Get this crazy baby off my head!


The Yardbirds

The Yardbirds - Birdland - 2003 - Favored Nations

When this came out in 2003, it marked the first studio release by the Yardbirds in 35 years. In that time, of course, the personnel had changed quite a bit. Even those inclined to get excited by reunions of great bands should know right off that it includes just two original members, drummer Jim McCarty and rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja (though Jeff Beck plays guest guitar on one number, "My Blind Life"). Rounded out by three "new" members (including bassist John Idan, whose lead singing sounds fairly close to original Yardbirds vocalist Keith Relf in style and tone), the record also features guestmore… lead guitar cameos by Jeff Baxter, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Brian May, with Johnny Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls singing lead on "For Your Love." The instinct is to make cruel, sardonic jokes about how the absence of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and (for the most part) Jeff Beck doesn't matter, as guitarists were always the weak links in the Yardbirds anyway. Yes, the non-presence of these fabled guitar heroes, as well as Relf (who died in 1976), does mean that this can't be compared in any way to the group's classic 1960s output, even if it's billed to the Yardbirds' name. For all that, however, this is a lot better than you'd expect, and certainly far more respectable than most reunion/comeback efforts by decimated lineups of classic outfits. The production is straight-ahead without the usual sellouts to modern technology, putting the sleek guitar work to the fore. Half the record has remakes of old Yardbirds staples like "For Your Love," "Shapes of Things," and "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," but they're not done badly, though you feel as though you're listening to a really good Yardbirds tribute band rather than the real deal. The original material, though not as good as those old Yardbirds tunes, actually sounds — whether as a result of conscious or unconscious effort — in the Yardbirds style, with plenty of irregular tempos, minor-keyed melodies, metaphysically questing lyrics, and Gregorian vocals (as on the Relf tribute "An Original Man (A Song for Keith)").


1 I'm Not Talking - Mose Allison
2 Crying Out for Love - Jim McCarty
3 The Nazz Are Blue - Jeff Beck, Jim McCarty, Chris Dreja, Keith Relf, Paul Samwell-Smith
4 For Your Love - Graham Gouldman
5 Please Don't Tell Me 'Bout the News - Jim McCarty
6 Train Kept a Rollin' - Tiny Bradshaw, Howard Kay, Lois Mann
7 Mr. Saboteur - Jim McCarty
8 Shapes of Things - Jim McCarty, Keith Relf, Paul Samwell-Smith
9 My Blind Life - Chris Dreja
10 Over, Under, Sideways, Down - Jeff Beck, Jim McCarty, Chris Dreja, Keith Relf, Paul Samwell-Smith
11 Mr. You're a Better Man Than I - Mike Hugg, Brian Hugg
12 Mystery of Being - Jim McCarty
13 Dream Within a Dream - Jim McCarty, Edgar Allan Poe
14 Happenings Ten Years Time Ago - Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Jim McCarty, Keith Relf
15 An Original Man (A Song for Keith) - Jim McCarty, Chris Dreja


John Idan – bass, lead vocals
Gypie Mayo - lead guitar
Chris Dreja – rhythm guitar
Jim McCarty – drums, percussion, vocals
Alan Glen - harmonica
Jeff Beck - guitar on "My Blind Life"


The Nazz Are Blue - Jeff Baxter
Train Kept A-Rollin' - Joe Satriani
Shapes of Things - Steve Vai
Over Under Sideways Down - Slash
You're a Better Man Than I - Brian May
Happenings Ten Years Time Ago - Steve Lukather


Keith Relf · Chris Dreja · Paul Samwell-Smith · Top Topham · Jim McCarty · Eric Clapton · Jeff Beck · Jimmy Page
Rod Demick · Laurie Garman · Alan Glen · John Idan · Ben King · Billy Boy Miskimmin · Ray Majors · Gypie Mayo


