Wanna tell about my baby
Lord, you know she comes around
About five feet four
From her head to the ground
Walking across Hyde Park in Leeds, I was accosted by a Northern Irish guy who stank of something sweet and alcoholic, asking for change. I gave him the little I had and he noticed the Crash Records carrier bag I had my books in and asked me if I liked music, when I said I did he told me how he used to go to this club in Belfast between the Falls Road and Shankhill Road in the 60’s and watch Taste with Rory Gallagher and Them with Van Morrison in one of the most combustible atmospheres on the planet. It’s funny how some small encounters stay with you. I immediately leaped into action and bought The World Of Them nine years later*.
The compilation is a cheapo 1970 best of, part of a large series called ‘The World of…’, which includes including some of the usual suspects of the times such as The Bachelors, Amen Corner, Lulu, John Mayall and David Bowie; as well as some titles of a more specialist nature, The World of Charlie Kunz Vol.II or The World of Military Brass Bands Vol. III, anyone? I do rather like the Mono / Stereo indicator on the back cover (mine doesn’t work because the inner sleeve isn’t the original), but that’s it as far as extras go, apart from a rather spiffy cover and the fact that the LP is, rather reassuringly, laminated with Clarifoil.
At their best Them throw out an interesting mix of R&B and soul and at their very best they absolutely elevate the form. Take ‘Gloria’ beloved staple of countless garage rockers ever since it appeared as the B-side to their cover of ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’**, it has to be up there as one of the best B-sides in history, surely? A feral, yowl of teenage yust^ delivered by Van Morrison with considerable brio in his best Muddy Waters voice, over three chords – what more could you possibly, ever want? From life, let alone music?! Pure, simplistic perfection, nothing flash, nothing complex just yust. When Morrison shouts ‘G-L-O-R-I-A’ the first time, my knees just give way, it’s that good. True to form though, I thought this was a Patti Smith original for years.
Surely there can’t be anything else that good on The World Of Them? well, to my mind ‘Mystic Eyes’ runs it darn close. Starting with a fabulous fast blues and harmonica instrumental not a word is uttered for 1:10 of a 2:43 single, come on this was 1965 – this was outrageous. Van then mutters about walking with a loved one down by the graveyard and moans about ‘mystic eyes’ over and over again. It’s mysterious, mythic and magical; a bulletin from a future past that never was/will be. The guitaring by Billy Harrison is excellent, as is the rhythm section of Alan Henderson and Pat McAuley. ‘Mystic Eyes’ is so good and so odd that I can just get fixated on it sometimes, spinning it over and over again. BIlly Childish has based whole LPs on the opening minute of this track, which can only be a good thing for everyone concerned.
There’s a couple of tracks here I’d dispense with but overall this is a really fine album. I really love the laid back ‘One Two Brown Eyes’, which sounds like a precursor to the whole sound of The Doors – I know the bands played together in ’66. The atmospheric ‘I’m Gonna Dress In Black’ invents Black Keys Brothers within its first 15 seconds and again, that’s a good thing. I also have a real thing for the manic ‘Don’t Start Crying Now’, which starts off like some crazed snarling nugget of raunch-a-billy unearthed in a second-hand shop in the Ozarks and lurches into a ‘Hound Dog’ -but-faster groove from there. There’s even room to play R&B James Brown-style on ‘Bring ’em On In’, which emerges from its grooves and shakes itself down before haring off into the distance at a rate of knots.
This was a great record to revisit, Them were such an influential group and not just for launching the career of Van Morrison – of whom I have to say, I’m not a fan^^. They had real energy and attack allied to a great vocalist, a certain anger and steel within – it’s telling that Stiff Little Fingers borrowed a refrain from ‘Gloria’ for the ‘Why Did You Lie To Me’ section of ‘Rough Trade’ – that was pretty angry too. The shocking thing about Them is that they had such a short mayfly-like existence, formed in April ’64 they were gone by mid ’66. Maybe some stars just burn too brightly to be maintained.
I’d recommend you get your shots done and then grab some tourist visas for The World Of Them as soon as you can.
*I know this is its sixth appearance here on 1537 but that line still amuses me.
**very good as it happens, it doesn’t re-invent the wheel but it is a really good energetic stab at it.
^a portmanteau word of my own devising, Yust = Yearning and lust. Feel free to express your amazement, mortals.
^^Astral Weeks excepted, but that’s too immense a thing to deal with here and now. I’ve inherited a genetic dislike of him from my mother.