Shapes of Things
|"Shapes of Things"|
|Single by The Yardbirds|
|B-side||"You're A Better Man Than I" (UK)|
|Released||February 25, 1966|
|Format||7" 45 rpm record|
|Recorded||Chess Studios, Chicago 12/65; Columbia & RCA Studios, Hollywood 1/66|
|Label||Columbia DB–7848 (UK)|
|Writer(s)||Paul Samwell-Smith, Keith Relf, Jim McCarty|
|The Yardbirds singles chronology|
"Shapes of Things" is a song recorded by the English rock group the Yardbirds in 1965 and 1966. It was their first self-written song to become a record chart hit and "can justifiably be classified as the first psychedelic rock classic". With Jeff Beck's groundbreaking guitar playing, "Shapes of Things" "proved at once progressive and commercial — the perfect marriage of socially conscious lyrics and a driving rhythm".
Writing and recording
"Shapes of Things" was written during the Yardbirds' second American tour, which began in December 1965. Bassist/music director Paul Samwell-Smith, singer Keith Relf, and drummer Jim McCarty are usually credited for writing the song. According to Samwell-Smith:
|“||Jeff [Beck] didn't get a composing credit for 'Shapes of Things' when he really should have done, just for the way he developed it when the song was being formed. Keith [Relf] had this idea for a riff, and I definitely wrote most of the lyrics, but the riff and the lyrics aren't really what 'Shapes of Things' is all about. It's a lot more than that.||”|
Recording began December 21, 1965 at the Chess Records studio in Chicago with sound engineer Ron Malo, and was completed January 7 and January 10, 1966 at Columbia and RCA studios in Hollywood. Beck recalled being impressed with the Chess studio's history and sound, but was frustrated with not being able to bend his strings as Buddy Guy did and kept changing guitar sounds. "So we did two or three takes of my guitars and blended them all together, [but my solo] was pretty honest up until that feedback note that comes in over it". Beck played the solo on one string (G), using a 1954 Fender Esquire guitar he had purchased before the tour. Keith Relf also benefitted from multi-tracking — two vocal tracks were recorded, allowing him to harmonize the vocal line.
Lyrics and instrumentation
"Shapes of Things" marked the beginning of the Yardbirds recording only original songs, until the departure of Jeff Beck at the end of 1966. Their five previous record chart hits had been written by others, including Graham Gouldman and Bo Diddley. One commentator noted that the song saw the group moving into the area of social commentary that had begun with "You're a Better Man Than I", a Brian and Mike Hugg composition, which the Yardbirds recorded in September 1965 for their second American album Having a Rave Up. The lyrics for "Shapes of Things" have been described as pro-environmental or anti-war:
- Shapes of things before my eyes, just teach me to despise, will time make man more wise ...
- Now the trees are almost green, but will they still be seen, when time and tide have been
- Fall into your passing hands, please don't destroy these lands, don't make them desert sands
- (Come tomorrow) will I be older, (come tomorrow) may be a soldier, (come tomorrow) may I be bolder than today?
Their arrangement followed a "simple and economical form that allowed its message to unfold naturally, inviting the sound enhancement at which Beck and and bassist Paul Samwell-Smith were quickly becoming expert". Drummer Jim McCarty established a marching-style beat with a walking bass-line by Samwell-Smith until the chorus and guitar solo, when the beat shifts and the bass follows Chris Dreja's rhythm guitar.
Additionally, the song "also suited Beck's taste for shaped and sculpting guitar sounds through the control and manipulation of sustain and, on occasion, feedback". Beck's solo has been described as "monumental[ly] fuzz-drenched", "explosively warped", and "climaxed with a gigantic burst of feedback". For many, the song represents the Yardbirds' creative peak, including Beck: "'Shapes of Things' was the pinnacle of the Yardbirds" and added "if I did nothing else, that was the best single".
Releases and chart performance
"Shapes of Things" was released as a single simultaneously in the UK (Columbia DB–7848) and the U.S. (Epic 5–9891) on February 25, 1966. In the UK, it was paired with "You're a Better Man Than I". In the U.S., the B-side was initially "I'm Not Talking", but was replaced on March 25, 1966 with "New York City Blues" (Epic 5–10006).
The song had its first album release in the UK in 1966 on the various artists compilation Go, Vol. 1 (September 16, 1966 Columbia SX 6062). In the U.S. in 1967, it was included as the opening track of The Yardbirds Greatest Hits, which was their highest charting American album. In 1971, a version with Keith Relf's single vocal track was mistakenly issued in the UK on the Remember Yardbirds' compilation. Subsequently, "Shapes of Things" has appeared on numerous Yardbirds compilations, including Rhino Records' 2001 Ultimate!.
