The Yardbirds

The Yardbirds' Greatest Hits

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The Yardbirds entered 1967 in a state of flux -- behind them, mostly by more than a year, lay a brace of hit singles had carried them to an international audience, this despite lineup changes that helped bring about some dizzying shifts in their sound, pushing them from blues-based rock toward pop/rock and progressive pop, and into psychedelia, with an overlay of formative heavy metal in some of the latter material. The Yardbirds' Greatest Hits came about in the wake of the relative failure of the single "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," and Jeff Beck being fired from the lineup. The band's future seemed in doubt, and this collection was released only in the United States, where it was seen mostly as a cash-in effort by Epic Records. This humble release yielded unexpected dividends, however, as it climbed to number 28 on the U.S. album charts, the group's highest-charting LP ever, and renewed interest in the band on the part of the label. The result was another year's worth of commercial life for the Yardbirds, at least on the far side of the Atlantic (EMI, the group's U.K. label, wasn't nearly as keen to pursue further efforts on the band's behalf), although, ironically, most of what they recorded during that year would never make it into their concert set -- by contrast, a significant chunk of what was on The Yardbirds' Greatest Hits would stay in their set until the end. And the record was, indeed, something of a miracle -- a perfect compilation of the group's best commercial sides. The album's first side tore through their most inventive and successful singles, from the heavy metal-textured "Shapes of Things" through the Gregorian chant-flavored proto-psychedelia of "Still I'm Sad," across the harpsichord-driven pop of "For Your Love" and the boogie-woogie-flavored "Over Under Sideways Down," with a short digression to the non-charting (but highly worthwhile) "Five Long Years" adaptation, "New York City Blues." Side two was a little more concentrated on basic rock & roll (even on the acoustic-textured "Heart Full of Soul"), and soared into a unique psychedelic/metal mode on "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago." And the whole platter summed up, just about as neatly as it was possible to do across just ten songs, what made the Yardbirds a great band. Given the record's focus on hits, it's understandable that the lion's share of it would be from the Jeff Beck era -- a 12-song LP would have found room for one more Eric Clapton-era track (maybe "I Wish You Would") as well as the Beck-era "You're a Better Man Than I" or "Train Kept A-Rollin'." But given its layout and purpose, as well as complications brought about by the subsequent shifting ownership and licensing of different parts of the group's library, this ended up being the best single-disc LP compilation ever issued on this band (and, for many years, the only long-player to include "Happenings" and "New York City Blues"). And it was responsible for introducing many fans to the full range of the group's work.

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