Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Yardbirds—
Goodnight Sweet Josephine/Think About It


Released 1968 on Epic
The Seth Man, July 2002ce
“What’s a RAVE UP? It’s the sound of the future -- The Yardbirds’ sound of the future!” (From the original liner notes of The Yardbirds’ 1965 U.S.-only LP, “Having A Rave Up With The Yardbirds”)


Few words probably rang truer from all those hyperbolised liner notes from mid-sixties LPs than the above. Preceding both The Who and The Troggs, The Yardbirds were undisputed architects of Rock Music and a major root of the world ash tree of Heavy Mental. What their record company labeled a “Rave Up” was nothing less than the sound of a group dragging earthbound blues and affected pop sensibilities uphill all hot-wired to an amplified force field as they yanked and cranked out things truly YEARS ahead of the curve. But with a direction about as all over the map as their records, what was left when the smoke finally cleared, the true representation of their power was just the near-perfect “Roger The Engineer” album and somewhere in the region of 20 tracks scattered hither and yon as buried album tracks, hit singles and even on a soundtrack album. Indeed, their most howling-est material happened only after Clapton jumped ship to be replaced by Jeff Beck, the latter first causing both roofs and ugly heads to be raised with the frustrated though focused power of “I’m Not Talking” off their extremely patchy “For Your Love” album. Astonishingly on the money with a reined-in racket to ridicule and annihilate their previous best studio moment (Clapton’s lower-lip biting, faux-blues reverence on “I Ain’t Got You”), Beck proved blues purism to be a dead end and pushed The Yardbirds into even deeper realms of tone and attack. But as a prototypical Nigel Tufnel-esque, ill-tempered droog who until only recently began to show any signs of aging (that rock’n’roll elixir at work, I’m sure) AND being such an inconsolably brooding head case, he wound up quitting The Yardbirds in the heat of creating a highly flammable and innovative twin-guitar assault with Jimmy Page (informing legions of white dopes on punk the likes of MC5, Blue Oyster Cult, The Dictators and maybe even Twisted Sister. And that’s just ONE Stateside lineage out of a multitude...) Page stayed on, and for the first and last time The Yardbirds were a quintet no longer but the scaled down quartet of Page, Keith Relf (vocals), Chris Dreja (bass) and Jim McCarty (drums). This lineup endured a turbulent endgame which saw Relf and McCarty already involving themselves less with the group and more with the slacker aspects of psychedelic culture while Dreja valiantly kept the bass spot together long enough for Page to ascend as a progressive, pre-Raphaelite gunslinger whose vision far exceeded the band’s overall flagging strengths as he consistently blazing further and further into the Out and Up whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Despite this, for their entire career, The Yardbirds suffered varying degrees of misdirection from producers who constantly mitigated their sound with lame pop like of “Sweet Music”, “Putty (In Your Hands),” “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” or -- despite its fantastic title -- “Honey In Your Hips.” But the most confining pop-strait jacket was with Mickie Most, their producer during their final days. Force-feeding them an endless stream of pop pabulum while panting for imminent chart action that never came as the majority of their output under his direction was appallingly below par, many tracks were recorded with the promise they would remain unissued if the results did not meet with the group’s approval, and even then he would have them quickly released. Consequently, most of the “Little Games” album (as well as the non-LP cuts on three of four final singles he produced: “Little Games”/“Puzzles,” “Ha Ha Said The Clown”/“Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor” and “Ten Little Indians”/“Drinkin’ Muddy Water”) were embarrassingly thin, uncharacteristic and oftentimes relied on extensive backing instrumentation. Despite tinges of latent psychedelia on “Puzzles” (a blistering Page solo prematurely faded out during the end) and “Tinker Tailor” (interesting alone for Page’s pre-”Dazed And Confused” violin bow solo) they are hardly the sweaty, grasping touchstones of towering proto-metal that they had already achieved and inspired in so many others.

It is tragic how a band that so recklessly tore it up in the heat of experimentation could also be so inadequately served by inferior material and the clueless whims of producers. But despite all this, were still able cast their chips and let them fall where they may because they were true pioneers who even on the very last release of their existence defined a sound previously unheard. This release was the B-side of the single, “Think About It.” Completing the Yardbird trilogy of revolutionary noise first concocted when they hit the pure, mother-fucking-lode as streaming waves of barely controlled feedback and generally threatening-to-explode-for-the-duration-of-its-length all smashed and blocked-like with “Shapes of Things” and then doubling the pleasure on their (then and now) CRIMINALLY ignored dual-guitar freak out 45, “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” and its attendant flip (-ped out) side, the hectic and rambunctious “Psycho Daisies.”

The A-side “Goodnight Sweet Josephine” is another Mickie Most-directed pop affair: specifically, a music hall booze up/sing-a-long about some heart o’ gold, brazen barroom roundheels arranged with ale-soaked tack piano although it’s hilarious for Pagey’s supersonically-phased guitar that dwarves even The Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park.” But the Page-composed B-side is an entirely different matter altogether for here there are three multi-tracked guitars and it’s the razor-sharp, rave up to end all rave ups. “Think About It” is crazy and has a radioactive guitar half-life of millennia. It’s a searching, prototypical proto-metal and proto-everything else that blitz of psychedelia and/or punk, depending on your mood. Universally compassionate and searching lyrics similar in approach to “Mister, You’re A Better Man Than I” and “Shapes Of Things” break down to a wordless vocal bridge referencing their previous trend-setting Gregorian chant period, building up to a solo that denies nothing and leaves carnage in its wake as Page is off into a solo that bears down excruciatingly with a series of heavy and slinky colliding riffs that coil, unfurl and charge the ranks as he leaves the three remaining founding members in the dust (or two; as I believe it was John Paul Jones and not Dreja on bass.) Ending on a typical ‘67 backwards rhythm track, a slight harmonica blows in the fade’s background as though bidding a sweet farewell to a chequered career that at least ended on an exquisitely demented note. It’s The Yardbirds at their most insane. Ever.


Note:
(The following is not fact, but I’ve had it on my mind for years) Speaking of droogs, has anyone else noticed a curious physiological connection between characters in “Clockwork Orange” and the three main Yardbirds guitarists? Am I crazy?? Probably. But just compare the shared resemblances between Alex/Jeff Beck, Georgie/Eric Clapton, Billy Boy/Page and tell me it’s just ‘shapes in my mind.’