Tuesday, February 5, 2008

No. 353: Having a Rave Up With the Yardbirds

Band: The Yardbirds
Album: Having a Rave Up With the Yardbirds
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The last album with Eric Clapton (and it's only half the record, as Beck plays on the second half) is the Yardbirds at their blues-guitar best. The band tears through blues standards with a pace not seen before.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's mostly a one-trick pony and Keith Relf's vocals just aren't my thing.
Best song: "Smokestack Lightning" is tons of fun and "Train Kept A-Rollin'" is amazing.
Worst song: "Still I'm Sad" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Maybe.

Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton are great guitar players. I imagine there isn't much doubting that. Everyone knows that Clapton has a godlike following and Beck -- for all his bouncing ego -- can light up a fretboard. Just listen to "Smokestack Lightning" to hear it.

The Yardbirds are very much a gateway band. They were wildly important in the long march of rock and roll, as the band's guitar players went on to become legends and their reimagining of blue standards became templates for harder rock. (To use some pretty tortured logic) Without the Yardbirds, there is no Jimmy Page. And without Jimmy Page, there are no New Yardbirds (Page's original name for Led Zeppelin). And without Zep, there isn't much of anything (however much I prefer Black Sabbath).

And so we have the 'Birds amping up songs like Bo Diddley's "I'm A Man" to the point that it sounds mildly (stress on "mildly") threatening. We have the band destroying "Train Kept A-Rollin'," to the point that it partially inspired Aerosmith to cover it (and fail miserably, by the way). Keith Relf's vocals don't really do it for me, but, nevertheless, the band is tight as can be.

My thought on the Yardbirds is similar to my thought on Clapton: I may not love them, but the history of rock and roll cannot be written without them. And so, we have this album on the list and rightfully so.

1 comment:

kellydwyer said...

When modern music started letting me down around 1996 or so, I made a revisionist dash back into the blues, pulling out all the tapes and discs I'd bought a few years before (because, that's what you're SUPPOSED to buy; you're supposed to have that Robert Cray album, that Howlin' Wolf two-tape box set). And that's pretty much all I bought for a year.

In love with Jimmy Reed, I stopped playing guitar with a pick. I took up the harmonica, and was surprised to note that all the licks that came pouring out of my harp (in the blues style, that instrument is incredibly easy to learn. We're talking weeks) were directly copped from Keith Relf.

I didn't even own any of their albums at the time, I bought "Five Live Yardbirds" a little later (not that great), but I had all their notable songs on mix tapes I had made for myself by going to certain Uncles, friends of parents', fathers friends' houses. I would take tapes over and ask to make tapes of music I'd never heard before, but was told by Rolling Stone that I was supposed to have. So I'd tape "Over, Under, Sideways, Down;" tape the Vanilla Fudge, tape "I've Been Lovin' You Too Long."

I had no idea this comment was going to go on so long.

So, yeah, Keith Relf. Not a great singer, but a great white boy harp player. Really distills that lugubrious Little Walter sound into something quick and tasty. Did it with one lung, too. And sometimes a Fu Manchu.