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"Come tomorrow, may I be bolder than today?"
|Main Category:||Rhythm & Blues|
|Also applicable:||Pop Rock, Psychedelia, Hard Rock|
|Starting Period:||The Early Years|
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The Yardbirds are that one classic band which everybody has heard about, but few people have actually heard, apart from just a few hit singles on that "golden oldies" station you inevitably find yourself listening to at some period during your life because everything else is so doggone shitty. Not that anyone should be blamed for that; for one thing, up until recently it's been very hard to find a decent Yardbirds CD, be it a compilation or a reproduction of an original LP, that would give one all the right clues and none of the wrong ones. Today, the remastered version of Having A Rave-Up, along with its half a dozen bonus tracks, can serve as a great demonstration of how much these guys could kick ass when they wanted to. Problem is, they didn't want it that often.In the beginning, there was nothing particularly outstanding about the Yardbirds other than their fostering the greatest of then-living young British guitarists, Eric Clapton. They were a decent R'n'B unit, fluent and professional and with enough abilities to drive the audiences suitably wild, but so could a lot of other bands, and quite a few of these "others", the Rolling Stones and the Animals among them, could do it much better. The Yardbirds, in comparison with these "brutes", were clean-cut and well-meaning. Their players didn't show off or stand out, their lead singer was a pretty-looking blonde-haired nerd who gave the impression of being liable to blushing at the mention of the F-word, and the material they chose emphasized pure mindless fun or dazzling technical proficiency over danger and menace. That said, Clapton gave them a name, and somehow they even became the first British R'n'B outfit to put out a live album - and to make that live album their first. Things changed almost overnight with Clapton quitting the band over becoming disappointed with their newly-found "commercialness" (the single 'For Your Love') and Jeff Beck filling in his shoes. Over the year 1965 and the early months of 1966, Beck brutally pushed the band into uncharted territory, transforming his guitar into a merciless experimental machine; the rest of the band weren't against following, and for a brief period, the Yardbirds seemed not to be able to do it in half-measures: practically each of their singles had something radically new to say. Hard rock ('Train Kept A-Rollin'), psychedelia ('Shapes Of Things'), and even early glimpses of art-rock ('Still I'm Sad'), it's all out there, and the band suddenly found itself heading an army of fans on both sides of the Atlantic. Garage rock outfits idolised them, often copying Beck solos note-for-note on their records; psychedelic bands venerated them; and everybody appeared to be happy, except for the band itself. To tell the truth, the success of the Yardbirds was very much of an accidental thing. Somehow the Force seemed to be with the band for a short period of time, but for no apparent reason. The lead vocalist could barely sing. The rhythm section could barely play. The lead guitarists came and went (Clapton, Beck, then Page - no wonder the Yardbirds are so often referred to as "that band with the guitarist hatching fetish"). The songwriting within the band came and went just as well; much of their best material was provided by professional songwriters like Graham Gouldman. But somehow it worked, one of these big mysteries of the Sixties. Of course, once you dig deeper into the band's catalog, you can see that it only worked on the surface. When the dust settles, all that will be left of the Yardbirds, at most, will be a dozen immortal classics - 'For Your Love', 'Mr You're A Better Man Than I', 'Evil Hearted You', that kind of stuff. Below that, there's miles and miles of unfinished stuff, demos, outtakes, alternative versions, weak, hookless filler, and... well, actually very little material in general. Over their entire career, the Yardbirds only managed two LPs; one, Roger The Engineer, came at a good time and was artistically successful, the other, Little Games, arrived during a period of utter chaos and was pathetically mediocre. Most of the band's time was spent touring and bickering with each other, the kind of occupation that probably seemed more worthwhile for the band members than actually sitting down and writing. On the other hand, one cannot deny the uniqueness of the band and its story. For one thing, only a phenomenon like the Yardbirds could, upon its dissolution, give rise to two such different bands as Led Zeppelin and Renaissance. The former, led by Jimmy Page (and for a brief spell actually called 'The New Yardbirds', since Jimmy somehow managed to end up with the rights to the band's name, despite having joined it last of all), took over the hard rock legacy of the Yardbirds; the latter, founded by Keith Relf and Jim McCarty, inherited the art-rock yearnings of the band, and it would be tough to find a kind of sound that would be further away from Led Zeppelin than the Relf-led Renaissance. Another thing is, nobody should underestimate the real power-packing force of the band's lead guitarists. True, Page's brief stunt was too brief, and he also managed to play on the only LP by the band where it looked like great lead guitar was the last thing they were interested in. But no fan of great blues guitar playing should overlook the early days of Clapton, the it-happened-oh-so-long-ago epoch when he was not God yet, just Slowhand, and knowledge of his divine powers had not yet shrouded his playing. As for Beck, well, as much as I respect his solo career, which has remained pretty impressive upon this very day, as far as I'm concerned, nothing beats his classic work with the Yardbirds. In 1965, the man was definitely the best guitar player in the world, combining technique and technology with memorable lines and ass-kicking power. One need only put the jaw-dropping solo on 'Evil Hearted You' into proper historical context to realise how unthinkable the combination of that crisp, undiluted guitar tone with actual melodicity (rather than simply Dave Davies-style one string pounding, which many at the time thought to be the natural limit of hard rock guitar) must have seemed at the time. And guess what, none of these sounds seem dated today, either. All of this makes the Yardbirds' records a must for any connoisseur of the Sixties... hell, for any fan of good rock music. Now that the band's catalog has been patched up and brought into relative order, I would heartily recommend all of the releases reviewed below bar maybe Little Games. Having A Rave-Up still suffers from borrowing half of the original material from Five Live Yardbirds, but the bonus tracks more than make up for it. Supposedly some of the members reunited recently, releasing a new studio album called Birdland, but allow me to pass on that; anyway, there's no Yardbirds without Keith Relf, much as I disapprove of his singing. Lineup: Keith Relf - vocals, harmonica; Anthony Topham - lead guitar; Chris Dreja - rhythm guitar; Paul Samwell-Smith - bass; Jim McCarty - drums. Topham left, 1963, replaced by Eric Clapton; Clapton left in early 1965, replaced by Jeff Beck. Samwell-Smith left in mid-'66, replaced by Jimmy Page (who had actually already been offered the lead guitarist spot after Clapton's departure, but declined in favour of Beck). Page switched to lead guitar, Dreja switched to bass (the Beck-Page lead guitar coupling is renowned, but, unfortunately, almost never featured on record; see below for the most important exceptions). Beck quit in late '66. Band collapsed in mid-'68.
Listenability: 3/5. Good
on the hit singles, inconsistent on everything else.
