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Media Type: CD
Street Release Date: 07/31/2001
Long overdue career survey, almost faultless.
Francis Flannery | 08/03/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The Yardbirds' status as one of the most influential musical conglomerations of the last 40 years is undeniable. Musicians as disparate as The Beatles, The Police, the Sex Pistols, The Byrds, The Allman Brothers Band, and the Velvet Underground (plus all of the bands that have been influenced by these bands, to name just a few) owe them much more than most people realize. Not to mention the countless garage bands collected on Rhino's two excellent Nuggets boxed sets. Anyone who has enjoyed prog-rock or heavy metal or blues-rock or southern rock has heard echoes of the 'birds earth shattering rave up sections and their flair for experimental productions. Using feedback, eastern modes and experimental time signatures before the Beatles made such things popular, the 'birds are safely ensconced as one of the most significant rock bands. For years, there has been a real need for a collection that puts together highlights from the Clapton, Beck, and Page eras of the band's history. This is no simple feat, given that the band's recordings are owned by a variety of different labels, all with agendas that seldom include portraying the Yardbirds for what they were - one of the best bands of the 60's (or the 70's, 80's, or 90's, for that matter). Compiled by the late lamented Cub Coda, this set attempts to come to terms with their erratic and maddeningly complex discography. For the most part, it succeeds. The music that is here is mostly tremendous stuff. The 'birds epochal reading of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man" has never sounded better, and is not likely to be improved upon. "I Ain't Got You," "Shapes of Things," "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," "Over, Under, Sideways, Down," "The Train Kept-a-Rollin'" "Think About It" - all classics, all here in best-ever sound quality. As an incentive for Yardbirds completists, the version of "You're a Better Man Than I" included here is an alternate take, although that is not acknowledged anywhere in the packaging. It sounds like a different vocal overdubbed onto a different mix of the Sam Phillips-engineered band track. It's fantastic, and includes lyrics not found in the more familiar version. The major plus of this set - other than it's compilation of disparate sources - is the sound quality. While some might quibble with what seems like altered treble and bass levels (especially on the Beck-era recordings) compared with what has been circulating in the past, the changes will most likely go unnoticed by the casual listener. All is not perfect here. The track selection is sometimes questionable. Including both sides of the admittedly rare but admittedly dire Italian-only "Questa Volta" single is a possible misstep. Great for collectors, but not really great music in the same league as their other output ca. 1965 - 66. The inclusion of all three Keith Relf solo sides is also a bit suspect - "Mr. Zero" is lovely, true, but there are significant Yardbirds recordings that have displaced in their favor. From the Clapton era, nothing is represented from their live Crawdaddy club recordings from December 1963. The material on which they back Sonny Boy Williamson is admittedly weak, but there are 6 tracks that the band recorded with Keith Relf singing that are fine performances, and are the earliest recordings of Eric Clapton with the band. They ought to be represented here somehow. From the Beck era, the exclusion of any of the wonderful recordings the band made for BBC radio is bizarre. For the BBC, the band recorded fine versions of "Smokestack Lighting," "The Sun is Shining," plus over twenty other tracks - originals and blues covers, that should have been represented somehow. Also, the seeming disdain that the compiler holds for the unfinished album session "A Yardbirds' Eye View of Beat" has left some astounding instrumental performances ("Someone to Love, Pt. 2," the stereo version of "Here 'Tis") off of this collection. There are some surviving live recordings from the Beck era that would also have added to the portrait of the band presented here. But the most bizarre omissions are what should have been on disc two - the Page era (termed "The Peter Grant Era" on this disc - the compilers have divided the band's eras by manager, not by guitarist, an interesting choice). Including a number of tracks from the patchy "Little Games" album is essential to understanding the changes the group was undergoing at the time. Including "Ten Little Indians" and "Ha Ha Said the Clown" - two pretty sad tracks which only feature Page and Relf backed by session players - at the expense of the late masterpiece sound collage "Glimpses" is ridiculous. "Glimpses" is, along with "Think About It," "Puzzles," and "White Summer" one of the landmark recordings of the Page era, and marked a completely new direction for the band, one which Page has not developed in his career since, incorporating drones, bowed guitar, monkish chants, sound effects, and processed vocal narration into a heady and brilliant soundscape. Also, the set does not draw any material from the band's final April, 1968 sessions, recently issued on the CD Cumular Limit. "Avron Knows" or the studio recording of "My Baby" would have been stronger choices for this anthology than either "Ha Ha Said the Clown" or "Ten Little Indians". The other strange omission from this set is the wonderful live version of "Dazed and Confused" recorded for French TV in March of 1968, and issued on Cumular Limit. This wonderful recording, perfectly embodying what the late Yardbirds sounded like live, and literally bridging the band's legacy and their reincarnation as Led Zeppelin, would have been an ideal closer for this set. The absence of this track, as well as the others mentioned, has made this anthology fall short of what it should have been - a comprehensive, one-stop collection of recordings by one of the greatest bands in rock n' roll. But it's still a great listen. Tremendous music from a tremendous group."
