Before he wielded the hammer of the gods—and a Les Paul—as a member of mighty Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page was a Telecaster-wielding Yardbird.
Today we turn our attention to Page's best guitar work with his former band. Fortunately, we don't have very far to look, since Page recorded only one album with the band—1967's Little Games—plus a few non-album singles and B-sides, all of which have wound up on deluxe versions of Little Games over the decades.
While the band's Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck eras enjoyed decent chart success—from "For Your Love" to "Heart Full of Soul" to "Shapes of Things"—its Page-fronted version managed to fly under the radar until imploding in 1968. (Even "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," which featured Beck and Page, only reached Number 30.)
Check out our five choices for Page's best guitar work as a Yardbird. This list was compiled with the input of Brad Tolinski, author of Light & Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page. If you're interested in Page's Yardbirds days—not to mention his Led Zeppelin days—you might want to check out the book, which is available now at the Guitar World Online Store.
P.S.: I'd like to award an "honorable mention" to a lesser-known Yardbirds track from 1968 called "Avron Knows," which features Page playing a Telecaster with a simply beautiful fuzz tone. The recording, which is incomplete (And I don't think Page and the boys will be gathering to finish it anytime soon), wasn't released until a few years ago on the Cumular Limit album. On that note, enjoy!
"Think About It," B-side of "Goodnight Sweet Josephine"
If the guitar solo on "Think About It" sounds familiar, that's because Page borrowed and re-purposed it a year later when recording "Dazed and Confused" with Led Zeppelin. The guitar solo makes this the Yardbirds' most Zeppelin-like track, and it's easily the most shred-centric solo in the band's catalog. Be sure to check out Aerosmith's cover of this tune, which can be found on their Night in the Ruts album.
"Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," A-side of a 1966 single
"Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" was the first Yardbirds single to feature Page, who—this time around—shares the guitar spotlight with Beck. There are only three Beck/Page-era Yardbirds recordings—"Happenings," "Psycho Daisies" and "Stroll On." "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" is a mini-masterpiece, what Tolinski calls "a tour de force of guitar invention and orchestration ... a moody slice of psychedelia with nightmarish overtones." That's John Paul Jones on bass, by the way. You can hear Beck's voice during the mid-song ranty interlude.
"White Summer," from Little Games
This acoustic instrumental track is the precursor to Led Zeppelin's "Black Mountain Side," and Page often performed the two songs as a medley during early Led Zeppelin tours. It's interesting to note that during the Yardbirds' final days as a touring band, Page performed this song with an electric guitar, as heard on Live Yardbirds: Featuring Jimmy Page. Said Page: "I used a special tuning for [the song]; the low string down to D, then A, D, G, A and D. It’s like a modal tuning, a sitar tuning, in fact."
"Smile On Me," from Little Games
"Smile On Me" is the closest the Page-era Yardbirds got to straight-ahead (and spaced-out) blues.
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor," from Little Games
BRAD TOLINSKI: Those ringing guitar parts and suspended chords on "Tinker, Tailor" are almost like a precursor to "The Song Remains the Same."
JIMMY PAGE: Well, it could be, except I've got two or three different demo versions, each with different guitar approaches. What is somewhat funny is I presented [producer] Mickie [Most] with the poppiest version. Here I am talking about shooting ourselves in the foot by doing pop stuff, but I really sort of enabled the situation by coming up with parts that were intentionally quite catchy. I guess I still had that instinct from doing sessions for all those years!" Note that Page is playing guitar with a violin bow during the solo, a sound that would turn up on the first Led Zeppelin album.
"Avron Knows," from Cumular Limit
As mentioned above, here's the incomplete "Avron Knows." Check out Page's fuzzed-out Tele tone!