Top 10 Yardbirds Songs
The Yardbirds‘ storied history often overshadows the great music the band made during their five-year run. Like many of their British contemporaries, they started as a pure blues group, covering songs by the American blues legends they worshiped. But they maintained a not-so-secret weapon throughout their career: three great guitarists, starting with Eric Clapton, who got fed up with the Yardbirds’ sporadic pop success and quit. He was replaced by Jeff Beck, who, in turn, was replaced by Jimmy Page. After one album with the band, Page restructured them with a new singer, bass player and drummer and initially called them the New Yardbirds before settling on Led Zeppelin. Our list of the Top 10 Yardbirds Songs emphasizes the music, not the history, but all three guitar gods are represented.
Jimmy Page took over the Yardbirds’ guitar-god role on their final album, an occasionally unfocused psych-rock excursion that steers the band even further away from its blues roots. Even so, the LP includes the instrumental ‘White Summer’ (which Page would later incorporate into Zeppelin’s concerts) and the dynamic title track, which features Page’s future bandmate John Paul Jones on cello.
‘You’re a Better Man Than I’
‘You’re a Better Man Than I’ was originally the B-side of ‘Shapes of Things’ (see No. 6 on our list of the Top 10 Yardbirds Songs) and turned up as the lead track on the band’s second U.S. album, ‘Having a Rave Up With the Yardbirds.’ Beck plays guitar, but it’s the song’s dark, beat-inspired tone that drives it. Still, he does pull off a mighty cool solo.
‘Happenings Ten Years Time Ago’
Page’s first single with the Yardbirds also features one of the few band recordings on which he and Beck both appear. ‘Happenings Ten Years Time Ago’ also includes a rare vocal outing by Beck (who supplies the spoken interlude in the middle of the song). Bonus points: That’s John Paul Jones on bass.
‘I Ain’t Got You’
The Yardbirds’ bluesy roots were most evident when Clapton was in the band. This cover song, one of the best from their early period is a perfect example. It’s all harmonica and raw, garage-rock spirit, with Clapton firing away on guitar. Plus, it showcases the band’s tightness, totally locked in even at this young stage of their career.
‘Shapes of Things’
One of the first singles written by the band, ‘Shapes of Things’ also includes one of the first-ever psychedelic guitar solos, a piercing blast of feedback-soaked noise by Beck that ranks as one of his all-time most innovative. It just missed becoming the Yardbirds’ third Top 10 hit in the U.S., stopping at No. 11.
‘Over Under Sideways Down’
Featuring another psychedelia-spiked guitar line by Beck, ‘Over Under Sideways Down’ just missed the Top 10 (it made it to No. 13). Still, the hit single anchors one of the band’s best albums, ‘Roger the Engineer,’ which was renamed in the U.S. to reflect the song’s success. Either way, great album, great song.
‘The Train Kept A-Rollin”
R&B bandleader Tiny Bradshaw wrote and performed the original version of ‘Train Kept A-Rollin” in 1951, but the Yardbirds grabbed inspiration from Johnny Burnette’s rockabilly cover, one of the first songs to include guitar feedback. Beck dirties up the distortion even more, making the Yardbirds’ version the definitive one. Everyone from Aerosmith to Zeppelin borrowed their arrangement.
‘I’m a Man’
Like with their cover of ‘The Train Kept A-Rollin” (see No. 4 on our list of the Top 10 Yardbirds Songs), the group completely owned an old R&B cut (this one written and recorded by Bo Diddley in 1955). Clapton played on a live version of ‘I’m a Man’ on the band’s debut album ‘Five Live Yardbirds,’ but Beck’s studio take (from ‘Having a Rave Up With the Yardbirds’) brings it to a whole other level, especially during the song’s frantic final minute.
‘For Your Love’
‘For Your Love’ became the Yardbirds’ breakthrough song when it was released in early 1965, reaching the Top 10 in both their native U.K. and in the U.S., where it became their biggest hit, climbing to No. 6. But Clapton, the purest of the blues purists in the group, hated it, didn’t want to play it and ended up leaving the band shortly after its release so he could play real blues with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.
‘Heart Full of Soul’
With Clapton out of the picture (see No. 2 on our list of the Top 10 Yardbirds Songs), the band was free to explore brave new sonic territory. And they wasted no time jumping back into it with ‘Heart Full of Soul,’ featuring one of Beck’s first performances with the group. And one of his best. Fearless in ways that Clapton was rigid, Beck turns his guitar into a sitar by cranking up the distortion and filtering the fuzzy results into one of rock’s all-time greatest riffs.