Resonance: 2/5. To be admired for wit and resources, not to be ecstatic over.
Originality: 4/5. Very. Not nearly as much as hip people would want you believe.
Adequacy: 3/5. Experimental people rarely get much higher than this result.
Diversity: 3/5. R'n'B, psychedelia, shitty clown acts... pretty good, I'd say.
Overall: 3.0 = C on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1964
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
Rambunctious rock'n'roll from the least likely candidate imaginable?Best song: TOO MUCH MONKEY BUSINESS
Track listing: 1) Too Much Monkey Business; 2) Got Love If You Want It; 3) Smokestack Lightning; 4) Good Morning Little Schoolgirl; 5) Respectable; 6) Five Long Years; 7) Pretty Girl; 8) Louise; 9) I'm A Man; 10) Here 'Tis.
I don't wanna push it, but it is a bit ironic that the best live document of the era when rock'n'roll as presented by the British Invasion bands was still young, fresh and the hottest thing around town happens to belong to the Yardbirds. Because, want it or not, the Yardbirds simply weren't the best. I had the chance to catch a few glimpses of the footage of the band in its earliest stage, with Clapton still at the wheel, and it didn't really impress me a lot. (A good example is their performance of 'Louise' that can be found on the Cream Of Clapton video). For all the hype, the Yardbirds weren't really nearly as wild as the Stones or the Animals or the Pretty Things; not in 1964, at least, when they were still a bunch of rather reserved, clean-cut, totally "safe" kids playing the black man's music. It's too bad, then, that this album wasn't recorded by the Stones, whose "rave-ups" at the Crawdaddy and similar places were just as legendary and even more so.Still, what we have here isn't half-bad either. And it does set a score of major historic "firsts". It's the first LP to have Eric Clapton appearing on it, already being able to steal the show from his bandmates when he gets the chance. It's the first Yardbirds LP, introducing a band that would occupy its rightful place among the great ones. It's the first live LP of a British rock band, as far as I'm aware, or, at least, one of the first; and even more important, it's the first case of a band making their first LP a live one - a clear symbol that rock music was inevitably coming on as a major active thing that had to be judged as spontaneous performance rather than just a hastily assembled set of half-hearted covers and half-assed originals. And besides, it's just a fun listen. You can't expect that much of sound quality, of course, not when the material has been recorded in a rusty little club back in 1964, but by the standards of the time, the sound is nothing but crystal clear, benefitting from the fact that it was recorded in a club and not in a big arena so that you won't get too many screaming girls (in fact, you won't get any screaming girls - I guess the Marquee Club, where these songs had been recorded, just wasn't that kind of place. That's where all the real tough guys were coming to). And, stiff or not, there's quite a serious adrenaline rush going on throughout. At this point, the Yardbirds still weren't performing any of their own material, so the setlist is packed with the usual blues, rockabilly, and Bo Diddley standards (a whoppin' three McDaniel covers on the second side!). They are, of course, nowhere near as authentic as the black masters; they aren't as tight and dedicated as the Stones either. And Keith Relf pretty much sucks as lead vocalist - well, maybe 'sucks' is too strong a word, but he doesn't add even a single whiff of personality to his delivery, in fact, it seems that way too often it's hard enough for him to get the lyrics right ('Too Much Monkey Business' is one good example - aw c'mon, Keith, if you insist on doing the song, at least practice it some!). But they compensate this with several factors. They are able to rip it up, even on the lengthier 'rave' numbers whose purpose is to enthrall the listener rather than just entertain him. They are competent with their instruments. And, of course, they have Eric Clapton out there. Perhaps the biggest crime of this album is that Eric is given far fewer chances to shine than he should be: a lot of the songs feature nothing but harmonica solos in the instrumental passages (Keith is arguably a better harmonica player than singer, but if I wanna hear early bluesy harmonica, I'll take the Stones anyway), and even when there are guitar solos, they are way too brief and rushed. But then again, every one is a treasure. There are some willing to make a point that the most innovative period of Clapton's guitar playing was right there with the Yardbirds, not even with Cream or John Mayall, and there just might be something to that. I mean, it's clearly seen that, unlike most of his peers, Clapton's main aim isn't just to copy the guitar playing on the original records as close as possible. He prefers to invent his own style - faster, more expressive, less formulaic, more open and inventive, with more improvising and spontaneity. That's why the very first number, 'Too Much Monkey Business', which might seem pretty tame by today's standards (or even by the Hendrix-set standards of 1967), was probably enough to totally shock the listeners back in early 1965 - there wasn't another album where you could hear these speedy, flashy, high-wailing licks played with such confidence and such anger; see how the Clapton version of the solo is so much more violent and desperate than the classic Berry version, later faithfully copied by Dave Davies and the others. Not the Stones, not the Animals, not the American records, nowhere. It was something decidedly new. Today it's decidedly old. But is it less enjoyable? Not for me, it isn't. It's still a great delight to headbang to those solos. The other Clapton highlights on the album are 'Five Long Years' - the first apparition of the Classic Blues Solo as played by Eric Clapton, even if it's so timid and wimpy compared to Eric's solo version of the song that he'd record thirty years later on From The Cradle - and John Lee Hooker's 'Louise', where Clapton and Relf trade harmonica and guitar solos (no need to tell you who's the 'winner'). The rest of the material, shameful as it is, doesn't have any solo Clapton passages; apparently the rest of the band were just too jealous of his talent (or too dumb to really appreciate it) while he himself was too shy to insist on it. However, Eric's presence is definitely felt throughout - he's responsible for a lot of the power in the 'raving' numbers, such as 'Here 'Tis', the Isley Brothers' 'Respectable', and the slower-moving Howling Wolf classic 'Smokestack Lightning'. Bit of goofiness: in the middle of 'Respectable', the band changes tempo and Keith Relf sings 'Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall' before they launch into the furious light-speed coda. However, I would be lying through my teeth if I were to reduce this entire review to the "sucks because it doesn't have more Clapton" complaint. Individually, the other members don't matter much, it's true, but collectively they're able to work out a serious wall-of-sound, and people weren't flocking to the Marquee to just catch a whiff of Clapton (this situation would be more applicable to Cream, I guess, who even at the height of their popularity were commonly, and quite unjustly, perceived as merely a vehicle for Eric's skills). 'Smokestack Lightning', 'Respectable', and 'Here 'Tis', in particular, should be played at top volume so you can get your full charge of the collective onslaught of the rhythm section/guitar/harmonica team. And if you happen to become bored, just play their version of 'Lightning' back to back with, say, an average Grateful Dead recording of the same tune; the fury and fervor often produce a better impression when immediately compared with a complete lack thereof. (Not to offend the spirit of Jerry - I know the Dead were almost never about fury and fervor. But I'd rather not remind myself here what the Dead were really about). Not that this was an exclusive trademark of the Yardbirds - but it just so happened that the best example of this style can be found through the Yardbirds, and should we blame history for that? Not if we just want to have fun. Oh, and watch out for those editions of the album that have bonus tracks to them - apparently, some versions of FLY come with three early Clapton-era studio singles tacked on to the end. They're not on my version, which isn't a problem because I've got almost all of those songs on a best-of collection as well as on the For Your Love album, but it'd be nice if they were on your version - after all, stuff like 'I Wish You Would' and, of course, the infamous "Yardbirds-go-commercial" 'For Your Love' is indispensable for every Sixties-lover's collection, and you probably won't be wanting to hunt down For Your Love anyway. Another thing is remastering - I'm pretty sure my old CD version sounds real crappy in comparison with the reissues (actually, I know it does, given how much more distinct and clean the sound is on the four tracks from Five Live which have been replicated on Having A Rave Up, see below).
