The Complete Them 1964-1967 (Legacy Recordings) is a three-CD assemblage of the first known recordings of Van Morrison. Packaged to America as part of “The British Invasion” (despite being from Belfast, Ireland), Them only had two American hits, both in 1965, “Here Comes The Night” and “Mystic Eyes.” Their only American tour had them taking up a residency in 1966 at the Whiskey A Go Go in Los Angeles with The Doors as their opening act.

With two albums to their name (1965’s The Angry Young Them and 1966’s Them Again), Van Morrison (lead vocals, saxophone, harmonica), Alan Henderson (bass), Ronnie Millings (drums), Billy Harrison (guitar, backing vocals) and Eric Wrixon (keyboards) did what they could, but, right from the outset, it was the clear that Van, who picked the songs and wrote the rest of their material, was the star of the group. In fact, he would leave before ’66 ended, leaving Them with little talent to continue. Still, this was a band who, like the Animals and Stones, coveted American blues and R&B and had an irrepressible front man who could pull it off. Van was 18. He wrote “Gloria” but, despite it now being hailed as one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll songs of all time, Americans only knew it by Chicago band The Shadows Of Knight.

Them—who got their name from the 1954 science-fiction movie Them!—was punk before punk existed. Van spit out lyrics like Johnny Rotten would do a decade later. His vocals were decidedly scratchy and mono-dimensional, exhibiting none of the nuance he would later develop. But in Van’s hands, such soul as “Turn On Your Love Light” by The Bobby Blue Bland Blues Band turned into rock frenzy. Them’s cover of Willie Dixon’s “You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover” (Bo Diddley’s last hit) rivaled the Stones’ cover of the same song. Their second Brit single formed a blister out of “Baby Please Don’t Go” by Big Joe Williams. Session musician Jimmy Page played guitar. Future Yes star Alan White was on drums.

It’s all here and it’s all gloriously remixed and remastered: great teenaged versions of such beloved blues material as Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights Big City (Have Gone To My Baby’s Head),” (Get Your Kicks On) Route 66,” Slim Harpo’s “Don’t Start Crying Now,” Alvin Robinson’s 1964 New Orleans classic “Something You Got,” the Screaming Jay Hawkins gem “I Put A Spell On You” (rivaling Creedence Clearwater Revival’s American cover of the same song), “I Got A Woman” (Ray Charles), “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” (Bob Dylan), “Hello Josephine” (Fats Domino), “Richard Cory” (Paul Simon) and “Stormy Monday Blues” (T-Bone Walker).

“Them was intended as a vehicle, a way for me to sing and play the blues,” writes The Man himself in the liner notes. Only a hint of his future greatness surfaced. On his “Friday’s Child,” influenced by Dylan, “you’ll hear what I always called folk-soul,” according to Van. Ultimately, this box is a gold mine: 66 songs in all, complete with singles, album versions, demos, live sessions, rarities and alternate takes, many previously unreleased and/or long out-of-print. This is the second great result (after the two-disc Van Morrison Essential) to come out of what has to be thought of by Van fans as the coolest corporate move of the year: the exclusive licensing agreement struck between SME/Legacy and Van’s Exile Productions Ltd. How long have us Van fans bemoaned the fact that The Man was obstinate enough not to ever want a box of his glorious career? That box has yet to come, but when it does, baby, watch out.

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  1. richard dunkley

    yes brilliant stuff i saw van and this band way way back in 65 singing these gems live favourite hello josephine

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