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Them - The Story Of Them Featuring Van Morrison
(PolyGram Chronicles)

Releasing a few singles, just two albums, and then quickly disbanding, Belfast’s Them made its mark on the pop scene in a blink-and-you-missed-it flash. How punk.

Of course, in the U.K. and Ireland of the mid-’60s, the music of white male rage was blues, not punk. Them sprouted from the same blues-influenced seeds as The Animals and The Rolling Stones, and while they are widely remembered only for the immortal, primal growl of "Gloria," this anthology reveals they made at least as many worthy recordings as the former, and almost as many as the immortal latter did in those same years.
Encompassing every Them track ever released, save for one demo ("Mighty Like A Rose") released only on a mid-’70s compilation, this Story is one of an obviously accomplished band capable of equally first-rate takes on pop, R&B, and blues songs—originals and covers alike. Van sings his face off throughout.

Admittedly, the Van-penned "Mystic Eyes" and "Bad Or Good" don’t stand up too well on paper against the likes of "19th Nervous Breakdown" and "Get Off Of My Cloud," but somehow—whether it’s Van’s vocals or the whole group’s garage vibe—nearly every track these guys laid down is a keeper. Great covers abound; "Route 66," Simon & Garfunkel’s "Richard Cory," and James Brown’s "Out Of Sight" are just the beginning. A gently soulful "I Put A Spell On You" sounds so mature it almost could have been plucked from one of Morrison’s mid-’90s albums, while a simply beautiful version of Bob Dylan’s "It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue" begat another simply beautiful song in 1996, when Beck used a sampled loop from Them’s recording as the basis for Odelay’s "Jack-Ass."

Van Morrison’s artistic aspirations and visions being what they were, Them was doomed to hasty extinction. By 1967, the band was over, and it was "Brown-Eyed Girl" time. Another year or so later, the guy more or less created fusion on Astral Weeks. Them’s "Hey Girl"—mellow, dreamy, replete with flute—could pass as a demo for that first solo album. Little else here foretold the more than 30 years of often brilliant, always prolific work that was to come from the greatest white soul singer of the century. Rather amazing.

YEAH YEAH YEAH, 1998