HARP + LAGER= Van (not Harp Lager)
Listen – Them – Mystic Eyes – MP3
I don’t know if you’re ready for the weekend, but after two days at home nursing a two year old with the chicken pox, I surely am.
In furtherance of such preparation, and in a continuation of sorts of the R&Beat vibe from Monday’s post (though today’s selection hails not from England but from my ancestral homeland of Ireland), I bring you one of the ass-kickingest, most blueswailing, proto-garage records ever recorded.
I remember very clearly the night when I came into possession of this record. More than 20 years ago, a pal of mine from work told me his (much) older brother* had a few boxes of records in his Mom’s basement, and I was welcome to them if I wanted.
As you might have imagined, I am not one to turn up my nose at free vinyl, so naturally I said I’d like to have a look.
When he brought the boxes up from the basement, I was struck by an initial wave of dismay, as every single album looked as if it had spent time at the bottom of the local boat basin. There was much water damage, but since the records were free, and there were a couple of gems in the box (mostly original rock LPs covering 1964 to 1967).
I got the records home and started cleaning the vinyl. The covers were by and large destroyed (I ended up tossing a few of them out of fears for my respiratory health), but most of the records were salvageable.
I was gassed when I saw a Them album in the box, and especially so when I saw that it included one of my top five records of all time (the OG version of ‘Gloria’). When I finally dropped the needle on ‘Mystic Eyes’ I was blown away.
If you’re one of those poor slobs whose exposure to Van Morrison is limited to the weird ramblings of the past few decades, then the pure power of ‘Mystic Eyes’ will come as a revelation.
Though I also ride for his mid-period Warner Brothers stuff (like ‘Astral Weeks’ and ‘St Dominic’s Preview’) I have to say that nothing he ever did, no matter how deep, comes within 100 miles of the intensity evidenced on his recordings with Them.
‘Mystic Eyes’ (and much of the rest of the band’s first two albums) is no less than explosive. I can only imagine that Them weren’t bigger over here because they were either too rough (they sound MEAN), or because their lead singer looked like a leprechaun with a bad attitude (or maybe both). I suppose you can take into account any stereotypes about Northern Ireland being a bleak place, but this record is the aural equivalent of a Guinness-fueled back-alley punch-up.
The song starts like a runaway train, with Morrison’s harmonica and Pete Bardens’ organ pumping wildly, with some powerful guitar riffing (maybe Jimmy Page?), before the vocals come in like a boot to the ribs. Powerful stuff, not to be taken in by the faint of heart, especially people who only think of Van the man as the soft focus, caftan wearing, gentle soul on the cover of ‘His Band and Street Choir’.
It was certainly a long way from Belfast to Marin County, and ‘Mystic Eyes’ is a souvenir from the beginning of that journey.
See you on Monday with a new edition of the Iron Leg Digital Trip.
*A brother who used to make me jealous with tales of having seen the Buffalo Springfield in concert…