Shapes of Things

August 6, 2010

Shapes of Things (The Yardbirds, 1966).
Shapes of Things (Bowie).

The Yardbirds’ “Shapes Of Things” is young men’s wisdom wrapped in young men’s ambition. The former is, no surprise, awkwardly phrased and ponderous; the ambition is still impressive, 45 years on. The Yardbirds had used outside songwriters for all of their singles until “Shapes of Things,” which they cut at the end of 1965. The track was designed, much like the Who’s “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,” as a piece of sonic adventurism, the expedition led by Jeff Beck and the band’s underrated bassist Paul Samwell-Smith. Beck bided his time until the rave-up, where he made his fuzz-toned guitar sound like a distorted electric violin, while he brutally ended the track with staggered bursts of feedback.

The likes of “Shapes of Things” created an atmosphere in which Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane could breathe. So Bowie pays his respects, not by trying to match Rod Stewart (who sang it with the Jeff Beck Group in 1968) in power, but by singing the verses like an East End drag queen doing Judy Garland. It’s pure mockery, a sci-fi goof, or else Bowie’s taking the lyric way too seriously. It’s a failure by any reading. Ronson gives one of his better solos on the record as amends, or at least as a distraction.

Recorded July-early August 1973.

Top: “Normko,” “London, Oxford Street, 1973.”