The original 1966 release of Yardbirds – nicknamed Roger The Engineer – was the band’s first proper shot at a studio album of self-penned songs. It marked their transition from Chicago blues and Graham Gouldman-written pop singles towards psych quirkiness and heavy distortion. Reissued on the 50th anniversary, this double CD/LP features mono and stereo versions, Keith Relf solo tracks and singles.
The scene was set in February 1966 with Shapes Of Things, one of the defining 45s not just of the year, but of the decade. The run of artistic and commercial success the Yardbirds achieved with the string of post-Slowhand hits was never matched by their albums: perhaps no surprise when you consider that the band were too exhausted through overwork to do themselves justice.
Still, Yardbirds finds them veering off into exciting new territory at the hands of sonic adventurer Jeff Beck, coaxing unearthly noises out of his instrument on What Do You Want, which starts off as a reworking of Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love?. The invention continues with Hot House Of Omagarashid, with its chanting and Rolf Harris-style wobble board, and Over Under Sideways Down, both picking up the eastern mood of the moment, the latter becoming the theme tune for pop show A Whole Scene Going. Elsewhere, Farewell is a precursor to Pink Floyd.
Despite starring the lesser-spotted twin lead guitars of Beck and Jimmy Page, the lack of melody and harsh descending riff on Happenings Ten Years Time Ago rendered it alien to most critics and their teenage audience largely didn’t get it. And while we have no wish to malign the late ‘Howlin Relf’, nobody sensible would place the frontman in the top tier of blues voices.
Considering it was recorded in a few days off between US invasions, Yardbirds stands up pretty well as a signpost to where heavy blues was headed next and, despite what the jokey sleevenotes say, Jeff Beck’s importance can’t be overstated.