When I hit play on The Story of the Yardbirds, the only things I really knew about the band was the music (which is incredible) and the very surface story of their proto-"super group" status. In their five years of operation, the British rock group had no less than three legendary axemen in their line-up: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, with the latter two crossing over for a brief period. They had several hits, most notably "For Your Love" and "Heart Full of Soul," and they were the featured band in Antonioni's Blow-Up.
To say I don't know much more about the Yardbirds after watching the documentary on this DVD than I did going in is a bit of an overstatement, but not by much. According to the date at the end of the closing credits, The Story of the Yardbirds was produced back in the early 1990s, and given the short 52-minute running time, I'm guessing it was made for a television channel. It runs rather quickly through the band's history, avoiding any backstory on the band members or even looking too far into their future, as if their existences began and ended as Yardbirds. The surviving members of the band--Jim McCarty, Chris Dreja, and Paul Samwell-Smith--are on hand, as are all three of the guitarists, with Jeff Beck putting in the most time (and sporting his best Chris Guest/Spinal Tap look). Additionally, two of the band's managers, Giorgio Gomelski and Peter Grant, and one of their main producers, Mickie Most, also chime in. The only folks missing are manager Charles Napier-Bell, for reasons unknown, and singer Keith Relf, who passed away in the mid-'70s.
Even so, with all of these folks participating, The Story of the Yardbirds only skates the outer edges of the tale. There is little about Clapton beyond his quick departure following recording "For Your Love," not much in terms of explanation why the management kept changing, and only the barest hint of money woes or Relf's excessive consumption of alcohol.
What we do get, however, is a large cache of old photographs to look at and a substantial number of television performances by the band, ensuring a constant stream of music. Each incarnation of the band is represented, including Clapton running through "Louise" and "I Wish I Would." Even if the narrative is a little sparse, if we don't exactly go "Behind the Music," we at least still have the music itself, taking us from the blusiest roots of the band through to the innovative psychedelia of "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" and an early version of "Dazed and Confused." For that alone--and for the four-song bonus set also on the DVD--early rock fans should get a kick out of this somewhat slight release.
Alas, if there is a bigger tale to be told on film about the Yardbirds' career, we're going to have to wait for it to come along.
The true attraction on the disc is a full 14-minute performance by the Yardbirds on the 1967 German television show "Beat Beat Beat." The film quality is in pretty good shape, and the four songs performed are "Shapes of Things," "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," a rollicking "Over Under Sideways Down," and an extended "I'm a Man" that includes Jimmy Page showing off his skill for playing his guitar with a bow.