Thursday, May 24, 2007

"Heart Full of Soul" / The Yardbirds


I didn’t really connect to this Yardbirds song in 1965, even though it hit #9 in the States (#2 in the UK). I know I heard it on the radio -- it was part of my mid-Sixties mental soundtrack -- but it was WAY ahead of its time. It just plain scared little 11-year-old me.

Written by Graham Gouldman, the ubiquitous 60s Brit songwriter (his name’s on loads of Hollies and Herman’s Hermits tracks), it’s haunting and dark, set in a minor key and featuring spooky echoed vocals. The most arresting element of “Heart Full of Soul,” though, hits you right from the start: that spacey-sounding guitar. I’d never heard a sitar before – remember, this was five months before George Harrison’s sitar on “Norwegian Wood”; the Stones’ “Paint It Black” wouldn’t come out until the next year – but Jeff Beck didn't need a sitar; he got the same exotic effect just using a fuzz box on his guitar. It sounded creepy, and psychedelic, and I don’t know what else.

It’s a pretty damn tortured set of lyrics too: “Sick at heart and lonely, / Deep in dark despair/ [oh-oh-oh-oh oh] / Thinking one thought only / Where is she, tell me where / [oh-oh-oh-oh-oh].” I love that hypnotic vocal riff with those back-up oh’s, how they stagger up the minor scale and then seemingly spiral off into space. Keith Relf’s lead vocal sounds slightly haggard, as if he’s been up late smoking and drinking, nursing his wounded heart. He sounds as hung-up as the narrator of “You Really Got Me.” In 1965, most bands perpetuated the fiction that love would make us happy; quite the opposite here.

Apparently the girl’s lost interest in him, but he’s not giving up, as he tells us with tense determination in the chorus: “And I know / if she had me back again / Well I would never make her sad.” All those shifting uneasy chords, and then he lays out his most important credential: “I've got a heart full of soul.” The one phrase is more than a hook, it’s the very nexus of the song. I love how the back-up harmonies modulate through no less than six chords on “heart”; his heart is just full to bursting, isn’t it? In one stroke, he turns my pity into dizzy attraction. A guy who’s this full of passion deserves to get the girl.

But half a beat after “soul,” that hypnotic guitar line cuts in again, slicing through it all like a scimitar. It draws us into the next verse, and more pain: “She's been gone such a long time / Longer than I can bear / [oh-oh-oh-oh-oh] / But if she says she wants me / Tell her that I'll be there / [oh-oh-o] / And if she says to you / She don’t love me/ [oh-oh-oh-oh-oh] / Just give her my message / Tell her of my plea.” By the end of the song, nothing’s been resolved; he’s still aching, still miserable. But me, I’ve got shivers running up my spine. No wonder I avoided this when I was 11.

For better or worse, I always felt that the Yardbirds were a Guy Band, and not just because my older brother owned their albums – most guitar fetishists I know (and they’re almost exclusively men) get off on the pyrotechnics, endlessly debating which guitarist was best, Clapton v. Beck v. Page. I’m sure that’s an interesting debate, but I’m not going there. All I know is that this song -- just like “For Your Love” -- seems dark, and gritty, and urban, and totally sexy. Now that I’m grown up, I like it just fine.

Heart Full of Soul sample

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A classic.
A true classic.
And nothing but a classic.