Heart Full Of Soul (1965)

The Yardbirds

Written by Graham Gouldman
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Heart Full Of Soul coverThe best thing about “Heart Full Of Soul” is its economy, its brevity. It’s also the worst thing because at barely 2:30 the listener feels deprived and reflexively wonders about what might have happened had The Yardbirds been allowed to stretch the tune out into a five- or eight-minute track.

As Bob Seger sang in “Night Moves”:

And oh the wonder
We felt the lightning
And we waited on the thunder
Waited on the thunder

“Heart Full Of Soul”

“Heart Full Of Soul” was the first single release featuring The Yardbirds’s second guitar player, Jeff Beck, who was called in after Eric Clapton left the group in a bit of a huff over the choice of recording material.

There is some truth in what Clapton said. There is a fine line between pure pop and accessible Rock. “Heart Full Of Stone” indisputably had many imitators, not a bad thing in and of itself. But…there is that nagging sense.

The Beau Brummels, “Laugh Laugh”

The Grass Roots, “Let’s Live For Today”

Clapton felt the ensemble was headed willy-nilly toward pop and not staying true to the Blues, his chief interest. Beck had been scuffling around with a rathskeller type of band, The Tridents, and came over to The Yardbirds through future Led Zeppelin co-pilot Jimmy Page’s recommendation.

His appearance revitalized a group that was foundering and produced a hit for the ages.

Beck’s guitar intro and subsequent solos were intended to be played on a sitar. The use of the instrument from the sub-continent was revolutionary at the time but recording techniques had not been perfected enough to capture its complexity. (That would take The Beatles’ George Harrison and the group’s access to more advanced recording facilities coupled with producer George Martin’s genius. Thus the sitar first appears in Western popular music on 1965’s “Norwegian Wood” from Rubber Soul.)

“Norwegian Wood”

Heart full of jeff beck cig

Jeff Beck in contemplation

Beck successfully simulated a sitar with his electric guitar and the opening riff of “Heart Full Of Soul” remains one of the greatest in the annals of Rock-N-Roll. (The sitar version can be heard/viewed in the Video Library, at left.) The faux sitar is run through a Tone-Bender (fuzz box among other things) and marks one of the first truly successful uses of the little machine, one that didn’t employ the effect just as embroidery but as the whole musical idea, front and center.

Vocally and lyrically, “Heart Full Of Soul” is a masterly blend of Folk Rock, Middle Eastern, Indian, and pure power pop. It features odd quarter stops, creative tempo changes and soulful, mood-making singing by Keith Relf. The background vocals add a windiness to the proceedings, evoking open landscapes of the American West or the deserts of Arabia. In that it foretells Rod Stewart’s gem, “Mandolin Wind.”

Sick at heart and lonely
Deep in dark despair
Thinking one thought only:
Where is she, tell me where?

And if she says to you
She don’t love me
Please give her my message
Tell her of my plea

And abrupt shift in tempo and emotional tenor is the pivot around which the song swings. It begins to gallop – again the wide open spaces come to mind. Bongoes join in the regular drum fills. The drummer, in turn, begins to favor his cymbals, adding in yet another layer of Eastern exoticism.

And I know
That if she had me back again
I would never make her sad
I’ve got a heart full of soul

Heart full of yardbirds groupAn all too brief Beck break trips through a host of music genres. Country & Western flavor, the salty tang of Surf guitar, and a psychedelic feel still in its infancy. The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High and The Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping” still lay many months in the future. While there are many claimants to the crown, “Heart Full Of Soul” has a solid, royal basis for being called the first psychedelic hit.

The mournful, doubting lyric returns before circling around to the self-recriminatory, bronco-riding chorus:

She’s been gone such a long time
Longer than I can bear
But if she says she wants me
Tell her that I’ll be there

And if she says to you
She don’t love me
Please give her my message
Tell her of my plea

…I would never make her sad
I’ve got a heart full of soul

Perhaps the oddest thing about Psychedelic music is that it appeared long, long before LSD – acid – was a popular recreational drug.

It is safer to say that it first grew from the soil of the East, North Africa all the way through to India. The avenues were a growing interest in Eastern religions, which often led musicians who dabbled in such things to listenings of the associated music of the region. It also grew out of the contacts the English had made in their colonial days, their empire keeping in thrall almost every country from Egypt to Bangladesh and beyond.

“Heart Full Of Soul” followed the even more prototypical song by The Yardbirds, “For Your Love,” which has even more eccentric time and tempo changes.

“For Your Love”

Although it is hard to measure the strength of the subsequent influences “Heart Full Of Soul” had on the world of Psychedelic music, it does pre-date efforts by The Byrds and The Beatles mentioned above, as it does “Paint It Black” by The Stones. And like any good trip, that music took off slowly, peaked for a while without wearing out its welcome, and then came down for a soft, mellow landing.

Heart of kaleidoscopeSongs like “Heart Full Of Soul” are still as evocative of its era as Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” is of turn-of-the-20th-century America, or as is “The Charleston” of the 1920s and Prohibition. Listen to The Yardbirds and you can almost see the kaleidoscope turning, the colors brightening and feel the world grow just a little bit unusual.

  • In various ways, all three of The Yardbirds’ future legendary guitarists were involved with “Heart Full Of Soul.” Although it is Jeff Beck who plays on the song, the U.S. single was released with a picture sleeve erroneously showing the Eric Clapton lineup. A March 1968 appearance on the music show Upbeat features the final lineup with Jimmy Page guitar-synching to the record.