The Yardbirds' "Glimpses 1963-1968"
As I've written elsewhere on this blog, I've been a Yardbirds obsessive for decades, and owned their catalog in myriad forms over the years. Still, I was excited to hear that Carlton Sandercock's Easy Action Records was putting together a multi-disc Yardbirds compilation. His old label, New Millennium, had released two estimable Yardbirds collections: Where the Action Is (1997), a compilation of recordings made for British and Swedish radio, and Cumular Limit (2000), which brought to light a bunch of hitherto unheard live and studio tracks from the band's Jimmy Page era. (Full disclosure: I've written liner notes for two Easy Action releases.)
Five years in the making, Glimpses 1963-1968 is an impressive achievement and a must for Yardbirds completists. Sumptuously packaged, as is Easy Action's wont, it comes in a 7-inch box like the ones they used to use for 45 rpm vinyl albums back in antiquity (I particularly remember the Broadway cast of My Fair Lady that my sister used to like to spin when we were kids). Inside are five CDs, a vinyl 45, some replica gig flyers (one of which advertises a show where the Pretty Things were billed over the Rolling Stones and Yardbirds!) and a booklet containing lots of photos (uncaptioned) and two sets of liner notes, by compiler and Yardbirds: The Ultimate Rave Up author Greg Russo and Mojo scribe Mark Paytress. The emphasis is on live and broadcast recordings, including some that were taped off-air. Interview snippets with band members give the discs a nice audio verite feel, but don't detract from the listening experience.
Disc One covers the years 1963-64, when Eric Clapton was the Yardbirds' lead guitarist -- my least favorite period, but Keith Relf's favorite. Their early demos, which were released on vinyl 7-inches in the '70s, are pretty sedate-sounding, except for "You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover," which captures some of the raucous excitement that the band was capable of live.
The seven tracks that Castle released as Live Blueswailing in 2003 are here, with upgraded sound. Recorded at London's Marquee Club in August 1964 -- a month after the Five Live Yardbirds LP -- the performances and especially the recording quality compare favorably with that historic set, with the rhythm section clearly audible in noticeably improved fidelity. Relf's stage patter while Clapton tunes includes an amusing discourse on the Yardbirds' equipment woes. Easy Action has included a re-edit of the aborted "Someone To Love Me" -- a song the Yardbirds didn't record in the studio until Clapton was out of the band, and wound up recasting into "Lost Woman" -- from that date, that makes it sound complete.
Versions of "Louise" and "I Wish You Would" from a Peter, Paul & Mary (!) TV show in April '64 are on a comparable level, technically and performance-wise. Rawer sounding but even more revealing are seven tracks taken from the Yardbirds' energetic performance at the 1964 National Jazz & Blues Festival, with Mick O'Neill fronting the band in place of an ailing Relf, highlighted by an aggressively assured "Boom Boom." A storming "I'm A Man" from the Crawdaddy in Richmond, July '64, is similarly ragged-but-right sonically.
The Jeff Beck years are well represented by the second and third discs. Disc Two, covering 1965, has the gold: six tracks recorded for the BBC, and another nine from "lost" UK radio sessions. A version of "Smokestack Lightning" from 16 November has a tape splice in the middle which appends a home-recorded segment to the BBC's master tape, but it's worthwhile to hear how this piece had evolved since the Five Live Yardbirds version. Several musical devices heard here -- the bass line, the bolero riddim under the solos, the modified rave-up crescendo that concludes the instrumental jam -- would later reappear in "How Many More Times" on the first Led Zeppelin album, so Jimmy Page was clearly paying attention. The Yardbirds had a relatively small repertoire, so you get to hear multiple versions of many tunes; "You're A Better Man Than I" from the same 16 November session and "Train Kept A-Rollin'" from a different November broadcast are the ones to beat.
