The “Listen Again” series was popular enough that your favorite record reviewer has decided to follow the lead of some TV execs and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums BUT the platters we’ll peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) five-star albums. This time we look at The Yardbirds’ The Yardbirds Great Hits.
But for those of you not up on your classic rock studies, The Yardbirds are a band born in the UK in 1963. The original line-up included: Keith Relf (vocals and harmonica), Paul Samwell-Smith (bass), Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar and bass), Jim McCarty (drums) and Top Topham (lead guitar) who was quickly replaced by first Eric Clapton, then Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. The band started the careers of all three guitarists.
The name “The Yardbirds” was inspired by both jazz saxophonist Charlie “Yardbird” Parker and from the slang term for hobos who loitered around rail yards waiting for trains. The group was a blues-based band that soon expanded their repertoire to include pop and rock. They pioneered such guitar innovations as feedback, “fuzztone” distortion, improved amplification and modal playing.
The ten track collection opens with the now classic cut “For Your Love”. This was first released in 1965 and was written by future 10cc member Graham Gouldman. The second selection was another Gouldman composition titled “Heart Full Of Soul” which was another 1965 “top ten” tune for the band.
The next number is “Still I’m Sad”. This was originally a B-side single from 1965. It was one of the earliest collaborations between McCarty and Samwell-Smith.
Also included on the A side is “I’m Not Talking”. This is also from 1965. It’s a cover of a song by blues-jazz artist Moses Allison and is highlighted by unexpected timing changes.
“Shapes Of Things” is the A side’s closing cut. This was co-composed by McCarty, Relf and Samwell-Smith. This is a hit from 1966. (Beck would rework the song a couple years later with his new band The Jeff Beck Group.)
The flip side opens on “The Train Kept A-Rollin’”. This is a 1965 cover of the 1951 blues jump song written by Tiny Bradshaw, Howard Kay, and Lois Mann. (The Yardbirds’ popular version would become a garage-rock staple.)
It’s followed by “I Wish You Would”. This was their 1964 debut single. It’s a unique cover of a 1955 cut by Chicago blues musician Billy Boy Arnold.
“I Ain’t Done Wrong” is next. This is the longest track on the album with a running time of over three and a half minutes. It’s an original song by Relf and was one of the first songs the band recorded.
It’s followed by the shortest song on the compilation “I Ain’t Got You”. This cut is just under two minutes long. It’s the band’s 1965 take on a song by jazz/pop composer Calvin Carter.
The album end-note is “I’m A Man” from 1965. This is a cover of a 1955 Bo Diddley rock and roll tune which was inspired by a 1954 Muddy Waters song “Mannish Boy”. The collection was released on the Epic label in 1977.
The album was a success further proving the band to be one of the great Sixties rock groups. The Yardbirds (inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992) were influential on other artists well beyond the bounds of their own commercial success which in the US amounted mainly to their handful of hits. The songs on this now rare release represent rock music on the edge of a new musical movement of great guitar frenzy and experimental psychedelic music.
While Relf may well have been considered one of the most limited singers of the memorable Brit bands, the guitarists—Clapton, Beck and Page—take over the tracks. Included in Rolling Stone‘s list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”, the music on The Yardbirds’ The Yardbirds Great Hits/Epic PE 34491 was essential to the formation of bands such as Cream, Led Zeppelin and perhaps even the heavy metal genre itself.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.