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Every Scratch, Every Click, Every Heartbeat: Van Morrison – “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile)”

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"Every Scratch, Every Click, Every Heartbeat": The reference is to Elvis Costello's song "45" which, to oversimplify matters, conflates music and life. All the same, "Bass and treble heal every hurt" and though this series doesn't feature the dreaded soundtrack to my life, it might be said that each entry spotlights "a song to sing to do the measuring."

Here, I explore the sheer exuberance of Van Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)."

…I'm so wired-up
Don't need no coffee in my cup…

Ridiculous and sublime. What Jackie Wilson said was that what was, and shall ever be — at least about "the finest girl you ever wanna meet" — is reet petite. Amen. What author John Collis said was that "The exuberant scat phrase kicking off … 'Jackie Wilson Said', hotly pursued by a confident, big band R&B arrangement, promises well." Indeed.

The raucous jubilation reels from the pounding arrangement, and Van’s self-assured overtures to his “Honey chile” always causes him to feel like "I'm in heaven when you smile," making "my heart go boom-boom-boom" – punctuated here by a big bass drum.

In this 1972 fair-to-middlin' hit from Saint Dominic's Preview, inspired by R&B and Soul legend Jackie Wilson and his 1956 song “Reet Petite,” (co-written by Berry Gordy Jr., the title inspired by a Louis Jordan movie with an all-black cast called Reet, Petite, and Gone), Morrison tells it simple and true. And because he also knows about "the inarticulate speech of the heart" — I've seen him in concert in one of his trance-like states where he seems to be invoking the too-muted muses — you know these aren't empty words – or even empty “Ding-a-ling-a-ling / Ding-a-ling-a-ling-ding / Do-da-do-das.”

So when Van tells you, as he does in this song, to "let it all hang out," he means this in a, well, a spiritual sense. Accordingly — as he sings — “Watch this”:

    Ding-a-ling-a-ling
    Ding-a-ling-a-ling-ding
    Ding-a-ling-a-ling
    Ding-a-ling-a-ling-ding
    Do-da-do-da
    I'm in heaven, I'm in heaven
    I'm in heaven, when you smile
    When you smile, when you smile
    When you smile.
    And when you walk
    Across the road
    You make my heart go
    Boom-boom-boom
    Let it all hang out
    Baby, let it all hang out
    And ev'ry time
    You look that way
    Honey child, you make my day
    Let it all hang out
    Like the man said: let it all hang out.
    Watch this:
    Ding-a-ling-a-ling…

Then, as the rousing brass and Van’s celebratory declarations are brought to a concurrent and stirring standstill — your heart yet going boom-boom-boom — you’ll still be “in heaven, when you smile / When you smile, when you smile…”

In a mere matter of 2:57 comes and goes one of those joyous without being jejune songs that bear repeating over and over on your home stereo and that demand full volume on your car radio – thank god for the classic oldies’ format: as a single in ‘72, “Jackie Wilson Said” only peaked at #61, proving once again that there is no justice in the world.

And there’s no mistaking when the song comes on and takes you by surprise, first with Van, sans band, before the full-swingin’ kickapoo joy juice hits ya:

    Da, da, da, da, da…
    Jackie Wilson said
    It was "reet-petite"
    Kinda love you got
    Knock me off my feet
    Let it all hang out
    Oh, let it all hang out…
    And you know…

…I'm so wired-up
Don't need no coffee in my cup…

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch

  • http://www.themidnightcafe.org Mat Brewster

    Good stuff, Gordon. I had to queue that song up just now. Man what a great little number.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/gordon_hauptfleisch Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Thanks, Mat. “Little” is right. But he made up for the three-minute length by putting two ten-minute+ songs on the same album. Not quite as catchy, though.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    It’s kinda hard to argue against the comparison “not quite as catchy” when the standard is “Jackie Wilson Said.” But pretty much every song from St Dominic’s Preview is right up there. “Listen to the Lion” is my all-time Van fave – and the litmus test for a true Morrison fan.

    I wouldn’t feel too bad about the nominal chart position of the single when it was first released. The song has been a big hit – but just spread out over time. That happens. Very frequently, a song is a huge hit for a minute, a fad or whatever – but when was the last time you heard “You Light Up My Life” on the radio? There are a lot of young folk today who perfectly well know “Jackie Wilson Said” who have never heard of a Debbie Boone.

    I don’t think “Alison” even made the Hot 100 in 1977 – but I hear it all the time in the grocery store and such. But it’s been a minute since I heard “U Can’t Touch This.”

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/gordon_hauptfleisch Gordon Hauptfleisch

    What I meant to say, Al, is that it’s not quite as catchy as anything on “Astral Weeks.” And I have mixed feelings that not only didn’t it chart as high as “Madame George,” you don’t hear it on radio as much.