The Yardbirds - Yardbirds ’68 album review

Plant-free proto-Zep. What wonders might have been, eh, readers?

Cover art for The Yardbirds - Yardbirds ’68 album

You can trust Louder Our experienced team has worked for some of the biggest brands in music. From testing headphones to reviewing albums, our experts aim to create reviews you can trust. Find out more about how we review.

As historical rock documents go, there are few quite as significant as this. These 18 tracks, spread across two discs, capture the final four-piece Jimmy Page-led line-up of The Yardbirds in performance and studio experimentation, as the 24-year-old guitarist coaxed drummer Jim McCarty, bassist Chris Dreja and vocalist Keith Relf toward a musical vision he’d ultimately only realise with Led Zeppelin.

In many ways, this is Zeppelin lite – and, arguably, the better for it. But before we embark on sacrilege, let’s consider specifics. Disc one captures a newly remixed version of a March ’68 live recording from NYC’s Anderson Theater (originally released by Epic in ’71 as Live Yardbirds: Featuring Jimmy Page). In this incarnation it’s sadly stripped of the original’s between-song banter, though it’s audibly crisper.

Disc two corrals contemporaneous studio sketches, hitherto confined to bootlegs – not least Knowing That Isoftwareuiphraseguid=“babee9c8-1b8a-4eda-81e1-42078f967d10”>’m Losing You, an instrumental take on Zep III’s Tangerine (with Plant’s eventual vocal line mapped out on pedal steel).

Also present is a gutsy reading of Jerry Ragovoy and Mort Shuman’s My Baby (latterly forever associated with Janis Joplin after its inclusion on her posthumous Pearl album), and the acoustic-driven Spanish Blood, with spoken-word atmosphere courtesy of McCarty. Avron Knows’ riff bowls along, hinting at future heaviness, while Relf’s parping harp kicks along a ferocious romp through live Yardbirds staple Drinking Muddy Water.

Yet the main attraction here is the live set. While pre-Page-era stalwarts predominate (Train Kept A-Rollin’, Heart Full Of Soul, Over Under Sideways Down, Shapes…), actual things to come are represented in White Summer – its instrumental Indian/Arabic nuances latterly incorporated into Zeppelin as a whole, and Over The Hills And Far Away specifically – and Dazed And Confused.

The latter, featuring Page’s cello-bowed solo, is almost there, but lacking one key ingredient: the young Robert Plant and his towering machismo. It was Plant’s priapic howl that made a Zeppelin of the Yardbirds’ next line-up, and though Relf was technically incapable of taking Page’s next step, he had a measured vocal restraint that some – and judging by recent pronouncements, even today’s Plant – might have preferred in a Zeppelin vocalist.

Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.