The Yardbirds' first studio album release in 35 years. Most of the ''Birdland'' album was recorded at Steve Vai's Mothership studio in Hollywood with producer Ken Allerdyce, the finishing works took place in London. The CD contains newly recorded versions of eight of the Yardbirds' best known hits (I'm Not Talking / The Nazz Are Blue / For Your Love / Train Kept A Rolling / Shapes of Things / Over, Under, Sideways, Down / Mister, You're A Better Man Than I / Happenings Ten Years Time Ago) plus seven new songs (Crying Out For Love / Please Don't Tell Me 'Bout the News / Mr. Saboteur / My Blind Life / The Mystery of Being / Dream Within A Dream / An Original Man [A Song For Keith]).
Beneath the flock of Yardbirds (Jim McCarty, Chris Dreja, Gypie Mayo, John Idan, Alan Glen) the recordings feature guest spots by guitarists Jeff Beck, Slash, Brian May, Johnny Rzeznik (Goo Goo Dolls), Steve Vai and Steve Lukather. Robert Knight and Dave Weiderman of Monolith Management secured the band their first recording contract as The Yardbirds since 1968.
I'm Not Talking / Crying Out For Love / The Nazz Are Blue (Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter, guitar) / For Your Love (John Rzeznik, vocals) / Please Don't Tell Me 'Bout The News / Train Kept A Rolling (Joe Satriani, guitar) / Mr. Saboteur / Shapes Of Things (Steve Vai, guitar) / My Blind Life (Jeff Beck, guitar) / Over, Under, Sideways, Down (Slash, guitar) / Mr. You're A Better Man Than I (Brian May, guitar) / Mystery Of Being / Dream Within A Dream / Happenings Ten Years Time Ago (Steve Lukather, guitar) / An Original Man (A Song For Keith)


Birdland quite possibly qualifies for entry into the Guinness Book of Records under the "longest ever gap between studio albums" category. After all, when the Yardbirds last released a proper record (1967's Little Games, a mixed affair featuring some up-and-coming guitarist called Jimmy Page), man had yet to visit the moon, Tony Blair was a 14-year-old schoolboy, and the White Stripes were what you saw on the road at zebra crossings. Of course, nothing the Yardbirds could possibly do now will ever attain the dizzy, head-swimming heights of their psychedelic 1960s heyday, but Birdland--with some dignity--is certainly not the sound of washed-up ex-rock stars sucking their stomachs in and combing their hair forward. Reconvening around a nucleus of original members Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty, the latter-day lineup also boasts the pedigree of former Dr Feelgood guitarist and co-writer John "Gypie" Mayo as well as guest appearances aplenty from such ostentatious fretboard manipulators as Brian May, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Slash, and even Jeff Beck himself. And while dismissing the production work on their classic 1960s hits as "crap" may well be a poor excuse for offering these buffed-up re-recordings of their greatest moments ("Shapes of Things," "For Your Love," etc.), at least accusations of laurel-resting are convincingly countered by the inclusion of some stimulating new material. For example, "The Mystery of Being"--worryingly described by the band as "Afghan psychedelia"--is just the sort of Arabian rock illusion previously conjured up by Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow. The tribute to Keith Relf on "An Original Man" is worthy of the Byrds at their brotherly prime, and "Crying Out for Love" is mature blues with heart, soul, and sensitivity. Frankly, one could only wish the Rolling Stones' songwriting skills were still as sharp. © Kevin Maidment, © 1996-2008, Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates


