Little Games, by The Yardbirds
Produced by Mickie Most (who performed similar duties for The Animals, Donovan and others) in a hurry during the spring of 1967 and released that July, Little Games would be both the last original album by the Yardbirds for over twenty -five years and the only one with guitarist Jimmy Page on all selections. Sundazed Records recently re-released the original mono version with only two extra songs, the B-side "Puzzles" (with Page doing twin lead guitar) and the parody "I Remember The Night", the latter not actually released until Little Games was first reissued as a CD in 1992 (and again in 1996) by EMI. Unfortunately, aside from the song listing, there are no liner notes detailing the production history of the album.* (And who made the regrettable decision to leave off the band's final, standout single "Goodnight Sweet Josephine/"Think About It" ?!?)
Despite the rushed production, Most's insistence on using session players such as bassist John Paul Jones (yes, him!)and keyboardists Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart alongside Page, bassist Chris Dreja, drummer Jim McCarty and lead singer Keith Relf, and some less than exciting songs, the album has a number of virtues going for it. There's the instrumental "White Summer" which foreshadows Page's work in Led Zeppelin (you'll hear echoes of "Black Mountain Side" and "Over The Hills And Far Away"); the power chords and bowing technique (!) Page brings to the Who-like "Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor" and the experimental "Glimpses"; and Relf's melancholic ballad "Only The Black Rose". "Smile On Me", with Page's stop and start solos, is a great blues rocker harkening back to the band's early days. And despite its seemingly unfinished, demo-sounding quality, the anti-war song "One Little Indian" (which got a much better production sheen in the aforementioned 1992 and 1996 reissues) stays with you long after it's over. Sadly, the album tanked sales-wise, and a year later, the Yardbirds broke up. Reif and McCarty would form their own folk-rock group, Dreja left the music business, and Page and Jones got together with Robert Plant and John Bonham to form what was supposed to be "The New Yardbirds" but instead became Led Zeppelin.
Not quite a masterpiece, Little Games is still a vigorous and powerfully sonic-sounding work by the Yardbirds (and friends) who overcome weak material (the songs, several commissioned from pop music writers by Most, sound better than they "read") and is worth a listen!
*(I'm very grateful for Greg Russo's 1997 book Yardbirds: The Ultimate Rave-Up for supplying background information on the making of this album.)
May 2011 Archives
Little Games, by The Yardbirds
Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff
From the ancient times to the present, Cleopatra has been an historical figure who has attracted enduring attention from authors, playwrights, poets, rulers, movie directors and so many others. The Pulitzer Prize winning writer Stacy Schiff has contributed her account of Cleopatra with her highly-praised biography Cleopatra: A Life. Schiff admits on page 1 of her book, "if the name is indelible, the image is blurry." Further, she writes that "our most comprehensive sources never met Cleopatra." However, Schiff proves herself to be a great scholar of Cleopatra's life and the years in which she ruled Egypt. Her notes at the end of the book show she studied both ancient sources and modern works on Cleopatra. And, she succeeds in presenting an absorbing, interesting and very readable biography of this extraordinary ruler.
Cleopatra's Egypt was a true prize under her rule as it was a huge supplier of food, especially grains, for the Roman Empire. Alexandria was a developed and vital port. Cleopatra's fleets were impressively strong and well-built. As she dazzled both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, Egypt became a much-respected ally of the Roman Empire.
Her story, as Schiff tells it, is remarkable for she was a cunning, brilliant and admirable ruler. Even though murderous intrigues and continual plotting to retain her power were hallmarks of her reign, she did prevail until her disastrous last years. Perhaps the greatest attribute of Cleopatra: A Life is how clearly Cleopatra's life, the Egypt under her rule as well as the adjacent Mediterranean world of her time come vibrantly alive. Cleopatra: A Life is a great read and enthusiastically recommended.
Land's End: A Walk Through Provincetown , by Michael Cunningham
I chose Land's End: A Walk Through Provincetown by Michael Cunningham as the first downloadable book for my color Nook. The Nook is the Barnes and Noble eBook. I selected the title from the Greenwich Library Overdrive module, used Adobe Digital Editions to download it and drag it to my device. (It sounds complicated, but it really isn't!) I can download up to 10 titles - without cost! It's easier to carry one book-sized Nook than 10 separate books. The only drawback is that it is difficult to read outside in the sunlight.
When I was a child, my parents used to take us to Cape Cod for our summer vacation. There was something special about the place! We would travel all over the Cape. Hyannis, Chatham and Provincetown were favorite destinations. Over the years I've read Cape Cod by Thoreau and Cape Cod by Martin, as well as The Outermost House by Beston. When I read the description of Land's End, I just knew I had to read it.
Cunningham does a great job of describing the natural and social history of the area. On the one hand, he describes the very commercial center of town, which contrasts with the rustic outlying sand dunes. His descriptions of the geography and environment are almost poetic. Then he touches on the history of the beginning of the area by our Founding Fathers. Finally, he describes the rather Bohemian community of artists, writers, actors and other celebrities. The list of visitors reads like a Who's Who: Robert Motherwell, Norman Mailer, Tennessee Williams, Stanley Kunitz, Kevin Spacey, Madonna, Elizabeth Taylor, Goldie Hawn and Gene Rayburn. As you can imagine, in such a free-spirited community, sexual experimentation is the norm. A nice touch is the poetry by various writers, which he has inserted between chapters. This is a great read and a great way to familiarize yourself with downloadable books.
The Calligrapher's Secret, by Rafik Schami
Fiction books written by Syrian authors are certainly few in number. However, the German-based, Syrian-born author Rafik Schami has written numerous books for children and adults and is a most-interesting writer. His previous book The Dark Side of Love, was enthusiastically reviewed in this column last year. The Calligrapher's Secret, published in 2010, again illustrates how engaging his writing can be. Set in Schami's native Damascus, a major part of the story revolves around Hamid Farsi, a Syrian calligrapher noted for his ornate and intricately drawn Arabic writing, and his beautiful wife Noura. The appointment of Nasri, a young Christian man, as an apprentice to Farsi becomes the catalyst for a series of dramatic events in those three lives. Schami's other characters are also richly drawn and add interesting dimensions to the narrative tale. Perhaps The Calligrapher's Secret is not equal to the epic scale of The Dark Side of Love, but it is a wonderful story. The strength of Schami's writing lies in his great ability to bring life within Damascus society in the 1950's vibrantly alive and that adds so much to the story. The Calligrapher's Secret is, like his previous book, highly recommended.
Three Good Deeds, by Vivian Vande Velde
If Howard had known the old hag would cast a spell on him, he would never have taunted her. Now he's a goose and the only way to break the curse is to do three good deeds, but how can he--with webbed feet, wings, and only a "honk?"
Signal, by Cynthia DeFelice
It's summer and 12 year-old Owen has just moved to the Finger Lakes region of New York. Since he hasn't made friends yet and his dad always seems to be working, he spends his time running the trails in the area. Following one of these trails, he comes upon a girl who appears to be alone and injured. From her story, it seems she is more alone than he is this summer. She tells him she is an alien waiting for her parents to return for her, and Owen has to help her prepare for the spaceship's arrival.