Before Van Morrison became a Knight of the British Empire, and before he won the first of his six Grammy Awards, and before he was inducted into The Rock And Roll and Songwriters Halls Of Fame; he was the front man for one of the grittiest rock/blues bands of the British Invasion era.
Them formed in 1964 and while a number of musicians came and went, vocalist Van Morrison and bassist Alan Henderson were the constants. Rounding out the original quintet were keyboardist Eric Witson, guitarist/vocalist Bob Harrison and drummer Ron Millings. They released two studio albums; The Angry Young Them (1965) and Them Again (1966), which produced the hits “Here Comes The Night,” “Mystic Eyes,” and the first version of the eternal rock song “Gloria.”
Now their entire recorded output has been reissued under the title The Complete Them 1964-1967. It contains all the tracks from their two albums, demos, alternate versions, and a number of live performances. It all adds up to their entire catalogue of 69 tracks, which are spread over three discs.
Everything has been remastered and the sound emerges with a clarity missing on the originals but beware that many of the tracks have been reissued in all their mono glory. Van Morrison provides a five page essay, which lends an authenticity to the project.
The live tracks, taken from the BBC’s Saturday Club give the best look into the heart and soul of the band. They were primitive and raw and can be clarified as a basic garage band playing blues material. In their favor was the fact they did it better than most of their contemporaries, plus their approach and sound set them apart from the smooth sound of the Beatles, Dave Clark 5, and other British bands who invaded America during the mid-1960’s.
As with many studio albums recorded during the 1960’s, you get the good with the bad. When the material is right, they produce energetic music that holds up well. In addition to their hits, tracks such as “Baby Please Don’t Go,” “I Put A Spell On You,” “If You And I Could Be As Two,” “Baby What You Want Me To Do,” and “Storm Monday Blues” explore a side of 1960’s British rock that rarely crossed the Atlantic ocean.
On the other hand, when they strayed from their basic approach, they results were less successful; “Richard Corey,” “Friday’s Child,” and “(Get Your Kicks On) n Route 66” being examples.
The song that always attracted me to the band is “Mystic Eyes,” which lyrically and rhythm-wise was very different from everything else that came out of Great Britain at the time and provided a good look toward the creative approach, which would dominate Van Morrison’s solo career.
The Complete Theme 1964-1967 is a long overdue tribute to one of the sometimes under-appreciated bands from the 1960’s. Not only was it the training ground for Sir Van Morrison but is also provided the foundation upon which rock and blues fusion was created.