We won't attempt to write a book on the Yardbirds here; that's already been done three times (see the print and online bibliography at the end of this bio for further reading). We'll simply reiterate that the Yardbirds, perhaps more than any other group, brought guitar pyrotechnics to rock & roll in the 1960s. By introducing Clapton, Beck and Page to the world, and giving them plenty of space to create, the band set the template not only for Cream, the Jeff Beck Group and Led Zeppelin (whose original moniker was the New Yardbirds), but for virtually every rock group featuring distortion, feedback and in-your-face electric-guitar virtuosity. Now, that remarkable achievement would be more than enough for any band to fondly look back on, but this band is aggressively moving forward. Three years after their 1992 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ("We had roast duck," Chris Dreja says of that special night), the Yardbirds reformed, but they chose to stay below the radar, tweaking their lineup and working up material. That has changed with the release of their first new studio recording since 1967's Little Games. What's surprising about the new longplayer, Birdland (on Steve Vai's Favored Nations Records), is that, a full 35 years later, the sound remains distinctly and electrifyingly that of the Yardbirds. It's also very much of the moment, as another generation of gritty, guitar-slinging units like the White Stripes, the Hives, the Strokes and the Vines connects with the reinvigorated rock audience. Among the talents of founding members Dreja (rhythm guitar, backing vocals) and Jim McCarty (drums, backing vocals) is a knack for locating brilliant guitar players, and they've done it yet again by centering the current Yardbirds around the fleet-fingered explosiveness of one John "Gypie" Mayo, the best axeman you never heard of (unless you followed the exploits of Dr. Feelgood from 1977-80, when Mayo played with that revved-up British R&B unit and came up with the fondly remembered "Milk and Alcohol"). "Gypie never plays anything quite the same way twice," Dreja says. "He's very inspired and of the moment, like Beck - he's a fantastic player who's spectacular when he's ‘on.'" Filling out the group are Detroit-reared frontman/bassist John Idan, a lifelong Yardbirds fan who views his gig as a labor of love, and onetime Nine Below Zero member Alan Glen blowing harp in the spirit of the late Keith Relf, the band's original lead singer, who was electrocuted in 1976 while recording at home. Both charismatic performers -- John with his astonishing range and visually exciting stage presence, and Alan, a hauntingly soulful player and one of the UK's most in-demand session players -- have developed devoted followings. Mesmerizing and most blues-wailing indeed! This crack crew has plenty of company on Birdland, which features guest appearances by six-string notables Brian May, Slash, Joe Satriani, Steve Lukather, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, Vai and Jeff Beck, who returns to take a spin in his onetime vehicle. This array of talent, along with the introduction of their skilled contemporary Mayo, makes the album a feast for rock-guitar aficionados. In order to introduce the group and its oeuvre to a new generation of music lovers, the band members, at Vai's urging, decided to make new recordings of eight Yardbirds classics: "I'm Not Talking" (with Mayo taking the lead), "The Nazz Are Blue" (featuring Baxter), "For Your Love" (with the Goo Goo Dolls' Johnny Rzeznik on vocals), "Train Kept a Rolling" (Satriani), "Shapes of Things" (Vai), "Over, Under, Sideways, Down" (Slash), "Mr. You're a Better Man Than I" (May) and "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" (Lukather). "Some of the back catalog is absolutely stunning live," Dreja marvels, "and today, with better sound equipment, it's gone into the 21st century really well." "I consider it a great honor that such highly respected musicians have decided to come and join in," says McCarty. "But then again, the Yardbirds have always been a collecting point for authentic and explorative musicians, past and present." These reinterpretations are interspersed with seven new songs that perpetuate the Yardbirds' musical tradition - "Crying Out for Love," "Please Don't Tell Me 'Bout the News," "Mr. Saboteur," "My Blind Life", "Mystery of Being," "Dream Within a Dream" and "An Original Man (A Song for Keith)" - while giving full rein to the range and firepower of the new lineup. "The current material connects with the original material," McCarty maintains, "in that there were definitely two different sides to the previous material, namely the bluesy-riffy ideas such as ‘I'm Not Talking' and ‘I'm a Man,' and the more moody songs such as ‘For Your Love' and ‘Shapes of Things.' I feel that this is still evident with songs like ‘Mystery of Being' and ‘Dream Within a Dream,' which are both quite haunting, whereas ‘News' and ‘Mr. Saboteur' bring in more of the bluesy influence." McCarty composed five of the seven new songs: "Mystery of Being," "Dream Within a Dream," "News," "Mr. Saboteur" and the minor-key, blues-based "Crying Out for Love." "Jim's a composer, so he probably out of all of us possesses the ability to bring a song to the table," Dreja says of his partner. "Then we Yardbirdize it - we seriously birdshit all over it." Dreja penned "My Blind Life" in the spirit of Bo Diddley and Howlin' Wolf, and "An Original Man" is a group composition that pays tribute to Relf. Working with producer Ken Allardyce (Weezer, Fleetwood Mac, Green Day, Goo Goo Dolls), a relocated Scot who fell in love with the Yardbirds when he saw them open for the Beatles in 1964, the band cut the bulk of the record at Vai's Mothership Studios in Hollywood, with additional work done at two London facilities and Jeff Beck's home studio in Sussex. "To make our first album in so many years has been a lasting ambition of ours," says Dreja. "We wanted to do our original songs and our new ones with modern production, while preserving the essence of our sound. To me, it doesn't sound like we've been away for 35 years. The Yardbirds are still a kick-ass, high-energy band, and that comes across on this album." What were once and future Yardbirds up to in the years