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Saturday, January 01, 2011
The Yardbirds

Although they were nowhere near as famous as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds were much more talented instrumentally than the former and more influential than the latter. These days, about the only song of theirs that gets much airplay is Shapes of Things to Come, but their catalog includes many terrific songs.

This version of Train Kept A-Rolling (retitled Stroll On apparently to avoid copyright issues) from the 1960s movie Blow-Up features Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Beck is the guy who gets annoyed at his amplifier, while Page does the later guitar solo:

Obviously Beck's antics were inspired by Pete Townshend's guitar-smashing performances. The extras seem like zombies, with almost no toe-tapping or head nodding going on during the performance.

If having Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page in their lineup seems an embarrassment of riches, consider that the original guitarist for the band was Eric Clapton. Probably the biggest hit for the band during this era was For Your Love:

However, that song is not really typical of the Clapton years; they focused more on blues standards like this (Yardbirds song starts about 20 seconds in):

Clapton wanted to stay with the blues and following the success of For Your Love, he left for a brief stint with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, then when on to form Cream with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. Beck joined, followed shortly by Page who was originally a bassist, then a rhythm guitarist, and (mostly after Beck's departure) lead guitarist.
Here's Beck on the instrumental version of What Do You Want:

And the version with lyrics:

The best album of the Beck era is Over Under Sideways Down, with the title track:

Here's an oddball little tune called Hot House of Omargarashid. Be sure to listen to the guitar work building in the background starting at about 1:00 in and leading to Beck's scorching solo:

Beck left the band in 1966 ostensibly retiring from music. He returned a few years later with a couple of albums featuring Rod Stewart on vocals.
The Page years were not very successful for the band; they released an album called Little Games with a notably weak title song:

Although Think About It still holds up:

The band was stronger in their live performances. Here they are doing an early version of Dazed and Confused, which of course became a monster hit for Page's next band:

After the band dissolved, Page briefly formed a group called the New Yardbirds to fulfill some contractual obligations; the band was renamed in late 1968 to Led Zeppelin.

Ultimately, the band became better known for the groups it spawned afterwards. Clapton with Cream, Derek and the Dominoes and his solo career has arguably been the most durable. Beck, who released several terrific fusion albums in the mid-1970s was the most experimental. And Page was the most commercially successful with Led Zeppelin being the colossus of arena rock in the 1970s.

Singer Keith Relf went on to form the initial incarnation of the band Renaissance along with Yardbirds' drummer Jim McCarty, although that band had much more success in the mid-1970s with a completely different lineup featuring Annie Haslam on vocals. Rhythm/bass guitarist Chris Dreja went on to become a professional photographer; his photo of Led Zeppelin appears on the back cover of their first album. Paul Samwell-Smith, the original bassist of the group, moved into record producing and worked on Cat Stevens' most successful albums.

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