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A British Invasion band active in the 1960s British blues scene alongside The Animals, The Small Faces and The Rolling Stones. The Yardbirds are best known for their hard-edged Blues Rock sound, which influenced future Hard Rock and early Heavy Metal performers and for serving as the starting point for several guitar players who became famous in their own right; Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.
The original line-up was Clapton (lead guitar, backing vocal), Paul Samwell-Smith (bass guitar, backing vocal), Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar, bass guitar after Samwell-Smith departed), Jim McCarty (drums) and Keith Relf (lead vocal, harmonica). Clapton left to join John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers shortly before the completion of the group's second album, which he felt was too much of a departure from their blues roots, and was replaced by Jeff Beck, who lead the group in a distinctly psychedelic direction. For a very brief period, Jimmy Page joined the band and played co-lead guitars with Beck. While there are few recordings of the two playing together, this configuration turned out to be highly influential.
Finally, Jeff Beck left and Jimmy Page effectively took over as the leader of the group, which promptly split up. Undaunted, Page decided to organize The New Yardbirds, putting a whole new group together to fulfill an obligation to play at several European tour dates. Page and company decided to record an album after the completion of the tour. Chris Dreja issued a cease and desist order that stated Page could only use the name for those tour dates. Inspired by a snarky comment from Keith Moon (that the band would go over like a lead balloon), the group changed their name to Led Zeppelin.
In The Nineties, Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty reformed the Yardbirds with several new musicians. (Indeed, Dreja and McCarty have been the only stable members of any version of the group.) So far, this edition of the band has released one studio album and one live album.
Their discography is as follows:
- Five Live Yardbirds (1964) - their debut album, mainly composed of covers of blues and rockabilly tracks, played somewhat harder and faster. Later reissued with five non-album singles and more live songs as bonus tracks.
- For Your Love (1965) - a slapdash album compiling US-only tracks and previously released singles, meant to prepare for their first US tour. The reissue is made up mostly of demos and alternate takes. This album captures the Yardbirds in a transitional phase, containing both Clapton-led blues and soul-influenced tunes, as well as the "experimental pop" and hard-edged rock Beck was pushing the band towards.
- Having a Rave Up (1965) - another slapdash for the American market made up of US-only tracks, previously released singles, and the entire second half is made up of songs from Five Live Yardbirds. The reissue adds the non-album single "Shapes of Things" and its B-side, more demos, and "Stroll On", a song for the Blow-Up soundtrack. The studio tracks show the band continuing to evolve in a edgy, Psychedelic Rock direction, and increasingly using Eastern elements ("Still I'm Sad", "Heart Full of Soul").
- Roger the Engineer (1966) - originally known as Yardbirds in the UK and Over Under Sideways Down in the USA, Germany and France. Their first album made up of entirely original material (rush-recorded in a week under looming deadlines), and perhaps not coincidentally their most psychedelic and experimental (but still having the mandatory blues workouts). The reissue includes the "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago"/"Psycho Daisies" single, two of the few songs recorded with both Beck and Page.
- Little Games (1967) - Their last album. After Roger stiffed on the charts, the record company made the band work with producer Mickie Most, who forced them to record some very Out of Character pop songs in a desperate attempt to return the band to success. Led by a cover of "Ten Little Indians" that Jimmy Page violently hated, the album quite predictably also crashed and burned, although it has its defenders. The reissue adds a few outtakes and non-album singles. Page frequently performed "White Summer" with Led Zeppelin, sometimes as a medley with "Black Mountain Side".
- Live Yardbirds Featuring Jimmy Page (1971) - Released after Led Zeppelin became popular. Sued out of existence, and therefore a sought after rarity.
- BBC Sessions (1997)
- Birdland (2003) - The studio album by Dreja and McCarty's reformed Yardbirds.
- Live at B.B. King Blues Club (2007) - The live album by the reformed band.
- Blues Rock: One of the earliest exponents of the style, along with The Rolling Stones and The Animals.
- Breakup Breakout: Clapton, Beck and Page.
- Cover Version: Most of their material, especially when they started off, was covers of blues, rock and roll and rockabilly songs, played a bit faster and heavier than the originals. Except for Roger the Engineer, heavy touring and limited studio time left the band mostly at the mercy of covers and songs written by outside musicians like Graham Gouldman.
- Cut and Paste Translation: Every album of theirs released stateside until Roger the Engineer.
- Mood Whiplash: "Ever Since The World Began" starts as a scary, doom-laden monotone chant about the evils of Greed, and then suddenly becomes a light pop song with a call-and-response section... about the evils of greed.
- Psychedelic Rock:
- They went in this direction to an extent after Jeff Beck joined the group. It's best illustrated on Roger the Engineer.
- In fact, their song "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" (one of few with both Page and Beck) was recently voted the number one UK Psychedelic Song in some poll.
- Revival: Dreja and McCarty's reformation of the group, which is also an example of The Band Minus the Face.
- Revolving Door Band: Throughout the Yardbirds' history, Dreja and McCarty have been the only consistent members.
- Sarcastic Title: "Mr. You're A Better Man Than I"
- Self-Titled Album: Almost with Five Live Yardbirds; Roger the Engineer depending on where and when it was released.
- Spiritual Successor: Led Zeppelin, who were originally called The New Yardbirds.
- Westminster Chimes: Quoted in "Jeff's Boogie".