The Complete Them 1964-1967
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
“There’s a lot of good stuff here,” states no lesser authority than Van Morrison about this package of his tenure with the Irish blues rock/pop group Them. It might be the understatement of the year.
We’re looking at nearly 70 tracks the Morrison-fronted band recorded in the titular four year span (there were other releases after he left), all immaculately remastered with about a third of them— all on disc 3 — previously unreleased. The 3 hour 20 minute, triple disc set also includes rare photos along with extensive and detailed historical liner notes from Morrison himself who ought to know how it happened. All told, it’s difficult to find a more thorough and comprehensive reissue.
Even if you haven’t followed the singer-songwriter’s career for the past five decades, this music remains remarkably fresh and inspired. That’s especially astounding since other than Morrison, Them had a revolving door of backing musicians (none of which are noted in the otherwise detailed track credits) and many of these recordings featured the singer with hired studio pros. Of those, the most notorious is Jimmy Page who Morrison remembers playing rhythm guitar on “Here Comes the Night” (a second, slower take of the song, almost better than the hit, is included here). There’s a reason songs such as “Gloria,” (four versions—two live—all cool), “Mystic Eyes” and 1966’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” are considered classics that still receive airplay. Regardless of the players, the arrangements and of course Morrison’s distinctive vocals, make the music leap out of the speakers with edgy energy and barely contained enthusiasm.
Van’s early dedication to blues, soul and even jazz is evident on covers of Bobby “Blue” Bland, John Lee Hooker, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Jimmy Reed and T-Bone Walker (a ragged but intense demo of “Stormy Monday Blues” nearly doubles the time of the released one), cementing these influences in songs that appear in his later work. Originals such as “Hey Girl” (with a flute that seems a blueprint for Astral Weeks), “My Lonely Sad Eyes” and “Could You Would You” combine beautifully constructed lyrics with blues and soul in enduring songs that vibrate and pulsate with feverish R&B fervor.
It’s not just a thrill to have these songs back in print and sounding as crisp as the day they were recorded, but the historic value of the compilation and the surfeit of previously unreleased tracks makes this essential for Morrison newcomers and longtime fans. He shyly, almost reluctantly closes his notes with, “I think of Them as good records.” But time has proven him wrong; they are no less than legendary.