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“I Can Only Give You Everything” — Them

July 12, 2010

[This week’s song goes out to Kathleen Roberts — a good friend of mine from Santa Cruz, California — who hasn’t been feeling well lately.  Ms. Roberts is quite a fan of Van Morrison and I really hope she enjoys this post.]

It’s hard for some people to believe that the soulful romantic who wrote and crooned “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” was the same guy who had salaciously screamed out the letters “G-L-O-R-I-A.”  Nevertheless, Van Morrison was indeed the singer and harmonica player in Them.  The band — which took its name from a science fiction movie about gigantic irradiated ants — was from Belfast in Northern Ireland, but here in the U.S. they got lumped in as part of the “British Invasion.”  And, like The Animals and The Rolling Stones, they did cover a lot of American blues and R&B standards.  However, they also recorded several songs — including the aforementioned classic, “Gloria” — that were templates for what would come to be known as “garage rock.”  Wikipedia’s article on garage rock states that: 

“The lyrics and delivery were notably more aggressive than was common at the time, often with growled or shouted vocals that dissolved into incoherent screaming.  Instrumentation was often characterized by the use of guitars distorted through a fuzz box.”1

Based on that description, “I Can Only Give You Everything” — from the 1966 album Them Again — was Them at their “garage-iest.”

Let there be fuzz tone!

Okay, let’s start with the title:  “I Can Only Give You Everything” succinctly combines youthful exuberance and sarcastic arrogance.  It also sounds like a twist on the old jazz/pop standard “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.”  The song — written by Phillip Coulter and Thomas Scott — was clearly influenced by “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”  The lyrics don’t make a whole lot of sense — they’re essentially just a vehicle for what writer Richie Unterberger describes as “one of his [Morrison’s] toughest, most snarling vocals ever, and indeed one of the snottiest vocals of the entire British Invasion… an utterly convincing mixture of aggressive and desperate pursuit of affection.”2

In a word, what this song had going for it was ATTITUDE!

Back in July of 1966, I saw Them perform at the Waikiki Shell (a smaller, flatter version of the Hollywood Bowl) in Honolulu.  It was a weird show — the sound was lousy and the band seemed pissed off.  Frankly, I can’t even recall whether they played “I Can Only Give You Everything” that night.  It was released as a single around that time, but flopped.  Soon after, the band broke up and Van began his solo career.   

The record may have tanked, but some people heard it — and covered it.  In the 60’s, it was recorded by numerous bands, most notably The MC5 (it was the group’s first single) and The Troggs (who, of course, had given the world their own garage rock classic, “Wild Thing”).  Moving from garage rock to punk rock, Richard Hell and the Voidoids recorded a version on their 1982 album, Destiny Street.

That fuzz tone guitar riff took on a life of its own in 1996, when Beck used it in the song “Devils Haircut.” 

Throughout the album Odelay, Beck used samples (including samples from other tracks on Them Again — an album that was released 4 years before Beck was born!), but on “Devils Haircut” he only used (per the liner notes) “elements” from the song — he re-recorded the riff .3  

[Get well soon, Kathleen!]  


From → The 1960's

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