Before Van Morrison became Van Morrison, he was known as one of Them.
Van the Man needed a band, and he needed one quickly. In the spring of 1964, he and a few investors concocted plans to open an R&B club in a Belfast hotel — where an 18 year-old Morrison would star and provide the house band — but he was unhappy with his current musical backing. Having no time to audition new musicians one at a time, Van found a local group he liked called The Gamblers and convinced them to let him join on lead vocals and saxophone (the promise of a residency at the new club with nightly exposure and a steady paycheck was a sweet deal).
A new incarnation meant a new name — the group chose Them, after a 1954 sci-fi movie about giant, mutated ants — and after a few intensive rehearsals they hit the stage. Within three months Them became the hottest band in Ireland, signed a record deal with Decca, and found Themselves in a London studio.
Among the R&B covers the group recorded for their first session was a song Morrison had written the previous year about a young lady named Gloria who comes over every night at midnight for, uh, spelling lessons. In concert, Them sometimes extended the song up to 20 minutes, full of musical and lyrical improvisations about other ways the singer and Gloria might while away the hours until morning, but they trimmed the length to just a couple of minutes for the recorded track.
Released in the fall of 1964 as the B-side to “Baby Please Don’t Go” (a Top 10 UK hit) — and also appearing on Them’s debut album — “Gloria” quickly became a garage rock classic, added to the repertoire of countless teen bands in large part because the song didn’t require knowledge of more than three chords, didn’t require actual singing ability, and the sexual implications meant that grown-ups freaked out entirely too much (several radio stations banned the track due to the lyrics).
So gimme a G! Gimme an L! Gimme an O! Gimme an R! Gimme an I I I I …. spell it all out …. with Them.
Let’s go ahead and look at two of the most well known covers while we’re here. The Shadows Of Knight, a teenage garage band from Chicago, scored a Top 10 hit in the US in 1966.
Also in 1966, The Doors opened for Them for a week at the Whiskey a Go Go in Los Angeles. On the last night, the two bands joined together on “Gloria.” The Doors kept the song as part of their concert act for years, and the version below can be found on their live album Alive, She Cried.