Category Archives: Them

Them Discography

Them were an early British Invasion act from Northern Ireland led by the soulful voice of a young Van Morrison. Their second single, “Baby Please Don’t Go” b/w “Gloria,” proved to be their commercial breakthrough and was followed four months later by the international hit, “Here Comes The Night.” Their first full-length record, The “Angry” Young Them, combined the raw energy of The Rolling Stones with a unique sound driven by organ (Pete Bardens, later of Camel) and electric guitar (Billy Harrison) that proved influential on The Doors (who opened for Them in 1966).

Unfortunately, the band had personalities to match their prodigious talents, and by 1966 the group had split into two schisms, with Morrison and original bass player Alan Henderson recording Them Again while an alternate version of the band featuring brothers Pat (John) and Jackie McAuley released Belfast Gypsies. Morrison’s decision to pursue a solo career put Them in the hands of Henderson, Jim Armstrong (guitar) and Ray Elliott (saxophone & organ), who released the overtly psychedelic Now And Them with new lead vocalist Kenny McDowell. Several albums followed before the band called it quits in 1972, by which time Henderson was the only original member.

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Them: The “Angry” Young Them (1965)

Kronomyth 1.0: AND THE VAN COMES ON THE RADIO. Them were Northern Ireland’s answer to The Rolling Stones, which would make Them an answer to a question few were asking. After all, the world had The Who, The Animals, The Kinks and countless other bands to indulge their teenage daydreams of rebellion. Yet none of those bands had a lead singer who could match Mick Jagger’s wide-mouthed white punk so naturally and convincingly. Van Morrison wasn’t copping Jagger, they were cut from the same cloth: wonderstuck by rhythm and blues, wild boys whose savage breasts could only be tamed by that seductive muse, rock and roll. And so a certain faction of teenagers rallied around Them as the next great white hope. They were, like most of their contemporaries, a product of their time, with the emphasis on product. The labels played up the band’s antisocial image, the usual R&B suspects were lined up (“Bright Lights, Big City,” “Route 66”), professionally penned tunes were provided (“I Gave My Love A Diamond,” “I’m Gonna Dress In Black”), session players brought in to help out. None of that, however, distracts from the powerful presence of Morrison; whether he’s singing or wailing on the harmonica or sax, Van is a one-man gale. That’s not to say that the rest of the band doesn’t have talent; my original interest in Them, in fact, was their organ player, Pete Bardens (of future Camel fame). The band’s chemistry is clear on songs like “Mystic Eyes” (a Top 40 hit in the US), and if the production is a little messy (the Stones recordings sounded much cleaner), it gives their music a raw energy all its own. Despite the UK habit of separating singles and albums, The “Angry” Young Them reprised the earlier B side, “Gloria,” pure musical genius, that. (The US version, simply titled Them, added the recent and equally brilliant “Here Comes The Night.”) While nothing else on the album is a match for those two tracks, quality material from Morrison (“If You And I Could Be As Two,” “You Just Can’t Win”) and scorching cover versions (their spin on Rosco Gordon’s “Just A Little Bit” is downright menacing) put it right in the front ranks of the English R&B revolution. Yes, you could argue that’s it all just a clever copy of the Stones, but that Van was the genuine article is clear on every track.

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Them Again (1966)

Kronomyth 2.0: THEMPEROR’S NEW CLONES. Their first album sounded like the second coming of the Stones. This followup sounds more like a second-rate British Invasion band which, sorry, they really were at this stage. Only Van Morrision and bass player Alan Henderson remain from the lineup that recorded their debut, and Morrison himself would be out of the picture soon enough. Producer Tommy Scott clearly hoped to reproduce the success of their first album and even provides the material to do it: a rocking rewrite of “Gloria” in “I Can Only Give You Everything” plus a few clever contenders in “Call My Name,” “How Long Baby” and “Don’t You Know.” Kids weren’t buying it, though, and the record failed to produce a hit single along the lines of “Here Comes The Night.” As one of only two records that Morrison recorded with Them, the album is historically important and not without its moments. Van’s versions of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “I Put A Spell On You” (included in the expanded UK version) and “Turn On Your Love Light” are well worth hearing, and his originals “Hey Girl” and “My Lonely Sad Eyes” point to the good things to come on Blowin’ Your Mind. New Them-bers Jim Armstrong, Ray Elliott (who doubles on sax) and John Wilson do a solid job, although the organ playing of Pete Bardens is sorely missed. Originally released in mono, the record suffers from the same tinny sound that marred the first, minus some of the energy that made you forgive those sonic shortcomings the first time around. As an artifact from the British Invasion, Them Again is worth discovering and not simply as a vantiquity, although it doesn’t belong on a pedestal like the first Them record. A lot of what’s here seems second rate, especially in lieu of what original acts like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks and The Animals were doing.

