This is the most comprehensive round-up of Van Morrison’s Them ever issued, including not just their two albums – 1965’s raw The Angry Young Them and 1966’s soul-influenced Them Again and their singles – but a third disc of mainly previously unreleased demos, radio sessions and rarities, including the excellent, long-unavailable Mighty Like A Rose.
The sound quality is an improvement on 1997’s two-CD release The Story Of Them, and Morrison has contributed sleevenotes himself, helping to explain the band’s confusing history, which took in numerous line-ups, recordings with session musicians such as Jimmy Page and tracks only released after the band split.
Morrison formed Them after seeing the similarly underrated Brit R&B band The Downliners Sect at Ken Colyer’s Studio 51 Club in London, inspiring him to leave The Manhattan Showband and perform the blues he loved. Them soon gained a residency at Belfast’s Maritime Hotel and, after going to London, signed to Decca Records.
A cover of Big Joe Williams’ Baby, Please Don’t Go, learnt by Morrison from the John Lee Hooker version, and Here Comes The Night (penned by producer Bert Berns) gave Them UK Top 10 hits (with the latter also reaching the US charts), but they struggled to maintain their momentum, despite many of their recordings being superb. Morrison was a soulful vocalist who could also produce a proto-punk sneer when required on tracks such as the Morrison-penned garage band staple Gloria and the fuzz-drenched Phil Coulter/Tommy Scott song I Can Only Give You Everything (the latter recorded with session musicians for a never-issued Morrison solo album, but included on Them Again). Morrison wails a mean blues harp and howls on his Mystic Eyes, the lyrics apparently inspired by a viewing of Great Expectations.
Later tracks such as Friday’s Child, and a haunting cover of Bob Dylan’s It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue see Morrison developing what he dubs his “folk soul” sound. Hey Girl, featuring flute, and the poetic My Lonely Sad Eyes hint at musical directions this great songwriter would explore later in his solo career.