between the breakup and the reformation? "In the mid-'80s," Dreja recalls, "we felt the need to record some more material, which became the Box of Frogs. We had people like Ian Dury, Graham Parker, Roger Chapman, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Rory Gallagher and Steve Hackett. It was not a touring band; it was an outlet for middle-aged men to get together and play music - group therapy," he quips. "Then there was another long break because of other commitments - other careers, really." Dreja has been a professional photographer for 32 years, while McCarty, who, with Relf, founded the '70s group Renaissance, has more recently recorded several solo albums. "But Jim and I always kept in contact. Then, after you guys honored us in '92, there came a discussion about playing again, if we could find the right people for the Yardbirds." McCarty picks up the narrative thread: "Motivation for reforming the band came in about 1995, when Chris and I were approached by an agent who was already working with a reformed Animals. I had been playing since about 1989 in the Jim McCarty Band, a London blues band formed with Top Topham, the original Yardbirds` guitarist from 1963, who was replaced by Eric Clapton after playing with the band for about six months. A recording of the band made in 1993 was recently released for the first time. We had met John Idan while he was in London buying guitars for a U.S. business, and he decided to join up with us. Eventually, Top left and was replaced by Ray Majors, who had played on a track for Box of Frogs back in 1984. "John and Ray were invited to join the new Yardbirds lineup, with John on bass. John brings to the band an energy and enthusiasm, as well as a very good knowledge of the original group and a respect for the original material. He also looks a bit like Keith Relf, but sings more like a Chicago blues singer. We then asked Laurie Garman, another musician who would occasionally jam with us in the pubs, to join us on harmonica. We started with some ‘retro' shows and festivals, finding it good fun and enjoying playing the old songs. Ray was a pretty heavy guitarist, and we thought it would be better to replace him with somebody more spontaneous in his playing, a la Jeff Beck. Laurie Garman had played with Gypie Mayo previously in a band called the Cobras, and so we gave him a go. It was obvious to me that Gypie was just right for the band, as he was incredibly creative, especially on stage. Around 1997, Laurie was replaced by Alan Glen. "Over the process of creating the new material for Birdland, we have all opened up much more to our various individual and collective potentials," McCarty says of the modern-day Yardbirds, "and there is now a new dynamism amongst us the original excitement and energy is still there, but with added experience, which definitely helps in some aspects." Dreja explains how the band managed to attract that impressive array of big-name guests for the project: "All the guitar players, people in music, especially in America, have always held a sort of reverence for the Yardbirds. Steve and the gang in America helped to get Slash and Satriani on board. Once the ball started rolling, you get one or two great people on it and others want to follow. This is an album of passion and love, not a marketing exercise." What would Dreja say to skeptics who will inevitably question the band's motives in revisiting vintage material and wheeling out the guest stars? "The decision to remind people of the energy of those original songs was important because we went away. We were not a band like the Who or the Stones that just carried on and everybody grew old with - we took a long holiday. "Every artist likes to better what they did originally, and I really prefer a lot of our interpretations now to the originals. The originals were done in a short amount of time, and the production was crap. It was very interesting to go back and stage the play again, so to speak. And anyway, the album is a mix of new and old, and the old material has subtle changes, and of course those guests really knocked their socks off to put something special into those songs. When I listened to the reference master, I tried to distance myself. And I realized that this band still has that urgent edge. There's blood and sweat, which is what this album took." And what of those who would accuse the band of cashing in now that its musical approach has become popular again? "That garage sound never really went away," Dreja replies. "I've been hearing it all over the place for years, and for some reason it's fashionable again. But that's not us picking up the phone saying, ‘Hey man, it's all coming back. Let's get out there and make an album.' We were way ahead of that. It just sort of happened that the album's coming out at a time when the Hives and the Strokes are getting a bit of press. And believe me, it's not easy getting a record deal after 35 years," he says with a rueful laugh, "especially with all the reshuffling at the major companies, who were dropping very good acts themselves. Steve came along and said if we could do it this way, he'd love to do an album. He was really cool about... and he did a great solo too." Shrewd move, Chris, giving props to the label head. McCarty was at London's Festival Hall last year when the White Stripes played some Yardbirds songs with none other than Jeff Beck in a sort cross-generational rave-up. "I spoke with Jack the singer afterwards," Jim recalls, "and he was very complimentary towards me. The set with Jeff was exciting and full of youthful enthusiasm." These Yardbirds are channeling a similar enthusiasm, three-and-a-half decades down the line, as these inveterate rock & rollers wail away, still capable of achieving godhead, still having a blast. "It'll be extremely fascinating to see what happens - who lambastes us, who doesn't," Dreja reflects. "We are obviously going to come to America and work the album; it's very important to us. None of us are youngsters, of course, and we don't know how many years left of touring there may be. So this is going to be a pivotal moment for us, no doubt. But this is a band. That is what the Yardbirds are - warts and edginess and all. It's the real thing." © 2007 Favored Nations Entertainment LLC.

