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The Yardbirds | Little Games (EMI)
In early '67 the shapes of things in the Yardbirds camp were rather uncertain. The group had lost not only their famous helmsman, manager Giorgio Gomelsky, but the great Jeff Beck. Almost like the Stones losing Keef. But with one Jimmy Page entering the fray, perhaps the worst loss was that of the group leader (they had those in those days) Paul Samwell-Smith. Not only a class-A bassist but a co-producer and songwriter whose patience finally gave out at the group's lack of harmony, social and musical, when working on a new project. Contractual obligations meant another album was still needed, and with it came a new manager in the shape of Mickie Most (procured by the similarly infamous Peter Grant).
'Little Games' has long had a very poor reputation. It was released only in North America and Germany and, consequently, was quite an expensive rarity on these shores, one few besides Yardbirds' anoraks ever bothered with. The problem seemed to be both the choice of songs and the final sound. Indeed if we were offered the original ten track album in its original mix then we would still most likely pass on it. But we're not. Instead we get the great 1992 US remix presented here, for the first time, in stereo. There are seven related period bonus tracks and a further eight BBC sessions cuts, two of which are completely unreleased. Of these the most interesting is a bash at Dazed and Confused which, while not possessing the volcanic dynamics of the Zeppelin version, is as creepy as watching the Twilight Zone alone in a haunted house. The album itself is a real period piece. For sure there are the usual Yardbirds' blues numbers that could have featured on much earlier work, but they sound like easy choices made to compensate for a dearth of material; Drinking Muddy Water, for example, is a straight lift of Rollin' and Tumblin'. Otherwise cellos, tablas and sitars pop up everywhere and the lovely sound we now get on this the remastered version resembles the great work Most did with Donovan around this time.
When listening to this album, and with little prompting, you might well find yourself thinking Traffic, the Moody Blues and, (especially in the case of the related bonus cuts), that full-on, very English pop psychedelia a la Grapefruit and The Herd. Syd's Floyd could have made Little Soldier Boy, and the once impossibly rare single Goodnight Sweet Josephine [you get two versions here, the straight and the phased] sounds like a collaboration of all the above, and is thus great. The title track was a 45 and its flip, Puzzles, was wholly akin to a chirpy Monkees song but with a more muscular vocal. On that cut (as on several) Jimmy Page lets rip and frequently turns the mediocre into magic. That said, no-one but no-one could claim it to be one endless river of melody and light. Why groups (see the Stones, Traffic, Cream etc.) had to indulge in silly, cockney, pub singalong numbers in those days is a mystery few will care to unravel. We are blessed with two such stinkers on 'Little Games'. One, I Remember The Night, starts with a Maurice Chevalier accent and gradually deteriorates into a cockney knees-up down the Old Vic, and Ha Ha Said The Clown reveals singer Keith Relf's woefully limited vocal range. However badly they wanted overdue chart action this was a little desperate.
So, like I said, something of a period piece, but you really can hear Zep a-knockin' and thus when placed in an historical context, an important one.