the big, friendly sound of men who are jealous only of the fact that they’re not as deserving as the singer has proven himself to be. Morrison’s voice grew bigger as the song went on, his singing more expansive, words turning into gestures, his arms spread wide, a finger pointing to the sky. “Yes she is,” he almost whispered back at the chorus, as if answering himself in his own mind. “Yes she is!” he’d say elsewhere, banishing all doubt.
–> Greil Marcus (When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison)

“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.
–> Bill Janovitz (allmusic.com)

Building upwards from a gentle flute refrain, and then pushed forwards by mighty fills from jazz drummer Connie Kay who played on Astral Weeks, ‘Tupelo Honey’ is sung by a man who has grabbed us by the lapels and won’t let go until we understand precisely what he’s experiencing. On an album where the vocals are exultant to say the least, this song sees Morrison use larynx, diaphragm, teeth and tongue to find new ways of enunciating the lines ‘she’s as sweet as Tupelo honey’ and ‘she’s all right with me’, seemingly in ever-increasing adoration.
–> David Cavanagh (UNCUT Magazine album review)

Woody Guthrie said he just picked songs out of the air. That means that they were already there and that he was tuned into them. Changing Of The Guards might be a song that might have been there for thousands of years, sailing around in the mist, and one day I just tuned into it. Just like Tupelo Honey was floating around and Van Morrison came by.
–> Bob Dylan (Jonathan Cott Interview, September 1978)

Lyrics

You can take all the tea in China
Put it in a big brown bag for me
Sail right around all the seven oceans
Drop it straight into the deep blue sea
She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey
She’s an angel of the first degree
She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey
Just like honey from the bee

You can’t stop us on the road to freedom
You can’t keep us ’cause our eyes can see
Men with insight, men in granite
Knights in armor bent on chivalry
She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey
She’s an angel of the first degree
She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey
Just like honey, baby, from the bee

You can’t stop us on the road to freedom
You can’t stop us ’cause our eyes can see
Men with insight, men in granite
Knights in armor intent on chivalry
She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey
She’s an angel of the first degree
She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey
Just like honey, baby, from the bee

You know she’s alright, oh she’s alright with me
You know, you know, you know she’s alright, she alright with me
You know, you know, you know you know
You know she’s alright, alright with me
She’s alright, she’s alright
She’s alright with me
She’s alright
She’s alright with me
She’s alright
She’s alright with me

She’s al, she’s alright, she’s alright
She’s alright with me
She’s alright, she’s alright, she’s alright, she’s alright

You can take all the tea in China
Put it in a big brown bag for me
Sail it right around all these seven oceans
Drop it smack dab in the middle of the deep blue sea
Because, she’s as sweet as Tupelo honey, yes she is
She’s an angel of the first degree
She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey
Just like honey, baby, from the bee

She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey
She’s an angel of the first degree
She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey
Just like the honey, from the bee
She’s alright, she’s alright with me
She’s my baby, you know she’s alright
She’s my baby, she’s my baby, she’s alright
She’s my baby

Live versions

June 18, 1980 – Montreux, Switzerland

September 16, 1995 – Bournemouth, England

December 17, 1995 – Dublin, Ireland

May 6, 2013 – Cheltenham, England

Cover Versions

Dusty Springfield


Richie Havens

Gov’t Mule

Sources

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