Rock of Ages
donnelly117 | 08/29/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The first comment that comes to mind when perusing this double CD set of Yardbirds material is "about bloody time." Tangled licensing agreements often handicapped previous compilations of the band's material, limiting the tracks to the Giorgio Gomelsky-managed era, up to and including "Shapes of Things." No more. Finally---after 30 plus years---we have a set that spans the entire history of this awesome band where three of Britain's greatest guitar slingers got their start. Eric Clapton tears through ravers like "I Ain't Got You" and "Too Much Monkey Business" during the band's punk-metal R&B period; Jeff Beck sets the fuzztone for the Yardbirds' most successful and futuristic phase, ripping through bodacious hits like "Heart Full of Soul" and "Shapes of Things"; Jimmy Page gears up for the '70s in tracks like the proto-Zep "Think About It" and the psychedelic-arena rocker "Puzzles." Great as it is to hear these ax giants rocking side-by-side, alas, ULTIMATE doesn't quite live up to its title. Any compilation of LITTLE GAMES material that lacks "Glimpses" has a strike against it, and I'd have included "Who Do You Love," "You Can't Judge a Book By Looking at the Cover," the entire ROGER THE ENGINEER LP, "Dazed and Confused", "Avron Knows," "My Baby," and "Spanish Blood," plus live tracks from the BBC, Shindig, Beat Beat Beat and the Stockholm '67 gig. In a perfect world (say, if Page had an ounce of generosity), "Knowing That I'm Losing You"---an early version of "Tangerine"---would be here too. I would have omitted the dreadful Italian "Questa Volta"/"Paff Bum" single (although it sounds great, you can hear every hideous nuance) and the three Keith Relf solo songs. All of these can be found elsewhere---here they simply take up room that would be better served by proper Yardbirds material. So I'm greedy, shoot me. Still, all in all, Rhino has done the Yardies proud. Many of the shopworn Gomelsky-era tracks even boast a fresh coat of paint. "Mr. You're a Better Man Than I" is finally presented in its unexpurgated four-minute glory (including an extra verse---thank you, Greg Russo). Listen for the ultra-cool nuances leaping out of "I'm a Man": the droll throb of Paul Samwell-Smith's bass, the metallic huff of Relf's harp, the telltale echo of Jeff Beck's Tele as he gears up for the chaotic chicken-scratchin' finale; all goose-bump inducing stuff. Despite their reputation for churning out great lead guitar players, the Yardbirds were first and foremost a unit. Asthmatic vocalist Keith Relf provided alternately sorrowful and enthused singing that fit the group's moody avant-rock pop to a tee, and ranked with the best harmonica players of the 60s. Jim McCarty was a fleet, intense drummer who co-wrote many of the 'Birds' best originals. Chris Dreja rocked with minimalist, monotonal fury on rhythm guitar (and later, bass) while Paul Samwell-Smith was arguably the band's real guiding force, producing all their records up to and including "Over Under Sideways Down." (It's no accident the band began to slide after Paul split.) But all this will be apparent to anyone who checks out the fabulous liner notes of the late great Cub Koda. Great pictures too (love the one with the lads hanging backstage with Peter Grant, dig Keith's Sgt Pepper moustache too). Despite its flaws, ULTIMATE is a superb introduction to the group's phenomenal catalogue. It ain't the ultimate Yardbirds set by a long shot but it comes a heckuva lot closer than anything else I've seen."
