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Music Review: Jeff Beck – Truth, and The Jeff Beck Group – Beck-Ola Enhanced Editions

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In light of the curcuimstances surrounding the making of the first two — now classic — Jeff Beck albums, it's not only amazing just how good they turned out, but that they were even made at all.

Jeff Beck, considered even back then a Guitar God on a par with Hendrix, Page, and Clapton, had just left an eighteen month stint as guitarist for the Yardbirds. His time with the Yardbirds just happened to coincide with the band's most commercially successful period.

The most notable single from that period, "Shapes of Things," shows up as the lead-off track to Beck's first solo record, Truth, in a much heavier, rocked-up version highlighted by the throaty vocals of a then unknown young singer named Rod Stewart.

Jeff Beck's original vision of his new group was to make as heavy a noise as humanly possible. But not everyone involved agreed with Beck's idea. Record Producer Mickie Most, who saw dollar signs in Beck's good looks and already established "name," wanted more of a pop direction for the Jeff Beck Group, and there are some hilarious examples of that "direction" included here as bonus tracks. Not fond of "that poof" as well was Rod Stewart.

But there was also the little problem of actual songs. Without a clearcut songwriter in the band, finding enough material to fill a single disc, let alone the two they eventually made, would prove no small hurdle for Jeff Beck's first recordings as a solo artist.

Amazingly, not only did both records eventually get made and released — they have also stood the test of time remarkably well. 1968's Truth is, in fact, today considered something of a classic. The newly enhanced version of Truth, which is to be released next Tuesday, along with 1969's followup Beck-Ola, sounds just as good now as it did way back then.

Before Led Zeppelin became the biggest band in the known universe, most of the industry's and critics' buzz was already on Beck (with Stewart on vocals) to be the next big thing in what would later be termed "heavy metal." It's not hard to see why here. Although I still prefer the Yardbirds' original version over the one found on Truth, "Shapes Of Things" starts things off with a nice burst of power as Beck expands the dimensions of the guitar sound and Stewart turns in a vocal performance which quickly establishes him with his own credentials.

It's actually amazing just how good Rod Stewart sounds here. Young and obviously hungry, Stewart's performances on songs like "You Shook Me" (later covered on Led Zeppelin's debut album) and "Blues Deluxe" display a range of raw emotion that quickly served notice to the rest of the British Rock world just who the new young lion on the block was.

That Stewart pushes his limited range to the max throughout this disc (something Beck himself has complained about) is of no small consequence. The bottom line is the young blues shouter who belts out the songs on Truth for all their life, bears little resemblance to the man we find pimping his soul to everything from Disco to Broadway today. Stewart's now trademark whiskey rasp sounds rawer and dirtier here than ever.

As with Stewart, Beck's guitar is much rawer and guttural sounding here than the jazz-fusion technician he would evolve into in later years. The sustained notes, which open a fine cover of Willie Dixon's "Ain't Superstitious," give the song a feel of dark menace right away. This soon gives way to growling wah-wahs that prowl alongside Stewart's own black cat moans. Future Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood, relegated to bass duties here, rounds out the rock steady rhythm section with drummer Micky Waller.

Of the few originals included here, however, none have stood the test of time like the brilliant instrumental showcase for Beck's guitar prowess, "Beck's Bolero." Recorded with an all-star lineup that includes Keith Moon and what would become half of Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page on twelve string guitar, and John Paul Jones on bass respectively), "Bolero" is one of rock's all-time instrumental classics. In its roughly three minutes, "Bolero" goes from classical staccato to a hypnotic, almost Hawaiian-like twang, to a full throttle rock assault and then back again. It remains just a gorgeous piece of music.

Moon shows up again banging the tympanis on "Ol' Man River" in a way that anyone who has ever heard The Who's rock operas will instantly recognize. Session giant Nicky Hopkins turns in some fine piano work throughout the album.

As for those bonus tracks? There are alternate takes of "Bolero" and "Blues Deluxe" as well as those previously mentioned "poppier" tunes — issued as singles — that Mickey Most wanted Beck doing full-time. The less said about "Hi Ho Silver Lining" and "Tallyman" the better — though their inclusion here pretty much brings home the point that we can thank Jeff Beck for standing his ground, and winning the argument against Mickie Most way back then.

Not everything on Truth is perfectly executed, however. The canned audience noise on "Blues Deluxe," for example, sounds a little corny here. But for an album recorded so quickly, with a lack of original material to boot, the classic status of Truth over time is a deserved one.