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1965
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
Hey, this does look like an LP-worth of material, even if it isn't.Best song: I WISH YOU WOULD
Track listing: 1) For Your Love; 2) I'm Not Talking; 3) Putty (In Your Hands); 4) I Ain't Got You; 5) Got To Hurry; 6) I Ain't Done Wrong; 7) I Wish You Would; 8) A Certain Girl; 9) Sweet Music; 10) Good Morning Little Schoolgirl; 11) My Girl Sloopy; [BONUS TRACKS]: 12) Baby What's Wrong; 13) Boom Boom; 14) Honey In Your Hips; 15) Talkin' 'bout You; 16) I Wish You Would (long version); 17) A Certain Girl (alternate take); 18) Got To Hurry (take 4); 19) Sweet Music (take 4); 20) Heart Full Of Soul; 21) Steeled Blues; 22) Paff Bumm (German issue); 23) Questa Volta; 24) Paff Bumm (Italian issue).
So here we are, leaving the Yardbirds with the dubious distinction of being the first (or, at least, the first well-known) British Invasion band to have their debut album consisting of next to nothing but tracks that were not intended to be on their debut album. On the positive side, though, this does collect their early non-LP material together in one handy place: three singles from the Clapton era, and one three-song EP with Jeff Beck at the wheel. And yes, two songs that the American industry bosses squeezed out from the guys at the last minute so that the running length wouldn't be shorter than on the shortest Beach Boys album. Add to this the expansive reissue I have, which adds lots of obscure demos and German and Italian singles and manages to double the running length, and you got yourself a perfect sample of the "Early Period Yardbirds".Which isn't really "perfect" as far as perfection goes. You don't need me to repeat it for the five hundredth time, of course, but I need it all the same, so bear with me when I tell you again that the Yardbirds are nowhere near the Stones or the Animals in terms of raw unbridled energy because they're always playing it clean and safe. Compare these early versions of 'Baby What's Wrong' and 'Boom Boom' (bonus tracks) with the hot Lucifer-stoked fire that the Animals transformed them into, for instance. You could tell that the Yardbirds pay much more attention to technicality, and the guitar parts are definitely more refined than in the case of the Animals, but if you want technicality, why don't you go listen to some Jose Feliciano instead; I want a true "rave-up", and I don't get it. Nice tunes though. However, the first two Clapton-era singles are pretty damn swell all the same - the funny thing is, they're more memorable because of Keith Relf's inane harmonica playing rather than due to any of Mr Slowhand's solos. Trouble is, Mr Slowhand doesn't get any solos on Billy Boy Arnold's 'I Wish You Would', as if the Yardbirds were the showcase for the most exquisite harmonica player in the world, Mr Keith Relf, instead of the most ordinary and inexperienced guitar wanker in the world, Mr Crapton. The good news is, the song is based around a tight, memorable, repetitive groove, and that's what the Yardbirds do best - playing it tight and compact, instead of loosening up. Never heard Arnold's original version, me, but there's little doubt on my mind it could ever beat this version. It did probably cause the band to lose a lot of sweat: the "long" version of the song, available amidst the bonus tracks, is ten times as limp, lacking the crisp, echoey production of the final version and that awesome fuzz effect on the opening guitar lines. On the more positive side, there are guitar solos on 'Good Morning Little Schoolgirl', and on both of the B-sides, 'I Ain't Got You' and 'A Certain Girl' - actually, do pay attention to the guitar solo on 'A Certain Girl', ladies and gentlemen; it dates back to 1964 and is easily the wildest solo of the year, which would automatically place Mr Clapton as the wildest guitarist of 1964, a title you'd be hard pressed to bestow upon the guy anytime later in his career. Of course, all that fuzz 'n' fury look a bit odd next to the song itself, more a comedy ditty than anything else ('what's her name? - I can't tell you! - NOOO!'), but that's the trouble with them great guitarists, always going against the flow and taking every song as merely a pretext to demonstrate their chops. Same thing happens with 'Good Morning Little Schoolgirl', where Keith Relf is being juvenile and obnoxious and Clapton is being aggressive and proto-punkish. Does anybody mind? I don't. Of course, it's the third single which is the most notorious here: Goldman's 'For Your Love', the song that led to Eric quitting the band for betraying their blues origins and becoming way too commercially oriented. Stupid decision, of course, but without it we wouldn't have ourselves no Cream, so you don't find me complaining. And the song itself? A first-rate pop single, a final chart breakthrough for the band and a good boost to Mr Goldman's credibility, after all, he didn't get himself a spot in 10CC for procrastinating before the fireplace. I seriously suspect that it wasn't even so much the music as the lyrics that pissed Eric off so much - the lyrics are, indeed, a classic example of generic "braindead" pop songwriting (although, when you come to think of it, so are the lyrics of 'Good Morning Little Schoolgirl' for the generic "braindead" rhythm & blues songwriting). Its B-side is the instrumental 'Got To Hurry', credited to a certain "Rasputin" which was actually the pseudonym of their manager, Giorgio Gomelsky, but considering that Gomelsky didn't actually play anything on there, I have a hard time imagining him having a hard time coming up with this generic blues-rock "original". (In fact, rumours have it that it was the first original composition ever created by Eric himself, and this I'm quite willing to believe). Clapton's soloing, however, seems somewhat lazy to me, particularly when compared to the fire of 'A Certain Girl'; maybe, while fingering the notes, his mind was already bent on nothing but finding partners for his next band. The Beck-era EP is chiefly notable for hosting the band's five-and-a-half minute deconstruction of the bubblegum song 'My Girl Sloopy' - definitely a breakthrough as far as "bizarre bubblegum" goes, from time to time breaking away from its steady rhythm into a wild, near-cacophonous orgy of sound, and changing its melody almost seemingly at random and for such a long time you're ready to scream the next time these guys go 'well I say aaaaaaaaahh....'