Picture sleeve for Them's "Baby Please Don't Go" single
Them was not only a great rock band in its own right, it was arguably the first rock band from Northern Ireland to make a significant impact on the music scene. Them originated when Van Morrison, formerly of the Golden Eagles, formed an rhythm and blues club at the Maritime Hotel in Belfast with entrepreneurs Jimmy Conlon, Jerry McKenna and Gerry McCurvey. He set about to find a backing band and eventually joined up with a band called The Gamblers that had been formed in 1962 by Ronnie Millings (drums), Billy Harrison (guitar) and Alan Henderson (bass guitar). Eric Wrixon, who was still in school, was recruited as a piano player and keyboardist, while Morrison played saxophone and harmonica and shared lead vocal duties with Harrison. Following the suggestion of Wrixon, the band rechristened itself Them (after a 1954 science fiction movie). The band debuted on April 14, 1964, and within a week people were queuing down the street to get into the two hundred capacity venue. Supposedly their studio work never captured the brilliance of their live performances, as they fed off the energy of the audience. A tape of one of their songs recorded by a fan found its way to Dick Rowe of Decca Records. Rowe had become famous as the man who turned down The Beatles, and eager not to make the same mistake, he rushed to the Maritime Hotel to see them in concert and soon signed Them to a standard two year contract. The minors who were members of the band needed their parents’ permission, and when Eric Wrixon’s parents refused to sign, he was replaced with Patrick McAuley. After an initial single failed to chart (“Don’t Start Crying Now”, released in August 1964), Them’s manager, Phil Solomon, and Dick Rowe hired session musicians Jimmy Page, Peter Bardens, and Bobby Graham to back Morrison on a cover version of Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go”. The session was recounted in Stephen Davis’s biography of Led Zeppelin, “Hammer Of The Gods”:
The sessions for Them were really uncomfortable for Jimmy, as the four tough Belfast musicians were replaced, one by one, with London session hacks, “The group went in thinking they were going to record,” Jimmy said, “and all of a sudden they find these other people playing on their records. It’s a miracle they didn’t replace Van Morrison. Talk about daggers!”
The single had “Gloria” on the B-side. “Gloria” was a Van Morrison composition that had gained almost legendary status in the band’s live performances, where Morrison would often ad-lib the lyrics, and the song would often run twenty minutes. As one might have already guessed, “Gloria” became the stronger side and the single was even re-released with “Gloria” on the A-side and “Baby Please Don’t Go” on the B-side. And as one might have surmised from the title of this posting, this is the featured single of the day.
“Baby Please Don’t Go” was originally released as a single by Joe Williams’ Washboard Singers in 1935; Williams recorded another version in 1941 and the song has been covered by many artists since then; the most memorable example from recent years is the Aerosmith version from the “Honkin’ On Bobo” album, and AC/DC recorded a version that was included on the “’74 Jailbreak” EP. The original version features Joe Williams on guitar, singing while accompanied by – you guessed it – a washboard (and a violin). The 1935 recording sounds like it was recorded in the stone age, yet Williams and company turn in a spirited performance (I liked the washboard percussion at the end as well). The 1940’s version featured a harmonica (essentially replacing the violin) and a more traditional rhythm section (a bass guitar and drums). The chord progression on the song isn’t overly complex, and in the Them version, the song is driven by the main riff on Page’s lead guitar accompanied by a bass guitar. [One suspects that when Aerosmith recorded their cover version of the tune, they used the Them version, rather than the original version, as a template for their remake.] About 15 seconds into the song, an organ kicks in and not too long after that, drums and percussion. The lyrical content is very simple: it’s about a man begging his significant other not to leave him: Baby please don’t go/Baby please don’t go/Baby please don’t go/Down to New Orleans/You know I love you so/Baby please don’t go”. There is also a very interesting guitar effect about 1 minute and 20 seconds into the song that is difficult to describe; essentially, it sounds as if the guitar is muffled. A harmonica can be heard about 1 minute and 55 seconds into the song, and so much is going on here that until this point, one almost doesn’t notice that there hadn’t been any harmonica. Overall, the song moves along nicely, making it seem even shorted than its 2 minute 38 second length. Although “Gloria” ultimately became the more popular song and the band’s signature tune, the Them recording of “Baby Please Don’t Go” is a great song and it even became the theme music for the ITV music show “Ready Steady Go”.
“Gloria” is yet another of the classic songs covered in this blog that has been written about extensively, and as a result, it is very difficult to do it justice in a brief blog posting such as this. But if Van Morrison and Them can encapsulate teenage lust as well as they did in 2 minutes and 38 seconds, I guess I can try to encapsulate the song in a single paragraph. This is a very simple song: there are only three chords, although there are dynamic changes throughout the song, so that the band gets the most out of this rather simple riff. The song starts with the melody played on electric guitar by Harrison, followed by Morrison’s speak-singing Howlin’ Wolf voice (at the same time that Morrison starts singing, an organ can be heard – in the left channel in the stereo version – in the background, playing the same melody as the lead guitar; this could be either McAuley or perhaps session musician Arthur Greensdale, who was brought in by Rowe): “Like to tell ya about my baby/You know she comes around/She about five feet four/From her head to the ground/You know she comes around here/At just about midnight/She make ya feel so good, Lord/She make ya feel all right”. This is probably, as one critic suggested, one song that is as raunchy as it’s reputation, and in addition, it’s probably one of the best songs to get past the censors. About 1 minute and 20 seconds into the song, the tempo slows down, and the organ becomes more audible, and Morrison’s vocals seem even more desperate than before, as he describes the denouement of his anticipation:” Comes a-walkin’ down my street/When she comes to my house/She knocks upon my door/And then she comes in my room/Yeah, an’ she make me feel alright”. And then of course this gives way to the end of the song, in which the tempo picks up again, and Morrison delivers the last iteration of the famous chorus (“G-L-O-R-I-A!” with the rest of the band chanting “Gloria” in the background). It wouldn’t be doing the song justice if I didn’t also mention the fact that there seems to be two drums on this record – one providing rhythm, and the other one just thumping away. The extra drum may have been dubbed in, or perhaps it is Bobby Graham, also brought in by Rowe. In either case, there seems to be a lot going on in this pop song. “Gloria”, like “Baby Please Don’t Go”, has been covered numerous times (it’s so easy to play that Dave Barry once joked that if you throw a guitar down the stairs, it will play “Gloria”); the Status Quo, The Doors, the Patti Smith Group, and U2 come to mind as far as cover versions go, and AC/DC used the riff as the basis for “’74 Jailbreak”.
This single (catalog #: F12018) came with a picture sleeve – you can see it here as my default pic (as of 4-19-2008). And I happen to think it’s a rather nice sleeve, green and yellow with a picture of the band and track listing. It seems a bit weird that the word BABY appears in a larger font than the words PLEASE DON’T GO, with the word GLORIA appearing in a font size somewhere in between the two extremes; I have no idea why they did that. Interestingly enough, it was issued in the United States by Parrot Records, a division of London Records (Decca Records in the U.S.). After Parrot Records folded in 1973, the single was reissued by London Records. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, that this single currently has the honor of being the oldest single covered in this blog, having been released in November 1964.