You Don't Pull No Punches, but You Don't Push the River

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"You Don't Pull No Punches, But You Don't Push the River"
Song by Van Morrison
from the album Veedon Fleece
Released October 1974
Recorded November 1973
Genre Folk rock
Length 8:51
Label Warner Bros. Records
Songwriter(s) Van Morrison
Producer(s) Van Morrison
Veedon Fleece track listing
  1. "Fair Play" – 6:14
  2. "Linden Arden Stole The Highlights" – 2:37
  3. "Who Was That Masked Man" – 2:55
  4. "Streets of Arklow" – 4:22
  5. "You Don't Pull No Punches, But You Don't Push the River" – 8:51
  6. "Bulbs" – 4:18
  7. "Cul de Sac" – 5:51
  8. "Comfort You" – 4:25
  9. "Come Here My Love" – 2:21
  10. "Country Fair" – 5:42

"You Don't Pull No Punches, but You Don't Push the River" is a nine-minute song by Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison. It appears on the album Veedon Fleece, released in 1974.

Song origins[edit]

The song was written on Morrison's three week trip to Ireland in October 1973, along with seven other songs that would feature on Veedon Fleece.[1]

Biographer Clinton Heylin wrote that Morrison admitted—that "aside from 'flashes of Ireland'—the song had 'other flashes on other kinds of people. I was also reading a couple of books at the time...[there's] a bit of Gestalt theory in it, too."[2] (A book entitled, Don't Push the River (It Flows by Itself) by Barry Stevens about her use of Gestalt therapy was published in 1970.) In the song's lyrics are Morrison's first referral to William Blake, and the Eternals from Blake's The Book of Urizen. The Sisters of Mercy, also mentioned in the song, is a religious organisation of women founded in Dublin, Ireland.[3]


According to Morrison biographer Johnny Rogan, the song begins as a love song celebrating a young girl's childhood and then goes into a journey along the west coast of Ireland and then suddenly goes into a mythological search for an object he calls the "Veedon Fleece".[3]

Musically, it combines a woodwind section and strings, both played in blocked chords.[3] The song is played at a moderate tempo in the key of G major. The Em-C chord progression features throughout the duration of the piece. The song's introduction consists of Ralph Wash's acoustic guitar playing chords on the upper registers of the instrument, with James Trumbo playing the legato melody on piano in 12/8 time.[4] Morrison then starts to scat, repeating the same melody twice. The second time is accompanied by Jim Rothermel's flute, playing the same rhythm. The transition between the real and mythological phases is transmitted in a dramatic fashion with the use of flute and strings.[3]


The song originally lasted twelve minutes, so pianist Jef Labes suggested a cut, which got it down to just under nine minutes. He later wrote the string and woodwind arrangements,[5] as drummer Dahaud Shaar observes:

'You Don't Pull No Punches' is a pretty long track. [When] that happened, it was just acoustic guitar, bass, drums and piano, and that was the track, and it went the whole distance. It was like a nice sine wave. [Jef Labes later] built the string arrangement around that from the parts that were already played.[6]


"You Don't Pull No Punches, but You Don't Push The River" is often said to be one of Morrison's most accomplished compositions; biographer Johnny Rogan confirms this opinion by remarking: "Morrison's most accomplished composition to date, an experimental peak which took a step beyond even his most ambitious work." (2006)[3]

In The Uncut Ultimate Music Guide: Van Morrison Jason Anderson describes "You Don't Pull No Punches, but You Don't Push The River" as "the mesmerising nine-minute centrepiece" of Veedon Fleece.[7]



  1. ^ Heylin, Can You Feel the Silence?, pp.277-278
  2. ^ Heylin. Can You Feel the Silence?, p.280
  3. ^ a b c d e Rogan. No Surrender, pp. 299-300
  4. ^ Van Morrison Anthology, pp.116-119
  5. ^ Heylin. Can You Feel the Silence?, p.283
  6. ^ Heylin. Can You Feel the Silence?, p.282
  7. ^ Anderson, Jason (2016). Mulvey, John, ed. "The Ultimate Music Guide: Van Morrison". Uncut (5): 39.