Home Read Classic Album Review: The Yardbirds | Ultimate!

Classic Album Review: The Yardbirds | Ultimate!

This came out in 2001 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):


It isn’t always easy being a Yardbirds fan.

Despite being one of the greatest bands of the ’60s — how else could you describe a group whose ranks included, at various points, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page? — The Yardbirds usually ran a distant fifth on the U.K. scene, behind The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Kinks. Sadly, that meant that, like a lot of undervalued acts of the era, they got little respect from record companies. Especially when it came to artistic control of their output. Indeed, Yardbirds albums often seemed to be a slapdash affair — as if the label just took whatever songs they had, stuck any old picture on the cover and sent the thing out. U.S. albums almost always had different cuts than their U.K. counterparts. Some songs took years to find their way onto an album — and others never did, appearing only on obscure singles. Cover pictures and album credits often featured people who were no longer in the band. it was hardly a fitting legacy for a band that spawned three of the world’s finest rock guitarists and created a style that bridged everything from mod to psychedelia and garage to heavy metal.

Now, however, Rhino Records want to straighten out the mess with a new two-CD compilation. With 52 tracks presented in roughly the order they were recorded, Ultimate! pulls together familiar hits and obscure tracks to chronicle the three acts in the band’s tale: Their early blues-purist days with Clapton, their commercial and musical heyday era with Beck and Page, and finally, their slow dissolution and last-ditch attempts at a commercial breakthrough before their 1968 breakup.

The set includes all the essential old favourites like Shapes of Things, Heart Full of Soul, Train Kept A-Rollin’, I’m a Man and For Your Love — the big hit whose pop appeal drove Clapton out of the band. But along with those main courses, there are plenty of side dishes: Classic live recordings of blues covers (John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom, Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightning, Sonny Boy Williamson’s Good Morning Little Schoolgirl; album cuts like Over Under Sideways Down, The Nazz are Blue and Jeff’s Boogie; obscure singles (including Think About It, later covered by Aerosmith, and an Italian song called Questa Volta that Beck refused to play); soundtrack fare (Stroll On, the reworking of Train Kept A-Rolling they played during a cameo in the ’60s film Blow Up); and even a trio of solo recordings by singer Keith Relf. Factor in the knowledgeable, entertaining liner notes from late great Brownsville Station singer-guitarist Cub Koda — a highlight on their own — and you have a set that finally puts finally The Yardbirds’ story in perspective. Even better, Ultimate! finally makes it easy to be a Yardbirds fan.