Album: The Angry Young Them
. . .
The first thing you should probably know about one of the greatest singalongs in music history is that it was originally a b-side.
Despite being one of Van Morrison’s — about whom a whole lot more when we get there — earliest compositions, the record company (or somebody) decided that this primal piece of rock awesomeness would be better as the b-side of their cover of “Baby Please Don’t Go.” Not that it was surprising: the earliest Stones and Kinks singles — the best comps for Them — were also covers.
In any event, that original version of “Gloria” — supposedly one of seven songs they recorded that day — is both as simple as a blueprint and as profound as a photograph, starting off with the bass in one speaker, the guitar in the other and Morrison singing over a simple drumbeat.
Like to tell ya about my baby
You know she comes around
She about five feet four
From her head to the ground
My favorite detail in that verse is the “five feet four,” which would make her taller than Morrison, who ignores my dig at his height because he’s about to get laid. With her coming over to his place, the best of all possible situations. And he’s so excited about that, he’s gonna spell out nearly every letter of her name, maybe to make sure he calls her by the right one.
And her name is
At which point a drumroll kicks the song into full gear and the whole band joins in on backing vocals.
I’m gonna shout it all night
I’m gonna shout it everyday
At which point, a stabbing rhythm guitar — perched halfway between a lead and a rhythm — takes us home. Or at least into a second verse, which now also has a keyboard, and has basically the same structure, except there are also some drum rolls in the final chorus to add extra excitement as “Gloria” comes ramming home.
The thing about “Gloria,” of course, is that simple structure — two verses and two choruses which are basically the same, with no bridge or guitar solo — is also endlessly malleable. You can do anything with it.
And so the Chicago rock band Shadows of Knight did a straight and slightly less lascivious cover of it, and landed in the top ten in early 1966. That version is probably how most people in America first heard it, and we were off to the races.. The Doors played it live but never released it in Jim Morrison’s lifetime. Patti Smith built up to it in her Horses opener. In his live shows, Bruce Springsteen often snuck it into the build-up to “She’s The One.” A band called The Tryfles mashed it up with the traditional “Gloria” and created perhaps my favorite Christmas song ever.
And at some point in your life, you’ve belted it out, as well; probably with your band, or maybe a singalong with your friends band. Either way, nothing is more fun than singing the chorus of “Gloria.” If Van Morrison had gone on and done nothing else with his life, he’d still be remembered as the guy who wrote and sang the original version of “Gloria.”
But, of course, Van is still cranking out music nearly sixty years later, and while that music has zero to do with the garage stomp of “Gloria,” he did put a version of it on his utterly stellar 1973 live album, It’s Too Late to Stop Now, and two decades later, recorded it with John Lee Hooker on his highly recommended Too Long in Exile album.
“Gloria” Live in France, 1965
“Gloria” Live in 1973
“Glora” Ft. John Lee Hooker
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