. The other side of the EP featured a tentative Relf original, 'I Ain't Done Wrong', and a Mose Allison reinterpretation, 'I'm Not Talking', both of which rock pretty hard, but still do not find Beck quite at the top of his game yet. Granted, the two solos on 'I'm Not Talking' are pretty wild, and Jeff is already learning how to make his guitar speak in tongues by controlling feedback more masterfully than even Pete Townshend. The bonus tracks are hit and miss. The early demos, as I've already said, are nice but unsubstantial (although collectors will probably be happy to have 'Baby What's Wrong', the band's earliest recording from 1963, which might actually still be featuring Anthony Topham as lead guitarist; and 'Honey In Your Hips', arguably the best song Keith Relf ever wrote even if it is not far removed from 'I Wish You Would'). There are several alternate takes including Take 4 of 'Got To Hurry' which annihilates the original by having Eric play the same stuff, but through a dirty, crackling amp, and a fun, but insubstantial early version of 'Heart Full Of Soul' with Jeff doing a sitar imitation with his fuzz box (probably inspired by the Kinks' 'See My Friends'). Then there's the hideous embarrassment of 'Questa Volta', however - the Yardbirds recording in Italian for the San Remo festival in 1966! Well, you can hear it once in order to appreciate Relf's horrible Italian pronunciation (the man had enough trouble singing in English, you know, it must have been a real torture for him to compete with Celentano), but otherwise, it's just more evidence that everything associated with the words "San Remo" is even worse than everything associated with the words "Eurovision". It's a good thing Eric was already involved with Cream by that time; the man would probably have a heart attack had he been forced to contribute his talents to this corny monstrosity. Still, on the whole this is a pretty good collection; the best thing about it is that it demonstrates the creative evolution of the Yardbirds like no other album does (hit packages and best-ofs aside, of course): from the weak, tentative R'n'B of 'Baby What's Wrong' to the self-assured blues-rock of 'I Wish You Would' to the glorious pop sounds of 'For Your Love' to the guitar innovations of 'I'm Not Talking' and the artistic licence of 'My Girl Sloopy', it's all happening. The final fruits would, of course, be reaped on the next album.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1965
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13
The most influential "non-album album" in rock history.Best song: the first six all qualify
Track listing: 1) Mr You're A Better Man Than I; 2) Evil Hearted You; 3) I'm A Man; 4) Still I'm Sad; 5) Heart Full Of Soul; 6) Train Kept A-Rollin'; 7) Smokestack Lightning; 8) Respectable; 9) I'm A Man; 10) Here 'Tis; [BONUS TRACKS:] 11) Shapes Of Things; 12) New York City Blues; 13) Jeff's Blues; 14) Someone To Love (part 1); 15) Someone To Love (part 2); 16) Like Jimmy Reed Again; 17) Chris Number; 18) What Do You Want; 19) Here 'Tis; 20) Here 'Tis (version for RSG); 21) Stroll On.
At this very moment, I've got 140 records in my collection that I successfully rated as a "lucky thirteen". Now by all means, one hundred and forty records isn't that big a number. If your name is Edgar Froese, you can actually put out about as many during your lifetime. (We'll disregard the high probability that they will all rate a thirteen, too - when all the ratings are taken collectively, that is). Which sort of brings me to the point: I don't give out lucky thirteens as generously as Bono gives out means of birth control to third world nations. (You can tell I've spent a long time searching for this metaphor, can't you?). And so far, I don't think I've ever given out a lucky thirteen to an album that has at most six songs on it, with the dubious exception of Thick As A Brick which pretends that it has one but in reality has three hundred and fifty five plus reprises. But this time I think I will.As Ray Davies once wrote about the fate of British music transferred onto American soil, 'bless you Epic, bless you all/You may take some but you never take it all'. (That is, this was Ray Davies' original intention before malicious countercultural influences forced him to mutate the song in question into a vicious ad for nicotine). Now that 1965 was closing, and the Yardbirds still hadn't gathered their strengths for an LP, and time was pressing, and new material was hard to come by, it was decided to release an album that would pack all of the band's recently released singles on one side... and shamelessly fill the other one up with live material taken from Five Live Yardbirds (presumably that album had missed the US market). Thus what you get is one of the biggest rip-offs ever, worse even then Flowers by the Rolling Stones. A six-song EP pretending to be a full-fledged LP. This tragic situation has, fortunately, been seriously remedied since Repertoire Records took over the catalog and finally began treating the Yardbirds legacy with some respect. The Five Live tracks are still here, to be sure. However, the album is now augmented by eleven extra tracks, at least two of which are absolutely essential and most of the rest at least as listenable as the live tracks, meaning it's no longer a direct rip-off. In fact, in this expanded incarnation Having A Rave Up looks quite solid even without getting too deep in the material itself, sort of like the legitimate Chapter Two (The Jeff Beck Era Experiments) next to the legitimate Chapter One of For Your Love (The Clapton Era Rhythm'n'Blues). That said, I do think that I would have easily given a 13 even to the original rip-off version of the album. Reason? These six songs on side A are not simply the best material the Yardbirds ever did; they are among the best material to ever have been recorded in the Sixties. With a few reservations, one could argue that each and every one of these songs started a whole new musical genre, or, at least, inspired zillions of admiring imitators. If you don't believe me, take a listen to the Nuggets set and see just how many bands out there were so seriously influenced by these records they even nicked parts of the melodies from them (off the top of my head: Del-Vetts, 'Last Time Around', borrows guitar solo from 'Mr You're A Better Man Than I'; the Blues Magoos' 'Tobacco Road', instrumental sections clearly inspired by the jam on 'I'm A Man', etc.). Yes, somehow, for a brief period in 1965/66, the Yardbirds turned out to be at the cutting-est edge of popular music. And it wasn't even all because of the guitar craft of Jeff Beck, heaviest and fieriest player before Hendrix arrived on the scene; there was a good collective spirit in the band, fed by advanced songwriting from Paul Samwell-Smith and Jim McCarty as well as other factors. In fact, maybe the band just missed a good opportunity to record a full-fledged LP in 1965; by the time they got around to doing it, tension was already high, some of the earlier, original magic had dissipated, and Beck was all but ready to throw a fit every time somebody tried disagreeing with him. Well, we all know about missed opportunities, don't we? Brian Wilson missing the opportunity to make Smile. Pete Townshend missing the opportunity to make Lifehouse. Kerry Livgren missing the opportunity to become a priest. You name it. The Yardbirds are not alone. But whatever be, these are the six single A- and B-sides that should have easily immortalized their names even without the world rejoicing at the sound of 'Ten Little Indians'. 'Mr You're A Better Man Than I' is one of the earliest and most direct protest rockers (with a heavy emphasis on ROCKers), with Keith Relf giving out what is arguably his finest performance; weakest link as he always was, here he gives out a cool, collected, and convincing delivery that really gives the impression of him caring for the anti-racist message he's announcing. Of crucial importance is, of course, the guitar solo, wilder and far more feedback-drenched than anything at the time. If we remember that in mid-'65 hard rock was not just in its embryonic state, but also still mostly reserved for libido-related self-expression a la 'You Really Got Me', then this track should achieve a well-deserved cult status alongside '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction'. Another of Graham Gouldman's contributions, 'Evil Hearted You', could have remained a memorable, but lightweight popsicle in the style of 'For Your Love', but now the wisened Yardbirds give it an entirely different coat, with echoey production, "mystical" vocal overdubs, an attempt at 'snarling' from Keith, and, once again, an exquisite guitar solo - this time, not at all distorted, but rather artsy, with a clever use of vibrato and a strange, proto-psychedelic feel to it. This is the kind of material that presages the early Doors, who would take this brand of "dark pop" and expand on it, occasionally bettering it technically and composition-wise, but rarely transcending this level. 'I'm A Man' had already been heard on Five Live (and, in fact, is heard on here again in the same live version on Side B - why the hell couldn't they have picked up something else?), but this version has little in common with the traditional live performance. A measly two and a half minutes long, it rushes through the actual song at a cheetah's pace (one minute and a half!) and then completely dedicates the last minute to getting revved up like nothing else on the planet, cranking up the speed and having the entire band work together as one monstrous choo-choo train on twelve extra loads of coal. When Beck hits the "muffled" chucka-chucka-chucka guitar at the end of the song, excitement boils over - I wonder how many frustrated teens pulverized their chairs to these heavenly sounds? 'Still I'm Sad' is, simply put, a song that begs this one lone question: "Where did THAT come from?". Those bleak moody Eastern rhythms and this solemn Gregorian-style chanting? Beats me if I can actually find a precedent. Don't think I can. Remember, this was done at a time when bringing in extra musical elements from God-knows-where wasn't at all considered an honourable occupation. Your songs could be bluesy, or rockabillyish, or folksy, or Motownish, but you didn't exactly mix these influences at will and you sure didn't bring in any totally non-belonging ones. 'Still I'm Sad' is one of the first songs to break the taboo. It might sound a little naive today (the tremendous solemnity of the chanting doesn't quite fit in with the rather blunt lyrics; note, though, that the lyrics are also innovative), but it still holds as a suitably atmospheric - and, of course, quite memorable - composition. More Gouldman with 'Heart Full Of Soul', which sort of sounds like the blueprint for most of Love's "introspective" output, introducing the intellectual, just a tad psychedelic sort of-a-love-song. Yet another guitar tone from Beck, a bit raga-ish this time (and released a good deal before the Beatles actually used the sitar on 'Norwegian Wood'). And finally, we wind down with 'Train Kept A-Rollin', a song many might only be familiar with through the much later Aerosmith cover, but Aerosmith of all people never sounded that fresh and invigorating, not to mention they didn't even try to use the same trick of overdubbing numerous chaotic vocal parts to give the song a feeling of even more frenzy and nervousness than its lyrics (about not daring to strike a romance with a fellow passenger on the train - something many of you guys may have experienced, right?) already suggest. There may be some qualms about the actual fire level (Beck seems a bit restrained, and the silly harmonica is given too much place), but at the very least, that riff can't be beat. One for the ages. Most of the bonus tracks, like I said, aren't particularly interesting (many of them are just instrumental blues jams, occasionally catching fire but just as often steadily going nowhere), but everything is listenable, and then there's listenable and there's 'Shapes Of Things', which originally had the misfortune to come out several months after Rave Up, but really truly belongs on this album more than anywhere else: the classic final touch to bring perfection to the picture. Funny thing, I first knew the song through the later Beck/Rod Stewart and the David Bowie versions, and never truly cared for it that way, but here, with none of the pseudo-psychedelic chaos to accompany it, it actually sounds more psychedelic than the later interpretations. And also preceeds Revolver by a good deal chronologically (and I'm pretty sure Lennon at least must have taken quite a few hints from it). Finally, do not bypass the last of the bonus tracks - 'Stroll On', a reworking of 'Train Kept A-Rollin' that was originally used by Antonioni in the soundtrack to Blow Up in late 1966; it features a complete reworking of the lyrics, but most importantly, it's a rare example of the Page-Beck guitar duo, where you actually get to witness, if only for a few bars, some red-hot sparring between the two during the instrumental break. This breathtaking sparring alone justifies the song's existence, but another idea I've had is that it just might be the Very First "Heavy Metal" Song ever recorded, or, if you don't like the terminology, then just go listen to the deep grumbling tone of Page's guitar and tell me something like that existed in 1966. These are proto-Led Zeppelin sounds, not really having anything to do with "the most blueswailing Yardbirds". It is, after all, hardly a coincidence that when Led Zeppelin first gathered in the studio, the very first song Page proposed them to play was 'Train Kept A-Rollin'.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1966
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
American psychedelia has the Byrds... British psychedelia has the Yard-birds.Best song: OVER UNDER SIDEWAYS DOWN
Track listing: 1) Lost Women; 2) Over Under Sideways Down; 3) The Nazz Are Blue; 4) I Can't Make Your Way; 5) Rack My Mind; 6) Farewell; 7) Happenings 10 Years Time Ago; 8) Psycho Daisies; 9) Hot House Of Omagararshid; 10) Jeff's Boogie; 11) He's Always There; 12) Turn Into Earth; 13) What Do You Want; 14) Ever Since The World Began.
