Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Selling Out A Heart Full Of Soul

The Yardbirds, or so do the almighty critics tell us, was the band that gave us the talent of some of the first guitar “virtuosos” in rock music, spawning no less than Eric Clapton (he of Cream, Derek and The Dominos and solo fame), Jeff Beck (he of...uh, the Jeff Beck Group fame and the main inspiration for Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel) and Jimmy Page (he of Led Zeppelin fame). Yet they are wrong if they think that’s all the Yardbirds were about.

Just listening to their music you get a feeling of exhilaration that few bands from that era gave, they possessed a sense of desperation and energy that made you smash your head to the wall or dance like a lunatic; sure, they had a very refined perfection to their playing but that counts for squat if it wasn’t for the way they played, like they meant it and with everything they had. No wonder most garage took upon their sound and it wasn’t until the slash-and-burn excesses of Blue Cheer, the Stooges and the MC5 that those levels of energy were exceded.

Not only were the guitar players excellent in this band, they were all a classic case of the “sum is better than the individual parts” that most great bands have; one of their greatest achievements was the so called rave up part of their songs, a section where they would concentrate into playing harder and more intense until the sound exploded just to go back to where they left off and finish the song (almost 30 years before Daydream Nation), Keith Relf sang with such bravado and intensity but hardly ever letting his voice get out of control, he was not just making the blues standards they used to cover jump, he made them scream! I call bollocks on the reason why Clapton left the Yardbirds, he wasn’t offended by them abandoning their purist roots since they would inject those pure blues numbers with so much adrenaline that they turned them into something else, something that was almost beyond rock back then, something original and all their fucking own.

But yes, the Yardbirds sold out.

Clapton, then nicknamed “Slow Hand” and a little later being the subject of many a “Eric Clapton Is God” graffittis, quit the band as they hit the charts with “For Your Love”. The reason i think Clapton quit is because of this song, namely a) the song’s lead instrument is not the guitar and b) it was a smash hit, unlike all the blues songs Clapton favored; but “For Your Love” is anything but a poppy bland attempt at mass comercial success; in fact, it’s one of the best damn songs to ever be recorded in this Earth; seriously, from the first chords of the harpsichord to the backing vocals to Relf’s delivery to the impossibly heavy breakdown in the middle to the grand last chorus, it retained the rave up quality of their blues adaptations but did it in a picture perfect song format.

Replacing Clapton wasn’t hard, since he recommended a friend of his, Jimmy Page who was then, a studio session player who enjoyed his job and had good pay so he preferred not to join them, instead telling them about his friend Jeff Beck, who had played in minor garage bands in which he experimented with feedback, noise and distortion, something that expanded the band’s sonic palette tenfold coupled with their new found song oriented material, gave the world such blazing recordings such as “Shape Of Things”, “You’re a Better Man Than I” and “Heart Full Of Soul” (the later’s riff originally intended to be played by a sitar), as well as more blues versions like the absolute expressway to their skulls climax of “I’m A Man” that always gives me the chills.

Bassist Paul Samwell-Smith left the band some time after, giving them an opportunity to invite Page again to the band, with the extremely underrated talents of Chris Dreja leaving the rhythm guitar for the four string to have room for Jeff and Jimmy to really let loose. Problem was, there was almost no time since Beck fell sick and was soon after being falsely diagnosed, he was fired while on the road, ending a truly magical era of music when rumours would fly about him slashing his speakers or loosening the tubes in his amp to get his distortion and when bands, sometimes spearheaded by the very own Yardbirds, would experiment with raga forms or gregorian chants.

The band went on to have minor hits with Page but they mostly exploited their experimental side, extending their songs and obliterating them to noise onstage, using the studio as an instrument and not caring about the results or having fear; Jimmy introduced the band to his freak folkish song “White Summer” and the prog noise metal of “Dazed & Confused”, developed by Relf and the rest of the band, although they wouldn’t last very long after.

Today i listen to this band with immortal melodies, daring ideas and incredibly exciting executions and i wonder about what would it have been to be around when they were around and perhaps watching them live with anyone of their brilliant lineups. Often, people look at me funny when i talk about Clapton and Beck and Page and assure them i positively despise Cream, don’t feel like listening to Led Zeppelin most of the time or that i’m not terribly excited to look into the instrumental work of Beck, rather i refer to their early to mid-60’s selves, as much as Bob Dylan felt old newspapers were more relevant in the sixties than the rags of the day; those were the days when a simple blues standard could make you want to slamdance before you could even think about stuff like that, it was music that makes you feel alive over under sideways down, i’m not sure if then but i’m completely positive that they do now, to me at the very least, with a sip of muddy waters, a fuzzed out sitar line and a heartful of soul to make me feel alive.


The Yardbirds - Too Much Monkey Business (Five Live Yardbirds).mp3
The Yardbirds - For Your Love.mp3
The Yardbirds - Heart Full Of Soul.mp3
The Yardbirds - The Train Kept A-Rollin'.mp3
The Yardbirds - I'm A Man (live 1968-Mar-30 Anderson Theater, NYC).mp3
The Yardbirds - Jeff's Boogie.mp3
The Yardbirds - Over Under Sideways Down (live 1968-Mar-30 Anderson Theater, NYC).mp3
The Yardbirds - Happening Ten Years Time Ago.mp3


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