1969's followup record, Beck-Ola, doesn't work quite as well. By this time, Rod Stewart and Ron Wood were already halfway out the door to form Faces with Ian McLagan, Ronnie Lane, and the rest of the leftovers of the Small Faces. The band would later end up essentially blowing off a potentially star-making appearance at the Woodstock festival. And the lack of a principal songwriter was also still a big problem.

As a result, Beck-Ola, in ways, sounds like a largely pieced-together effort tying raucously played Elvis covers, like "All Shook Up" and "Jailhouse Rock," with a few originals like "Plynth (Water Down The Drain)." The good news is the band sounds looser than ever, and, especially on the Elvis covers, they rock far harder than they do on the bluesier sounding Truth.

For all the in-fighting said to have been going on within the band at the time, Beck, Rod, Woody and the rest of the boys sound like they are having a great time in the studio here. Of the few originals included on Beck-Ola's seven tracks, "Plynth" is the clear standout, anchored by a great Jeff Beck guitar riff and some nice piano work from Nicky Hopkins.

Hopkins, who had by this time been recruited as a full time member, actually bangs the hell out of the keys throughout. Beck, for his part, displays more of the pyrotechnics that would later help earn him the nickname "guitar mechanic." Perhaps reflecting the looser feel, Ron Wood even gets to shine for a brief, but tasty, bass solo on "Spanish Boots."

Bonus tracks on Beck-Ola include early versions of "Jailhouse Rock" and "All Shook Up," as well as a cover of B.B. King's "Sweet Little Angel." On the King song, mysteriously left off the original album, they pick up the blues explorations right where Truth left off and expand upon them. Although the track might have been a little out of place on Beck-Ola, it could stand alongside any of Truth's great blues-rock workouts.

Both of these discs also feature extensive liner notes from U.K. journalist Charles Shaar Murray, and, in the case of Beck-Ola, extensive commentary from Jeff Beck himself.

Although, today, these two albums can probably be looked upon as springboards for a group of guys who would later go on to bigger, better things — Beck as a guitar legend, Wood as a Rolling Stone, and Stewart as, well, Rod Stewart — they shouldn't be overlooked in their own right. The original Jeff Beck Group could more than hold a candle to the other British blues rockers of their sixties heyday.

Hell, in another life they could have well turned out to be Led Zeppelin.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • http://www.gohah.blogspot.com Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Great review, Glen, but you should know that it was actually George Harrison playing guitar on both albums.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Thanx for publishing this Gordon…kidder that you are!…LOL…

    -Glen

  • Vern Halen

    JBG vs. Zeppelin….. a great match up on paper, but, sorry – I gotta hand this one to Zeppelin. First, as cited, Beck didn’t have the in-house songwriting. Second, Beck had his moments, but was inconsistent next to Page. Likewise Moon compared to Bonham. Stewart & Plant are evenly matched, but Stewart was less suited to where this sort of blues rock ended up, somewhere in the semi-prog, proto-metal camp (as much as I love these songs, could Stewart have sang No Quarter or Achillles Last Stand with a straight face?). Finally, and more to the immediate point, Zeppelin just sounded better. JBG had tinny, tiny production next to the sonic whooomppfh! of the Zep taking off on the first two albums.

    For my money, I would’ve liked to see Free vs. Zeppelin. The Rodgers/Kossoff combo ran in a little more in the bluesy vein, but Free I think was a more evenly matched four piece group to go toe to toe with the once-called New Yardbirds.

    The other great match up – the Stones vs. the Faces. The recent Faces 4 CD box actually provides evidence that Rod and the boys were definitely contenders for the title of World’s Greatest…. as well as other equally interesting titles referring to rock and roll bands.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Well said Vern.

    Though I’ll put Beck up against Page against any day of the week. Good as Page was/is, Beck is by far the cleaner player, at lesat for my money.

    Of the two, I think Page has the greater creative reach most certainly…but i highly doubt Page could’ve come up with albums as simultaneously clean, yet dirty as Beck did with “Blow By Blow” and “Wired” in the latter stages of the game.

    Good stuff though Vern. Truly stuff worth chomping on.

    So when is a guy as smart as you going to start writing for us??

    Thanx!

    -Glen

  • http://daslob.blogspot.com/ Pico

    I was going to come in here and say that Paul McC played drums on “Bolero” but Gordon sort of beat me to the punch, heh heh. But I will still say that I enjoyed reding this article.

    LZ later improved on heavy metal blues-rock, but Beck’s Truth was the first great album of that type of music. Your piece was spot on and I’m about ready to go get those expanded versions. Keep ‘em coming, Glen.

    -P

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Thanx Pico. I’m still kind of smarting over my George fuck-up on the Lennon piece, but I thank you nonetheless.

    The Beck reissues really are quite good by the way. I think you’ll like them a lot. Good as Page was/is, I just find Beck to be a better all-around guitar player.