Poor, poor Yardbirds. For a band of such a reverend and respectable stature, they sure had it rough with decent recorded output. Five Live Yardbirds was, well, live; the entire year of 1965 was spent in penning well-crafted singles and stuffing them onto self-rip-off LPs; it wasn't until 1966 that the band finally interrupted its rigorous touring schedule (for about a couple of weeks, it seems) and went into the studio to record an entire self-sufficient LP of new, self-penned material. The final product turned out to be their only self-sufficient LP of any importance, and has since been approached by general critical opinion with caution and suspicion. 'Hey', the critics used to say, 'these guys bark a lot, but where's the bite? Insubstantial, thin sound, muffled production and too much generic blues for the wise public's tastes'. Okay. I prefer to call the record "slightly flawed in a few places" and enjoy the heck out of it.It should be noted that Roger came out before Revolver, and yet, in certain moments it matches that record's experimentalism, and at times - especially when it comes up to Jeff Beck displaying his state-of-the-art pre-Hendrix guitar pyrotechnics - even surpasses it. Funnily, it also came out in the same month with the Byrds' Fifth Dimension, effectively robbing the band's "namesake" American partners of the singular claim to fame of "psychedelia inventors". While the songwriting quality on here isn't quite up to par with the songwriting quality of the Yardbirds' classic singles of 1965 - well, they didn't have to rely on Mr Gouldman this time - Roger arguably represents the band at the peak of their own game. They're running in all directions, shifting from style to style, tackling just about everything: blues, jazz, folk, Gregorian chorales, gospel, even Mexican dance music, and do it in a fresh and exciting, if not always professional, way. The actual songs aren't all that rich on hooks, but aren't all that poor either - almost every number has something to offer. Contrary to rumours, Jimmy Page does not play on the album itself: at the time of recording, he wasn't yet an official band member. However, some of the editions of Roger pump up the track listing with two tracks of a single that was released slightly later and did feature the twin-guitar line-up (in the case of my edition, these two tracks are for some reason shoved right in the middle, between the first and second side of the LP). Of these, 'Happenings Ten Years Time Ago' is the most notorious, one of the Yardbirds' most frantic psycho rave-ups, based on a powerful three-chord riff and really featuring awesome solos, together with all kinds of obligatory psycho overdubbing (traffic noises, tripped-out dialogue, etc.); 'Psycho Daisies' is slightly less interesting, but it does present a curio twist on a traditional R'n'B melody - heck, it sounds like a dissonant version of 'Johnny B. Goode'. But back to the album in question. Essentially, the Yardbirds are still rooted in the blues, but the funny thing is, the further you engulf yourself in the record, the more vague those blues traces become. Songs like 'Lost Women' and 'The Nazz Are Blue' (the latter of which gave the name to Todd Rundgren's first band) are blues, yes, but whoever played the blues like that in 1966? For comparison, take John Mayall's Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton - for all of its innovative approach, it sounds positively conventional next to those tracks. 'Lost Women' prominently features noise and feedback, with Beck taking his cue from Townshend's antics; and while the melody to 'Nazz Are Blue' is obviously copped from the 'Dust My Broom' stereotype, Beck rips into those generic blues chords with such evil ferocity as could hardly be expected from a conventional blues player. But in between these two songs is sandwiched the cool experimental boogie 'Over Under Sideways Down' (a minor hit single for the band, one of the last ones, actually), interrupted by one of those proto-gothic mid-sections that the Yardbirds favoured so much. Most importantly, what's with that weird guitar tone? He seems to be playing some Eastern motive on it, but how does he achieve that sound? Fantastiwastic! And then there's 'I Can't Make Your Way', with another - a different - curious guitar tone and a fairly standard catchy pop melody that has nothing to do with the blues whatsoever. Other highlights include the proto-heavy-metal 'He's Always There', with a gritty fuzzy tone and a strange contrast between the menacing verses and the strangely cheerful chorus; the Gregorian-influenced 'Turn Into Earth', basically a continuation of the themes previously explored in 'Still I'm Sad'; and another Gregorian influenced ode, 'Ever Since The World Began', that sounds eerily authentic... eeeh. They really loved those medieval vocal harmonies - small wonder Relf and McCarty went on to form Renaissance after that. Every now and then the highlights are interrupted by a bit of filler, but even the filler can sound interesting - for instance, 'Rack My Mind' has a great "minimalistic" solo by Beck, and 'Hot House Of Omagararshid' with its Latin motives sounds pretty stupid today, but how often did you encounter Latin motives on a mid-Sixties British rock album? At least the Beatles never did that kind of stuff. Dig the bubbly noises, too. Yes, it is an uneven album - but what do you expect from a 1966 band that wasn't the Beatles or the Stones. The good news is that the good material on here doesn't seem to have dated one single bit, everything is still as fresh as yesterday, and if you're really bothered by the bad material... well... nobody asked you to go searching for obscure Yardbirds albums in the first place. It was your own initiative! I don't have anything to do with it! It wasn't me!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
The "Smiley Smile" of these guys. Could have been great if not for the goddamn "human factor".Best song: no idea, honestly. Probably GLIMPSES, if you can overlook all the cliches. Or WHITE SUMMER, if you're a big fan of the acoustic Page.
Track listing: 1) Little Games; 2) Smile On Me; 3) White Summer; 4) Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor; 5) Glimpses; 6) Drinking Muddy Water; 7) No Excess Baggage; 8) Stealing Stealing; 9) Only The Black Rose; 10) Little Soldier Boy; [BONUS TRACKS:] 11) Puzzles; 12) I Remember The Night; 13) Ha Ha Said The Clown; 14) Ten Little Indians; 15) Goodnight Sweet Josephine; 16) Think About It; 17) Goodnight Sweet Josephine (US single version); 18) Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine) (BBC version); 19) Little Games (BBC version); 20) Drinking Muddy Water (BBC version); 21) Think About It (BBC version); 22) Goodnight Sweet Josephine (BBC version); 23) My Baby (BBC version); 24) White Summer; 25) Dazed And Confused.
