The Yardbirds – Having a Rave Up with The Yardbirds: Album Review

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 The Yardbirds are one of those rare bands that creeps along once in a blue moon and not only produces a slew of classic hits, but also graces the world with not one, not two, but THREE guitar gods who would soon change the landscape of rock and roll forever. And this is what a band like the Yardbirds are most notable for: the three-headed dragon that is Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck. Rising from the ashes of the pop-oriented, early sixties, The Yardbirds channeled a deep-rooted sound that was highly conducive to the ethos of the UK’s love for the American Blues, and that raw energy can be felt in all of its unwashed glory on their 1965 album, “Having a Rave Up with The Yardbirds.”

Here is a record split up into two contrasting sections of stylized differences: You have Jeff Beck performing on side one of the studio section, and Eric Clapton taking over side two of the live section. The meat and potatoes of the record dedicates its raucous mayhem to old Blues covers, while at the same time veering into some untapped land with their newly fermented psychedelia that would soon be the backbone of the 1960’s sound. An interesting fact: “Rave up” is a music term derived from jazz where the middle section of a song would come to a climactic halt, shifting the standard beat into double-time and building the improvisational instrumentation to a boiling point, before switching gears back into the normal groove again; this is what The Yardbirds came to be infamous for with their live performances. It’s what drove the crowds wild, thus coining a technique that would become synonymous with The Yardbirds; and this of course would be a technique countless other bands would soon incorporate in their own live performances. Think of “raving up” as a pre-dated alternative to onstage jamming.

Two of the albums hit singles, “Heart Full of Soul” and “Evil Hearted You,” were written by Graham Gouldman, a studio musician who wrote and composed pop hits of that time period before being best known for his work in the art rock band, “10 cc.” These tunes saw a major shift in the Yardbirds’ usual repository of blues compositions, experimenting with more unusual instrumentation and genre crossovers. Jeff Beck utilized a more Middle Eastern atmosphere on “Heart Full of Soul” by turning his fuzz box into an effect that echoed that of a sitar; one of the earliest known uses of that exotic sound. Originally they were going to opt for a sitar to be played on the track, but because the instrument wasn’t powerful enough to produce the intended sound they desired, Beck made due with his fuzz box and string manipulation that would turn that classic Indian scale riff into an other worldly construct akin to being audibly zapped by a lightning rod. “Evil Hearted You” keeps with the tradition of haunting euphony heard in the aforementioned song above, with singer Keith Relf pouring his soul into the lyrics as a henpecked man being treated horribly by his lowdown woman, but who just can’t shake those feelings of lust he has towards her.

Photo: By Kevinwilson (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

“Mister, You’re a Better Man Than I,” the opening track on the LP, is a politically charged anecdote to the eons of the sixties, addressing the racial prejudices and the ostracism of societal differences; judging someone by the way they look, speak, and think. It would be one of many anti-establishment anthems of the times. “I’m a Man,” which is a cover by Bo Diddley, showcases their fiery ability to rave up like there’s no tomorrow, with Jeff Beck bringing the boogie with a percussive guitar solo and dueling off with a wailing harmonica before doing a swift turnaround long enough for you to catch a quick breath.

“Still I’m Sad,” which was the only song credited solely to the Yardbirds, shrouds the listener with a downright dissonance of pure terror but lyrical intimacy, its suspended melody fares well in a sacrificial cult against the poetic imagery. And the closing track on side one, “The Train Kept A-Rollin,” is a cover by the rhythm and blues version performed by Tiny Bradshaw; this is a more updated, hard rocking version. Another fun fact: When Jimmy Page joined the band, they re-recorded a live version for the 1966 film, “Blowup;” about midway through the movie you can see the band performing it in an underground club where Jeff Beck famously smashes his guitar.

Side two of the record features a more smooth and straightforward sound due in part to Eric Clapton’s nasty reiteration of the American Blues; he brings a precise yet semi-dirty knowledge to the genre. It can be more so felt on their cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning” and the Bo Diddley tunes “I’m a Man” and “Here ‘Tis;” “Here ‘Tis” being a more infectiously jittery dance number. And with the Isley Brothers-penned tune “Respectable,” you can definitely here the doo-wop roots come alive more than ever in the Yardbirds. Having a rave up doesn’t even begin to describe this albums maniacal, toe-tapping panache.

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