    Thanks for the comment.

    -Glen

  • Vern Halen

    Thanx for the comment, Glen. You may get your wish someday soon – I’m just trying to talk myself into applying for the job………

    You know, the Beck vs Page thing – when they played guitar together for that short stint in the Yardbirds, the story goes that Page consistently played better most nights. But it was that one night in 10 that Beck would get inspired and just play the bejeezus outta that thang……

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Just do it Vern. You are obviously a pretty knowledgable rock guy, and a decent writer to boot judging by your comments I read both here and elsewhere.

    Time to let that latent rock critic in you out is what I say.

    Thanx again Vern!

    -Glen

  • jeff Lyon

    There’s no question as to who the better guitarist is,,,and ever was. Mr. Beck still continues to wow crowds with his all-style array of guitar ownership. From hi-hop (Ursa Minor) reaggae, BLUES, Rock and even Mahler’s 5th . Look for Jeff to be playing with a string section for Sir George Martin’s induction into the UK Hall in Nov. 06. He’s simply the best. Oh, did I mention jazz? Jeff Lyon Cinti. Oh.

  • Vern Halen

    Beck better? It’s not for me to say – but be that as it may, the original contention is still that Zeppelin’s albums definiitely sound better than those first two Beck albums. As well, I think Page has had by far the greater influence on rock musicians in particular as well as the public in general.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I think Beck is definitely the better of the two, though I’ll readily agree Zeps albums had better production. Good as Page is, he had a tendency to be somewhat sloppy at times in my personal opinion. Beck himself can be pretty gnarly, but it’s always a relatively clean sounding kind of gnarly.

    Thanx for the comments gentlemen.

    -Glen

  • Vern Halen

    Sloppy at times? Understatement fer shure! I’m all for protecting youe essential bits with your instrument, but I always wondered how Page could play the darn thing at all slung down around his knees like that.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    The last time I saw Zepellin at the Kingdome in Seattle, Page himself was pretty slumped over–never mind the guitar. Thanx for the comment Vern.

    -Glen

    P.S. I’ve got a whale of a rant on the death of the record industry in the can here at BC. The thing literally wrote itself.

  • SFC SKI

    I think it was Jeff Beck’s lack of enthusiasm for touring that also kept him out of the spotlight. I only hope I’ll get to see him live someday. On the other hand, lack of expectation to be “Jeff BECK, Guitar God!” has allowed him the freedom to make some really great albums that he wanted to make.
    For me though, “There and Back” will alwys be THE Jeff Beck album.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    There and Back is an interesting choice. Personally I’d have to say my fave Beck album is probably Wired with him and Jan Hammer being so completely all over the place you can barely distinguish one from the other. Truth is right up there too though. Stewart’s vocals are just outstanding on that one in my book.

    Thanx for the comment SKI.

    -Glen

  • http://www.mondoproject.com Mark Saleski

    i remember reading so much about what a supposed pain the ass Beck was to work with…so much that when i finally had a chance to see him live, i was surprised that he didn’t have a fit onstage and walk off midset.

    this was on the Guitar Shop tour. a pretty stunning show. not a sloppy note to be found. just precision, passion and vicious delivery.

    oh, and my favorite Jeff Beck record is Live with the Jan Hammer Group. just make sure you cover your ears before the vocals on “Full Moon Boogie”.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Mark,

    Actually you should really hope that you do get to see Beck pitch a fit onstage one day, because the results can be electrifying. There was one year I saw Beck (with Hammer) open for Aerosmith at the now demolished Kingdome and he was really pissed about the horrible accoustics in that cement stadium.

    After growling “welcome to the Kingdome echo chamber”, he proceeded to tear the roof off the place, climaxing with a freociously “Train Kept A Rollin”, which I think Aerosmith then opted NOT to play themselves.

    Beck’s playing can be just fierce when he’s pissed.

    Thanx for commenting Mark!

    -Glen

  • JERRY

    Having seen every guitar player except Hendrix I can with out a doubt tell you that Jeff Beck is light years ahead of anyone living, dead, or about to be born. No one plays with the passion that this man does. I saw him 4 times this month and at the ripe age of 62 he soars.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Jerry,

    I agree with you on everything except the living or DEAD part.

    Ever hear of a guy named Hendrix? I’ve seen beck about six times since the sventies though and he does kick some ass…even now as you mentioned.

    Thanks for commenting Jerry.

    -Glen

  • JB

    Hey, great article. It turns out that Jeff Beck is the best guitarist of all in spite of his erratic path from then to now!

  • marcos

    check out Becks “A Day In The Life”. go find it on youtube or somthing, nough said.