Only the second ever album recorded by the Yardbirds as an album, and one that proves, strictly adhering to all the laws of logics, ethics, and metaphysics, that the words "Yardbirds" and "LP" should never ever go together. It wasn't by pure chance or through bad managing that they managed to stay away from album recording in 1964-65; it was because their spirits just weren't ready for this trial.Now honestly, by mid-1967, what were the Yardbirds famous for? For fostering classy guitarists, that's one thing. For limitless studio experimentation, that's another. For bravely diving into psychedelia and the world of mind-tripping sounds, that's three. For penning and/or performing catchy pop songs, that's four. Now, smack dab in the Summer of Love out comes a whole dazzling LP, and you sure would expect them to prove, once and for all, that they are supreme masters in all these things. Instead, you get personal quibbles, heaps of confusion and dissent, Jeff Beck slamming the door on his former colleagues, and a Jimmy Page who's less than two years away from changing rock music forever, leading the band in a.... fuckin' comedy record. Well, okay, so perhaps it's the bonus tracks on the CD edition that represent true comedy rather than the LP itself. But who gives a damn? They date from the same sessions, anyway, and were released in single versions at the same time as Little Games itself. And who produced them? Mickie Most, the former hero for Herman's Hermits and the future hero for Suzi Quattro. (So he also produced Donovan's Sunshine Superman, hey, don't stop me from my killing spree). And what are the songs? Creations of some guy called Tony Hazzard, who also used to write songs for Manfred Mann to cover. And what are the songs called? 'Ha Ha Said The Clown'! And WHY THE HELL DID 'HA HA SAID THE CLOWN' HAVE TO BE A SINGLE??? Obviously, without Jeff Beck it was a little harder to come up with new exciting sounds. But they did have Page, who was no novice in the studio, and besides, it's not like the other guys in the band were merely good-for-nothings. It just very clearly shows that by mid-'67, nobody in the band gave a friggin' damn about its future. Whatever they were given to record, they recorded, regardless of whether it could be innovative or embarrassing. Occasionally, they could still have it. 'Puzzles', for instance, is a very worthy little song, quite in the "mind-blowing" vein of Roger The Engineer, with trippy lyrics and an unstandard psychedelic solo from Page at the end. That one was recorded in March; by April, however, the standards had already dropped to 'I Remember The Night', the kind of pseudo-funny comedy tune with muppet-like singing that may be suitable for a night of drunken raving at Keith Moon's suburban villa or something like that - however, at least the Who never used to solve their problems by taking tapes of such sessions and passing them for new material. It's all "going downhill steady" from then on - 'Ha Ha Said The Clown'; Harry Nilsson's 'Ten Little Indians' (about as bad as 'Cuddly Toy', covered around the same time by the Monkees, was good); and another Hazzard tune, 'Goodnight Sweet Josephine', which I would deem okay if it were really done by Manfred Mann, a band whose destiny was centered around these goofs, but in the hands of the Yardbirds becomes a waste of tape, two wastes of tape, actually, if you count in the "phased" version for the US single. Taking dumb, primitive comedy tunes and trying to make them look cool with cheap technological gimmicks isn't quite the same as prettying up an old whore with sixty gallons of face powder, but it's definitely in the same ballpark. With all that context, it's a wonder that Little Games is not a complete disaster. Perhaps the main reason is that it's mostly self-penned. In the past, the Yardbirds' best material always came from outside songwriters, but they also had a knack for good outside songwriters; now, with people like Tony Hazzard coming in, I'd much rather yearn for a Relf-McCarty-Page credit. Case in question: the title track, coming from an outside source and easily the worst offender of all. The melody is clumsy and simplistic, the song neither rocks nor rolls, and the basic impression is that I'm dealing with a group of adults who have been asked to sing a kiddie ditty but who don't have the least idea why they have been asked to do it or what do people usually expect from kiddie ditties in the first place. The last thirty seconds are particularly silly, as Page's guitar steps in over the orchestration and tries to convince us that there are acid motives involved. Yeah right. Fortunately, the Yardbirds themselves had very little experience writing kiddie stuff. They did have a lot of experience playing the blues, though, so much that even if their two blues-rock contributions on here are exclusively pro forma, they're still pretty darn good. 'Drinking Muddy Water', a direct lift from 'Rollin' & Tumblin', gets along fine even with a very restrained Jimmy Page, just because the band gels so well and that old voodoo spirit is nicely bottled up. And on 'Smile On Me', Page is the main hero, playing several terrific breaks - I can't safely vouch that they're "inspired", but, since Jimmy is one of those rare guys who can capture the listener even on a bad night of his, I could breathe with ease even after having learned that he played those passages while being half-asleep. Jimmy also gets his big break with the instrumental 'White Summer' (which he later, according to the convenient principle of leaving nothing even remotely useful behind, reworked into 'Black Mountain Side' on Led Zep's first album. Come to think of it, the Yardbirds must have left pretty little of use to Jimmy: this, 'Dazed And Confused', 'Train Kept A-Rollin', and the bowed guitar gimmick more or less exhaust the Yardbirds evidence in Zep's dossier). Anyway, 'White Summer' sounds pretty nice, especially when the tablas and saxophone come in to prop up Jimmy's acoustic handiwork. However, this is not the Yardbirds; this is Jimmy Page solo profiting from the occasion. He makes a better profit out of the deal, though, than does Keith Relf with his completely self-penned - and, however much I hate to say it, completely worthless - acoustic ballad 'Only The Black Rose'. Poor guy, his only major solo point in the entire history of the Yardbirds, and a complete failure on all counts. Well, I've always considered Relf the weakest link in the band, and this is final proof. They do try to revisit the glory days and even update on them on 'Glimpses', a track that has it all: Mantraic Moodiness, pseudo-Gregorian chanting, feedback a-plenty, sitars, echoes, even bowed guitar and astral loudspeaker announcements a la 'Astronomy Domine' - something not witnessed before from these guys. It's a decent thing, for sure, but somehow all the seams are showing. It's like one day they just gathered in the studio and somebody on the brink of desperation yelled, 'what the bloody hell are we doing, with all that Nilsson and Hazzard crap? Weren't we the great innovators and trailblazers, oh I dunno, like six months ago?' and this prompted them to wash out the earwax and, for once, record something typical for them. Problem is, it's too self-consciously typical. Elsewhere, some face is saved on Britpoppy stuff like 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor' and 'Little Soldier Boy'; these, too, are basically nursery rhymes, as is evident from the titles, but they're a bit less obvious than the rest and better played. David Bowie did this kind of thing on his debut, and bands like the Small Faces and the Pretty Things weren't above it, either, so why not the Yardbirds? In any case, it's better to have this kind of naive, silly stuff than the either gross or unfunny "comedy" of 'Fart Fart Said The Clown' or 'I Remember The Night (We Were So Full Of Shite)'. It manages to be inoffensive - as does the rest of this rather even, listenable, professional, but completely excitement-free album, a pretty grim swansong for the band if you ask me. One nice collector's item for which you might want to flock to the CD edition, though, is the final track - a piss-poor quality live recording of 'Dazed And Confused', with lyrics yet unchanged, but the main structure, with the bowed guitar chaos and the frantic boogie passages, already present. Amusingly, it is rightly credited to the author, J. Holmes, unlike on all those Led Zeppelin albums you're familiar with; maybe the remaining Yardbirds supervising these reissues care more about their good name than the Zepsters after all?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1999
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
Hey, we're a bunch of revolutionary nerds - we can't play live for shit but watch us still as we dazzle you with our CLEVERNESS!Best song: something from the Pimmy Jage section, I guess.