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Them: Belfast Gypsies (1967)

belfast gypsies album coverKronomyth 2.75: GLORIA IN REDUNDAM. This is one of the murkier chapters in the convoluted history of Them: an album recorded by a splinter group of the original band that was released in Sweden and, at least on the cover, appeared to be credited to Them. In reality, the band went by the legally approved name of Belfast Gypsies, and there seems to be some conjecture as to whether the official album title should be regarded as an eponymous album by Belfast Gypsies (with the reference to Them no more than a bit of bold cross-marketing) or as Belfast Gypsies by an alternate, unlicensed version of Them. At this stage, the connection to the original Them was the smallest of splinters; Pat (John) McAuley was the band’s original drummer, and his brother Jackie appears to have played in some version of the band as well. Guitarist Billy Harrison, who led the original defection, had already been replaced by Ken McLeod, while Mark Scott had the distinction of at least being the original bass guitarist in the group that featured Harrison. This dilution by degrees hardly boded well for the music and, no offense to the Swedes, their homeland has never been the epicenter of musical pop culture. All of which makes the fact that Belfast Gypsies is only marginally less interesting than Them’s official second album quite a surprise. Jackie McAuley is a screamer in the mold of Van Morrison, although clearly not up to his calibre (who was?), and the Gypsies are as professional and passionate as most British Invasion R&B acts from the period. Produced by the ghoulish Kim Fowley, the record doesn’t make any bones about cashing in on Them’s fame, from the bald rewrite of “Gloria’s Dream” (in which everyone lines up at the royalty trough) to yet another cover of Bob Dylan’s “Baby Blue.” The group also seems to get away with nicking Bach’s G string for the portentously titled “Aria of the Fallen Angels.” Despite these missteps, the album is a remarkably solid R&B exercise for a Swedish-only import. Jackie McAuley is a formidable singer, organist and harpist, and the rest of the band provides powerful accompaniment on songs like “Boom Boom,” “Midnight Train,” “The Last Will And Testament” and “People, Let’s Freak Out.” The record ends on an odd note: the disharmonious and dark “Suicide Song” and the paranoid “Secret Police.” It’s speculation on my part, but some of the more sinister undertones in the music may be the work of the crypty, creepy Fowley. This record and a few assorted singles represent the sum and substance of Them’s second act as the Belfast Gypsies. Thankfully, archivists have unearthed these recordings and given them a second life on compact disc and an audience to appreciate them.

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Them: Now And Them (1968)

Kronomyth 3.0: AND NOW AND THEM FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. After Van Morrison left Them, you might have expected the band to quietly disappear. What you didn’t expect was a psychedelic album featuring a nine-minute Indian raga and trippy songs like “Truth Machine” and “Walking In The Queen’s Garden.” Now And Them is a radical shift from the band’s R&B origins; in truth, the band reinvented themselves after Van’s departure. Here, they take on psychedelic blues (John Mayall’s “I’m Your Witch Doctor”) and pop (“You’re Just What I Was Looking For Today,” “I Happen To Love You”), plus a few originals that reveal a heretofore undiscovered talent for psychedelic rock. The new vocalist, Kenny McDowell, won’t make you forget about Van Morrison, but he’s a legitimate singer, versus, say, having one of the other members take on the role. New drummer Dave Harvey is another solid addition and wastes little time making a good impression, giving his kit a sound thrashing on the opening “Witch Doctor.” Unfortunately, Van took most of the eyes and ears with him, and not a lot of folks stuck around to hear/see Them’s second act. These days, Now And Them is best appreciated as a psychedelic artifact (one that XTC seems to have dug, judging by “Your Gold Dress”). Whether the band really did have a psychedelic conversion of heart or whether it was just a fashionable costume change, I couldn’t tell you. Them were hardly the only R&B act to go psychedelic (I was originally going to kronomyth this “Thempathy for the Devil”). I won’t kid you, Van Morrison’s Blowin’ Your Mind is the better album, but Now And Them is a pleasant, mind-expanding addendum from the rest of Them.

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Them: Time Out! Time In For Them (1968)

Kronomyth 4.0: TIME OUT, TIME INSECTS. The band’s second foray into the psychedelic fringes is even more interesting than their last, this despite the fact that nearly all of the material on Time Out! Time In For Them is written by an outside songwriting pair. (Tom Lane had earlier written the song “Dirty Old Man” for the band.) It’s an unorthodox approach which, notwithstanding an unusual preoccupation with insects (“The Moth,” “Waltz of the Flies,” “Black Widow Spider”), plays out remarkably well. Jim Armstrong’s fascination with Eastern music was paying fast dividends for the band, artistically if not commercially; he would make my shortlist for the best guitarists from the psychedelic era. The music on Time Out isn’t likely to displace Cream in your collection, but it’s a fine example of psychedelic rock from the period; too bad it didn’t find its way into more hands and homes. With Armstrong’s excellent playing as the draw, the music on Time Out hits some pretty good highs: “The Moth,” “She Put A Hex On You,” “Just One Conception.” Producer Ray Ruff does a nice job of capturing the right mix of bluesy energy and aural strangeness on tape while bringing Allan Henderson’s bass up in the mix to give the music a strong bottom end. Vocalist Kenny McDowell, who earlier suffered comparison to Van Morrison, is no Jack Bruce either; he is a distinctive and talented enough singer, however, to stand on his own merits. If the band’s last record, Now And Them, struck me as stylemongering, Time Out makes clear that Them can handily hold their own with their psychedelic peers. In 2004, the album was re-released with nine bonus tracks including the scorching single, “But It’s Alright,” and several versions of “Dirty Old Man” and “Square Room.”

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