Composed by Van Morrison

Song Review by

Very few rock & roll songs rival the sexual excitement and anticipation of Van Morrison's "Gloria." A three-chord rocker written for his band Them for the band's 1965 self-titled debut, the 1960s classic buzzes and pulses with tension-and-release dynamics. The song became a garage rock anthem, a standard covered famously by the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, and Patti Smith. But the former two took the song too far into the realm of heavy-handed obviousness: Jim Morrison "daringly" acting out the song; oh, this song is about sex? The beauty of the original is that Van Morrison needs only to speak-sing, in his Howlin' Wolf growl, "I watch her come up to my house/She knocks upon my door/And then she comes up to my room/I want to say she makes me feel all right/G-L-O-R-I-A!" to convey his teenage lust. The original Latin meaning of the name is not lost on Morrison. Them never varies from the three chords, utilizing only dynamic changes to heighten the tension. The arrangement features the famous syncopated staccato rhythmic 6/4 pushes. Jim Parker's swinging guitar lick, a droning organ from Pete Bardens, and "Bolero"-meets-"Peter Gunn Theme" bass line from Alan Henderson drive the song along until overdubbed timbales or tomtom drums from John Starks explode and the song finishes in an orgasmic crescendo. Van Morrison's thin growl is hardly recognizable if compared to his later solo singing. (All players are assumed to have played on the track, though during the recording sessions, many studio musicians -- including Jimmy Page -- were involved). Them scored a regional hit with the song on the West Coast, which was the ticket to the States for the group and led to Morrison's extended stay in the country. Chicago garage band Shadows of Knight scored an even bigger hit everywhere else with their 1965 recording of the song. This is a faithful, though tamer version of the original. Of the cover versions, only Patti Smith seems to understand that the sex is implied in the music itself. She uses the song as a canvas for a nocturnal urban tale. The Patti Smith Group's Velvet Underground-like slow-paced introduction underscores Smith's epilogue "Jesus for somebody's sins/but not sin's are my own/They belong to me...I go to this here party/And I just get bored/Until I look out the window/And see this sweet young thing...leaning on the parking meter/Oh she looks so good/Oh, she looks so fine/And I have a crazy feeling/I'm gonna...uh, uh, make her mine." For the era, the mid-'70s, a woman singing these lyrics was a courageous act; Smith -- either as herself, or acting out the part as a male narrator, depending on how one reads it -- overtly takes charge of a sexual power, and thus paves the way for many women artists that followed. Smith's intermingling of lascivious sex and religious guilt (or lack thereof) certainly foreshadows similar sacred/profane juxtapositions from ultra-feminine Madonna and androgynous Prince.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
The Angry Young Them 1965 Deram
No Image 1969 Decca
In Reality 1971 Fallout 6:05
No Image 1972 Parrot 2:38
Them Featuring Van Morrison [Deram] 1987 London 2:41
Classic Rock: 1966 - Blowin' Your Mind 1990
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 2:39
No Image 1991
Various Artists
Toga Rock, Vol. 2 1991
Various Artists
DCC Compact Classics 2:36
The Story of Them Featuring Van Morrison 1997 Deram 2:35
30 Best Irish Hits 2003
Various Artists
Solid / Lunar 2:38
Still on Top: The Greatest Hits 2007 Polydor
The Complete Them: 1964-1967 2015 Exile Records / Legacy 3:02