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The Complete BBC Sessions

The Yardbirds

(Get Back 503, UK. 199)

Performance: ****

Sonics: ***1/2

The BBC has long had a tradition of recording up and coming and popular artists of the day for either live or recorded broadcasts. This practice continues right up to the present via the shows of such BBC radio stalwarts as John Peel and Andy Partridge. Most of these sessions were intended for one-off broadcasts, but the BBC, being perhaps the last working bureaucracy in the Western World (as opposed to a dysfunctional bureaucracy like the DMV), kept the tapes from each session, dutifully catalogued and filed them away in their archive vaults. There is no telling the extent of the treasures that still lie locked away, but over the years, some classic sessions have emerged from the BBC vaults to be snapped up by fans and collectors.
This double album purports to contain the complete sessions recorded by the Yardbirds between 1965 and 1967 and as such is a fascinating documentary of a band that not only brought the guitar playing talents of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page into the public eye, but were also extremely influential in the creation of the psychedelia of the late 60's and heavy and progressive rock of the late 60's and early 70's.
The earlier years of the band were typified by such R&B influenced hits as: "For your Love" and "Heart full of Soul": The starched collars at the BBC used to refer to this sort of thing as "Electric Beat Music" and jolly fine it is too. As future guitar Gods came and went , the band's music became ever more adventurous, leading through the psychedelic pop of "shapes of things" to heavy blues guitar-drenched workouts ("think about it"). The influence of the Blues is evident even in their early tracks, which is inevitable given that Beck, Page and Clapton were all disciples of the Blues from the very start. It's interesting to hear Page perfect the huge, driving guitar sound that would eventually power Led Zeppelin to Megastardom.
The taped sessions were recorded very quickly, usually in just a couple of takes. The live shows were simply taped as the show aired. The recording engineers were, like, real squares, more used to recording Orchestras than"Electric Beat Bands". because of this, the recordings are generally high quality for the time, but pretty dry sounding (with only some occasional plate reverb). However, there is a real live feel to all the tracks, as the band were invariably playing together in the studio, with few, if any, overdubs.
It's a shame that Clapton does not feature on any of these tracks (he left the band at the beginning of '65 to join John Mayall's BluesBreakers), but there is plenty enough virtuosity to go around with Beck and later Page, as well as the unsung, but talented rhythm section of Dreja on Drums and Samwell-Smith on Bass (his Gibson semi-acoustic bass is well rendered on most of the tracks).
The quality does vary between sessions though it is never less than listenable and sometimes is very good. The recordings have been Digitally Re-mangled, sorry Re-Mastered, but the result is on the whole beneficial, with only a slight hardening of the treble. The pressings are good quality and quiet. Side 1 of my copy appears to have a slight pressing defect, though it may be some left over mould release, which will go away after a good cleaning.
On some of the live takes we even get the dulcet tones of long standing BBC DJ Alan "Fluff" Freeman (who is living proof that there is still such a thing as a job for life at the Beeb).as he introduces a couple if the songs during a live broadcast. I think this adds to the live feel and puts the recordings in their historical context. so I don't mind it.
The performances themselves are very fresh and vital, probably due to having to get a song down in one or two takes and this freshness and vitality is really what makes this album worth having. There is a hilarious interview with Jim McCarty and Chris Deja printed on the inside gatefold, recalling how these recordings were made. However because of the interview, there are very few sleeve notes. We are given no details of the recordings themselves apart from the dates and whether Beck or Clapton played on a track.
I would have liked to know what shows the recordings aired on and the broadcast dates as well as a list of playing and production personnel and who played what on each track.
If you are a Yardbirds fan, or at all interested in this period of English "Electric Beat Music" (which is suddenly hip once again), or want to hear what Beck and Page sounded like back then, this is an essential purchase.
(This Album is available on Import in the US, and ONLY on Vinyl).

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