Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Taking Off: The Yardbirds: "Heart Full of Soul"

And now, an important crossroads...this blog has, effectively, reached the mid-point of the Sixties itself. Merseybeat is effectively gone, folk rock is on the rise, and guitarists are starting to buy gadgets that make their instruments sound different - the days of slashing speakers are over, and the fuzz box becomes the first of many pedal effects every band either has already or is going to get soon. Not only are guitars amplified now, but they are sounding warmer, fuzzier and dirtier, in part because guitarists like to experiment and in part because other instruments are starting to attract their attention. In the case of The Yardbirds, they wanted a sitar on this song, but Jeff Beck couldn't quite master it in time, so he got a fuzz box and made his guitar sound like one instead. Clearly, merely playing a song in the suddenly old-fashioned way isn't quite enough anymore.

And thus at this near-legendary point in time, the blues roughness that so many UK bands (The Yardbirds coming up following the wake of The Rolling Stones, who are about to launch their own fuzz box anthem) wanted to get into their songs is just there, and every garage band everywhere immediately saves up its nickles to get one, either in sheer imitation or because they want to make themselves sound even dirtier and rougher than their UK counterparts.

The song itself is by Graham Gouldman* and it has odd echoes and a rather menacing vocal from Keith Relf - his girl is gone, he has no idea where she is and he seems to be talking to someone - WHO? - about how he will never make her sad, "if she'll have me back again." Pretty basic stuff, but between the acidity of the guitar and Relf's voice there is something indeed beyond mere love here - it is as if his pleading is desperate yet cool at the same time, Relf trying to be suave behind his sunglasses while he's actually nearly crying. There is a creeping aloofness coming into rock at this time** and the tensions here for once aren't between a squaresville singer and his band but within the singer's psyche itself, as his band dutifully try to play what he can't sing. And the screaming girls want to put him out of his misery, as they do with all groups at nearly any time. But it's now that the whole decade slides into a harder, louder and rougher phase and the concepts of what is "pop" and what is "rock" start to become more and self-evident - though at this time it's all still pop, no matter what effects are used. For now.

*He also wrote their hit "For Your Love" which has a harpsichord on it (you see what I mean?) - a song that one member of the group deemed too "pop" and so he left in a huff to play the blues for a year amongst other purists. His name? Eric Clapton.

**Check out the near-magisterial aloofness of The Byrds, who were #1 at this time.

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