Also in 1971, a live version recorded March 30, 1968 in New York City with the Jimmy Page line-up was released on Live Yardbirds: Featuring Jimmy Page. Relf prefaced the song: "Most people thought that we could never, ever recreate the solo part on stage; well we have a very good try at least — Jimmy 'Magic Fingers, Grand Sorcerer of the Magic Guitar'". It is likely that Relf announced this for benefit of the live recording, since the Yardbirds had performed the song live numerous times with Beck and Page. Several live versions have appeared on various semi-official and bootleg albums over the years; in 2010, seven live versions were included on Glimpses 1963–1968, including one recorded a week after Jimmy Page joined to play bass. In 2003, a studio recording by the reconstituted Yardbirds, with guitar by Steve Vai, was included on Birdland.
|Single chart (1966)||Peak
|Canada RPM 100||7|
|UK Singles Chart||3|
|US Billboard Hot 100||11|
|US Cash Box Top 100||10|
Jeff Beck Group version
In May 1968, Jeff Beck reworked "Shapes of Things" with his new band, the Jeff Beck Group, for their debut album Truth. According to Beck, vocalist Rod Stewart suggested that they record the song and Beck added "let's slow it down and make it dirty and evil". A feature of the new arrangement has been described as "its 'pistols at dawn' mid-section, which found Jeff and [drummer] Micky Waller chasing each other through a maze of drum rolls, crashing cymbals, slashing chords, and creamy arpeggios". Beck used a recently purchased Sho-Bud steel guitar to create the slide fills for the song.
"Shapes of Things" was the first song on Truth and, with its aggressive, heavily-amplified sound, set the tone for the album. Truth has been cited as the "prototype of heavy metal"; according to Beck: "I suppose they [the songs on Truth] pointed towards that road, but not the heavy metal you recognise today". Bolstered by a well-received concert tour, Truth was very successful in the U.S., peaking at number 15 in the Billboard 200 album chart one month after its July 1968 release; in October 1968, it was issued in the UK, but did not reach the album charts.
Recognition and influence
"Shapes of Things" is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame list of "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll". In March 2005, Q magazine placed the song at number 61 in its list of the "100 Greatest Guitar Tracks". In an interview, guitarist Mike Bloomfield claimed that Jeff Beck's use of controlled feedback in Yardbirds' songs influenced Jimi Hendrix's approach. It was also noted that "Shapes of Things" "was widely held to have inspired Paul McCartney's guitar solo in [the Beatles' 1966 song] "Taxman".
Led Zeppelin, who regularly incorporated medleys of other songs in their concerts, included several verses of the song during an extended version of "Dazed and Confused" at their January 26, 1969 Boston Tea Party concert, with Jimmy Page playing the guitar with a violin bow. Several rock artists have recorded "Shapes of Things" over the years, some following the original and others using the Jeff Beck Group arrangement. Some of these include: The Allman Joys, The Black Crowes with Jimmy Page, Black Stone Cherry, David Bowie, Dixie Dregs, FM, Jeff Healey Band, Richie Kotzen, Gary Moore, Nazareth, Rush, Scorpions, and Michael Schenker.
- Koda, Russo 2001, p. 45.
- DeRogatis 2003, p. 162.
- Unterberger, Richie. "The Yardbirds — Biography". Allmusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved June 25, 2013.
- The Byrds "Eight Miles High" was released a short while later in March 1966.
- Russo 1998, p. 31.
- Clayson 2002, p. 85.
- Some, including producer Gromelsky place the date in September, at the same time Yardbirds recorded "I'm a Man" at Chess. Russo 1998, p. 31.
- Carson 2001, pp. 48–49.
- Except for a pair of cover songs which were recorded 12/65 exclusively for release in Italy.
- Power 2011, p. 83.
- Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 38 - The Rubberization of Soul: The great pop music renaissance. [Part 4]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. Digital.library.unt.edu.
- Shadwick 2005, p.11.
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- Shadwick 2005, p.11.
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- Koda, Russo 2001, p. 15.
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- Carson 2001, p. 49.
- Koda, Russo 2001, p. 45.
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- Due to equipment limitations, Beck sometimes used chording with volume swells in place of his long sustained/feedback chords during the vocal sections in the original; for the solos both Beck and Page usually used the single line solo from the original.
- Also included is a on-air interview with Relf trying to explain Beck's feedback technique to an uninformed broadcast personality.
- This was preserved in a video by French television with the band performing in matching white suits; the camera never focuses on Beck (playing a Gibson Les Paul Standard) during his solo.
- RPM magazine
- Official Charts Company
- Billboard Hot 100
- Cash Box magazine
- Carson 2001, p. 83.
- Power 2011, p. 153.
- Power 2011, p. 156.
- "Jeff Beck — Albums". The Official Charts Company. Retrieved June 27, 2013.
- This lesson was not lost on Beck's manager, Peter Grant, who followed it with his new act, Led Zeppelin, six months later. Shadwick 2005, p. 25.
- "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll". Exhibit Highlights. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 1995. Archived from the original on 1995. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
- Shadwick 2003, pp. 63, 92.
- Carson 2001, p. 48.
- Lewis, Pallett 2005, p. 37.
- "Shapes of Things — Search Results". Allmusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved June 27, 2013.
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- Cohen, Phil; Paytress, Mark (2011). Glimpses 1963–1968 (Media notes). The Yardbirds. EARS 035.
- DeRogatis, Jim (2003). Turn On Your Mind: Four Decades of Great Psychedelic Rock. Hal Leonard Publishing. ISBN 978-063405-548-5.
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- Power, Martin (2011). Hot Hired Guitar: The Life of Jeff Beck. Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-1-84938-869-6.
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