Let’s remind ourselves what’s A1 on The Immortal Jukebox and why!
Some songs have a brutally simple primal perfection.
Usually these songs are recorded at the very beginning of an artists career before they start to look into the rear view mirror and become conscious that they do indeed have a career, a legacy and a reputation to protect.
These are records that come at you full bore and demand you listen now!
Think of the primitive perfection of the last song recorded on the day the Beatles recorded their first LP.
You want to know what The Beatles sounded like in Hamburg? Listen to the raw bleeding magnificence of John Lennon’s vocal on, ‘Twist and Shout’ and the eyeballs out commitment of Paul, George and Ringo.
There was no way a second take could top that!
Think of the stupid beauty of the Undertones debut single, ‘Teenage Kicks’ – a record that captured as few others have the thrilling intoxication of young love and lust.
Feargal Sharkey’s impassioned vocal (All right!) and the unrepeatable delirium of Damian O’ Neill’s guitar solo combine to create a miracle that comes up fresh every time and is endlessly replayable – which seems a pretty good definition of what I want from a jukebox single.
And then there’s the Daddy of all primal utterances on 45 – Gloria by Van Morrison during his days with Them.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that throughout the 1960s that wherever and whenever a group of would be rock and roll stars gathered – in the family garage, in the basement or at a flea bitten church or municipal hall – very soon after they had plugged in they would launch, with wildly varying degrees of competence, into their own version of, ‘Gloria’.
Puzzled passers-by must have wondered why such a simple name needed to be spelled out with such repetitive intensity.
‘And her name is G – L – O – R – I – A, Gloria!’.
They must also have shuddered at the threat:
‘ I’m gonna shout it out night and day .. G – L – O – R – I – A! G – L – O – R – I – A, Gloria!’.
It is likely that many of the groups who attacked the song made a fair fist of the instrumental ground of the song – three chords don’t take long to master.
A few of the lead guitar players will have matched Jimmy Pages fluency and prowess as demonstrated on the recording.
However, No-one, No-one, will have come anywhere near reproducing the frenzied intensity of Van Morrison’s pyrotechnic vocal.
This Van Morrison was not the superlative song stylist or the Celtic soul and blues master he would later become.
This was a snarling, desperate, bewildered teenager who was reluctantly coming to terms with life and lust. The whole painful mess of it all.
A youth who looked down more than he looked up but who was nevertheless able to surprise himself with the ability to express vocally the gamut of emotions and frustrations he faced every day and every night.
But, from the very get-go in his career there was no doubt about who was leading and commanding the band.
Van Morrison on the bandstand or in the studio acts as an emperor, a ruler by right of his eminent majesty as a singer and as a band leader. In this, as so much else, he took his cue from the high priest of soul – Ray Charles.
Gloria is a work of explosive youth, of wanting and yearning, of overwhelming mind and body dominating lust.
Gloria may be the most purely male, testosterone fueled record ever made.
Gloria, five feet four from her head to the ground, is the eternal lust object. Van Morrison might say that she knocks upon his door and even more thrillingly comes to his room but the thrust of the song seems to me to be the solitary, devoutly told repetition of an oft returned to fantasy.
There may well have been a real Gloria but it is the dream of Gloria who knocks on Van’s door with such insistent force. Surely, if he could only chant her name with enough power she would indeed knock upon his door and make all his fevered dreams come true:
G – L – O – R – I A !! G- L- O- R – I – A
The musical drive of Gloria is the relentless beat, beat, beat of male desire in all it’s sullen and obsessive purity. Gloria is the incarnation on vinyl of the desperate teenage male imperative to be adultly carnal – its a boy desperately wanting, needing, to be a man.
Gloria has more tension than release – much like all young lives. This is no doubt why it appealed so powerfully to beat group boys all over the world.
Van snarls his way through the lyric with his uniquely salty Belfast tones alternately pressing and holding back – he already had a grasp of dynamics within song arrangement born of years of listening to Ray, John Lee and Leadbelly on the street where he was born.
Gloria is also as every listener who’s ever heard it knows one hell of a rush!
It comes roaring out of the speakers and before you have time to catch your breath you are carried along on its tidal wave of rhythmic power.
Two minutes and thirty-eight seconds later you will be nearly as elatedly exhausted as Van Morrison himself.
Take a breath or two and maybe down a shot of Bushmills – then press A1 again – you know you want to.
Notes & Comments:
Gloria was recorded on April 5 1964 at Decca’s Studio in West Hampstead, London and released as the B side of Baby Please Don’t Go on July 6th.
Them members Billy Harrison (guitar), Alan Henderson RIP (bass), Ronnie MIllings (drums) and Patrick McCauley (keyboards) were present in the studio when Gloria was recorded and all probably contributed to the single.
Also present were key members of London’s top session musicians of the time. Jimmy Page surely played the lead guitar and Bobby Graham (who would later play the on the equally epochal ‘You really got me’, must have played the drums).
Arthur Greenslade probably played the organ.
There have been numerous cover versions. The most commercially successful being that by The Shadows of Knight which made No 10 in the US charts at the end of 1966.
The most artistically successful is Patti Smith’s reinvention of the song on her amazing debut LP ‘Horses’ in 1975.