Vol. 1: Smokestack Lightning

Like other British groups of the early ’60s, the Yardbirds took American rhythm and blues and added a frantic energy rush. With a lineup that successively boasted Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page as larger-than-life lead guitarists, the Yardbirds moved from reverent R&B imitations to expansive hard rock and amusingly faddish pop, like sitar psychedelia and Gregorian chant. These two double-disc sets attempt to anthologize the band’s convoluted recording career — a sprawling mess of slapped-together albums and rare live dates — but they only add to the confusion. Smokestack Lightning is an incomplete overview that covers the Clapton era (including ”For Your Love,” the pop hit that sent blues purists packing) and some of Beck’s rock & roll milestones (such as the enduring ”The Train Kept a Rollin”’), but stops before Page’s ascension. Blues, Backtracks and Shapes of Things assembles studio outtakes that range from fascinating to meaningless, live material from the Clapton band (roaring on its own and politely backing American bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson), and the first song (but nothing else) recorded by Page during his two-year stint with the band. While the Yardbirds’ electrifying music — and there’s plenty of it here — is as urgent and imaginative as ever, the definitive compilation of this monumental group has yet to be assembled.
Vol. 1: B+
Vol. 2: B-

Vol. 1: Smokestack Lightning
  • Music