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The Yardbirds - Ultimate


Rhino 2001
Giorgio Gomelsky, Paul Samwell-Smith, Simon Napier-Bell and Mickie Most

Disc one:
The Giorgio Gomelsky Era
1. Boom Boom
2. Honey in Your Hips
3. A Certain Girl
4. I Wish You Would
5. Too Much Monkey Business (live)
6. I Got Love If You Want It (live)
7. Smokestack Lightning (live)
8. Here ‘Tis (live)
9. Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
10. Got to Hurry
11. I Ain’t Got You
12. For Your Love
13. I’m Not Talking
14. Steeled Blues
15. Heart Full of Soul
16. I Ain’t Done Wrong
17. You’re a Better Man Than I
18. Shapes of Things
19. The Train Kept A-Rollin’
20. New York City Blues
21. Evil Hearted You
22. I’m a Man
23. Still I’m Sad
24. Questa Volta
25. Pafff...Bum

Disc two:
The Simon Napier-Bell Era
1. Lost Woman
2. Over Under Sideways Down
3. The Nazz Are Blue
4. I Can’t Make Your Way
5. Rack My Mind
6. Hot House of Omagararshid
7. Jeff’s Boogie
8. He’s Always There
9. Turn Into Earth
10. What Do You Want
11. Happenings Ten Years Time Ago
12. Psycho Daisies
13. Stroll On

The Peter Grant Era
14. Little Games (single version)
15. Puzzles
16. White Summer
17. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor
18. No Excess Baggage
19. Drinking Muddy Water
20. Only the Black Rose
21. Ten Little Indians
22. Ha Ha Said the Clown
23. Goodnight Sweet Josephine (U.S. version)
24. Think About It

The Keith Relf Solo Recordings
25. Knowing
26. Mr. Zero
27. Shapes in My Mind


Led Zeppelin Marching through time with Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin III Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin III
Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin
Derek and the Dominos - Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs Derek and the Dominos
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
Led Zeppelin - Fillmore West 1969 Led Zeppelin
Fillmore West 1969
Led Zeppelin - Celebration Day Led Zeppelin
Celebration Day
Led Zeppelin - Presence Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin - How the West Was Won Led Zeppelin
How the West Was Won


A light finally shines on the Yardbirds



Credit where it’s due: here’s an ode to the algorithm.

The other night, bored and slightly listless, I was scrolling around, when a certain video platform owned by a certain omnipresent conglomerate offered up a recommendation: the Yardbirds, live in 1967, on Germany’s Beat Club program and offering up their take on Muddy Waters’ “I’m a Man.” So, why not give that a click and the ever-important impression.

Several data-collecting conversions later, I was well down the Yardbirds rabbit hole, seeing them in such a light that it was as if I’d never really heard them at all. It was just thrilling. This band’s work has been sitting there for nearly 60 years and I was just now realizing what I’d been missing. And it wasn’t due to a lack of awareness.

I bought the Yardbirds’ double-CD anthology Ultimate! shortly after it’s release in 2001, wanting to further that classic rock education I’d been on for years, as well as wanting to better understand one of the seminal groups of the British invasion as well as the one that legendarily broke three guitarists into the public eye — Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, of course. This is what everyone knows about the Yardbirds. It might all-too-often be where the conversation about this band begins and ends. Those three guitarists were in that band, and from there, discussion continues on whichever guitarist is the focus of the conversation to begin with.

I’ve been more than guilty of that practice. I owned and listened to that compilation, of course, and I liked it. Some of the recordings were a little crude by modern standards, but it fell right in line with the early Rolling Stones and the Who. Aerosmith covered “The Train Kept A-Rollin’” and “I Ain’t Got You.” Page turned the ashes of that band into Led Zeppelin. Oh, and Clapton quit because he wanted to be in a pure blues band. There. As thorough as a C- report on the War of 1812, there was why the Yardbirds were important.

And then I moved on. Onto Led Zeppelin, of course, onto Clapton’s early triumphs with Cream and Derek & the Dominos, marching forward with the early Jeff Beck Group and Beck’s later successes in fusion. Of course, the original band gets lost in all this, even as stories from those who were present were handed down like some fable that needed to be seen to be believed. Among the R&B aficionados in London, they were unbeatable. But even laying out the money for that double CD, I can’t say I ever gave the actual band the time it deserved. I certainly never listened to them as often as the Stones, the Who, the Kinks or even the Animals.

What I was seeing now, with just the faintest hint of familiarity, was a tight presentation of the British blues, with a much more relaxed and natural version of Keith Relf than what I’d ever caught on some of the stodgier television performances that had crossed my path. He’s controlling the crowd, cueing up the band and laying into some of the nastiest harmonica playing that came from that side of the Atlantic in that era.

Meanwhile, lurking in the background waiting to erupt is Page, mirrored Fender Telecaster in hand, wringing out a sound that began with the blues but was already turning molten beneath his fingers. With no interest in Clapton’s brief search for purity, he’s squeezing out tremors that would turn atomic in less than two years time in Led Zeppelin. It’s only after all that that his violin bow appears, and what began as just another exercise in rave-up R&B has now turned into something nearly unholy.

It was fascinating, and it’s no exaggeration to say that I spent the next two hours just watching every other bit of Yardbirds footage I could find. Suddenly, everything made sense. Every glowing ode to the band, many coming from the other musicians of the day who all went onto their own claims to fame, all clicked. Finally. All it took was two decades of having all of that music at my fingertips and then summarily listening to everything around it and related to it, but never their stuff.

I wound up this session by going back and listening to the Yardbirds ’68 album, recorded in the final few months of the band before Relf, drummer Jim McCarty and guitarist-turned-bassist Chris Dreja took their leave, handing the reigns of the band to Page and their manager Peter Grant, who each had grander visions than the Yardbirds’ current slot in the pecking order. In this final stage, the roots of the blues are still there, but the Swinging London-type psychedelia has given way to something much, much heavier and original. It’s menacing in a way that none of their contemporaries ever imagined.

If the Yardbirds inhabited the darker, weirder corners of rhythm and blues than the Stones or the Who, then who more appropriate than them to eventually be turned over to Page who, after replacing the other three members, clearly had the knowledge and wisdom to turn that band into the musical equivalent of a nuclear bomb?

And I understand that this has become year another treatise on the Yardbirds that turned into an ode to Zeppelin, but other than a committed Jeff Beck scholar, it’s an inevitability for most. When I saw Jimmy Page & the Black Crowes live, they played “Shapes of Things,” but in the arrangement that Jeff Beck used for his debut Truth album, not the Yardbirds version. And as well regarded as he already was at the moment, it just takes one listen to the Blues Breakers album to understand when Clapton had his first real “God” moment.

The Yardbirds, in my mind, were a weigh station before these folks went onto bigger and better things. And honestly, the length and thoroughness of that Ultimate! compilation made it difficult to get past some of the lesser material to the real gems — especially for a 19-year-old at the turn of the new millennium who also had stuff like Radiohead’s Amnesiac to digest.

So, with this new-found knowledge and to keep things current, I whipped up a playlist for myself, a 90-minute mix tape exercise that boils down the 52 tracks from that set down to a tight 30 that just rolls like thunder. It’s been in heavy rotation, and I expect it to remain that way for the foreseeable future.

This is not intended to be some all-knowing history of the band, or even a thorough summation. It’s just an early entry in the journey to finally giving the band its due and the time they always deserved. I’m still not a believer in the benevolence or even the longterm health of the algorithm. But I’ll tip my cap to it in this case, while I cue up “Little Games” and “Think About It” and “Over Under Sideways Down” one more time.

March 10, 2024

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