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Yardbirds - “Little Games” (1967) review


Yardbirds - “Little Games” 2 CD Edition (1967, reissue Parlophone Ltd. Japan, 2013)

Following in the footsteps of guitar legends Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page took over the lead guitar position of The Yardbirds in 1967, following a brief period in 1966 when both Beck and Page were members of the band. During this short window of time, The Yardbirds recorded three tracks, two of which, “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” and “Stroll On” (a remake of the previously recorded cover of Tiny Bradshaw’s “Train Kept A Rollin’ with Beck on lead) featured the twin lead guitar attack of Beck and Page, and “Psycho Daisies” (the b-side of the “Happenings” single) on which Beck played lead guitar and Page contributed bass guitar.
These tracks were produced by Simon Napier-Bell, with “Stroll On” appearing in the Michaelangelo Antonioni movie “Blow Up.” In 1967, however, not only did Page replace Beck, but Mickie Most took over as the band’s producer. The fruits of the band’s efforts under Most’s guidance, the US-only released LP “Little Games” and related singles are contained on the 2 CD Japanese reissue of the album reviewed here. The collection contains a total of 52 tracks, 47 by The Yardbirds and 5 by the offshoot band Together, which featured vocalist Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty. This amazing Japanese only release, in SHD format, sounds incredible, but there are some problems with the encoding of the song titles which will be discussed, and hopefully clarified within this review. In addition some of the tracks were recorded without Dreja or McCarty contributing, and one, “Ha Ha Said The Clown,” released as a US-only single featured only vocalist Keith Relf. But, let us not get ahead of ourselves, so let us begin at the beginning.

In late 1966, lead guitarist Jeff Beck announced to his bandmates that he was leaving The Yardbirds, ending the unbelievable potential of a band with two such talented lead guitarists. Not only did Beck exit the group, but producer Simon Napier-Bell, who had worked with the band on their s/t LP better known as “Roger The Engineer” was replaced by Mickie Most, best known for his work with Eric Burdon And The Animals and Donovan among others. Most was a well known hitmaker, much more pop oriented than Napier-Bell. Thus, the composition of the band and its direction were drastically changed as the year containing the “summer of love” arrived. The effects of the changes were dramatic, with the new quartet, consisting of vocalist/harmonica player Keith Relf, Page, rhythm guitarist turned bass guitarist Chris Dreja and drummer Jim McCarty, remaining on the Epic/Columbia label, but their recordings, following the failure of their debut single “Little Games” to chart in the UK, led to US-only releases for the remainder of the band’s original lifetime. This, in stark contrast to the rapid succession of singles released during the early and middle Jeff Beck led era of The Yardbirds, the majority of which made impressive showings on both the UK and US charts, and the very respectable success of “The Yardbirds” which had peaked at #20 on the UK charts. But, this collection is based around the Mickie Most produced recordings featuring Jimmy Page, so on with the story.

The first release by the Page led band under the tutelage of Most was the single pairing “Little Games” a pop influenced number with gorgeous vocals by Relf and a tastefully restrained solo by Page, which nonetheless contained some nice feedback. The b-side was the non-LP “Puzzles” another melodic rather pop-influenced rocker, which nonetheless featured incredible lead guitar work by Page, who, in addition, raced up and down the fretboard in contributing a very creditable solo. Sadly, the single failed to chart in the UK, although it did reach #51 on the Billboard charts in the US, when released in April, 1967, one month after its British appearance. The next single, featured the non-LP track “Ha Ha Said The Clown” backed by band original “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor.” The a-side penned by American songwriter, Tony Hazzard, featured Relf on lead vocals backed by studio musicians, while the latter a Page/McCarty tune was a real rocker, with its heavy intro, driving drumming by McCarty and bowed guitar work by Page and lyrics with much deeper meaning than its nursery rhyme like title would indicate. In reality, the lyrics were much more akin to the spy mystery novel that bore an incredibly close title. In the event, the single made #45 on the American charts leading Epic to release further 45s in the US, while abandoning UK releases. “Ha Ha Said The Clown” was released simultaneously with the “Little Games” LP, which despite its quality peaked at #80 on the Billboard charts and would be the band’s final studio album.

