Back on Top (Van Morrison album)

Back on Top (Van Morrison album)

Back on Top
Studio album by Van Morrison
Released 9 March 1999
Recorded Wool Hall Studios, Beckington, 1998[1]
Genre Blues, R & B
Length 52:08
Label Point Blank/Virgin
Producer Van Morrison
Van Morrison chronology
The Philosopher's Stone
Back on Top
The Skiffle Sessions – Live in Belfast 1998
Singles from Back on Top
  1. "Precious Time"
    Released: February 1999
  2. "Back on Top"
    Released: May 1999
  3. "The Philosopher's Stone"
    Released: August 1999

Back on Top is the twenty-seventh studio album by Northern Irish singer/songwriter Van Morrison. It was released in 1999 by Point Blank. This album marks a slight return to the forms of music he is most known for: blues and R&B. Upon the album's release, Rolling Stone reviewed it as "one Monet and nine Norman Rockwells", the "Monet" being "When the Leaves Come Falling Down" which it called a masterpiece.[2]

The 29 January 2008 reissued and remastered version of the album contains an alternative take of "Philosopher's Stone" and a new arrangement of Fats Domino's song, "Valley of Tears".[3]


  • Recording 1
  • Composition 2
  • Promotion 3
  • Reception 4
  • Album photos 5
  • Track listing 6
  • Personnel 7
  • Charts 8
    • Album 8.1
    • Singles 8.2
  • References 9
  • Notes 10


Recorded at The Wool Hall Studios, south of [4]


The opening song "Goin' Down Geneva", a very blues influenced tune, is set in European cities instead of the American South as typical for blues songs.

Prominent on "Philosopher's Stone" is Morrison's harmonica playing with the song featuring "one of the most limber vocal performances he's put on record in years, even tentatively jumping into the high squawk he seemed to have lost." (Hage)[5]

"In the Midnight" is referred to by Allmusic as "bedroom music, pure and simple."[6]

"Back on Top", the title track, is an optimistic statement of the singer's outlook and may be a view of his personal relationships or professional standing.

"When the Leaves Come Falling Down" is a ballad set in autumn and enhanced by a string section.

A highlight of "High Summer" is Morrison's harmonica. The lyrics are evocative of religious imagery in referring to "Lucifer" and "God" and return to his 1960s songs for mentions of "red sport cars" and "mansions on the hill".

The ballad of lost love and heartbreak, "Reminds Me of You" was written in 1996 after a break-up of his engagement to Michelle Rocca and was not recorded for three years during which time they had reunited.[7]

"New Biography" was inspired by Brian Hinton's biography, Celtic Crossroads, written in 1996.[8] The song's lyrics voice Morrison's complaints of celebrity and "books about his life and more precisely 'so-called friends' who chose to spill inside information and memories to biographers."[6][9]

"Precious Time" has since become an often performed concert tune for Morrison with very meaningful lyrics about the quick passing of time and the need to enjoy life while we can; "It doesn’t matter to which God you pray/Precious time is slipping away."

Another song with a fall setting, "Golden Autumn Day" is about being mugged in an unnamed [4]


The video for the song "Back on Top", received significant airplay on the Canadian music station, "MuchMoreMusic", when it was released. Performances of "Back on Top" and "When the Leaves Come Falling Down" from Back on Top along with "Gloria" were televised as part of Later... with Jools Holland on 16 April 1999.[10]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic [6]
Entertainment Weekly A−[11]
George Graham (unrated) [4]
Rolling Stone [2]

The album had mixed reviews from critics but charted higher in the [4]

Album photos

The photograph of Morrison on the inside of the album cover, was originally used for the front cover of Peter Handke's book My Year in the No-Man's-Bay, first published in 1994.[15]

Track listing

All songs by Van Morrison, unless otherwise noted.

  1. "Goin' Down Geneva" – 4:24
  2. "Philosopher's Stone" – 6:05
  3. "In the Midnight" – 5:07
  4. "Back on Top" – 4:23
  5. "When the Leaves Come Falling Down" – 5:39
  6. "High Summer" – 5:12
  7. "Reminds Me of You" – 5:39
  8. "New Biography" – 5:23
  9. "Precious Time" – 3:45
  10. "Golden Autumn Day" – 6:31
Bonus tracks (2008 CD reissue)
  1. "Philosopher's Stone" – 4:52 (alternative take)
  2. "Valley of Tears" – 5:02 (Fats Domino, arranged Morrison)


  • Walter Samuel – recording, mixing
  • Brian Masterson – recording
  • Sean Doherty – assistant engineer
  • Sam Miller – assistant engineer
  • Ciaran Cahill – assistant engineer
  • Ian Cooper – mastering
  • Brad Wilson – photography
  • Paul Cox – photography
  • John Mintoft – photography
  • Matt Curtis – photography, art direction, design



Chart (1999) Peak
UK Albums Chart 11[16]
Norway Albums 1
Swedish Albums 5
New Zealand 5
Australia 13
Netherlands 21

(North America)

Year Chart Position
1999 The Billboard 200 28



UK Singles Chart
Year Single Position
1999 "Precious Time" 36
"Back on Top" 69
"Philosopher's Stone" 171


  • Hage, Erik (2009). The Words and Music of Van Morrison, Praeger Publishers, ISBN 978-0-313-35862-3
  • Handke, Peter (1994). My Year in the No-Man's-Bay, Farrar Straus and Giroux ISBN 0-374-21755-6
  • Heylin, Clinton (2003). Can You Feel the Silence? Van Morrison: A New Biography, Chicago Review Press ISBN 1-55652-542-7
  • by George GrahamBack on TopVan Morrison


  1. ^ Heylin, Can You Feel the Silence?, p.528
  2. ^ a b c Hunter, James (1999-04-01). "Rolling Stone review: Back on Top". Retrieved 2008-12-05. 
  3. ^ Van Morrison Official Website
  4. ^ a b c d Graham, George (1999-03-18). "Van Morrison: Back on Top by George Graham". Retrieved 2009-09-03. 
  5. ^ Hage, The Words and Music of Van Morrison, p.128.
  6. ^ a b c d "Allmusic review: Back on Top". Retrieved 2010-01-12. 
  7. ^ Heylin, Can You Feel the Silence?, p.460
  8. ^ "Dr. Brian Hinton". Retrieved 2009-11-12. 
  9. ^ Hage, The Words and Music of Van Morrison, p.127.
  10. ^ "concerts". Archived from the original on 14 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-29. 
  11. ^ "Back on Top review". 1999-03-12. Retrieved 2010-01-12. 
  12. ^ "RIAA Gold and Platinum". Retrieved 2010-01-12. 
  13. ^ "Album artist 58-Van Morrison". Retrieved 2012-12-30. 
  14. ^ Rogan, No Surrender, p.453.
  15. ^ Handke, My Year in the No-Man's-Bay
  16. ^ Chart Stats: Van Morrison
  17. ^ Australian Charts
  18. ^ Dutch Charts