Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I've Been Hurt But I Still Love You

Now that the Yardbird's singles have been covered I am feeling a Zombies mood coming on.  Here is their great August 1965 single that sank like a stone - Whenever You're Ready.   The bridge section -  "you're not teaching me a new thing" - between the verse and the chorus is a thing of beauty.   Rod Argent was such an excellent songsmith, and of course Colin Blunstone was the perfect singer for his songs.  The b-side was the excellent I Love You, which unfortunately was a hit for another band - People.  The Zombies were sadly always in the wrong place at the wrong time.  For me though their music holds up and is nearly equal in quality to the Kinks and the Beatles when it comes to the 60s.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

She's Guaranteed Not To Fail You

Well, if the Yardbirds were going to be poured into a "pop" singles band mold, at least their final single was a rip-roaring farewell.  Thanks to Jimmy Page and his fuzzed out guitar work, Goodnight Sweet Josephine rocks and rolls in a very upbeat way.   Maybe the best pop song ever about a hooker!  After the gentle 12 string acoustic picking for the opening riff, on its second pass the electric guitar lets us know Mr. Page was not going to let the band pass away gently.

For the third single in a row neither Jim McCarty  (drummer) or Chris Dreja (bass) participated.  Clem Cattini played drums, John Paul Jones (future Led Zep) on bass, and Nicky Hopkins played piano.

Released in March of 1968 in only the US, the song bubbled up to #127 on the charts.  Such a sad showing for their last bit of official recording.  The B-side Think About It is a wonderful guitar-led workout that is more representative of the band at this late stage in their career.  The failure of the single in the US resulted in no release in the UK.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

At Six O'Clock The Moon Came Out

Although the previous single had a very lackluster chart showing, Mickey Most used another tune by an outside writer to try to boost the Yardbirds flailing career.   This time he chose Ten Little Indians by up-and-coming singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson.  Released in October of 1967, what an odd little song this is, and this time around Jimmy Page was allowed to participate.   To a martial snare beat, there are some odd brass parts that pop in from nowhere then disappear into the darkness.  Between "six" and "five" Jimmy adds a strange pulsating guitar figure, then the song just builds and builds until the final verse drops to a scream and whisper (together) then the guitar goes bananas and the ever present drum beat continues until the song collapses.   It was all for naught as the song climbed no higher than #91 in the US charts.  But I find it weirdly intriguing and worth repeated listenings.  Certainly not in the class of their epic Jeff Beck-led guitar freak outs, but seemingly a better direction than their previous attempt at pop.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Is The Knight Being Tight On Romance?

With the Yardbirds previous two singles failing to rise high on the charts, management brought in producer Mickie Most to "rescue" the band.  Three pop oriented tunes would be the next singles, starting with Ha! Ha! Said The Clown, written by Tony Hazzard.   In the UK Manfred Mann had a hit with this tune, so Most hoped to replicate that success in the US with the Yardbirds version.  Rumor has it that the only Yardbird on this record is the singer Keith Relf, and that the backing band was the New York pop outfit Cyrkle.   Apparently Rick Neilsen - the awesome guitarist in Cheap Trick - played keyboards on this track.  Needless to say this enjoyable bit of pop fluff was totally at odds with the guitar-driven sound of the Jimmy Page-led Yardbirds.  It does have some odd time signatures and sprightly organ lines.  The lyric subject jumps from knights of the middle ages to a modern day carnival.  The US-only single climbed to #45 before disappearing from view.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Mixing With Kinky Cats

The last of the Yardbird's great guitar-driven singles was also the first with Jimmy Page as lead guitarist.  Little Games was released in March of 1967, one month after Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane changed the universe of pop music.  The insistent repeated guitar chord telegraphs its message, later taken up by strings.   The lyrics have lost the cosmic philosophy of the previous singles and deal straight out with the free living of a young man in the swinging sixties.  The single bombed in the UK and barely scraped to #51 in the US.   In fact it would be the final UK single for the Yardbirds, though there are three more odd pop-leaning singles to come in the US.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sinking Deep Into The Well Of Time

