After yesterday’s cover by David Bowie of a Bert Berns’s Here Comes The Night, let’s enjoy a triple Sunday dose by another band who also covered the same song, and no doubt inspired Bowie. Back in 1963, when Van Morrison was only 18 and touring with The Monarchs in Germany, he wrote Gloria, a lustful song about a girl visiting his neighbourhood, and when he got back to Belfast, he began to perform it at The Maritime Hotel. By the time garage band Them were formed of a group of Belfast musicians, it became a live favourite, sometimes stretched out to 20 minutes with improvised lyrics. A classic three-chord structure, yet the real strength is in the half-singing growls of Van, inspired by Howlin’ Wolf, powerfully raw, to spelling out Gloria’s name in the chorus all of which sent the crowds wild.
It was released in 1964 after Them signed a contract with Decca, and was one of seven songs recorded at Decca Three Studios in West Hampstead on 5 July 1964. Alongside other members of the band – Billy Harrison on guitar, Alan Henderson on bass, Ronnie Millings on drums and Patrick John McCauley on keyboards – A&R man Dick Rowe brought in extra musicians, and rumour has it that Jimmy Page, later of the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, was also present. There was reported a palpable tension in the room, as the ever angry Morrison sought for perfection, and got it.
It became the B-side of the single of a cover of the blues classic Baby, Please Don’t Go. But another source of Van Morrison’s anger, building up throughout his career, was that he earned virtually no royalties from the song, due to an unfavourable early contract. An all-time classic, it has been covered by dozens of other bands, including Status Quo, AC/DC, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Patti Smith, David Bowie (live), Tom Petty, Bon Jovi, Iggy Pop and Simple Minds, but none have bettered it.
To go with this, let’s also enjoy another, less well-known Them number (although a single in 1966) that also expresses anger, lust and ambition, Here Van Morrison certainly does give it everything.
And finally, a more tender Van song, sadly overlooked by history, from Them’s second studio album, Them Again (1966), that in many ways gives us a taste of his considerable writing talent that was to come as a solo artist. The beautiful guitar riff and keyboards sprinkle emotional depth to his lead vocal. A masterpiece.
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