Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Mr. GeeBee's Cassette Tape Trials: Yardbirds/Spencer Davis Group

[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.]



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.


  1. Nice post Mr. GeeBee (if that is your real name).

    Re: The Yardbirds. You are right about the American renaming of the album. The ultimate difference between Over, Under, Sideways Down (US) and Roger the Engineer (UK) is that the American version omits two of the better songs from the album: Rack My Mind and The Nazz Are Blue. Both blues numbers. The latter featuring Beck on vocals. I think the sound quality of the UK pressing is better too.

    I've long been a huge fan of The Yardbirds' bassist, Paul Samwell-Smith, who, incidentally, produced this album. While the three famous lead guitarists (Clapton, Beck, and Page) get all the accolades and keep the Yardbirds in the lexicon of rock, I've long contended that Samwell-Smith was just as integral to the band as anyone else. If one listens to the recordings like "I'm A Man" that feature a "rave-up", particularly the live recordings, you can really hear how he controlled the tempo and mood of the songs. Interesting to note, Samwell-Smith doesn't play on all the songs on this album as he was on the other side of the glass. Over, Under, Sideways Down, for example. That rolling bass line is played by Beck. What do you think about the Page era stuff?

    Re: the Spencer Davis Group. I think you are dead on. One really has to pick and choose. The great stuff is great the bad stuff is real bad. A couple of greats to look for, other than the ones you mentioned, are two originals from their second US album: Can't Get Enough Of It and On the Green Light. The latter being an instrumental that has some juicy guitar tone.

    Keep 'em coming!

  2. Strange, I would swear that both "Rack My Mind" and "The Nazz Are Blue" are on that cassette. It is definitely labeled Over, Under, Sideways, Down, and not Roger the Engineer, but it is entirely possible that Jeff had some alternative pressing of OUSD, or else added those two songs from Roger onto the OUSD cassette. Or maybe I'm conflating memories of listening to that cassette with memories of listening to my vinyl version of Roger. Either way, I agree, those songs are high quality and deserve to be heard. (Apparently a relatively recent CD issue of OUSD remedies things by including all the songs from both albums.)

  3. Hey GeeBee, How are you??

    I'm not sure if the hippy-rock slogan slur is fair. Without the benefit of having any of the songs before me, I remember Ever Since and Turn Into Earth to be decent little excursions (which I've always attributed to Relf). I can't even recall Farewell, and, after hearing this album every other day for five years, that's saying something. Can you hum it to me? The ones I would expect you to sideline are Hot House and I Can't Make My Way. Still, I love the LP, especially Roger.

    Re Gimme Some Lovin', I never tire of hearing the band settle into that inimitable groove.


  4. Hey Jack,

    I listened to the album again today and I agree with you--I was a bit harsh on those songs. Actually, I like "Turn Into Earth" and "Farewell" (it's a piano/vocal/chorus song with the final line "farewell to future days"), as well as "I Can't Make Your Way" and "Hot House" (especially the saw or whatever that goes "whoop whoop" throughout"), but I think they definitely pale in comparison to other tracks on the album. I think if there were only 1-3 moody/whimsical songs on the album I would think it a nice change of pace. But there are, on my count, at least five, and "Ever Since The World Began" really grates on me. Eliminate that song and I'm happy. And if I ever get the album on CD, I can use iTunes to do just that.