Monday, December 13, 2010

Song of the Week: "I'm Gonna Dress In Black", Them

Listen - Them perform I'm Gonna Dress In Black.

Ahhh, it's Them. I must say, it has been a while since I had Them on the turntable. Too long. So how sweet it was when, just the other week, I pulled out some of my US label Parrot Records-stamped Them 45's, a few O'Dell's IPA beers, and had a grand old time playing records at ear splitting volumes.

Understandably, Them is often recognized for only two things: 1) being the first band of the 5'4" musical giant that is Van Morrison, and; 2) being the originators of the garage band standard, Gloria, a Van Morrison penned flip-side to the stellar cover of Baby Please Don't Go. But Them were much more than that. The Belfast boys put out two excellent records and a healthy amount of solid 45's. Them albums sounded different than most of their "British Invasion" brethren. Certainly part of it is their Irish homeland influence, but most of it can be traced to the multi-instrumental ability of their frontman and predominant song composer, Van Morrison. He brought Irish folk, American folk, American Jazz, American blues and rock-n-roll influences, and mixed them all together in a wonderful little stew. Only Manfred Mann albums had as much diversity as did the two albums by Them.

Today's SoTW comes from Them's first album, the excellent 1965 release, The Angry Young Them. The song seems to be neither a cover nor an original, but rather a song brought to the group. Perhaps by sometime Them producer and songwriter, Bert Berns. (See an old post on a bitching Garnett Mimms song he produced, As Long As I Have You). The song for the week is I'm Gonna Dress In Black. Thematically and musically, it has a certain feel similar to The House of the Rising Son as performed by The Animals. The organ dominant song features some of the most unexpected chord progressions, mixing up minor and major chords nicely, you're likely to hear out of song from this era. Van Morrison is, as always, exceptional on the song. You can really feel the Ray Charles influence in his performance. But it is really the organist who shines on this. Who that organist is, we just can't say. You see, Them was really a revolving cast of musicians with only bassist Alan Henderson and Van Morrison remaining constant. Additionally, it is very evident that studio musicians were employed generously on Them recordings. Question me on that? Just watch a live performance of Them and you'll hear a great difference in ability from stage to record. Whomever the musicians were, the song is killer.

Enjoy, today's SoTW, I'm Gonna Dress In Black. And enjoy the two vids below. The first is a live performance of the Bert Berns produced/composed Here Comes the Night, the latter a lip-synch version of Van Morrison's composition, Gloria.


  1. To me it sounds more like St. James Infirmary. I don't think it's a Berns song, but in any case gotta love a song that rhymes hills with hills.

    As for the live video, after hearing for years how bad they were live I was quite surprised at how accurate this sounded to me and how strong Van Morrison's presence is. And though it seems that Van makes a flub here, it's the bassist, guitarist and drummer with their heads in the ethers, not Van. Keys too, I guess. Chalk it up to lack of monitors.

  2. I very much hear St. James Infirmary in there as well. It shares, with Rising Sun and I'm Gonna Dress in Black, the minor chord non I-IV-V blues feel.

    I did not mean to imply that Berns wrote the song, but rather the sang may have been brought to the group by him. Berns did write many songs for Them, including Here Comes The Night. However, that is probably not the case based on further research. It appears that M. Gillon is a pen name for Scottish songwriter Tommy Scott. Scott wrote Call My Name, I Can Only Give You Everything and the way-cool Don't You Know for the boys.

    As for the live video, no keys in the band on that performance. Interesting. If you count the number of riffs in the intro and compare it to what is on the record, you are correct. It appears the band as a whole does an extra turn on the main riff before it switches to the ascending riff that signals the intro to the vocals. But shouldn't Van have heard the musical signature not changing?