ALBUM INFO (Wikipedia)

Birdland is a 2003 album by English blues rock band the Yardbirds and was the first Yardbirds release in over 35 years. The musicians in this version of the Yardbirds differed greatly from their 60's counterpart containing only drummer Jim McCarty and rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja, although Jeff Beck makes a cameo on one track. Aside from the new replacements (John Idan, Gypie Mayo, Alan Glen) several guest cameos are done by notable guitarists such as Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Slash, Johnny Rzeznik, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, and Brian May. The album contains seven new tracks composed mostly by McCarty or Dreja, and eight remakes of Yardbirds songs from the 1960s.


The Yardbirds are mostly known to the casual rock fan as the starting point for three of the greatest British rock guitarists: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. Undoubtedly, these three figures did much to shape the group's sound, but throughout their career, the Yardbirds were very much a unit, albeit a rather unstable one. And they were truly one of the great rock bands; one whose contributions went far beyond the scope of their half dozen or so mid-'60s hits ("For Your Love," "Heart Full of Soul," "Shapes of Things," "I'm a Man," "Over Under Sideways Down," "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago"). Not content to limit themselves to the R&B and blues covers they concentrated upon initially, they quickly branched out into moody, increasingly experimental pop/rock. The innovations of Clapton, Beck, and Page redefined the role of the guitar in rock music, breaking immense ground in the use of feedback, distortion, and amplification with finesse and breathtaking virtuosity. With the arguable exception of THE BYRDS, they did more than any other outfit to pioneer psychedelia, with an eclectic, risk-taking approach that laid the groundwork for much of the hard rock and progressive rock from the late '60s to the present. No one could have predicted the band's metamorphosis from their humble beginnings in the early '60s in the London suburbs as the Metropolis Blues Quartet. By 1963, they were calling themselves the Yardbirds, with a lineup featuring Keith Relf (vocals), Paul Samwell-Smith (bass), Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar), Jim McCarty (drums), and Anthony "Top" Topham (lead guitar). The 16-year-old Topham was only to last for a very short time, pressured to leave by his family. His replacement was an art-college classmate of Relf's, Eric Clapton, nicknamed "Slowhand." The Yardbirds quickly made a name for themselves in London's rapidly exploding R&B circuit, taking over THE ROLLING STONES' residency at the famed Crawdaddy club. The band took a similar guitar-based, frenetic approach to classic blues/R&B as the Stones, and for their first few years they were managed by Giorgio Gomelsky, a colorful figure who had acted as a mentor and informal manager for the Rolling Stones in that band's early days. The Yardbirds made their first recordings as a backup band for Chicago blues great Sonny Boy Williamson, and little of their future greatness is evident in these sides, in which they were still developing their basic chops. (Some tapes of these live shows were issued after the group had become international stars; the material has been reissued ad infinitum since then.) But they really didn't find their footing until 1964, when they stretched out from straight R&B rehash into extended, frantic guitar-harmonica instrumental passages. Calling these ad hoc jams "raveups," the Yardbirds were basically making the blues their own by applying a fiercer, heavily amplified electric base. Taking some cues from improvisational jazz by inserting their own impassioned solos, they would turn their source material inside out and sideways, heightening the restless tension by building the tempo and heated exchange of instrumental riffs to a feverish climax, adroitly cooling off and switching to a lower gear just at the point where the energy seemed uncontrollable. The live 1964 album Five Live Yardbirds is the best document of their early years, consisting entirely of reckless interpretations of U.S. R&B/blues numbers, and displaying the increasing confidence and imagination of Clapton's guitar work. As much they might have preferred to stay close to the American blues and R&B that had inspired them (at least at first), the Yardbirds made efforts to crack the pop market from the beginning. A couple of fine studio singles of R&B covers were recorded with Clapton that gave the band's sound a slight polish without sacrificing its power. The commercial impact was modest in the U.K. and non-existent in the States, however, and the group decided to change direction radically on their third single. Turning away from their blues roots entirely, "For Your Love" was penned by British pop/rock songwriter Graham Gouldman, and introduced many of the traits that would characterize the Yardbirds' work over the next two years. The melodies were