[Introductory Note: A few years ago I was going through my boxes of cassette tapes in hopes of clearing out some of the dross and re-discovering some of the gems. I began a blog series called "The Cassette Tape Trials" to document this (still unfinished) process. After being invited to join the ONTHEFLIP-SIDE group, I figured the easiest/laziest way to get started was to recycle some of those entries.]
The Cassette Tape Trials: YARDBIRDS/SPENCER DAVIS GROUP
ORIGINALLY POSTED ON: 8/8/07
ARTIST SIDE A: The Yardbirds
ALBUM SIDE A: Over, Under, Sideways, Down
ARTIST SIDE B: The Spencer Davis Group
ALBUM SIDE B: The Best of the Spencer Davis Group
DESCRIPTION OF MEDIA: TDK AD90 recorded from vinyl by my buddy Jeff. If I remember correctly, he gave it to me when he was "lightening his load" before going traveling in Central America.
IMPRESSIONS SIDE A: To begin, I want to mention that I think Over, Under, Sideways, Down is pretty much the same album as Roger the Engineer. I think this was akin to what happened with early Beatles albums where the albums would have different names and track-listings in England and America. I don't know which was the "import" and which was the "domestic" release, and I don't know precisely how they differ. But I think they were pretty much the same damn album besides the name and the cover art.
Anyhow, Over, Under, Sideways, Down flat out kills. I have long been a fan of Jeff Beck's solo work, beginning with his first Jeff Beck Group album through his jazz fusion-y stuff in the 70's. And I always liked the Yardbirds, though I am guilty of generally considering them to be inferior to the Stones. However, the more I listen to this album, the more I realize that that assessment was pretty unfair. I'm sure that my judgment was clouded in large part by the fact that the Yardbirds simply didn't last very long and didn't leave behind a large quantity of impressive recordings. However, specifically comparing the Beck-era Yardbirds with the Rolling Stones of the same time period makes choosing the "better" band much more difficult, if not impossible. I now think that the Yardbirds (all of them, not just Beck) were among the most accomplished players of that time, and the material on this album is some of the strongest and most "cutting edge" of the mid-sixties rock scene.
Though it seems totally "duh" to say so, Beck's guitar work is flat-out amazing. On the blues numbers he sounds like he's playing in a roadhouse from another dimension, and on the more obviously psychedelic songs he completely transcends 'normal' dimensional realities. His sound is great, his phrasing is great, his choice of notes is great—I can't say enough good things about him. This comes as no big surprise I guess since I'm a guitar player who tends to like the "guitar heroes" of the sixties. However, I am only these days realizing how good some of the rest of the band was, especially the rhythm section (Paul Samwell-Smith on bass and…Mr. McCarty, I think, on drums). The more I hear this album, the more respect I have for the entire band's abilities. And singer/harmonica-harmonica player Keith Relf only had ONE LUNG! (At least that's what my old buddy Morgan told me.)
I like damn near every song on this album. There are a few rather light-weight attempts at "groovy, man" hippy slogan-rock ("Farewell", "Turn Into Earth", "Ever Since The World Began"), but they are generally short and easily dismissed once the next song starts. For people who like the grittier side of the British Invasion this album is a must.
IMPRESSIONS SIDE B: The Spencer Davis Group are generally known for three things: Two classic songs ("I'm A Man" and "Gimme Some Lovin'") and one super-talented singer/instrumentalist (Stevie Winwood). This album has all three of these, and sadly, not much else, to recommend it.
However, those two songs, sung by that one guy, are pretty damn amazing (despite the fact that one of them has been hi-jacked by monster.com or some such slime-bucket company for their TV commercials). Pile-driving, canyon-sized grooves, fat slabs of greasy keyboards, and unfathomably authoritative singing from the then-teenaged Winwood make these prime examples of mid-sixties British R&B. In addition, "Back Into My Life" is a great slice of pop, and "Keep On Running" is a nice upbeat stomper. But aside from that, the material is pretty tame, and at least one song, "This Hammer", is flat out embarrassing. (There is no suspension of disbelief strong enough to make me accept that Winwood ever did much "real" work at all, much less "on the railroad for a dollar a day".)
VERDICT: Keep it. Someday I'll get a CD copy of Over, Under, Sideways, Down, but until then, this stays in the collection.