Monday, March 28, 2016

The Last of Them (On Decca Anyway)

THEM-Richard Cory/Don't You Know U.K. Decca F.12403 1966

No band is better served by a rock family tree diagram than Them. Their line-up was as stable as a West African republic in the four turbulent years that they together. By 1966 things were grinding to a halt with their second and final LP "Them Again" which ushered in 1966 (UK Decca LK 4751/US Parrot PAS 71008) was a collection of tracks recorded by no less than three or four of the eight different Van Morrison era Them line-ups and their were enough recriminations and spats in the group's turbulent history to write the plot of a Spinal Tap-like rock n roll mockumentary.

That said I am not at all certain who the players were on this which would be Them's final U.K. Decca 45 issued in May 1966 but I suspect owing to the line-up who toured the U.S. at the time this single was released it was Jim Armstrong (guitar), Alan Henderson (bass), Ray Elliot (keyboards) and David Harvey (drums). Strangely a latter Decca era recording "Friday's Child" would appear almost a year later coupled with "Gloria" on the A-side on the Major Minor label (MM 509).

Them at L.A's Whiskey-A-Go-Go May 1966

One would surmise that the choice of recording a version of Simon & Garfunkel's "Richard Cory" would be the idea of Them's manager Phil Solomon but seeing as Van Morrison leaped immediately into the singer/songwriter genre and turned his back on r&b with the dissolution of Them it is entirely possible that it was his idea. Regardless it's an interesting choice.  The delivery is faster than the S&G original and the funky intro riff is retained but the playing is actually lighter and more restrained than the original.  The track suits Van's vocals and though his phrasing is not as cynical and down trodden sounding as Paul Simon's it's an excellent interpretation.

Tommy Scott's composition "Don't You Know" had previously been given to fellow Belfast r&b aficionados The Wheels and was the flip side to their debut, September 1965's  "Gloria" (U.K. Columbia DB 7682). Them's version utilizes the same arrangement with an almost identical jazzy piano but where the Wheels use a harmonica Them opt for a more sophisticated flute that brings to mind jazzy/r&b era Moody Blues material.

Both sides are collected on Decca/Deram's comprehensive Them collection "The Story Of Them Featuring Van Morrison" and the newly released 3 CD set "The Complete Them 1964-1967" from Sony that captures even more tracks.

Hear "Richard Cory":

Hear "Don't You Know":

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