When Them debuted in 1964 with “Don’t Start Crying Now” b/w “One Two Brown Eyes”, the Belfast band immediately placed themselves on the cutting edge of the UK Invasion. The songs were steeped in the blues and R&B, but they were also rhythmically driving and dangerous sounding in an all new way. These were not polite young boys, looking to hold hands and drink milkshakes. They were, as the punning title of their first album would tell you, Angry Young Them. Over the next three years they released two full-length albums and a handful of timeless singles that were vital to the foundation of what is today known as garage rock. Plus they wrote and performed the original version of “Gloria”, a true rock and roll standard if there ever was one, that’s been covered by everyone from The Doors, to Hendrix, to Patti Smith. Because band members came and went with alarming frequency, singer Van Morrison is the central character in the story of Them, as he’s the only person to play on every song on this three disc set. Even though he’s held in high public regard mostly for his successful solo career, he was at his unhinged best in Them, with his electrifying vocal style dominating blues standards like “Baby Please Don’t Go”, or “Bright Lights, Big City” as easily as covers of contemporary folk rock like “It’s All Over Now (Baby Blue)” (which would be sampled by Beck 30 years later on “Jack-ass”) and “Richard Cory”, or his own self-penned material (“All For Myself” is about as convincing a blues song as white people produced in the 1960s).
If you purchased the 1997 double-disc set The Story Of Them, well I hate to break it to you, but you’re going to have to trade it in and upgrade to this new collection. First of all, the remastering is fantastic, and Van Morrison’s liner notes are informative. More importantly it includes the original versions of several songs which were presented in badly rechanneled stereo mixes on The Story Of Them, even using additional percussion which wasn’t part of the original recordings. Why Deram used these mixes (which date from compilations released on Parrot Records in the 1970s) is a mystery, but it doesn’t matter anymore, because now you can hear these songs as they were originally meant to be heard. Even better is this collection’s third disc, which includes previously unreleased demos and alternate takes, one song (“Mighty Like A Rose”) left off the previous compilation for space, and a half-dozen live songs recorded for the BBC. Many of these versions are similar to the originals, but there is a noticeably tougher take of “Go One Home Baby” and an alternate take of “Turn On Your Love Light” with a different, and absolutely deranged, rave-up arrangement that doubles the length of the original. Again, I’m sorry but you just gotta buy this.