At the top of this review is a little white lie: the title of this album. Forever to be now known as Roger The Engineer, after Chris Dreja’s cartoon rendition of a studio technician (Roger Cameron) – this album was originally just titled The Yardbirds. If you really want to be confused it was actually released stateside as Over Under Sideways Down with a different tracklisting, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
By 1966 the Yardbirds had the respect of every young guitar-slinger in London due to their main axeman, Jeff Beck. Having replaced the more puritanical Eric Clapton in 1965, Beck had to both contend with an audience who missed the bluesman’s authentic tones and also management who couldn’t decide whether the band would be an out and out pop combo or retain their earlier R’n’B credibility that had made Five Live Yardbirds such a hit during the Blues boom.
Luckily for Beck, the nascent strains of psychedelia were just around the corner, fitting nicely with his disregard for anything approaching the straight playing of six strings. Even in his days before the Yardbirds with bands like the Tridents, Beck had demonstrated a stinging attack and ability to coax weird sounds from his guitar. Now with ballads like "Heart Full Of Soul" and "Shapes Of Things" he was given license to unleash the full fuzz terror of his proto metal stylings.
On Roger…the band approached something like the only proper studio album of this classic mid-period line-up. While Keith Relf’s rather anaemic blues yelps were never going to make them the rivals to the Stones or Beatles, the well-oiled rhythm section were perfectly suited to support some of Beck’s wildest sounds to date. From The gloomy chant of "Hot House of Omagarashid" to the cod-Arabian whirlings of “Over Under Sideways Down” these are songs that sit midway between Eel Pie Island and the UFO club. While they still clung to the 12-bar shapes that had seen them through the lean years (“The Nazz Are Blue”) they now had a stunning weapon in Beck’s filigree fills. Just listen to his amazing showboating on “Jeff’s Boogie”.
Unfortunately it was a brief, bright point for the band. More bad management and a seeming inability to capitalise on any success eventually led Beck to quit and two years later it was all over. But for the real sound of swinging London in ’66 you’d do no better than to listen to the Engineer… --Chris Jones
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