This is about The Yardbirds, the British Invasion avant-garde band that brought us hope, instinct, and, finally, a Stairway to Heaven. The band, which existed from 1963 to 1968, was our first exposure to
Eric Clapton, then Jeff Beck, and then Jimmy Page — all guitar gods, but Page had worked with Joe Meek, so he really was touched with deity.
My talk gives the basic facts about The Yardbirds, scores their searing songs, such as “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”, “I Ain’t Got You”, “Heart Full of Soul”, “You’re a Better Man than I”, “Shapes of
Things”, “Evil Hearted You”, “I’m a Man”, “Over Under Sideways Down”, “Stroll On” (sublime!)), “Little Games”, and “Goodnight Sweet Josephine”; then tries to understand what made them great.
I believe several of The Yardbirds’ best songs live at the edge of insanity. These songs, especially their guitar breaks, are always just about to go out of bounds. With the exception of “Stroll On”, which actually does go out of bounds — just like the Joe Meek production, his wildest, entitled “Crawdaddy Simone” — The Yardbirds get right on the verge of wild and uncontrolled chaos. I think you have to love them for this. But don’t take my word for it. The songs are all a kiss away, a click away. The material’s been out for years.
A group of us saw The Yardbirds at their height. We didn’t know it was their height, but it was. We saw Jeff Beck on lead guitar, Jimmy Page on bass, and Keith Relf (R.I.P.) on harp and vocals. The Yardbirds were playing the Alexandria Roller Rink (Can you stand it?), so we had to cross the Potomac on pontoon boats driven by our mothers.
The Yardbirds were a new enthusiasm. We owed it to our friend Bill Bowman, who introduced us early to the album “For Your Love”. The concert was rough, fun, and pure id. Beck and Page and Relf and
the other members of the band just came out and played. They didn’t seem much older to us than we were. When the show was over, we didn’t have words, except maybe, ‘Can you believe how cool that was!’. Sometimes it makes me tremble.
At the end of this week’s podcast I try to talk a little about ‘secular music’. Is there such a thing? Is there any religion — I hope I’m talking good religion, not the thing we’re apologizing for — in The Yardbirds? When I recorded the cast, I was surprised by the answer to my own question.
What I do know is that The Yardbirds were in touch with The Love Action (Human League) of Life. That bleeds right off the songs. Rent Blow Up, the art film which rented The Yardbirds. The scene in which their performance of “Stroll On” drives an audience to complete meltdown, is red hot and memorable. It lives in the place Where Danger Lives. You’ve got to see it if you haven’t already. We could live from this music.
Podcast 37, “The Yardbirds”, is dedicated to a man who was a John the Baptist to me, ever ahead of the Curve: William Cox Bowman.