Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Yardbirds—
Happenings Ten Years Time Ago/Psycho Daisies


Released 1966 on Columbia
The Seth Man, January 2003ce
At the heart of the very best rock’n’roll bands lurks a core song or moment that defines said band forever: remaining a high water mark of not only the rest of their material, but for all future rock’n’roll bands’ material to bravely stand up against, do one better or take a powder forthwith.

But when you start to scale it down to groups of lesser longevity or popularity, you would think it would stand to reason that the wheat would stand out among chaff far more conspicuously. But this has never been the case with The Yardbirds, due to their true achievements being steamrolled for decades by a continuous outpouring of seemingly HUNDREDS of compilations defined not by quality but by licensing rights alone as well as having (not only one but) three successive guitarists who went on to become worldwide superstars in their own right (Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page) and the sheer weight of that alone has guaranteed The Yardbirds a place in rock’n’roll history forever, sight unseen or sound unheard. Their best moments were vibrant and gleeful shots in the dark that both hailed and hurried the approaching dawn of heavy as hard as anything.

It’s weird. Because although The Yardbirds have been acclaimed, wildly influential and plain fucking ahead of their time for eons, their true genius is not easily located on any one album (although “Roger The Engineer” and “Having A Rave-Up!” are the two closest exceptions.) Of course, they were an active unit in a time when singles held sway so it is to that format one should turn when it comes to determining their most realised moments. Namely, when they shook off their earliest blues purism (and Clapton along with it) and started directing their energetic workouts through the confines of pop singles and burrowed into them and worked them out from the inside out that they produced their most highly original and experimental material. And their single, “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” was one of their most staggering moments: a pop art/freak-out single that was both simultaneously psychedelic and punk: occurring one year before the former and ten years time before the latter.

By 1966, this was happening more and more as a new phase in rock’n’roll was developing quickly past the stale pop hegemony of orthodox arrangements, non-threatening sounds and Tin Pan Alley-styled lyrics. Aided especially by the previous year’s records from prime instigators such as The Who, The Yardbirds broke off into expanding beyond what was merely required of a pop song and into new, undiscovered realms that were far more abstract and unrestrained. And their guitarist Jeff Beck had already began incorporating feedback and outbreaks of pure noise as a solid state of the art denial of craftsmanship with a singeing un-refinement of electronic sound that tore up the rulebook and whizzed it off into the far hinterlands whilst kicking up and out of the stagnant pre-conceived formulae of yesteryear. They upped the ante twofold when in June 1966, The Yardbirds invited Jimmy Page for the second time to join and this he accepted (initially on bass and subsequently winding up on second guitar opposite Jeff Beck a few months later.)

This lineup was as unforgivably brilliant as they were short-lived, with a meagre output of just three songs: a blistering re-write of “Train Kept-A-Rollin’” entitled “Stroll On” for the soundtrack of ‘Blow Up” (They also recorded a ridiculous commercial jingle for a soft drink called Great Shakes that ripped off the ‘Hey!’s from “Over, Under Sideways Down” to hilarious effect) and one incendiary single: “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”/“Psycho Daisies.”

“Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” comes chronologically arranged directly betwixt “Shapes of Things” and “Think About It” and together these three singles form a triptych/pantheon of innovation and a proponent of glorious proto avant-noise. Truly heavy innovation for its time, the major thrust of “Happenings” is the Beck/Page dual Telecaster attack (accompanied by then-session man John Paul Jones on highly percussive bass) shoved into a brutal three minute epic caught in the confines of a pop single that paved the way for similar mutli-passage headfucks like The Pretty Things’ 1967 crushing acid flash, “Defecting Grey.” Opening with a cycling, near folk-like riff, “Happenings” wastes no time at all shifting gears into high as a slashing rhythm guitar enters, co-joined by a far hurried, rhythm guitar cluster running down the neck at a breakneck pace that will repeat over and over throughout. Drummer Jim McCarty rains down a simple, pounding beat over it all at the same pace as the rhythm guitar as Keith Relf moodily intones the lyrics as though re-setting his past Gregorian vocal measures of “Still I’m Sad” and “He’s Always There” into a removed and bewildered deja-vu/flashback as though rooted to the spot in awe of everything that swirls around and inside his head as Jeff and Jimmy continue to ride roughshod all over the place with zig-zagging guitar lines.

Everything cuts out right before the rave-up instrumental break located way past the mid-point of the song, and it is like none other The Yardbirds ever attempted previously (and that’s saying a lot because they invented it and it informed freak-outs too, come to think of it.) A modulating police siren guitar riff tears away the silence and is quickly followed by an startling explosion caused by guitar and amplifier alone. Electrified twin Telecasters are then let loose: volley layers upon layers of Bo Diddley runs up the neck as both lead and rhythm guitars are scrambling to out proto-proto metal each other as they converge over Keith Relf’s spoken cockney ‘voice under’ (cuz he’s drowned by this tension shitstorm.) The multiple riffing becomes more insistent, more psychotic and lean against each other harder and harder until they threaten to split themselves wide open (which they almost do anyway) and Jimmy Page’s stinging solo just continues to thread pearls of noise on a pre-ZOSO necklace in a mega-diddleyin’ manner that is as pre-“Dazed And Confused” as you can get without being Jake Holmes. The final chorus reappears and ends as Relf intones his final flashback “Sinking deep into the world of time...sinking deep into the world of time” just in time for a low, rearing stallion of a tremolo-barred Telecaster groan to be just reared in as it masses into further guitar interplay well past the fade...agonisingly ahead-of-the-curve and dynamic beyond all limits.

In Britain, the single of “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” was paired with another non-LP track, “Psycho Daisies” and was written and sung by Jeff Beck. His last Yardbirds appearance on record, “Psycho Daisies” runs just under two minutes in length and is a raging frustration ode to his girlfriend, actress Mary Hughes. Jeff sings it in a sullen forbearance throwaway vocal that trades off in a manic call and response with his fiercely machine-gunning guitar riffs that expeditiously plow over his secondary rhythm/noise/feedback colourations overdubbed later (All the guitars are by Jeff Beck, with Page resigned to bass.) The lyrics are about as hilariously mundane as the guitar bursts are pummeling and throttling to the nth degree, naming American geographic locales as quickly as possible as though getting the lyrics to “Route 66” totally wrong in a rush to get back to California where “everything is swinging there with Mary Hughes” as quickly as possible. It probably was the case, because about a month after this single was released, Beck quit The Yardbirds and never looked back.

Within a lifespan of just five months in late 1966, The Yardbirds had re-written the rules for everything a Rock band could be.


Note:
A picture sleeve housed the American single with a different B-side: the previously released “The Nazz Are Blue” off “Over Under Sideways Down” the American LP edition of “Yardbirds,” a.k.a. “Roger The Engineer.”