Guide to British Music of the 1960s

March 2024

CD Review: The Yardbirds - Beck's Blues

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The Yardbirds are often referred to as the band that gave birth to Led Zeppelin or the band that contained three of the world's greatest guitarists. However, this narrow view understates the importance of the Yardbirds to the 1960s British music scene. The Yardbirds were always predominantly a blues group. Although Eric Clapton quit the band with the release of For You Love, saying that the band had moved away from its blues roots, the blues always remained at the heart of the band's sound.

With this firm underlying blues structure, the band expanded in a more experimental direction, releasing some of the finest English "psychedelic" tracks. The key to this was the recruitment of Jeff Beck to replace Eric Clapton. The band had approached top session guitarist Jimmy Page to handle lead guitar but he preferred to concentrate on the lucrative session work. However, he did recommend his friend Jeff Beck who had been playing with the Tridents.

Jeff Beck added a new dimension to the band introducing new sounds and riding the wave of changes in British music. The first single featuring Beck signalled the intention. Like the debut single, Heart Full of Soul was written by Graham Gouldman. With Indian music becoming popular, largely thanks to George Harrison, Beck improvised a sitar line but played it on lead guitar. A more conventional blues track, Steeled Blues, was on the b-side. Graham Gouldman also provided the next single Evil Hearted You. This kept the Yardbirds high in the charts amongst the new emerging sounds.

The first group-written single followed with the incredible Shapes of Things. This has been described as the first British truly psychedelic single and was released in February 1966. The band had often featured a rave-up where the instrumentation would become much louder, often towards the end of a song. Shapes of Things started with a rave up leading into "psychedelic" lyrics. The real highlight is Beck's incredible guitar solo which ends with one of the greatest power chords. The b-side You're a Better Man Than Me is a quite different track. It was written by the brothers Mike and Brian Hugg, Mike being the drummer in Manfred Mann. Again Beck's guitar provides a different edge. Distorted during the choruses and a rousing sound during the solo with plenty of reverb.

Throughout their career and even in the early days of Led Zeppelin, the Yardbirds would include blues standards in their repertoire. Bo Diddley's I'm a Man was a regular in the set as was Train Kept a Rollin'. The latter was chosen as the band's song in the film Blow Up. However, the band was not given permission to use the song so they had a hasty rewrite - same tune, new words - to create Stroll On. The memorable scene with the Yardbirds was filmed in a mock-up of the Ricky Tick Club. Beck smashed up his guitar towards the end of the song. He was supposed to behave like Pete Townshend but as Jeff Beck later said, if he wanted the Who why didn't he get the Who?" This appearance is famous as it is a rare piece of footage with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page on duel lead guitars. The only other tracks recorded by this line-up, Psycho Daisies and Happenings Ten Years Time Ago, are a surprising omission from this set. 

Paff...Bum is an unusual track, completely out of character for the band. It appears to have been an Italian song with a rewrite by bass player Paul Samwell-Smith. It was played at the San Remo Music Festival, possibly as a crowd pleaser rather than an example of the band's work.

A version of What Do You Want is one of two tracks here from the band's 1966 LP The Yardbirds (commonly known as Roger the Engineer). The whole LP was an excellent showcase for Jeff Beck and the other track from the album, Jeff's Blues is a great example of this. This track was an instrumental but appeared on the LP as a vocal version called Rack My Mind. It included his sustained one note guitar solo, maybe genius but apparently he was in a bad mood and refused to play a proper solo!

This is an excellent introduction to the Yardbirds at their creative peak. It lacks the singles Over Under Sideways Down and Happenings Ten Years Time Ago but is otherwise a superb collection.

Charly

Original release: 2024 (Also available on CD)

Essential Tracks

  • Heart Full of Soul
  • Shapes of Things
  • Stroll On

Track Listing

Side One

  1. Heart Full of Soul

  2. You're a Better Man Than I

  3. Evil Hearted You

  4. I'm a Man

  5. The Train Kept A-Rollin'

  6. I Ain't Done Wrong

  7. Steeled Blues

Side Two

  1. I'm Not Talking

  2. Shapes of Things

  3. New York City Blues

  4. Stroll On

  5. Paff...Bum

  6. What Do You Want (Take 4)

  7. Jeff's Blues (Take 2)

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