Disappointing Albums, Music

51 Disappointing Albums: ‘Little Games’ by The Yardbirds

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I’m fascinated by the late Yardbirds. If there was ever a band that should have broken out of the singles market and become a serious long player proposition it was The Yardbirds. Roger The Engineer promised so much but, alas, the follow up, Little Games is a disappointment. Jeff Beck was gone and the new bass player and the guitarist had just swapped places. This rather odd turn of events would only be possible if the bass player was, say, Jimmy Page.

So now it was just Jim McCarty on drums, Chris Dreja on bass, Keith Relf on vocals and Page on guitar. A tight little unit, overflowing with talent. The next album should have been one for MOJO’s twice annual best albums ever list. I doubt it has ever appeared on one of those lists and here’s why: In two words, Mickie Most.

Like so many of these disappointing albums, it will deliver if you are patient with it.

Most was the man behind Donovan and Herman’s Hermits. Obviously, Jimmy Page knew the guy pretty well but why anyone thought the brains behind Mrs Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter would somehow sprinkle pop magic on a band fronted by Keith Relf is a mystery.

The Yardbirds might be the most mishandled band of the sixties. Everyone wanted them to be a pop band. They lost Eric Clapton early on trying to be The Beatles but managed to find some solid ground with the mercurial Jeff Beck. Two albums later, they had both Beck and Page on board. They should have become the greatest band ever. Instead, Beck leaves and they hire the last of the great English pop music hustlers in Mickie Most. He pushes them to record a whole bunch of unimpressive singles and then rushes them through the recording of an album. Let’s make a LP like it’s 1964. It was 1967 and The Yardbirds should have been making THE album of that year, instead of Little Games.

And yet, like so many of these disappointing albums, it will deliver if you are patient with it. It’s not going to change your life on the first listen but keep playing it and see what rises to the surface.

Glimpses, for example, is a four minute psychedelic piece that sounds like an English Velvet Underground hanging out with Brian Jones and his Moroccan pals. Mickie Most must have hated it. More of this and The Yardbirds might have become the Freakbeat kings. On headphones it’s a big experience. Try it.

There are other psychedelic moments on the album but none are quite as a successful. Tinker Tailor is too fast, and too bland. The vocals sound phoned in but at least they are better than those on Little Soldier Boy where the drummer’s guide vocals were used to save time. No Excess Baggage is one of the band’s least interesting moments. It’s written by the kind of Brill Building second-raters that Mickie Most loved. They’d also written It’s My Life for The Animals, another band mishandled by Most. That’s a pretty good song. This one stinks and is only slightly redeemed by Page’s guitar solo.

Little Games was The Yardbirds’ final album and this is where things begin to get interesting. Keith Relf and Jim McCarty went on to form a duo called Together and record a 45, Henry’s Coming Home backed with Love Mum and Dad. Then they formed Renaissance with Relf’s sister and recorded one album under that name before departing and leaving the band to a long career without them. Only The Black Rose on side two points directly at the folkier road they would soon head down.

And then there is Led Zeppelin, briefly known as The New Yardbirds. For Zep fans, Little Games is a fascinating document of the band as it began to form in Page’s imagination. Dazed and Confused, which you can hear the Yardbirds playing badly on YouTube, is not on this record. The guitar solo is though – on Think About It. But that’s not all. The Lemon Song appears as something called Smile On Me, followed by Page’s Davey Graham rip off White Summer, with tablas and everything he needed for Black Mountain Side on Zep 2. Tinker Tailor shares something with The Song Remains The Same, according to Page himself. It’s a Led Zeppelin record! Drinking Muddy Water is just Rolling and Tumblin with Page bowing his guitar. It’s very easy to imagine Plant on vocals here and that’s what Page thought, clearly.

Why is it disappointing?

Mickie Most’s dumb suggestions, lousy sound quality, and the unforgivable lack of cohesion on a post Pepper record. It’s a frustrating record because certain songs promise so much. Except for No Excess Baggage. That don’t promise shit.

Why should you hear it?

White Summer is sublime and the psychedelic Glimpses is a treat. The blues workouts are a reminder of earlier days and the combination of Page’s fiery guitar with Relf’s vocals are an interesting glimpse of what might have been had Page persisted with this line up. For Zep fans, this pre flight stuff is absolutely essential. The expanded edition is no less disappointing for including a bunch of singles that were recorded mostly without Page after these sessions but probably worth picking up.

