Little Games is the fourth American album by English rock band the Yardbirds. Recorded and released in 1967, it was their first album recorded after becoming a quartet with Jimmy Page as the sole guitarist and Chris Dreja switching to bass. It was also the only Yardbirds album produced by Mickie Most.
Although the new lineup was becoming more experimental with longer, improvised concert performances, the Yardbirds’ record company brought in successful singles producer Most to coax out more commercial product. However, neither material that properly presented their new approach nor hit singles were forthcoming. Little Games became the Yardbirds’ final studio album, although Most continued to produce singles for the group. These were later collected and released with the original album along with outtakes and alternate mixes on an expanded edition titled Little Games Sessions & More in 1992.
ter the commercially and critically successful Yardbirds’ albums Having a Rave Up with The Yardbirds (1965) and Yardbirds/Over Under Sideways Down aka Roger the Engineer (1966), founding member and bassist/musical director Paul Samwell-Smith left the group to pursue a career as a record producer. He was replaced on bass by studio guitarist Jimmy Page, whom the Yardbirds had originally approached to replace Eric Clapton. Page’s position as bassist was temporary and within a short while he switched to second lead guitarist alongside Jeff Beck, with rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja taking over on bass. In 1966, the Beck/Page dual lead guitar line-up produced the psychedelic “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”, “Psycho Daisies” and “Stroll On”, the updated remake of “The Train Kept A-Rollin'” for their appearance in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow-Up. However, by the end of 1966, Beck was fired from the band due to an illness that was preventing him from playing gigs while on tour in the US, and they continued as a quartet with Page as the sole guitarist.
During 1966 and 1967, much of the rock audience began to shift interest from Top 40 singles to albums and concert presentations. During this period, the Yardbirds toured the US extensively, with frequent shows at popular counterculture venues such as the Fillmore. They became more experimental, with longer, improvised sets including light shows, film clips, and audio samples. Their material became more varied and introduced songs such as “Dazed and Confused”, the Jimmy Page solo-guitar piece “White Summer”, the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man”, and extended medleys with re-worked versions of “I’m a Man” and “Smokestack Lightning”.
Despite this change in direction, Mickie Most, best known for producing hits for Herman’s Hermits and Donovan, was brought in by EMI as the Yardbirds’ new record producer. Most was not current with new music trends and although Page had worked earlier for Most as a session guitarist, he was reportedly displeased with Most taking on the production duties. According to biographer Gregg Russo, “the upshot of Most’s involvement was that the Yardbirds’ stage personality ended up becoming vastly different than their recording persona”. (by wikipedia)
It’s a dreadfully unfashionable thing to say, but the day producer Mickie Most moved in on the Yardbirds was the day the Yardbirds’ own values moved out. The union was a lousy idea from the start. By 1966-1967, the Yardbirds had developed into quite an excellent experimental rock combo, marred only by an appalling lack of self-belief. Most, on the other hand, was pure pop personified — marred only by a monumental lack of taste. And when those two attributes collided, listeners got Little Games, the final Yardbirds album. Surprisingly, it really wasn’t a bad record. Plentiful outtakes from the sessions have surfaced, both officially and otherwise, theoretically rendering this particular package redundant. Yet if one was to be dreaming of the ultimate alternate version of Little Games, this could be it. Highlights on disc one include a playful “Little Games,” a smoldering, acoustic “White Summer,” and the masterful reverse tape take of “Tinker Tailor,” which so heavily predicts Hawkwind’s acid-drone “Paranoia” that it’s amazing that no one noticed before. It also blends nicely with “De Lane Lea Lee,” which itself employed backward drums (oddly reversed on EMI’s Little Games Sessions & More package) and piano. Contrary to the sleeve, incidentally, the two versions of this song are not indexed separately. If disc one is simply a satisfactory roundup of the best of the Little Games outtakes, however, disc two is the trivia-hound’s paradise. It opens with 13 attempts at “You Stole My Love,” each one proof that the band would never come to grips with one of songwriter Graham Gouldman’s least-appreciated masterpieces (Keith Relf’s absence from the studio that day ensured they never got around to adding vocals to it either). When EMI came to add this track to the Little Games Sessions album, two separate takes — eight and 13 — were combined for the finished product. On this evidence, that was a very smart idea. From the same 1966 session, the piano/drum duet “LSD” is present in all three of the takes attempted. None of them, sadly, live up to the title’s promise, suggesting either that the band had some very mundane experiences with drugs, or that the song really was about money; in earlier, more naïve times, LSD was the standard abbreviation for pounds, shillings, and pence. And so on to an extended look at the creation of “Ten Little Indians,” a grueling marathon which replays 13 of the 14 generally complete takes which the band attempted, plus a 15th created with overdubs and the like. And is it surprising to learn that the development of what was otherwise a preposterous addition to the Yardbirds’ repertoire is, in fact, the most fascinating track on the entire album? Several guitar-heavy versions show Jimmy Page in a considerably more favorable light than his Yardbirds recordings normally allow, while other highlights include take ten, where the echo machine is switched on to devastating effect; take 11, which became the base for the finished version; and takes two and seven, which EMI combined for the Sessions album, but which actually sound better like this. Painfully protracted though it is, it’s this final track which makes disc two even worth looking at. But that is to damn it with faint praise. The truth is, combined with the best of disc one, Ten Little Indians, in all its multitudinous guises, offers a healthier picture of the latter-day Yardbirds than any other release on the market. Whoever would have thought it? (by Dave Thompson)
Chris Dreja (bass, background vocals)
Jim McCarty (drums, Percussion, background vocals)
Jimmy Page (guitar)
Keith Relf (vocals, harmonica, Percussion)
Bobby Grieg (drums on 01.)
John Paul Jones (bass on 07.)
Chris Karan (tabla on 03.)
Ian Stewart (piano on 06.)
Dougie Wright (drums on 01.)
01. Little Games (Spiro/Wainman) 2.28
02. Smile O Me (Deja/cCarty/Pge/elf 3.17
03. White Summer (Page) 3.56
04. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor(Page/McCarty) 2.49
05. Glimpses (Dreja/McCarty/Page) 4.24
06. Drinking Muddy Water (Dreja/McCarty/Page/Relf) 2.53
07. No Excess Baggage (Atikins/D’Errico) 2.33
08. Stealing Stealing (Dreja/McCarty/Page/Relf) 2.24
09. Only The Black Rose (Relf) 2.52
10. Little Soldier Boy (McCarty/Page/Relf) 2.39