The Yardbirds

I Ain't Got You

Song Review by

A little more traditionalist than the early Who, the Yardbirds were nevertheless almost as innovative as their career blossomed. While the Who laid claim to the title "maximum R&B," they really could be secure in the modifier "maximum," for the Yardbirds truly played hard R&B, leaning even more into the African-American blues vernacular than their mod cohorts. The band was the launching pad for three of the generation's greatest electric blues soloists: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. Clapton left the band for betraying their roots a bit by performing pop songs aimed at the radio. He was still in the band in 1965, however, when they recorded the catchy and upbeat blues tune "I Ain't Got You." In fact, he contributes a blistering solo. The song was written by Calvin Carter, who was the brother of Vivian Carter, the "Vee" in the famous Vee Jay record company, the most successful African-American-owned record company prior to Motown (and the Beatles' first U.S. label). "I Ain't Got You" was first recorded in 1960 by Chicago bluesman Jimmy Reed, who was signed by Calvin Carter, an A&R and promo man at the label. Reed's is a slower, swinging version not unlike the swaggering style of Muddy Waters. Reed, like Slim Harpo and others, broke the 12-bar blues pattern up a bit, adding more rhythm and swing. The main hook of "I Ain't Got You" is the stops that come at the end of every verse and chorus. The Yardbirds kept the essentials -- including a great harmonica riff -- and turned up the heat a bit, upping the tempo, and updating the lyrics, so that, for example, "I got an Eldorado Cadillac/With a spare tire on the back/I got a charge account at the ol' bank/But I ain't got you" becomes "I got a Maserati G.T./With Snakeskin upholstery/I got a charge account at Goldblatt's/But I ain't got you." The braggadocio of the lyric is maintained through both versions of the song. For Reed, it must have given confidence to the once country boy from Mississippi, who traveled north to Gary, IN, at age 15 to find work and eventually became a blues star. For Keith Relf, vocalist of the Yardbirds, it must have taken on a certain significance as a young man in mid-'60s swinging London, with a featured role in Michelangelo Antonioni's hipster film Blow-Up.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
For Your Love 1965 Griffin 1:58
No Image 1977 Charly Records
Shapes of Things 1978 Delta Distribution
No Image 1980 Babylon Records
Greatest Hits, Vol. 1: 1964-1966 1986 Rhino 2:01
Over Under Sideways Down: A Comprehensive Collection 1963-1968 1990 Raven 2:01
Vol. 1: Smokestack Lightning 1991 Legacy / Columbia 1:59
No Image 1993 Charly Records 0:00
The Best of the Yardbirds [Rhino] 1994 Rhino 2:01
Where the Action Is [Cleopatra] 1997 Cleopatra 1:51
The Best of the Yardbirds Featuring Clapton & Beck 1999 Charly Records 2:01
Yardbirds Story: 1963-66 2002 Charly Records 2:01
No Image Charly Records
No Image Phantom
No Image Neon Records