The Yardbirds: Shapes of Things, The Best of the Yardbirds (Music Club/Triton)

 |   |  2 min read

The Yardbirds: Happenings Ten Years Time Ago (1966)
The Yardbirds: Shapes of Things, The Best of the Yardbirds (Music Club/Triton)

Aside from the obvious ones -- the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and arguably the Small Faces and perhaps the Animals -- was there any other group in the mid-Sixties which was such a magnet for, and breeding ground of, talent?

And it's not just the roster of guitarists who passed through its ranks -- Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page -- or that in their closing overs (with no original members) when they were briefly called the New Yardbirds they were the band which became Led Zeppelin.

the_yardbirdsThe Yardbirds were more than that: they were the band which helped give songwriter Graham Gouldman a brief but stellar career in the charts (the Yardbirds did his For Your Love and Evil Hearted You); they were in the vanguard of the British Blues Boom (they toured and recorded with Sonny Boy Williamson); their manager/producer was Giorgio Gomelsky who gave a leg up to many other important rock acts, notably the young Stones prior to the Yardbirds); their bassist Paul Samwell-Smith became a noted producer; drummer Jim McCarty went on to prog-rockers Renaissance; and guitarist/songwriter Chris Dreja became a photographer.

It seems almost a shame to observe that the band's frontman Keith Relf (never a strong singer who was electrocuted by a guitar in '76) had the least successful solo career after ambling through a series of bands, among them Renaissance.

But few groups of that era could boast such talent, or such influence. Todd Rundgren named his first group the Nazz (after a Yardbirds' track The Nazz Are Blue) and Clapton/Beck/Page launched a thousand wannabes and copyists. Their innovative singles showed that the charts could be taken by something other than Beat Boom pop. 

The Yardbirds music -- from r'n'b to inventive pop-rock and neo-psychedelic rock -- remains a cornerstone of r'n'b-influenced rock even today and you can hear obvious echoes in bands such as the Checks and the early White Stripes.yardbirds

There have been more than a few compilations in the past but this non-chronological double disc (40 tracks) collects the highlights: from the singles For Your Love (with harpsichord and bongos), Heart Full of Soul, Evil Hearted You and the thrilling Shapes of Things -- what an opening salvo of genius right there -- through their blues-rock (Boom Boom, the pretty hopeless Good Morning Little Schoolgirl salvaged only by Clapton's guitar solo) into guitar-driven pop-rock (Jeff's Boogie, Jeff's Blues, The Nazz Are Blue) and their later hits (the drilling Over Under Sideways Down, the trippy Happenings Ten Years Time Ago which featured both Beck and Page, Still I'm Sad).

Here too are significant album tracks: Lost Woman, Ever Since the World Began, What Do You Want, and I Can't Make Your Way, as well a Relf solo song (Mr Zero) and John Lee Hooker's Louise live.

The Yardbirds' material covered an enormously wide spectrum (almost as broad as that of the Move, but rather more coherent): there was feedback pop-rock, the sound of Gregorian chants, fuzzbox rock and earthy blues . . .

They bridged the music world from blues clubs to the dawn of the psychedelic era in a few short years and if they were weaker at the blues end (largely because of Relf's limitations) and never quite the all out trip-rockers who arrived en masse in '67, they managed to make music which had pop appeal but was innovative and often daring.

Few bands launch a career with a live album (Five Live Yardbirds recorded at the Marquee) let alone provide a springboard for such a pool of playing, writing and promotional talent.

It's likely that we may never see the definitive four-CD box set of the Yardbirds (which would probably include more from the Roger the Engineer album, only a few tracks here) because of litigation, but anyone with a passing interest in how r'n'b became pop which became rock could do a lot worse than use the Yardbrds career as their guide.

Share It

Your Comments

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman - Sep 13, 2010

Hi Graham
Thanks for your informative and insightful backstory to this great group. I just loved those early hits, a teenage high school kid on the West Coast. They blew me away, and looking back, I'm kinda glad I was too naive to see what they "meant" in music history - I jsut sucked up the vibe and the poetry. Cheers.
Jeffrey

post a comment

More from this section   Music articles index

Frazey Ford: Obadiah (Nettwerk/Shock)

Frazey Ford: Obadiah (Nettwerk/Shock)

Ford was one of the key voices in the Be Good Tanyas, but since they have disbanded she is now out on her own with this debut solo album -- and quite some quiet piece of work it is. Things... > Read more

They Might Be Giants: Join Us (Rounder)

They Might Be Giants: Join Us (Rounder)

Like Jonathan Richman and Weezer, New York's They Might Be Giants had nerdy charm when they emerged some 15 albums ago and it was fun to hear them on the theme to Malcolm in the Middle and... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

Larry Carlton. Bruce Mason Centre, Auckland. June 6 2014

Larry Carlton. Bruce Mason Centre, Auckland. June 6 2014

There's an old joke about jazz promotion: if you want to make a million bucks, start with two mill. The amorphous audience is the great unknown. As some promoters have found, you can... > Read more

SCOTTY BARNHART INTERVIEWED (2015): Leading Count Basie's band and legacy into the future

SCOTTY BARNHART INTERVIEWED (2015): Leading Count Basie's band and legacy into the future

Although the great jazz composer and band leader Count Basie died in April 84, the band plays on. The Count Basie Orchestra, an 18-piece recording and touring ensemble touring New Zealand... > Read more