Friday, April 26, 2013
Yardbirds/Over Under Sideways Down - The Yardbirds
Columbia SCX 6063
Over Under Sideways Down
Epic LN 24210
Depending on your opinion of "Little Games," this was arguably the only legitimate studio album the Yardbirds ever produced which is surprising considering how many years the band was around and how influential they were. I have both the British version and its inferior American counterpart. The British one is sometimes referred to as "Roger the Engineer" because of the caption of rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja's cover drawing. Dreja's drawings also appear on the back cover along with humorous liner notes by drummer Jim McCarty - my favorite is "It has often been said that Jeff Beck is one of the leading guitarists in the country, and I'm inclined to agree with him." The Epic release dropped the drawings and the liner notes in favor of the silly picture of the band on the cover and a dull publicity blurb on the reverse. They also dropped two songs, "Rack My Mind" and "The Nazz Are Blue" which are definitely not superfluous tunes on the original release. So why do I have the Epic album? Partly as a stupid collector thing - the Yardbirds are one of my favorite bands. Mostly though because the mono version of the album has some different mixes of the songs. It is an impressive album, entirely self-penned by Dreja, McCarty, Beck, vocalist Keith Relf and bassist Paul Samwell-Smith who also doubled as producer on the album (with Simon Napier Bell.) From an instrumental standpoint the Yardbirds were one of the most progressive and exciting groups to come out of the British Invasion, but early in their career they were completely dependent on outside songwriters for their material. That plus Relf's weak vocals kept the group from being a top tier group, but once they started writing their own songs the group took off. No one is going to mistake these guys for Lennon and McCartney or Ray Davies but the songs on this album are eclectic and appealing. The record opens with "Lost Women" ("Lost Woman" on the U.S. release) which is one of the best songs on the album. Although the band takes songwriting credit, the song is actually a slightly reworked version of the Snooky Pryor song "Someone To Love Me" which had been in the live repertoire of the band when Eric Clapton was in the group. The lyrics have been changed into a banal diatribe against a woman, which is all too typical of the band's oeuvre - when it comes to misogyny they are almost as bad as the Rolling Stones. Musically though, it is extraordinary with Beck playing slashing chords over a dynamic bass riff - a blueprint for a decade of hard rock and heavy metal to follow. There is a rave up with Relf on harmonica and Beck on guitar doing a call and response segment followed by a great feedback riddled guitar solo with Relf blowing like crazy on top that is unlike any rock record of its time. There is an exciting outtake of this song released under the title "Someone to Love" that features an even longer instrumental solo where Beck essentially invents psychedelic guitar playing. Truly a landmark in hard rock history. "Over, Under, Sideways Down" was the single off the album. It is a highly propulsive tune with Beck's frenzied fuzzed out riffing capturing the confusion and mania described by the lyrics. The rave up at the end is wonderful. "The Nazz are Blue" is lifted from Elmore James' "Dust My Broom" and features Beck on lead vocal demonstrating that he is an even weaker singer than Relf. His guitar playing however is smoking hot - some of his best work with the band. It is outrageous that Epic chose to omit this from the album. Beck plays some stinging licks on "I Can't Make Your Way" as well, unfortunately they are buried too deep in the mix to make their full impact. The mono version on the U.S. album has a drum beat at the beginning of the song that is missing from my U.K. stereo version. "Rack My Mind" is derived from Slim Harpo's "Baby Scratch My Back", when it comes to ripping off old bluesmen, the Yardbirds were practically as bad as Led Zeppelin. Thanks to Beck's stinging guitar lines, the Yardbirds' version is more exciting than Harpo's cut. "Farewell" is an arty song with mildly pretentious lyrics describing a depressing vision of life culminating with the narrator's withdrawal from the world and suicide. It features a child-like tune plunked out on piano by Dreja. If poetic lyrics aren't your cup of tea, then "Hot House of Omagararshid" is the song for you. It is arguably the stupidest song the band ever did, consisting of the phrase "ya ya ya" endlessly repeated over a bubbly musical background. The song becomes a little more interesting at the end when Beck starts playing. The mono version on the U.S. album features a completely different guitar solo that is a lot more impressive than the one on the U.K. album even if it does sound like it was recorded for an entirely different song. The instrumental "Jeff's Boogie" is based on Chuck Berry's "Guitar Boogie" but I don't think there is any question that Beck completely shreds the original. It is one of my all-time favorite Yardbirds cuts. "He Always There" is a catchy rocker driven by Beck's fuzz guitar which goes wild at the end. The U.S. mono version has a longer fade out so you get to hear more of Beck's howling solo. Like "Farewell," "Turn Into Earth" is another slow gloomy track with pretentious lyrics poetically describing the narrator's depressed state. The song would be better if Beck's guitar playing wasn't buried so far down in the mix as to be practically inaudible. On the mono version, the drum pattern that introduces the song goes on a few seconds longer than on the U.K. stereo version. "What Do You Want" is a powerful rocker with more fiery Beck guitar playing throughout and a feedback drenched rave-up at the end that ends way too soon. It another one of the best cuts on the album. "Ever Since the World Began" starts out slow and gloomy like a retread of "Still I'm Sad" lamenting human greed, then it abruptly shifts gears to become a jaunty rocker with a driving bass line and a repeated chorus of "you don't need money" - an apt motto for this hard luck band that never really got their due. I think during his tenure with the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck was the best guitarist in rock something that is amply demonstrated with his brilliant work on this album. Through his playing Beck transforms these mildly interesting songs into some of the most extraordinary music to come out in 1966 - and there was a heck of a lot of great music that came out that year. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that the Yardbirds with Jeff Beck were at the forefront of the invention of heavy metal and psychedelic rock. I suppose that after nearly 50 years since its original release, the kids might find this record kind of tame, but I still think it sounds terrific. I remember hearing it for the first time back in the late 1970s and being blown away. I found it infinitely preferable to Aerosmith or Blue Oyster Cult or any of the other hard rock bands that followed in its wake. It still sounds fresh and exciting to me. Recommended to people who think "The Train Kept a-Rollin" is a better song than "Welcome to the Jungle."