In June of 1966 bassist Paul Samwell-Smith left the Yardbirds.  In his place they chose Jimmy Page to take the bass guitar chores until rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja could learn the bass.  By October of that year the change over was complete and Mr. Page was now the second lead guitarist.  For the next single Happenings Ten Years Time Ago both Page and Jeff Beck played guitar resulting in the only Yardbird's single to feature both.  Co-written by the entire band, the song features a chugging downward guitar line that sets off a vaguely Middle Eastern verse melody.  The dual guitar break in the middle is a psychedelic blast, with siren effects and Jeff Beck's spoken dialogue and laughter.  Perhaps a bit too ahead of its time, it reached only #30 in the US charts, and even lower at #43 in the UK.  Amazingly the band then fired Jeff Beck during a US tour stop in Texas due to his temper and tendency to miss gigs.  So from here on out it will be the Jimmy Page show, along with a strange collection of pop songs written by outside songwriters.

Monday, July 16, 2012

When Will It End

The next Yardbirds' single is attributed to all members of the band - Dreja, McCarty, Beck, Relf, and Samwell-Smith.  Over Under Sideways Down is a classic of the highest order.  From the first moment the swirling guitar riff announces its intention to rule the world.  And rule it does.  The rhythm section holds down the beat but is unable to reign in the guitar which goes stratospheric at the close.

Released in May of 1966, it climbed to #10 in the UK and #13 in the US.  Sadly it would be the last top ten single by a band at the top of its game.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Will Time Make Man More Wise

In February of 1966 the next Yardbirds single was released.  Co-written by bassist Paul Samuell-Smith, lead singer Keith Relf, and drummer Jim McCarty, Shapes of Things is chock-full of stunning guitar and drum work.  The over-amped guitar can be heard snarling menacingly throughout the verses, wherein the lyrics deal with philosophical questions about the human race and it's future (or lack thereof) on this planet.  The chorus contains the catchy but other-worldy "Come Tomorrow" chant.  At 1:35 the bottom drops out and Jeff Beck lets loose with a psychedelic guitar break that takes this song into uncharted territory for its time. This was another top ten hit for the Yardbirds in the UK, reaching #3, while it climbed to #11 in the US.

Jeff Beck's guitar prowess is improving exponentially with each single.   Meanwhile I have never understood why critics malign the rhythm section when my ears tell me that Mr. McCarty was a stellar drummer, with great fills a'la Ringo Starr.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I'm Going Back Down to Kansas

In the grand ol' USA the Yardbirds' single released in October 1965 had a different A-side than in the UK.  And what a change it was from Evil Hearted You.   They had originally recorded Bo Diddley's I'm A Man with Eric Clapton on lead guitar in 1964 and released it on their first LP.  While the Jeff Beck version of the 'birds was touring the US in 1965 they recorded a new version at Chess Studios in Chicago.  This version blew the roof off, with a suddenly double time coda, psychedelic guitar lead and then closing with Jeff Beck's scratch picking assault on his instrument.   Considering it was '65, not '67, the performance must have scared the pants off the radio listening public.  Even so it managed to climb to #17 on the US charts.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Smiling, Beguiling

So on to the last of the three Graham Gouldman written singles released by the Yardbirds.   In October of 1965, Evil Hearted You was released in the UK and rose up to #3 in the charts.  The opening guitar chords just blow me away every time I hear this.  I like to think of it as the sound of Thor's hammer slamming into solid rock.  The little drum para-diddle that kicks off a brief second before the first chord is just awesome.   Listen for the amazing downward spiral guitar work at 1:06.   Then in the center, Mr. Beck lets fly with a slide guitar solo that mimics the main verse melody.

In the US a different A-side was released.  Stay tuned tomorrow.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Sick At Heart and Lonely

As soon as For Your Love left the charts, the followup single was released in June of 1965.   Their second single in a row written by Graham Gouldman, Heart Full Of Soul gave Jeff Beck his first chance to be heard on a Yardbirds 45rpm.  And what an introduction it is!   Originally the lead guitar line was intended to be played on the sitar, but was replaced by the guitar due to its increased volume.  The guitar sound was processed by a fuzz box to give it that sitar-like sound.  During the chorus an acoustic twelve string guitar plays a vigorous rhythmic figure similar to what the Moody Blues would use several years later in Question.  Keith Relf delivers his best vocal to date, sounding somewhat like Eric Burdon.  This great recording sets the pattern for what is to follow - guitar-driven minor key A-sides with Mr. Beck showcasing his unique playing style.  This single peaked at #3 in the UK and #9 in the USA.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Les Yardbirds

In March of 1965 the Yardbirds next single was released in the UK.  Written by Graham Gouldman, the great sixties songwriter who furnished Bus Stop and Look Through Any Window for the Hollies and would later be a key member of 10cc.  For Your Love would be the first of three tunes penned by him that were recorded by the Yardbirds as singles.  Heart Full of Soul and Evil Hearted You were soon to follow.

