Something, somebody, got me to listen to “Into The Mystic” by Van Morrison again.
I realize that by the time Morrison finishes singing the first line, I’ve already fallen in love with the song.
What makes that opening line so great?
I’m trying to disassemble that line, lyrically and musically, to see if I can understand.
I found the lyrics here
and the sheet music here
The first line is
“We were born before the wind”.
The first thing I hear is the long O in born, followed by a long O in before. Inner, assonance, rhyme.
Oh, and there’s consonance going on with the B’s. B, b. This chops the line into two.
The stresses in the line are
we were /born be/fore the /wind.
“Born” falls on beat 3 of the bar, “fore” falls on beat 4, and “wind” falls on the downbeat (beat 1) of the next bar.
The intro plus the first line take up the first 8 bars of the song.
In 4/4 time, beat 1 of a bar is the strongest, beat 3 is the second strongest and 2 and 4 are the weakest.
This also works on the level of bars. 4/4 is “recursive”.
In a four-bar sequence, the first bar is the strongest, bar 3 second strongest and bars 2 and 4 the weakest.
What goes on in this song?
The intro is 6 bars long.
The singing begins in bar 7, i.e. bar 3 of the second group of 4 bars. This shifts the song into “unstable” territory (Pat Pattison’s terminology).
Oh, wait, the first word does not start on the downbeat of bar 7. There’s an eighth-note rest and “we” starts on the second 8th note of the 7th bar.
“Wind” lands on the downbeat of the 8th bar. Even though it is sung on the downbeat, “wind” is mellowed by the fact that it hits the downbeat of a weak bar.
Conclusion: This opening line is extra back-heavy. Morrison uses almost every trick in the book to lay on the back-heaviness.