The official name of this album is "The Yardbirds," but it is known as "Roger the Engineer" because of a drawing on the front cover of the UK version of the album. The drawing - made by band member Chris Dreja - is a caricature of Roger Cameron, the recording engineer. The US version, which has a different cover, is named after track # 2: "Over Under Sideways Down."
"Roger the Engineer" was released on vinyl in July 1966 and re-released on vinyl in 1983. It was released on a CD in 1986 and re-released on a CD in 1997. In 2007 a special edition (remastered) was released on 2 CDs.
There are 12 tracks on the original album from 1966. On the second version from 1983, there are two bonus-tracks: the A-side and the B-side of a single released in October 1966. There are also 14 tracks on the CD from 1986. On the CD from 1997, there are five additional bonus-tracks: five recordings with Keith Relf, aka the Keith Relf singles.
The total running time of the album is ca. 31 minutes with 12 tracks and ca. 36 minutes with 14 tracks.
When the original album was recorded, the line-up of the band was as follows:
** Keith Relf - vocals on all songs (except track # 3) and harmonica ** Jeff Beck - lead guitar (and vocals on track on track # 3 "The Nazz Are Blue") ** Chris Dreja - rhythm guitar and piano ** Paul Samwell-Smith - bass ** Jim McCarty - drums
[When the single released in October 1966 was recorded, Paul Samwell-Smith had been replaced by Jimmy Page on bass. On tracks # 13 and 14 Beck and Page play together. Later Page would replace Beck on the lead guitar, while Chris Dreja would switch from rhythm to bass. For more information about the members of the band and the music see Greg Russo, Yardbirds: The Ultimate Rave-Up, Crossfire Publications, 5th edition, 2012.]
# 1 - Lost Woman # 2 - Over Under Sideways Down # 3 - The Nazz Are Blue # 4 - I Can't Make Your Way # 5 - Rack My Mind # 6 - Farewell
# 7 - Hot House of Omagarashid # 8 - Jeff's Boogie # 9 - He's Always There # 10 - Turn into Earth # 11 - What Do You Want? # 12 - Ever Since the World Began
# 13 - Happenings Ten Years Time Ago # 14 - Psycho Daisies
"Roger the Engineer" is the only Yardbirds album on which all tracks are original compositions written by members of the band and the best album ever recorded by this band. Several types of music are found here, but they complement each other very well. I think we can identify at least five different categories:
**TYPE A** Several tracks follow the traditional blues pattern - tracks # 1, 3, 5, 8 and 14 - but in every case there is something special going on. Listen to track # 8 "Jeff's Boogie" where Beck demonstrates his incredibly fast finger work on the guitar; and listen to track # 3 "The Nazz Are Blue" where he has a magic trick with an echo (feedback), so that a single note can hang in the air for a long time (we have to remember that this was recorded long before the age of computers).
**TYPE B** Two tracks are highly experimental - tracks # 7 and 10 - but the result is surprisingly good. Track # 7 "Hot House" may seem a bit strange in the beginning, but the members of the band build it up, adding more and more elements, and in the end it becomes quite fascinating. Track # 10 "Turn into Earth" seems to be inspired by a Gregorian church choir; it reminds me of the band's former song "Still I'm Sad."
**TYPE C** Track # 4 "I Can't Make Your Way" is a happy song. At first it sounds like a very simple song, but again there is something special going on, in this case Beck's guitar in the background. If I may borrow a phrase from George Harrison, I will say that Keith Relf sings, while Beck's guitar gently weeps.
**TYPE D** Track # 6 "Farewell" is a sad song with Chris Dreja on the piano. It is almost like a folk song. Looking back, this song is a signal of what would happen later: after the break-up of the band in 1968, Keith Relf and Chris Dreja formed the band Renaissance, which played soft rock and folk music.
**TYPE E** Several tracks are simply good rock and roll music: tracks # 2, 9, 11, 12 and 13. The opening riff by Beck's guitar on track # 2 "Over Under Sideways Down" is a great beginning of a great song. Perhaps this is why the US version of the album was named after this song. On track # 9 "He's Always There" Keith Relf plays a Latin American percussion instrument known as a güiro with a chilling effect. In short, these musicians are creative and they play very well.
"Roger the Engineer" marks the high point in the career of the Yardbirds. What came before and after cannot measure up to the high standard of this album. It is a shame the members of the band could not stay together and produce more music of the same high quality, but with the benefit of hindsight we can understand that this was an impossible dream:
The members were too different; they wanted to move in different directions, and therefore the band had to break up. By 1968 the Yardbirds had ceased to exist. Instead we got by bands like Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page) and Renaissance (Keith Relf and Chris Dreja), both of which were interesting, but it was not quite the same.
"Roger the Engineer" is one of the best albums from the 1960s and highly recommended.