Beck's playing at this early stage in his career is brilliant -- fiery and risk-taking -- in contrast with Clapton's during his Yardbirds tenure, when his style was still developing. Beck particularly shines on the June takes of "Jeff's Boogie" and "Steeled Blues." "Love Me Like I Love You" from 9 August wipes the floor with the version released on BBC Sessions, and Freddie King's "The Stumble" is welcome because it's never been heard on disc before. "I've Been Trying" is a Curtis Mayfield number that gets an inspired reading from Relf & Co., in marked contrast to other recorded forays they made into vocal R&B (cf. "Sweet Music").
You can hear how much the Yardbirds' popularity had grown in a year by the teenage girls' screams that practically obliterate their 1965 National Blues & Jazz Festival performance, which was broadcast in the U.S. on Shindig and is viewable on Youtube. They wore striped short-sleeve shirts like the Beach Boys, and played "My Girl Sloopy," their version of the McCoys' "Hang On Sloopy." So much for blues purism.
Disc Three covers 1965-66, and it's a mixed bag, starting off with the complete released output of the dual-lead Beck-Page lineup: "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," its B-side "Psycho Daisies" (with Page on bass), and "Stroll On" ("Train Kept A-Rollin'" with new words) from the Blow-Up soundtrack. Three Youtube-viewable tracks from the Music Hall de France also feature Page on bass.
There are three alternate versions of tracks from the Roger the Engineer album. "He's Always There" and "Turn Into Earth" are hybrids of the mono and stereo mixes to provide the most complete versions possible. To these feedback-scorched ears, the lead guitar on the latter seems fainter than on my stereo vinyl version, but the alternate "I Can't Make Your Way" remedies the muddiness of the original track. I wish Easy Action had included "Lost Woman" and especially "Hot House of Omagarashid" (for Beck's _insane_ guitar solo), but the liner notes inform us that it wasn't possible to remaster those tracks because they used phasing.
The live performances of the two songs the Yardbirds performed at the 1966 "Festival of Italian Songs" in San Remo are superior to the studio versions, since they include some recognizable Yardbird gambits (Beck introduces "Questa Volta" with a stolen Buddy Guy riff!), but they're still kind of embarrassing. Two songs from the 1966 NME Poll Winners concert will be familiar to Youtube viewers, who'll have to imagine Beck sliding across the stage to turn on the fuzz box with his hand before the solo on "Shapes of Things." Another unreleased UK radio broadcast from 9 April 1965 yielded previously unheard versions of "Spoonful," "Bottle Up and Go," and a solo Relf take on the folk song "All the Pretty Little Horses (Hushabye)."
Disc Four documents the 1967-68 Jimmy Page era. The four tracks from March 1967 (the German Beat Beat Beat TV show, the video version of which is included as a bonus feature on the 2008 Story of the Yardbirds DVD) previously appeared on the now-unavailable Cumular Limit. One wishes the post-Little Games studio tracks from that set could have made it onto Glimpses; as is, we only get the sound of Relf talking through a wah-wah pedal that closed the Little Games track "Glimpses." Between the eight tracks recorded in Stockholm in April 1967 (which made up the second disc of New Millennium's Where the Action Is) and three from France the previous month, you get most of the set -- minus the overdubbed bullfight cheers -- that the Yardbirds played during their 1968 Anderson Theater performance which Epic released and quickly withdrew in 1971.
Disc Five contains a remastered version of the BBC sessions as previously released by New Millennium, Warner, and Repertoire, with four tracks that appear on Disc Two supplanted by three from March '68 and an interview with Relf.
At 55 bucks American, Glimpses is certainly a considered purchase, but one worth making if you're into Yardbirds obscurities -- if for no other reason than the knowledge that Easy Action always pays its artists (unlike, say, Castle). While Easy Action's website warns prospective buyers off Glimpses if they're expecting high end audiophile sound, do any Yardbirds fans really care about that? Even if you already own BBC Sessions and Live Blueswailing, there's enough top-notch material on Glimpses that's otherwise unavailable on disc to make it a worthwhile investment. For a comprehensive survey of the Yardbirds' entire live trajectory, this is the place to go.