"Little Games", originally released in 1967, was the last Yardbirds studio album. It was recorded after Jeff Beck and Paul Samwell-Smith had left the band to be replaced by Jimmy Page. At this time the band's popularity was on the decline, and their time as chart-toppers seemed to be over. Even though their previous single-release "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" had both been adventurous and catchy it had only reached no. 30 in the charts. "Happenings . " had featured both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page and it is in my opinion one of their strongest.
Their next single release ( without Beck ) was the almost equally strong recording "Little Games". This song was more immediately catchy, but with a great guitar playing from Page, showing that they were still a band with ambitions to be more than a hit-singles band. I remember it being played regularly on Danish radio in the summer of 1967, and it's hard to understand how it could fare even worse in the charts than "Happenings".
Consequently the group was allowed only days in the studio to record an accompanying album. The album, also called "Little Games" was originally only released in the US, and though it contains many great songs, some of it may sound somewhat rushed.
The original version contained 10 songs ( later reissues up till 16 ). The songs vary quite a lot a style.
Fine blues rockers like "Smile on Me Baby" and "Drinking Muddy Water" are much in the same vein as the "Roger the Engineer" 1966 album.
More commercial songs had been part of the Yardbirds' repertoire since the departure of Eric Clapton, and I always enjoyed this side of the band too.
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier", Sailor", "No Excess Baggage" and "Little Soldier Boy" are all great examples of this.
"Little Soldier Boy" has often been criticized for been an under par recording. And I can agree that a little more time in the studio probably would not have harmed the song, but still it's one of my personal Yardbirds songs.
There are also a couple of instrumentals on the album. "White Summer" is very reminiscent of "Black Mountain Side" on the first Zeppelin album, and "Glipmses" is a relatively long experimental track featuring strange sounds and voices, and a choir much like the one they did on "Still I'm Sad"
Keith Relf's "Only the Black Rose" is an acoustic song, showing that Relf at this time probably already was seeking softer grounds.
"Puzzles", which was the B-side of the "Little Games" single, was oddly not included on the first versions of the album. It is a great up-beat band composition, featuring a terrific guitar solo from Page. The song was recorded during the "Little Games" sessions, so it ought to have been included in the first place
Of the other songs that were included on later versions of the album "Think About It" and "Goodnight Sweet Josephine" are great additions.
These two very different recordings were the A and B side of the final Yardbirds single released in spring 1968.
"Goodnight Sweet Josephine" is a very catchy commercial tune written by hitmaker Tony Hazzard ( "Fox on the Run", "Listen to Me" etc, ), and had it been released a year or two earlier, I'm sure it could have made it to the top of the singles charts. I prefer the version on CD 2 which I actually took for the original version.
"Think About It" is another experimental track, clearly pointing in the direction of what was to come with "Led Zeppelin"
"Ten Little Indians" is another fine but unsuccesful single from late 1967.
CD 2 contains outtakes, alternate versions and 4 songs from Keith Relf and Jim McCarthy's "Together" project.
Most alternate versions are great and as strong as the original album versions.
Of the outtakes the instrumental "De Lane Lea Lee" could have easily been included on the original album, it's song in the same vein as "Glimpses"; most likely it was decided that two songs of that kind would be too much.
"Never Mind" and "You Stole My Love" could also have been great additions, but both obviously are lacking vocals.
"LSD" and the "Great Shakes" commercial are nice to have but nothing special.
The "Together" tracks seem totally out of place here. I would have preferred the 4 songs that were recorded with both Page and Beck.
The "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" / "Psycho Daisies" single, "Stroll On" and "Beck's Bolero" would have been logical choices.
Still I consider this an essential release for any fan of progressive 1960's music.
By the way, it deserves being noted that this 2 CD release contains a great 28 pages booklet with detailed band history, extensive discography, rare photos and notes to each track on the CD's.