Despite giving the world Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, the Yardbirds have never received the after-the-fact acclaim accorded some of their contemporaries — the Doors and Jimi Hendrix, for example. That’s too bad, because along with their rep as a training camp for nascent ’60s guitar heroes, the Yardbirds were one of the most original groups of their day, a band that somehow made terrific pop singles while anticipating heavy metal and psychedelia. In this new documentary, all the surviving band members (singer Keith Relf died in 1976) discuss their should-have-been-bigger career with some wit, and the archival footage — including live shows and TV appearances — is unfamiliar and thrilling.
Far less noteworthy is the Hendrix video, which doesn’t remotely do its subject justice. Here scenes of Hendrix and members of his band pontificating aimlessly on a variety of subjects (what we used to call stoned raps) are intercut at random with performance footage shot in grainy 16 mm, now badly bleached out and further burdened with sub-bootleg sound. There are moments when some of the star’s charisma survives (a live version of ”Wild Thing”), but this tape is mostly the worst sort of self-consciously groovy period piece. Yardbirds: B+; Hendrix: C-