The song was introduced to their manager in late 1964 by a representative of the music publisher.  Apparently he was hoping to shop it out to The Beatles, but the Yardbirds manager knew pure gold when he heard the demo and immediately snagged it for their next single.   The harpsichord opening with bongo accompaniment was light years away from the R&B sound that had been the bands hallmark up to that time.   Immediately the band had its first hit, reaching #6 in the US and #3 in the UK.  Eric Clapton was so incensed at the change in direction that he quit the band.  He suggested young session guitarist Jimmy Page as his replacement.   Mr. Page determined he was better off playing session work and suggested his friend Jeff Beck as the new lead guitarist.   Mr. Beck took the gig and the future course was set.  

You can see Jeff Beck in the French promo video below.  There is also a live YouTube performance in which he pretty darn well replicates the sound of the harpsichord with his guitar.   However this early attempt at a music video is a hoot so I went with it. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

If You Let Me I Can Tease You Baby

The first Yardbirds single in the previous post was a flop.  It failed to chart in either the UK or the US.   In October 1964 a second single was released in the UK only.  Good Morning Little Schoolgirl is definitely an improvement, with a red hot Clapton guitar solo about midway through, and the ratio of harmonica time is greatly reduced.  The old blues standard was first recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson, and the Yardbirds based their take on an updated version created by Don Level and Bob Love in 1961.

The Clapton era of the Yardbirds is about to end, and the next single will take off in a completely different direction.   Though blues tunes would remain in their repetoire, no further singles would be based on it with one amazing exception.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Early In The Morning By The Break Of Day

So here is the deal - I have been revisiting the music of the Yardbirds and have come to the conclusion that they were perhaps the most innnovative 60s band in terms of musical style and guitar work.   That said, their best work can be found on their 45rpm singles.   Their official LPs (ignoring the USA releases which cobble together singles, live takes, etc). are sadly lacking.   But not only are their singles much superior, they had a strange dual personality in that some singles were major rock'n'roll revelations into uncharted territory, while others were little pop tunes foisted on them from outside writers.   But more often than not, the pop stuff is quite good.  While the self-penned songs are sonic brick bats that pummel you into submission.

So I plan to write a post about each of their UK singles, in chronological order.  You  will note massive changes as the lead guitarist moves from Eric Clapton to Jeff Beck, and then again when Jimmy Page takes over the reigns

Starting off then with I Wish Your Would from May 1964.  Mr. Clapton keeps a lid on the guitar sound, letting lead singer Keith Relf fill the space with harmonica spasms.  This single is totally authentic to its time but frankly does not give a hint to what is just around the corner in 1965.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

You Could Tell I Was No Debutante

I'm in a Blondie mood tonight after listening to I Know But I Don't Know for the first time in years.  And that sent me on a YouTube spree which unearthed a real treasure that I had totally forgotten.  From 1979's "Eat To The Beat", Dreaming was Blondie's most overt power pop song.  They flirted with PowerPop early in their career, but for me this was where they achieved pure gold. This video is from the UK Top Of The Pops. Deborah Harry certainly had a stage presence.  I had a friend from Southern California named Debbie who danced on American Bandstand back in the early 80s, and she and Ms. Harry remind me of one another.   I lost track of Debbie years ago so Deborah will have to stand in.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dogs Part 2

Over at the always wonderful Burning Wood blog I learned of a 1968 single B-side featuring a rare and unusual quartet of 60's rock musicians.   The Dog Presides feature Paul Jones of Manfred Mann on vocals, Paul McCartney on drums, Jeff Beck on guitar and Paul Samwell-Smith of the Yardbirds on bass.   Amazing song - it rocks like nobody's business.   Beck and McCartney go to town and Paul Jones layers one of Beck's psychedelic guitar journeys with a ripping harmonica solo.   The world may not have been changed as a result of the recording of this song, but it sure is fun to hear a group of excellent musicians working outside of their usual band and having a blast doing it.