You can now purchase The Shadows of Knight’s version of “Gloria” on iTunes for 69 cents, but you have to be careful, because while it’s available for that price on the album “Dark Sides,” the exact same recording is still listed for 99 cents if bought from the “Gloria” album. I’m all for the ‘variable pricing’ concept, but I shouldn’t have to comparison-shop on iTunes to see if I can find an album where this particular ‘Gloria’ is 30 cents cheaper.
Not to mention all the other ‘Gloria’s out there. The long list of Glorias.
What do we know about her?
From most accounts, the one thing we can say for certain is that she stands 5′ 4″ “from the head to the ground” (The Blues Magoos, Jimi Hendrix, and a few others, don’t even bother sharing that information). Beyond that, she is something of a mystery. Is she the same Gloria (“it’s not Marie”) that The Cleftones, The Passions, The Escorts and The Cadillacs sang about in the ’50s? That Gloria was unattainable (“she’s not in love with me”), but the Gloria we’re talking about, the one that Van Morrison immortalized in what is maybe the greatest rock and roll song, will come knocking at your door around midnight. Some narrators (Jim Morrison, not surprisingly, and Hendrix) feel compelled to share some explicit details of the encounter, but most feel it is sufficient to let us know that she made them feel so good: the only thing that is spelled out for us is her name, invariably.
Jimi Hendrix’s “Gloria” may even be a pseudonym. He asks her her name, she says it makes no difference, but “you can call me Gloria.” Is she, in this telling, a hooker? A groupie?
Famous embellishments: T-Bone Burnett, singing it at the Bottom Line, says that when she knocked on his door, she knocked like Al Jackson, the legendary anchor of the Stax rhythm section. Rickie Lee Jones, singing it straight, at Red Rocks, makes it a girl-on-girl thing…she stops the action in the middle to tell us how she first heard the song when she was 12. It becomes a memory play, a flashback.
Patti Smith started “Horses” with her radical variation on the theme, with the girl leaning on a parking meter, and ending up where all Glorias end up: knocking at her door at midnight. Springsteen used it, live, as a bridge between “Not Fade Away” and “She’s The One.” The Gants, The Trashmen, The Shadows of Knight, The Standells, all tried to imitate Van Morrison’s suggestive leer and replicated that same snaky guitar riff….even the Grateful Dead took a shot, with regretable results. She is, seemingly, irresistable.
At Bonnaroo a couple of years ago, Tom Petty expanded on the story. He starts out as most of her suitors do, giving her height (why that’s her most notable characteristic is strange, but part of her allure), and then goes on to recount how they met (on an “uptown street”). He asks her name, and she demurs, brushing him off. He persists, flashes his rock star credentials, and “everything began to change.” And something “profound” happened: the wind began to say her name…and the whole audience starts to chant “Gloria!” And the performance ends. Even now, more than forty years after we were introduced to her, everybody knows her name.