""Ultimate" has a very good mix of commercial hits and a few rarities in one package. The serious collector will probably have most of these tracks on import labels like Repertoire, so this collection is recommended as a good introduction to the Yardbird's music for new fans."
The Best Individual Anthology of this Briefly Brilliant Band
Randall E. Adams | Los Angeles, CA United States | 10/03/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There will never be a shortage of opinions on the Yardbirds.In my view, their only genuinely great period is the period with Jeff Beck, when they were writing a decent amount of their own material and truly pushing the envelope sonically. Between Beck's uninhibited inspiration, Paul Samwell-Smith's arranging skills and Keith Relf's very cool art school lyrical sensibility, this band could not be touched in 1965 & 1966. This set includes most of this material. Clapton is a great guitarist, of course, but he was much too conservative to allow the band to grow the way that they did once Beck joined. He needed to do the purist bit with John Mayall before he could become more creative. Jimmy Page joined in time to preside over the group's total disintegration and he had not yet developed his own creative side. The sound on this set is the best yet encountered for the Beck and Clapton recordings. Perhaps Rhino got their hands on the original masters--something others had been famously unable to accomplish. I wish that the Mickie Most material had been limited to the honestly good things. Tracks like "Little Games," "10 Little Indians," "Ha Ha Said the Clown" (for chrissake!) and "Goodnight Sweet Josephine" are total dreck that should simply be forgotten. Instead, include ALL of the Roger the Engineer LP tracks (why leave off "Ever Since the World Began"?)and some more from "Five Live." Perhaps even a few BBC performances would be in order, and why nothing from the live album with Jimmy Page? He didn't like it, but that doesn't mean that there's nothing good on it.The Italian tracks are dreadful, but I've always loved "Paff Bum" anyway, just because of how incongruous Beck's solo is in the middle of this otherwise utterly worthless track. Keith Relf's solo tracks are a cool adjunct, much more worth having than the crummy Mickie Most singles. The Mickie Most singles are the only reason that I give this a 4 star, rather than a 5 star rating."
Ultimately, It's Not as Good as it Could Be!!!
chris meesey Food Czar | The Colony, TX United States | 11/26/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The Yardbirds were argueably the greatest and most certainly the most influencial band of the sixites, apart from the Beatles and the Stones. Their recorded legacy, particularly the Jeff Beck years, contains so much great material, it's hard to believe it all came from the same band. The three monster lead guitarists spawned by this band, Beck, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page, rewrote rock history for the next forty years, and all are still making compelling music today. So, how could the "Ultimate" collection of their greatest works only rate four stars? Because despite the inclusion of many classic hits ("For Your Love," "Heart Full of Soul," "Over Under Sideways Down," "Shapes of Things") and excellent album tracks and outtakes ("Hot House of Omagararshid, "Lost Woman," "Psycho Daisies"), there are still too many cuts from the Mickey Most era to fully consider this set an unqualified success. Some of these songs work quite well: "Drinking Muddy Water," is a delightful rewrite of Muddy's "Rollin' and Tumblin'," "White Summer," is the perfect companion piece to Led Zeppelin's "Black Mountain Side," (in later years, Page and the Zeps used to play the two numbers back-to-back in concert), and Keith Relf's solo numbers (some of which were recorded much earlier), which feature a very unusual, almost stilted delivery from the harpist, sort of like Styx during their Mr. Roboto days. The remainder of the Most-produced tracks are forgettable, and sound rather forced and juvenile, like a band at the beginning of its career rather than at the end. Luckily, about half of disc two and ALL of disc one (except "Questa Volta" and "Pafff...Bum") is nothing short of sensational, including the hard-driving cuts from Five Live Yardbirds, and all of the Jeff Beck material. Songs missing include "Putty...In Your Hands," "The Sun is Shining," and some famous Page-led live cuts, including "Shapes of Things," and "I'm Confused (Dazed and Confused)." Still, this album does contain plenty of good material (and GREAT liner notes by Brownsville Station guitarist and rock writer, the late, great Cub Koda!) and is without question worthy of your attention. Get it Today!!! Just realize, however, that the Ultimate Yardbirds collection has yet to be released."