Song: "Heart Full Of Soul"
Album: Heart Full Of Soul (single)
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Although there were many other points in history were music seemed to splinter off in a number of new directions, it almost goes without saying that the mid to late 1960's were the highpoint of such experimentation. With the advances in technology, as well as the movement of culture at the time, it is almost impossible to keep track of all the musical innovations and pioneering efforts that were occurring simultaneously. Within this era, there were few trends that shaped modern music more than the so-called "British Invasion," and while one band receives a majority of the credit for this phenomenon, there were a number of other bands without whom it would not have lasted. Though it was this movement that redefined what it meant to have a pop hit, one can easily argue that it was The Yardbirds that pushed music into the psychedelic era. The group has one of the most well documented shifts from r&b to more rock and pop based music, and the list of guitar players for the band reads like a "who's who" of guitar legends. It was during the "second" phase of the existence of The Yardbirds found their ideal musical balance, and in many ways, where they began to work "ahead" of their peers. Though they had already had a handful of hit singles on both sides of the Atlantic, The Yardbirds delivered their full power and potential with their monumental 1965 single, "Heart Full Of Soul."
While many may not know the name of the song, the screaming guitar riff that opens "Heart Full Of Soul" stands as one of the most iconic progressions in all of music history. Played by the great Jeff Beck, the fuzzy, rather majestic chords ring across the track in stunning fashion, and one can make the case that it is this riff that defines the psychedelic movement itself. Though many point to the riff on The Rolling Stones "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" as "the" moment that rock guitar changed, the same sound found here preceded that recording by more than two months. The fact that Jeff Beck was able to take musical charge so quickly (this is his first recording with The Yardbirds) is a testament to his talent, and yet it is the way in which he locks in with the rest of the group that makes "Heart Full Of Soul" so amazing. There is an almost eerie echo to the rhythm guitar of Chris Dreja, and the way in which it seems to pulse across the track sets the perfect mood for this blueprint to the psychedelic sound. It is also the way in which Beck's electric leads are balanced with the acoustic rhythm that makes the song so special, and there are few other recordings that share such a flawless blend. The unique movement within the guitars is matched perfectly by the rhythm section of bassist Paul Samwall-Smith and drummer Jim McCarty, and there is an energy coming forth from the entire band that separates "Heart Full Of Soul" from almost all of the previous recordings of The Yardbirds.
Adding the ideal finishing touch to the song, the vocals from Keith Relf found on "Heart Full Of Soul" do their part to define the psychedelic sound just as perfectly as one finds within the music over which he sings. Much like the music, there is a slightly dark echo to this vocals, and it is the depth that this echo adds which would be copied by countless later artists. However, while his performance would certainly have a wide-reaching influence, there is also a great deal of the "classic" sound within his singing, and it is again the ability of The Yardbirds to find balance that makes their music so fantastic. Throughout the song, Relf works a large portion of the musical scale, and whether he is singing at full strength or delivering the words in a spoken swagger, it is without question one of his finest performances. There is a slight "twang" within his voice that plays in brilliant contrast to the hard rock of the music, and also makes the overall mood of the lyrics hit at full strength. Though it is sometimes lost behind the musical performance, the words on "Heart Full Of Soul" stand as some of the most pained and sorrowful ever recorded. Leaving nothing to subtlety, the song becomes a lament unlike anything else, and even from the first lines of, "Sick at heart and lonely, deep in dark despair," the pain within the author's heart is abundantly clear. This tone is heightened as the song progresses, and Keith Relf does a fantastic job of contrasting the mood in his delivery with the heart-wrenching realities of the words which he sings.
As the decades have passed, the lasting significance of "Heart Full Of Soul" has become more clear, has it has been covered by a large number of artists, ranging from Rush to Chris Isaak to Dokken. The fact that it remains in regular radio rotation to this day cements its place as one of the greatest songs in history, and there are few recordings which hit so perfectly on every level. In each aspect of the song, The Yardbirds show off their unrivaled musical talents, and it is most evident in the fact that each element works in perfect harmony with the others. While the guitar riff is clearly the highlight of the song, it does not overpower any other aspect, and it is the fact that the guitar is able to manage such poise that enables the song to become so unforgettable. Strangely enough, the guitar riff in question was never supposed to happen, as the band had originally intended on it being played on a sitar to enhance the "Eastern" tone of the song. However, the sitar player was unable to play the arrangement in time with the rest of the band, so Jeff Beck adjusted his guitar amp to duplicate the intended sound as much as possible. It is this random instance that would go on to influence countless other recordings, and one can argue that every later appearance of such a sound has it's roots in "Heart Full Of Soul." Riding the wave of the "British Invasion," "Heart Full Of Soul" cracked the top ten in more than half a dozen countries, and solidified the bands' place amongst the most elite groups of the day. Though the band had a number of iconic guitar players and amazing songs throughout their career, there is no more accurate a definition of everything that made The Yardbirds such legends than the true musical perfection one can experience on their 1965 single, "Heart Full Of Soul."