Glimpses: 1963-1968 Rarities – Yardbirds (Easy Action)
Scratch deep enough and you’ll find an undercoat of Yardbirds below the shiny paintwork of every worthwhile rock and roll vehicle.
We’re talking a group that was part of the original wave of British blues, but took 12-bar and twisted it for their own purposes. The Yardbirds were true progenitors of overdrive and sustained feedback, bringing in eclectic influence like Gregorian chants and Eastern ragas.
All-in sonic escalations (dubbed “rave-ups” by the band) were features of their song arrangements. Does that that ring any bells about contemporary bands all these years later?
And then there are the guitarists who called the Yardbirds home. Clapton... Beck...Page. The latter two briefly in tandem.
That’s Rock Royalty right there.
But let's not overlook the rest of the band; Enigmatic Keith Relf es[pecially, because he was one of the English Invasion's most underrated singers and blew a mean harp.
A fact that’s lost on some Led Zep fans is that Jimmy Page was the last man standing in the wake of a gruelling US tour by a Yardbirds on their last legs. He retained the name, appended “New” to its front-end, and assembled a fresh line-up (John Bonham, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones) to fulfil existing live bookings.
It’s probably a stretch to say that without the Yardbirds there would have been no Led Zeppelin but the fact remains that this was the band that elevated a busy session man to the ranks of touring guitarist, something that was not his preferred mode of working.
If all the weight of that collected history doesn't cause your knees to buckle, remember that there have been plenty of Yardbirds compilations down the years – not all of them tolerable.
They seemed to surface like migrating trout in the ‘80s with someone connected with the band re-packaging things we’d heard many times over under some new title on yet another label. Untangling the web of this band’s copyright sits squarely in the too hard basket and indeed was rumoured to be strangling the box set’s chances of making it onto the market.
Easy Action's attention to detail - some cuts were painstakingly stitched togetehr from different sources - was another reason why "Glimpses" was three years in the making.
Completists will no doubt have seen some of the material here in semi-official form. Some of the BBC material, and broadcasts from European radio stations, has done the rounds.
The bottom line here is that “Glimpses” is the closest thing you’ll find to a definitive rarities collection.
Demos from the earliest (Clapton) days, and surprisingly bright live recordings, pepper Disc One (1963-64). Here’s the Yardbirds at their most blueswailing. Seven of the live cuts come from a 2003 release on Castle (“Live Blueswailin’”) but sound better here.
Disc Two ushers in the commercial success of tracks like “Heartful of Soul” – the trigger for Clapton bailing out because he thought the band was becoming too pop. (Fuck knows how silly that sounds in retrospect, given the pure shit that makes it to the airwaves today but, hey, Slowhand was nothing if not a purist.)
Much of this stuff, featuring Jeff Beck, truly is The Shit, unearthed from previously unreleased radio recordings.
Disc Three (1965-66) is where things get bent out of shape with alternative versions of songs from “Roger The Engineer”. Here’s where Beck used the studio environment to push the sound well past its bluesy parameters.
Disc Four (1967-68) finds Jimmy Page in guitar residence – concurrently with Beck for a time – and is probably where most rusted-on Yardbirds fans will head first.
Disc Five is 1997’s previously-released BBC Sessions disc from ‘68 given a re-mastering job and sounds fantastic. It’s bumped out to 28 tracks, a couple more than its original 26.
Four versions of “Train Kept A Rollin’” might sound like a few too many but each has something to commend it.
Snippets of interviews with band members dot the CDs. That sort of thing can be intrusive but compiler Greg Russo keeps the grabs both brief and relevant.
The package carries a warning that these recordings are not for audiophiles. Apart from the occasional highly-compressed track from radio broadcasts, the sound ranges from pretty good to superb. Bitching about sound quality on archival packages is moot, at best. It is what it is and it won’t bother true fans in the slightest.
If you want the detailed rundown on what tracks came from where, it's all in the booklet. The inclusion of a 45 ("I Wish You Would" b/w "Baby What's Wrong") is a bonus.
Needless to say the packaging is sublime with a 45rpm-sized box with recessed space for the CDs and a 32-page booklet containing defining essays and some startling candid photos. Props to graphics king Les Clark, yet again.
The box set is too substantial to be devoured in one sitting. The band's legacy is enhanced. It might be something essential for completists but this box set should also serve as a roadmap for the uninitiated.