strange (by pop standards) combinations of minor chords; the tempos slowed, speeded up, or ground to a halt unpredictably; the harmonies were droning, almost Gregorian; the arrangements were, by the standards of the time, downright weird, though retaining enough pop appeal to generate chart action. "For Your Love" featured a harpsichord, bongos, and a menacing Keith Relf vocal; it would reach number two in Britain, and number six in the States. For all its brilliance, "For Your Love" precipitated a major crisis in the band. Eric Clapton wanted to stick close to the blues, and for that matter didn't like "For Your Love," barely playing on the record. Shortly afterward, around the beginning of 1965, he left the band, opting to join John Mayall's Bluesbreakers a bit later in order to keep playing blues guitar. Clapton's spot was first offered to Jimmy Page, then one of the hottest session players in Britain; Page turned it down, figuring he could make a lot more money by staying where he was. He did, however, recommend another guitarist, Jeff Beck, then playing with an obscure band called the Tridents, as well as having worked a few sessions himself. While Beck's stint with the band lasted only about 18 months, in this period he did more to influence the sound of '60s rock guitar than anyone except Jimi Hendrix. Clapton saw the group's decision to record adventurous pop like "For Your Love" as a sellout of their purist blues ethic. Beck, on the other hand, saw such material as a challenge that offered room for unprecedented experimentation. Not that he wasn't a capable R&B player as well; on tracks like "The Train Kept A-Rollin'" and "I'm Not Talking," he coaxed a sinister sustain from his instrument by bending the notes and using fuzz and other types of distorted amplification. The Middle Eastern influence extended to his work on all of their material, including his first single with the band, "Heart Full of Soul," which (like "For Your Love") was written by Gouldman. After initial attempts to record the song with a sitar had failed, Beck saved the day by emulating the instrument's exotic twang with fuzz riffs of his own. It became their second transatlantic Top Ten hit; the similar "Evil-Hearted You," again penned by Gouldman, gave them another big British hit later in 1965. The chief criticism that could be levied against the band at this point was their shortage of quality original material, a gap addressed by "Still I'm Sad," a haunting group composition based around a Gregorian chant and Beck's sinewy, wicked guitar riffs. In the United States, it was coupled with "I'm a Man," a re-haul of the Bo Diddley classic that built to an almost avant-garde climax, Beck scraping the strings of the guitar for a purely percussive effect; it became a Top 20 hit in the United States in early 1966. Beck's guitar pyrotechnics came to fruition with "Shapes of Things," which (along with {the Byrds}' "Eight Miles High") can justifiably be classified as the first psychedelic rock classic. The group had already moved into social comment with a superb album track, "Mr. You're a Better Man than I"; on "Shapes of Things" they did so more succinctly, with Beck's explosively warped solo and feedback propelling the single near the U.S. Top Ten. At this point the group were as innovative as any in rock & roll, building their résumé with the similar hit follow-up to "Shapes of Things," "Over Under Sideways Down." But the Yardbirds could not claim to be nearly as consistent as peers like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Kinks. 1966's Roger the Engineer was their first (and, in fact, only) studio album comprised entirely of original material, and highlighted the group's erratic quality, bouncing between derivative blues rockers and numbers incorporating monks-of-doom chants, Oriental dance rhythms, and good old guitar raveups, sometimes in the same track. Its highlights, however, were truly thrilling; even when the experiments weren't wholly successful, they served as proof that the band was second to none in their appetite for taking risks previously unheard of within rock. Yet at the same time, the group's cohesiveness began to unravel when bassist Samwell-Smith -- who had shouldered most of the production responsibilities as well -- left the band in mid-1966. Jimmy Page, by this time fed up with session work, eagerly joined on bass. It quickly became apparent that Page had more to offer, and the group unexpectedly reorganized, Dreja switching from rhythm guitar to bass, and Page assuming dual lead guitar duties with Beck. It was a dream lineup that was, like the best dreams, too good to be true, or at least to last long. Only one single was recorded with the Beck/Page lineup, "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," which -- with its astral guitar leads, muffled explosions, eerie harmonies, and enigmatic lyrics -- was psychedelia at its pinnacle. But not at its most commercial; in comparison with previous Yardbirds singles, it fared poorly on the charts, reaching only number 30 in the States. Around this time, the group (Page and Beck in tow) made a memorable appearance in Michaelangelo Antonioni's film classic Blow Up, playing a reworked version of "The Train Kept-A-Rollin'" (retitled "Stroll On"). But in late 1966, Beck -- who had become increasingly unreliable, not turning up for some shows and suffering from nervous exhaustion -- left the band, emerging the following year as the leader of the Jeff Beck Group. The remaining Yardbirds were determined to continue as a quartet, but in hindsight it was Beck's departure that began to burn out a band that had already survived the loss of a couple important original members. Also to blame was their mysterious failure to summon original material on the order of their classic 1965-1966 tracks. More to blame than anyone, however, was Mickey Most (Donovan, Herman's Hermits, Lulu, the Animals), who assumed the producer's chair in 1967, and matched the group with inappropriately lightweight pop tunes. The band's unbridled experimentalism would simmer in isolated moments on some b-sides and album tracks, like "Puzzles," the psychedelic U.F.O. instrumental "Glimpses," and the acoustic "White Summer," which would serve as a blueprint for Page's acoustic excursions with Led Zeppelin. "Little Games," "Ha Ha Said the Clown," and "Ten Little Indians" were all low-charting singles for the group in 1967, but were travesties compared to the magnificence of their previous hits, trading in fury and invention for sappy singalong pop. The 1967 Little Games album (issued in the U.S. only) was little better, suffering from both hasty, anemic production and weak material. The Yardbirds continued to be an exciting concert act, concentrating most of their energies upon the United States, having been virtually left for dead in their native Britain. The b-side of their final single, the Page-penned "Think About It," was the best track of the entire Jimmy Page era, showing they were still capable of delivering intriguing, energetic psychedelia. It was too little too late; the group was truly on the wane by 1968, as an artistic rift developed within the ranks. To over-generalize somewhat, Relf and McCarty wanted to pursue more acoustic, melodic music; Page especially wanted to rock hard and loud. A live album was recorded in New York in early 1968, but scrapped; overdubbed with unbelievably cheesy crowd noises, it was briefly released in 1971 after Page had become a superstar in Led Zeppelin, but was withdrawn in a matter of days (it has since been heavily bootlegged). By this time the group was going through the motions, leaving Page holding the bag after a final show in mid-1968. Relf and McCarty formed the first incarnation of Renaissance. Page fulfilled existing contracts by assembling a "New Yardbirds" that, as many know, would soon change their name to Led Zeppelin. It took years for the rock community to truly comprehend the Yardbirds' significance; younger listeners were led to the recordings in search of the roots of Clapton, Beck, and Page, each of whom had become a superstar by the end of the 1960s. Their wonderful catalog, however, has been subject to more exploitation than any other group of the '60s; dozens, if not hundreds, of cheesy packages of early material are generated throughout the world on a seemingly monthly basis. Fortunately, the best of the reissues cited below (on Rhino, Sony, Edsel and EMI) are packaged with great intelligence, enabling both collectors and new listeners to acquire all of their classic output with a minimum of fuss and repetition. Thirty-five years after their break up in 1968, original members Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty pulled together a slew of new musicians to record a new album under the Yardbirds moniker, titled Birdland, and followed it with a tour of the United States. © Richie Unterberger, © 2008 All Media Guide


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Blake said...

wowsie aoofc!
i discovered you the other day and was reminded of an old musical friend i had forgot about. (thanx again) anyway i have been browsing and nibbling here and there. in this case i have this album but holy cow, the write up you provide on all of them, but this one in particular, amazing, i never knew that stuff! i have been a yardbirds fan since the 60's and thought i knew a thing or two. i suppose i should do more online looking in wikipedia and such but thank you very much. it just a joy reading this stuff alone, and there's music here i never heard of...(yet) you are opening my eyes and ears bigtime. thank you so much. b

A.O.O.F.C said...

Hi,Blake. Thanks. I try and give a personal view of most albums, but thankfully there are some great reviewers out there. A lot of copying and pasting going on! I am often amused and amazed at some of the reviews I read, but hey! We gotta have free speech! It's always amazing to look at the great music family tree. There is nearly always a connection to be found between artists, and you learn something new every day. In my case I've forgotten it the following day! Thanks a million for your comments and keep in touch. TTFN