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8 responses to “51 Disappointing Albums: ‘Little Games’ by The Yardbirds

  1. This review could only be written by some one who has not read interviews with the various members of the band.

    “Everyone wanted them to be a pop band!” – the original band members wanted to be a pop band. It was the reason that Eric Clapton left. Dreja (?), says in an interview, about Clapton..”it is bizarre how things turned out. We wanted to be pop stars with all the success that would bring, Eric was the Blues purist who has ended up with the Ferraris and Versace suits”.

    As to blaming the producer, Mickie Most, that is most unfair – (pun intended). The band was on its last legs, the various players had lost interest, were sick of getting ripped off and the lack of financial success from gruelling tours.

    When bands get to the end game, there is no possibility to save them. Players become disinterested, start arguing over absolutely nothing, don’t turn up for rehearsals, etc etc. It is surprising that any material gets put down in such a toxic environment.

    Mickie Most had the skills to produce an album when the act was cohesive – he had recently produced Jeff Beck’s Truth album.

    Love the album, by all means, but don’t blame the producer.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Nothing the least bit disappointing about Truth or indeed Mickie Most’s work on Donovan’s Sunshine Superman. I suppose my point is that he couldn’t seem to see The Yardbirds as anything more than a singles band. That the band was in its death throes is certainly part of the story but Most does have to shame some blame for such an indifferent production. As far as interviews with the band, my main sources for this one were Mick Wall’s book about Led Zeppelin, the liner notes to an expanded version on CD, and a biography of Jimmy Page that appeared last year. I like your Chris Dreja quote. It is one of the great ironies that Clapton left The Yardbirds because he didn’t like ‘For Your Love’ but is now best known by the wider public for at least two songs that are far more pop oriented. Thanks for reading the column! TT

  2. Only yesterday I was reading the cover notes of a ” Best of The Yardbirds” CD, where the compiler excoriated this album, and Mickie Most, in no uncertain terms, and was proud not to have included any of it in his compilation.

    1. Exactly. I loved The Yardbirds when I was a teenager in the 80s but the greatest hits album that I owned didn’t feature any songs from this record at all. That meant that the whole Jimmy Page era was more or less ignored. Like everyone else, I knew that Led Zeppelin had grown out of The Yardbirds but until I heard Little Games, I could never quite grasp how that had happened!

  3. Maybe having a great group of musicians isnt enough to get a HIT record and at the time all the groups wanted to make money
    obviously you dont know much about music or money so I will let you be disappointed that the Yardbirds begged to get a hit record and Mickie Most tried his best and funny that you mention the Brill Building which was the inspiration of the FAB Four who idolized the couple you so unwittingly trash Mann And Well were not detrimental in any shape or form.

    1. Wow, you gave me a scare! If Mann and Weil had written No Excess Baggage, I would be working on a retraction and an apology. As you say, they were a major influence on The Beatles and everyone else. However, it was Roger Atkins and Carl D’Errico who were responsible for The Yardbirds song in question. I probably shouldn’t call them second raters but outside of The Animals’ hit, their output was pretty slim. You’re the second person to defend Mickie Most. Your point about them looking for a hit and turning to Most is absolutely correct. I suppose I do think that they were a group of great musicians, as you say, and that so much more could have and should have happened here. Whether or not the relative failure is down to the producer in this case is a matter for discussion. Thanks for reading the column! TT

  4. You seem pretty sure that The Yardbirds had a classic album in them but I can’t see the evidence. Roger The Engineer is good but not great. Unlike you, Mickie Most didn’t know that they were going to transform into Led Zep – keeping in mind that Jimmy Page was only in the band for about the last 10 minutes of their career. Most was dealing with a band that was struggling to maintain the momentum of their early hits. Not that many bands of the early sixties were making the transition to albums successfully and Most had no reason to think the Yardbirds would be any different. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. They made their name with singles and Most was the natural choice to produce them at that stage.

  5. An interesting perspective on Mickie Most from somebody who was a player at the time, and knew something about Mrs Brown’s daughter!

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