Saturday, June 6, 2009

Y - The Yardbirds - "The Yardbirds" (or "Roger the Engineer")

The Yardbirds would be the most overrated band of all time if the Yardbirds were actually remembered for their music.

They’re not, of course. Despite having achieved a very respectable amount of success and a few hits in England, they’re best known for having been the stepping stone for their extremely successful guitar players: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, & Jimmy Page. Each of these guitarists (especially Beck) had some impressive moments in the band, but achieved greatness after leaving (Led Zeppelin originally toured as “The New Yardbirds”).

I used to could listen for hours to records just for the guitar playing, but then I was dumb, because without an actual song or framework, its just somebody going doodly-doodly-doodly without rhyme or reason, and it bores me intensely (though I still own one Yngwie Malmsteen record, you’ll NEVER catch me actually listening to it). Despite their guitar starpower, the Yardbirds WERE song oriented: problem was the songs were more often lackluster to awful, where you only stuck around to hear the 30 seconds or so of guitar. And never has a band soloist completely outshone his accompanists as Clapton, Beck, & Page did, because there’s little to say about the rest of the Yardbirds. The rhythm guitar, bass, and drums are all at best nondescript, and the vocals of Keith Relf are plain awful.

So onto the album…

I really don’t understand this record: it’s clearly a reissue, but is it also a compilation? Clapton is long gone, and Beck is the main soloist, but Page is on at least a couple songs (he joined up on bass until then rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja was good enough to take over the bass, but as soon as they settled into a devastating double shot of guitar goodness, Beck’s massive ego caused him to hit the road after only about six months of this lineup.)

Anyway, side one starts with “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”, which even with the aforementioned bad vocals (what’s with all the Gregorian chanting that the Yardbirds did? It’s in lots of their songs and makes them sound ridiculous), the song is foreboding enough to hold interest with a couple great riffs until Beck or Page starts playing what sounds like an air raid alert, and then they both take off on dueling solos that are much too short. Great song, and a great start. Then we hit the wall immediately with the generic blues of “Lost Woman”. I know the Yardbirds got their start as a tight rhythm & blues band, but there’s no excuse for blues this dull. Hey, we rebound right away with their semi-hit “Over Under Sideways Down” with Beck’s super snakey riff (which was ripped off (or paid tribute to) by Husker Du on “Friend You’ve Got to Fall” (which is a MUCH better song, by the by & by). Next, Beck, perhaps himself disgusted with the lame vocals, takes over the mike for “The Nazz is Blue”. Bad move. He can’t sing either. (I never really got Jeff Beck. Yeah, he’s a very good guitar player, but he cant write, he can’t sing, he can’t hold a band together long enough to record more than one record (if that) without driving them away. Does anyone seriously listen to his records at all? I still have his first solo record, but it’s because Rod Stewart added more personality to the record than all the sidehacks that Beck would later record with did (having Rod in the band taught Beck never to hire someone who could even come CLOSE to outshining him: the record says JEFF BECK, don’t forget it.) So far we’re running about 50% success. However, the rest of side one is the pits: “I Can’t Make Your Way” is offensive in its inoffensive pop manner, “Rack My Mind” is toothless punk, and “Farewell” is poor psychodelic lite.

Side 2 begins well, starting with the complete shambling nonsense of “Hot House of Omagarashid” (which I think has someone waving a saw back and forth the whole time: there’s a “wubba wubba” going through the entire track. I LIKE it.) “Jeff’s Boogie” is appropriately named, and is a very good guitar showcase. Though even Hendrix sounds extremely mannered nowadays, it has some very good solo moments from Beck. “He’s Always There” is perhaps the only good song on the record in which the song is actually better than the guitar work. I’m surprised some band hasn’t covered this one yet. With three good songs in the row, the Yardbirds give us three bad ones in a row (though “What do You Want” has a nasty guitar solo, and “Ever Since the World Began” starts out sounding like primitive Black Sabbath before suddenly switching into chirpy pop. Blech!), but finish strong with “Psycho Daisies”, a decent song, though nowhere as good as its title, and a solo that’s criminally cut off before it even gets started.

VERDICT: nothing to really see here, move along.
VIDEO: (Beck had already left the band at this point, so it’s Page playing guitar, yet they show everyone in the band but Page! (judging on how sloppy he’s playing here, perhaps its for the best).

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