The album, and its deluxe 2013 2 CD reissue certainly deserve examination here. The reissue contains “Little Games” in both its mono and stereo versions. Disc one opens with the ten tracks which make up the original album, in their mono mixes. First up is the previously discussed title track, a solid composition, but perhaps too pop influenced for some Yardbirds fans, much like the Jeff Beck recordings had lacked the blues purity of the Clapton years. However, next up is “Smile On Me” with its driving, heavy rocking intro. Relf’s vocals are strong throughout, with Page’s insistent riff complemented by some fine piano work underneath. Page contributes a fiery, feedback drenched solo fueled by some tasty wah wah work. “White Summer” familiar to Led Zeppelin fans, contains gorgeously delicate acoustic guitar by Page and tablas courtesy of McCarty. Page’s usage of open tuning to imitate a sitar adds greatly to this Eastern influenced gem. “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor” has Page putting a cello bow to work in fashioning his trademark “bowed” guitar sound. “Glimpses” is a fine raga rocker, with Relf’s heavily echoed, chanted vocals suited perfectly to Page’s overdubbed guitars. “Drinking Muddy Water” with its nod to “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” takes The Yardbirds back to their blues roots, with Page moving from restrained mode to full on rock mode mid-tune. “No Excess Baggage” features a soaring intro from Page, before he settles into a relaxed groove, the tune’s call and response vocals giving way to another massive solo by Page as the song plays out. “Stealing Stealing” is a bar room blues number with its piano and harmonica intro, a true “good time” tune. “Only The Black Rose” is a gentle, introspective tune with haunting vocals and very tasteful percussion. The album closer “Little Soldier Boy” has a drum intro from McCarty, acoustic guitar by Page and delicate vocals from Relf. “Little Games” is a fine mix of styles and songwriting, but the Mickie Most pop influence may have put off fans at the time, although The Yardbirds had always been known much more for their singles than their LPs. Unfortunately, the failure of the album’s title track as a single sealed their fate as a viable threat to the UK charts.

The bonus material on disc one begins with the mono single versions of “Puzzles” “Ha Ha Said The Clown” and “Ten Little Indians.” In addition, prospective, but unreleased UK single takes “I Remember The Night” and the unphased version of “Goodnight Sweet Josephine” (another Tony Hazzard tune) are included as well as the incredible heavy rocking number “Think About It” a true, nearly four minute tour de force displaying Page at his heaviest, which saw US release as b-side of the heavily phased version of “Goodbye Sweet Josephine” which is found on disc two of the set.  Eight BBC recordings follow, ranging from a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Most Likely You Go Your Way” to Yardbirds’ rockers “Little Games” “Think About It” and “Goodnight Sweet Josephine,”, an impressive take on the bowed guitar classic “Dazed And Confused,” the acoustic classic “White Summer” their blues standard “Drinking Muddy Water” as well as their incredible cover of Jerry Ragavoy’s “My Baby.” A commercial recorded for Great Shakes to the tune of “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” and an unreleased mid-tempo McCarty/Relf composition “Shining Where The Sun Never Has Been closes out the disc.

Disc two opens with the stereo version of the LP. Next up are 1991 US stereo mixes of “Puzzles”and “I Remember The Night.” The stereo mix of “Ten Little Indians” is next up. “You Stole My Love” is a heavy rocker displaying Page’s use of his fuzz box at its best. An acoustic version “White Summer” and an instrumental version of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor” follow. The short, aptly titled trippy “L.S.D.” is followed by a phased take on the psychedelic rocker “De Lane Le Le.” A second version of “Glimpses” and “Never Mind” are filled with feedback and wah wah and are among Page’s best efforts. The final Yardbirds track included on the set is the US phased version of “Goodnight Sweet Josephine” which backed by “Think About It” was the Yardbirds final single, released in March of 1968. The second disc is finished out with five tracks by the post Yardbirds band Together, with vocalist Relf and drummer McCarty among its members. The tracks are tasteful mid-tempo pop rock, but lack the energy of The Yardbirds which probably explains why few, if any fans are familiar with the band.

As to the encoding problems, while the track listing is correct in the booklet, the song titles do not display in proper order when played in a computer. It is very distracting to have to glance at the booklet to know which song is actually playing while listening. The song titles and run times are correct, but once you get to the bonus tracks the information is jumbled, not a pleasant thing. Also, as mentioned the band does not play on all the tracks included. As previously mentioned “Ha Ha Said The Clown” is vocalist Keith Relf backed by studio musicians. In addition, three tracks, “Little Games” “Goodnight Sweet Josephine” and “Ten Little Indians” do not include contributions by drummer McCarty or bassist Dreja. This information is strictly FYI and does not affect the quality of the music included in this collection.

This expanded version of “Little Games” is presented in typical Japanese fashion. The Super High Material audio CDs are housed in mini-LP replica jackets complete with plastic liners. The booklet contains complete song annotations and lyrics in both Japanese and English. Unfortunately, the liner notes are only in Japanese, but considering the sound quality, the plethora of bonus material and the inclusion of lyrics this package is simply incredible. It certainly deserves a place in the collection of any fan of The Yardbirds or Jimmy Page’s work as well as any fan of 1960s mod and psychedelic rock. It is most highly recommended.

- Kevin Rathert
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4 comments:

Exeter said...

I like this 2 CD set a lot.

Kevin Rathert said...

Exeter, I am with you 100%. It is as good as any "Deluxe Edition" out there. I hope my review was a good representation of the quality of the 2 CD set is. Thank you for your comment.

The Triumph of the Thrill said...

Nice comprehensive review and as always it's great that another album from Rock's classic era is featured. Another one to check out.

joey said...

Thanks alot man. You just cost me $65 based on your awesome review. Dang you...