Friday , February 23 2024
Van Morrison's first group was a raw fusion of blues and rock music.

Music Review: Them – Them

Them remains famous as the band that launched the career of Van Morrison. As a group, they were a British Invasion band who were really from Northern Ireland. They played a gritty fusion of blues and rock similar to the early Rolling Stones. Their revolving door of members plus Van Morrison leaving after a couple of albums made their career unfortunately short.

I have two versions of their debut album in my collection. There is the longer English release which was titled The Angry Young Them and the shortened American release simply titled Them. This is one of the rare instances where the American release is superior. The order of the songs makes sense plus the important hit, “Here Comes The Night” is included.  

The six songs that comprise the first side of the original album release are as good as any blues/rock album side that came out of Britain during this era and that includes The Rolling Stones and The Animals. The problem was that Them could never duplicate this consistent quality again. But what is here is glorious and well worth seeking out. The drums and bass pulsate and provide an anchor for the guitar and keyboards to drive the songs along. Van Morrison is a blues howler at this stage of his career which all coalesces into an angry, intense combination of blues and rock.

All three Them signature songs appear on this first album side. “Mystic Eyes” wasn’t even supposed to be a song. The group showed up at a recording session with no material to record. The band simple started jamming and Morrison sang the words to a song he had been working on which was not connected to the music that was being played. What evolved was a dark, sinister fusion of rock and blues with an unforgettable vocal. The great loss was that the song was reduced in length so it could be issued as a single. 

“Gloria” may have been one of the most recorded songs of the mid to late 1960s. The Shadows of Knight would have a hit single with this song in the United States and The Doors would record a memorable version. Also, it would seem that every local garage and pop band would have a version of this song in their repertoire. Them plays a raw and energetic version that makes all the others seem tame by comparison.

“Here Comes The Night” was a hit single for the band in the United States. It may be their most sophisticated song as it contains almost a staccato structure with a vocal to match. Despite this, there would be a melodic quality that would prove perfect for AM radio play at the time.  

“Don’t Look Back” is an old John Lee Hooker tune that they, instrumentally, take in a rock direction while Van Morrison’s vocals remain true to the original blues nature of the song. “Little Girl” was a raw song about an obsession with a fourteen year old girl that is an uncomfortable listen today. “One Two Brown Eyes” was one of the first songs written by Van Morrison and falls nicely into the blues/rock category.

Side Two of the original album, while interesting, is not of the same quality. Three more early Van Morrison original songs show the beginnings of a person who would become a legendary songwriter. “I Like It Like That,” “You Just Can’t Win” and “If You and I Could Be As Two” all are competent but just do not have the fire of side one’s songs. Bobby Troup’s “(Get You’re Kicks On) Route 66” was an odd choice for inclusion. The British album contains an excellent rendition of Jimmy Reed’s “Big Lights, Big City” which would have fit in nicely.  

Them’s short career makes the group a footnote in the British invasion of The United States. Their first album would be the commercial and critical peek of their career. As such, it is well worth seeking out as it represents a unique chapter in the evolution of rock and blues music.

About David Bowling

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