The Yardbirds were my favorite group during their 60s heyday. I didn’t know that they would be famous as the band with Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page … I mean, I knew those guys were in the band, and as they moved on (Cream, Beck’s solo act, and Led Zep), I understood something of this historic nature of the group. But they were my favorites because they played lots of fast songs, because Beck in particular at the time was a dazzling guitarist, and … well, I don’t have any other reasons. As much as I loved them (and still love them), they don’t inspire many big stories from me. I had all of their American albums, I played them all the time, and that’s about the end of that story.
But the other day I watched Antonioni’s Blow-Up, and it was clear what song was going to be featured on Music Friday. First, here is the Yardbirds’ appearance in that film:
While there are certain things I like very much about Blow-Up, I’m not a fan of its snooty attitude towards the pop culture of swingin’ London. This clip offers an example. The band plays, the audience responds … no, that’s not the word, they aren’t responding, that’s the point. They just stare blankly at the stage. One couple near the back dances in a disinterested fashion. Antonioni isn’t saying The Yardbirds suck … no, they are artists. What he is saying is that the audience is jaded, unreceptive, disconnected. There is no sense that rock and roll is fun music. And then, when Beck’s amp becomes too much trouble, and he breaks his guitar and tosses the fretboard into the crowd, only then do they go bonkers with vicious excitement. The artifacts of the performance are all that interest them.
The irony is that this clip will carry a resonance in the music world far beyond that of Blow-Up itself. The three great guitarists who moved through the band were rarely together. Clapton came first, and Beck replaced him … they never played together. Page joined when Beck was still in the band, but they recorded only one single before Beck left the band, leaving Page as the only guitarist. So when both Page and Beck turn up in Blow-Up, it’s an historic moment in rock music history. And this is indeed ironic: the audience in the film, so bored, so passive, isn’t just watching some anonymous band, they are watching the Beck-Page Yardbirds!
Here are some more Yardbirds videos. First, “Train Kept A-Rollin’,” which first appeared on the American album Having a Rave Up with the Yardbirds. As you can hear, it’s pretty much the same song as “Stroll On,” with a few different lyrics. This is the Jeff Beck version of the band:
Here is the post-Beck, Jimmy Page Yardbirds doing the same song:
Here is the only official Yardbirds release with both Beck and Page, “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”:
Beck and Page did work together on at least one other track, though, “Beck’s Bolero,” accredited to Beck as a solo artist. You want a supergroup? Beck and Page on guitar, future Led Zepper John Paul Jones on bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano, and Keith Moon on drums:
And finally, an example of the Jeff Beck Yardbirds that shows what I loved about the band (i.e. Beck played guitar like no one else was doing), “What Do You Want”: