The Yardbirds

As, Bs and EPs

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There's probably nothing on this collection that you won't already have somewhere in your collection -- but that won't prevent you from buying it or stop you from savoring almost all of what's here. Repertoire Records originally took a page out of See for Miles playbook with its As & Bs singles compilations, and by pushing the concept to encompass EP tracks, they've done British rock enthusiasts a big service -- the fact is, except for the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, whose followings were big and devoted enough to sustain regular album releases, most British bands of the 1960s were forced to use the 45 rpm single and, to a lesser degree, the "extended-play" single (with between three and five tracks) as their major creative medium. That applied to the Yardbirds as much as anyone else, and listening to their output in this way across 50 tracks is a great way to appreciate the individual steps of their development and history, as well as understand how audiences at home and abroad got to hear the music and the developments going on behind it. So we slide across the solid rocking blues of the Eric Clapton era, all in stunning fidelity, and get to hear such jewels as "Got to Hurry," the driving, bluesy B-side to "For Your Love" which was practically the last thing Clapton did with the band -- and then we slip into the progressive pop of the early Jeff Beck era, and the smooth white British soul of "Heartful of Soul" gives way to the hard, edgy "Steeled Blues," which showed off the two equally sharp sides of this band. And somehow that slides us through the shimmering psychedelia of "Still I'm Sad" and the proto-metal of "Shapes of Things," and off into the soaring heavy metal of the Jeff Beck/Jimmy Page collaborations; and from there off we drift into the psychedelic pop of the Mickie Most period, and the final, leaner, bluesier tail-end of the Page era. The inclusion of the group's EP releases, which fill up the second CD, allows the collection to bridge the gaps between their singles and albums; the resulting picture is a fairly full one of the band's work, at least through the Jimmy Page era, when much of their best work, because of their relationship to producer Mickie Most, became confined to the Little Games LP. The only complaint you may have about the programming is that the single and EP tracks are compiled separately, when it would have been more illuminating to arrange them in release order; surely the group's own EP tracks are more relevant to the time-frame represented than the Italian-released singles ("Paff Bumm," "Questa Volta") done by the band at the insistence of manager Giorgio Gomelsky, which are here, compiled amid their proper singles. The Italian releases and the solo singles by lead singer Keith Relf are the only real digressions, and the Relf sides are appended to the end of the second CD and can be skipped after one listen -- but doing that would cause you to miss "Blue Sands," an alleged Yardbirds cut thrown on here for completeness' sake, which is a kind of comic throwaway that's well worth a listen. The rest is golden, and is supported by liner notes that include extensive comments by bandmembers Jim McCarty and Chris Dreja. The sound quality throughout is generally excellent, though with one flaw -- there's a drop in volume near the end of "Shapes of Things" that mutes its impact ever-so-slightly.

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