Song 97: Van Morrison, “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile)” (1972)


I don’t understand why this song isn’t the most popular Van Morrison song ever. It’s better than “Moondance”, it’s better than “Into the Mystic”, and it’s sure as hell better than “Brown-Eyed Girl.” It’s pure energy and joy, and it’s damn near perfect. I also love that the song is all based on something that Jackie Wilson said, an idea that I find weird but very funny. You don’t often hear a song that cites its sources.

Van Morrison can be irritating in his insistence that he’s some kind of old, grizzled bluesman, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t completely pull this one off. It’s a soul/R&B masterpiece, complete with a horn section that pushes the song to its limits. You get the feeling listening to it that if the song wasn’t three minutes long, it would go on forever.

In reading about “Jackie Wilson Said,” I came across this quote: “[the song was] denied its commercial destiny by never gaining entry to the upper echelons of the singles charts, a fact as unacceptable as it is inexplicable.” And then there’s the ever-quotable Robert Christgau, who, in his review of the Morrison record Saint Dominic’s Preview, insisted that the song “has me believing that ‘I’m in heaven when you smile’ says as much about the temporal and the eternal as anything in Yeats.”

Beat that, “Brown-Eyed Girl.”


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