Track listing: 1) I Ain't Got You; 2) Keith Relf Talks About The Band's Background; 3) For Your Love; 4) I'm Not Talking; 5) I Wish You Would; 6) Keith Relf Talks About USA Tour; 7) Heart Full Of Soul; 8) I Ain't Done Wrong; 9) Too Much Monkey Business; 10) Love Me Like I Love You; 11) I'm A Man; 12) Evil Hearted You; 13) Interview About The 'Still I'm Sad' Single; 14) Still I'm Sad; 15) Hang On Sloopy; 16) Smokestack Lightning; 17) The Yardbirds Give Their New Year's Resolutions; 18) You're A Better Man Than I; 19) The Train Kept A-Rollin'; 20) Shapes Of Things; 21) Dust My Broom; 22) Baby Scratch My Back; 23) Keith Relf Talks About His Solo Single; 24) Over Under Sideways Down; 25) The Sun Is Shining; 26) Shapes Of Things (version 2); 27) Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine); 28) Little Games; 29) Drinking Muddy Water; 30) Think About It; 31) Interview With Jimmy Page; 32) Goodnight Sweet Josephine; 33) My Baby.
Strange enough, the Yardbirds were one of the first bands to have their BBC live archives spilled before the public; a compilation entitled On The Air was officially released as early as, well, the early Eighties, and since then there seem to have been various packages re-assembling and supplementing that material. This puppy seems to be the definitive one: thirty three tracks (six of them in-the-studio interviews) covering the band's entire career from 1965 to 1968, unfortunately, with sessions only going back to the Beck days and not featuring any Clapton-era material - in fact, the first session covered here seems to have been recorded just a couple weeks after Jeff had joined the band. There also doesn't seem to be any material from the short-term era when Page played bass and later moved on to second lead guitar, dueting with Beck - probably because it was a very short period and there may not have been any actual BBC sessions recorded during that time. So it's either Beck-only (the first twenty six tracks) or Page-only (the last seven ones).So what's up with the material? It sucks. Okay, that deserves some elaboration. The song selection almost totally rules; what you have here, condensed in one well-flowing package, is the absolute majority of the songs that actually make the Yardbirds stand out. All the great innovative hits like 'Heart Full Of Soul', 'Evil Hearted You', 'Still I'm Sad', 'Shapes Of Things', 'Over Under Sideways Down'... plus a decent bunch of blues standards and straightahead rockers, all highlighted with Beck's (and later Pagey's) extraordinary guitar blazes. Moreover, only 'Shapes Of Things' is represented by two versions, so the disc manages to avoid the "Obligatory BBC Curse" - two and three different versions of half of the songs. But the thing is, all of these songs are much better in their studio versions. Take the most obvious example, for instance: "The Train Kept A-Rollin'". The original studio version featured that wonderful idea of overdubbing multiple vocal parts, with call-and-response pacing that verged on chaotic but also gave the song a totally headspinning character - plus Beck's carefully constructed guitar passages increased that headspinning five times fiftyfold. And what do we have here? It's shorter, no tricky vocal interplay at all, just the usual flaky Keith Relf vocal, and solo passages that kick next to no ass because Beck is given almost no time. At least the frenetic riff is still intact. Not that these tracks suck, and in many cases, they can act as decent replacements for the originals if you wanna have all of 'em in one place. But it's just that I already said it, and I repeat it again: the Yardbirds were not a great live band. They were too clean, too accurate, too prudent to really let their hair down; no wonder the liner notes call them "well-behaved lads" and imply that they were much easier handled by the BBC chaps than so many of their contemporaries. They may rant and rave, but at heart, they're a bunch of nerds doing that evil black American music, all 'cuz of their nerdy complexes. In the studio, that ain't so obvious because they're willing to experiment with sound, song structure, etc., but when playing live, even live-in-the-BBC-studio, you have to have guts. And here, it looks like only the guitar player has guts. Whenever a song comes on, for me it's always "okay, the beginning matches the studio version... when do I get to hear the solo?". On the classic 'For Your Love', it almost seems like the band is ready to take a little nap once the mid-section breaks down and there's this pause after which the song is restarted - well, that pause is kinda longish, don't it seem to you, eh? EH? However, Beck does save the day in most cases, and he makes this here take on 'Too Much Monkey Business' even more enjoyable than the Five Live version, wailing away with the overchuckified Berry-licks so well you almost manage to forget these guys are nerds. And then he gets all ferocious on our asses with the distorted psychedelic give-Hendrix-some-competition workout on 'You're A Better Man Than I' (so goddamn influential - I swear I could hear the exact same prolonged chords in Ted Nugent's solo on the Amboy Dukes' 'Baby Please Don't Go'), yet shows he can pull off a great, but not entirely copycat-style, Elmore James on 'Dust My Broom'. Oh, and gets the classic "Mastodontic Blues Intro" thing going in the opening bars of Elmore James' 'The Sun Is Shining' two years before Page's (and his own's, on Truth) 'You Shook Me'. In short, Beck's playing is delicious, and saves all the numbers that have a guitar solo in them... fortunately, most of them have. The Page-era numbers are also excellent; even the rather by-the-book cover of Dylan's 'Most Likely You Go Your Way' features a very tricky rhythm, alternating folky chords with almost funky ones. And then there's the chuggin' hard rock riff of 'Little Games', the band's ultra-heavy take on 'Rollin' And Tumblin', renamed 'Drinking Muddy Water', and the 'Train Kept A-Rollin' variation entitled 'Think About It' - these tracks are, indeed, as close to the early Led Zeppelin sound as a band with Jimmy Page in it could ever come. (Although the last two tracks, the campy 'Goodnight Sweet Josephine' and the clumsy soul workout 'My Baby', done thrice as good by Janis Joplin a couple years later, are certainly nowhere near Led Zeppelin and probably indicate the fact that the Yardbirds were completely running out of steam - only Pagey's solo on the former sounds glorious, showing he was definitely getting WAY too big for this band's bridges). In short, a somewhat disappointing album IF you're already familiar with most of the material: which might well not be the case, seeing as how the Yardbirds' catalog is so horribly mistreated and this BBC album might well be the most easily available AND the most "seductive" compilation of their material. Don't hesitate about picking it up, but remember, the studio versions do pack more punch, apart from the guitar solos. On the other hand, it's fun to have that short little Jimmy Page interview at the end - with that thin, frail, shaky voice sounding like it's coming from an eleven-year old boy that got dragged into the recording studio for the first time. (Well, it's a well-known fact that Pagey was thin and frail). PS. In the band's defense, the Gregorian chanting on 'Still I'm Sad' is done PERFECTLY. Obviously, they cared about that one!
READER COMMENTS SECTION