Monday, February 12, 2007

"For Your Love" / The Yardbirds

An appropriate song for Valentine's Day week, surely -- one of those essential British Invasion tracks that's both timeless and completely evocative of its time.

Okay, okay, I know it's not a typical Yardbirds song. It's an early track, their third single and their first real hit (1964 in the UK, 1965 in the US), and ironically it doesn't sound bluesy at all, though the Yardbirds had staked their identity as a blues band. In fact, Eric Clapton quit soon after this, disgusted at the shift towards a commercial pop sound. (The same thing happened to the Animals at about the same time, sanitizing for the sake of selling records.) But I'm no Yardbirds purist, just a music lover who gets stuck sometimes in 1964. And this song reeks of 1964.

Normally I prefer songs to have thoughtful, original lyrics. "For Your Love" does NOT qualify on that score. Easy rhymes ("love / stars above"), fractured word order ("there'll be things that will excite / To make you dream of me at night"), lines bordering on utter nonsense ("I'd give the stars and the sun 'fore I live") -- a 12-year-old could have written these lyrics. So let's move on, and talk about what's really important here: the texture of this song.

It begins jazzy and suspenseful and modern, like a bit of chrome glinting under a streetlamp -- an gloomy minor-key chord progression on an electric harpsichord, followed by clattery bongo drums, then tight vocal harmonies delivering a brisk, staccato "for your love," over and over, as if they're hypnotized. Keith Relf comes in to sing the verse in a reedy, slightly strained voice, and it's somehow sweet, in a plangent sorta way. (Ten dollars to the reader who can tell me where I learned the word "plangent".) Suddenly the clumsy lyrics make sense -- this guy is the voice of dumb adolescent lust, with the increasingly frantic bongos and keyboards representing his mounting frenzy. This is your brain on teen hormones.

The climactic effect comes on the chorus' "For your love," the way the top voice sustains while the others peel off in stairstep descending harmonies. Love seems mysterious and dangerous, and you want it.

Then suddenly, after the second verse, a full minute into the track (which is only 2:30 to start with), the song stops -- just STOPS, with a final flutter on those bongos -- and then big whomping rock 'n' roll drums crash in, turning this into an entirely different song for the middle eight. An electric guitar chugs away, the chords all major; the vocals are in unison, with a backbeat syncopation, almost like a cheery pub singalong. "I would give you all I could," the singers promise -- and then that chilling electric harpsichord starts in again, and I instinctively shiver and flinch.

Now that I think about it, this is not much of a Valentine song, is it? It's all about sweaty pleading and paranoia and desperation, and Valentine's Day is when we pretend that love has nothing to do with things like that. Well, let's keep up the fiction, shall we?


IƱaki said...

Good song :)

Nancyb said...

LOVE this song!!!