The Yardbirds

Best of the Yardbirds [Pegasus]

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Compiling a good cross section of the Yardbirds' work on one CD is tough, owing to the sheer range of their evolution across the five years of their existence -- additionally, the easy availability of their pre-1966 library has led to a glut of "best-of" collections focusing on that period, enough so that potential customers might, understandably, be wary of anything sporting the title. Given those caveats, Repertoire Records has done a good job (apart from one glaring omission) on this CD, covering the three major periods in the Yardbirds' recording history, as they evolved from a blues-rock band to a progressive pop/rock band and into a psychedelic pop outfit, even if they can't mine any of those periods deeply enough to get at some of the treasures buried in each (there's no live material here, for example, despite the fact that the Five Live Yardbirds album was a high-water mark of the Eric Clapton era). The disc is arranged in non-chronological order and, indeed, reminds one of an old classic double-LP layout, with their best-known songs ("For Your Love," "Heart Full of Soul," "Shapes of Things," etc.) front-loaded, filling up the first dozen slots -- and it acknowledges the reality of the CD era by tossing both their original Sun Records-recorded "Train Kept A' Rollin'" and its flashier London-spawned remake "Stroll On" (which only became well known in the wake of all of those ubiquitous CD compilations of the 1990s) into that grouping. But included with them are the spacier Jimmy Page/Jeff Beck-driven experiments "Psycho Daisies" and "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," plus Jeff Beck's crunching Chuck Berry homage "Jeff's Boogie." Those are followed by the equivalent of an LP side of psychedelic-era curios from the Jimmy Page era, "Little Games," "Ha Ha Said the Clown," "Good Night Sweet Josephine" -- but, amazingly, there's no "Think About It," the finest of the late-era Page tracks -- so we're missing the last great record the group made. And then, for what would have been the second LP...we go backward, to 1963 and 1964, and the Eric Clapton era, with nine songs representing the Yardbirds as one of the finest blues bands in the business. This is work as solid as the best music of the Rolling Stones or the Animals of the same era only with more virtuosity on the guitar, but it's also been licensed for too many collections to keep count, hence its inclusion late on the CD. And the makers finish this collection off with "Paff Boom" and "Questa Volta," a pair of Italian-market novelty items that don't represent the group anywhere near its peak -- "Questa Volta" could have been relinquished in favor of "Think About It," a much more important recording. That important flaw aside, the virtues of this disc include absolutely killer sound and thorough annotation. It's a fine -- almost perfect -- place to start listening to the Yardbirds, and get one's feet wet in most of the best of their history.

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