Back on Top (Van Morrison album)

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]

Back on Top
Studio album by
Released9 March 1999
RecordedWool Hall Studios, Beckington, 1998[1]
GenreBlues, R&B
LabelPoint Blank/Virgin
ProducerVan 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. "Philosopher's Stone"
    Released: August 1999

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


Recorded at the Wool Hall Studios, south of Bath, England, except strings, which were recorded at Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin, Ireland. The musicians on the album are understated with Ian Jennings playing double bass, Geraint Watkins playing Hammond organ and Pee Wee Ellis on saxophones.[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 city in Britain.[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
Entertainment WeeklyA−[11]
George Graham(unrated) [4]
Rolling Stone[2]

The album had mixed reviews from critics but charted higher in the US than any of his albums since Wavelength. It went gold in both the US[12] and UK.[13] Allmusic rated it four stars with reviewer James Crispell noting: "After so many songs ranging through so many styles, it is a pleasure to have Van Morrison return to the music that suits him so well. Steeped in blues and R&B, Back on Top finds Morrison celebrating life and its pleasures to the limit."[6] It was rated 3 stars by Rolling Stone with James Hunter ending his review commenting: "Back on Top is solid, brilliant, silly in sad ways. But it's still one Monet and nine Norman Rockwells."[2] Irish critic George Byrne wrote a negative review in the Irish Independent: "Somewhere in the mid-Eighties the poet/philosopher accolades seem to have seeped into his skull and he began churning out same-sounding albums on an almost annual basis."[14] An opposing viewpoint was expressed by George Graham who commented in his review that "It's one of his best, most tasteful albums in recent years, and Van Morrison has had some very good albums in this period."[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

Billboard (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


Region CertificationCertified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[19] Gold 50,000^
Latvia (LaMPA)[20] Gold 5,000*
New Zealand (RMNZ)[21] Platinum 15,000^
Norway (IFPI Norway)[22] Gold 25,000*
United Kingdom (BPI)[23] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[24] Gold 500,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone


  • 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
  • Van Morrison Back on Top by George Graham


  1. Heylin, Can You Feel the Silence?, p.528
  2. Hunter, James (1 April 1999). "Rolling Stone review: Back on Top". Archived from the original on 23 July 2009. Retrieved 5 December 2008.
  3. Van Morrison Official Website
  4. Graham, George (18 March 1999). "Van Morrison: Back on Top by George Graham". Retrieved 3 September 2009.
  5. Hage, The Words and Music of Van Morrison, p.128.
  6. "Allmusic review: Back on Top". Retrieved 12 January 2010.
  7. Heylin, Can You Feel the Silence?, p.460
  8. "Dr. Brian Hinton". Retrieved 12 November 2009.
  9. Hage, The Words and Music of Van Morrison, p.127.
  10. "concerts". Archived from the original on 14 September 2008. Retrieved 29 August 2008.
  11. "Back on Top review". 12 March 1999. Retrieved 12 January 2010.
  12. "RIAA Gold and Platinum". Archived from the original on 23 July 2013. Retrieved 12 January 2010.
  13. "Album artist 58-Van Morrison". Retrieved 30 December 2012.
  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
  19. "Canadian album certifications – Van Morrison – Back on Top". Music Canada. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  20. "International Latvian Certification Awards from 1998 to 2001". Latvian Music Producers Association. 1999. Retrieved 3 June 2019 via Directupload.
  21. "New Zealand album certifications – Van Morrison – Back on Top". Recorded Music NZ. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  22. "IFPI Norsk platebransje Trofeer 1993–2011" (in Norwegian). IFPI Norway. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  23. "British album certifications – Van Morrison – Back on Top". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 3 June 2019. Select albums in the Format field. Select Gold in the Certification field. Type Back on Top in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  24. "American album certifications – Van Morrison – Back on Top". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 3 June 2019. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH. 
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