What? ‘Them’ again? Sure, why not? The band fractured quickly after the first album, leaving Van to sing with a revolving door of musicians, but that didn’t seem to hurt the outcome.
From a production standpoint, the sound only got better by the second album, and more musicians meant a greater variety of styles. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” comes off like vintage film-noir jazz, rendering it all the more effective and spooky, while “I Can Only Give You Everything” is almost as much of a garage-rock classic as “Gloria”. Here is where Van Morrison’s songwriting developed a unique personality with his brooding mood pieces, as on “Could You, Would You” and “My Lonely Sad Eyes.” “Bring ‘Em On In” portrays Morrison’s commanding ability to utilize spontaneity to his advantage, pulling the band along with his intense syncopated energy as he ad-libs lyrics until he growl-scats wordless rhythms.
Them were basically still a blues band, but Morrison’s moodiness added an edgy strength that made the ordinary sound special. Yes, the stock R&B covers may seem extraneous in this day and age, but Van sings “I Got a Woman” and “Turn on Your Lovelight” with authority. Who else could cover a James Brown hit (“Out of Sight”) and not sound foolish (apologies to Roger Daltrey, but it’s true)? Best of all is the band’s stunning cover of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” After the Byrds’ version of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” this may be the first truly transcendent cover version of a Dylan tune. Morrison and his bandmates take liberties surpassed only by Jimi Hendrix on “All Along the Watchtower”, particularly in regard to the haunting keyboard track that would later prove to be so important when the 13th Floor Elevators borrowed it on “Easter Everywhere”.
Them would break up soon after this record, and Morrison would subsequently false-start his solo career in New York City on Bang Records before reaching the euphoric highs of “Astral Weeks.” After Morrison’s solo career hit its stride, Them’s catalog would be re-released in dozens of packages, some redundant, some quite revealing, but it is worth sifting through the odds and ends, as some of the band’s best material (“Baby Please Don’t Go,” “Half as Much” and “Don’t Start Crying Now”, for instance), never made it to their two main albums.
January 1966 - Billboard Charted #138
I Can Only Give You Everything
Bruce Springsteen: The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle
Album #179 - September 1973
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