A certified funky-fusion platinum smash, the George Martin-produced Blow by Blow peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 — hurtling itself to Record You Must Own status for Jeff Beck. So enough of that.
Here’s our list of other interesting offerings from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist, including both solo and Yardbirds sides — along with key contributions from the likes of Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder, Jan Hammer and Carmine Appice, among others.
You may want to come to blows over our exclusion of that 1975 classic. But you can’t deny the enduring power and intrigue of these sometimes overlooked Beck sides …
“GOODBYE PORK PIE HAT,” WIRED (1976): There’s not many who can take an ode to a jazz legend (Lester Young) by another jazz legend (Charles Mingus) and make it into a convincing blues-drenched rock-jazz tune, but Jeff Beck can do that with ease.
“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” is Beck at his impassioned best, bending and wiggling notes, manipulating feedback and alternating back and forth between anguished and sweetly subdued. Discreetly overdubbed, Beck even engages in drive-by back and forth with himself. Max Middleton on Rhodes and Wilbur Bascomb Jr. on bass give the song a soulful foundation of slow burning funk, but Beck is the one who makes this one of the more unlikely covers that manages to give such a widely loaded original a run for its money. — S. Victor Aaron
HAPPENINGS TEN YEARS TIME AGO, with THE YARDBIRDS (single, 1966): I practically grew wings and flew through the ceiling when I was told Something Else! Reviews was running a spotlight segment on Jeff Beck. Seldom does a day go by when I don’t listen to his music, whether it’s the stuff he did with the Yardbirds, the Jeff Beck Group, Beck, Bogart and Appice or his solo work. But picking a track of his to write about actually proved to be an easy job, simply because the Yardbirds are one of my all time favorite top five bands (just in case you’re interested, the Beatles, the Byrds, the Who and Paul Revere and the Raiders also make the list) and “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” is one of my all time favorite top five songs.
Released in the fall of 1966, “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” saw the Yardbirds pushing the envelope so far that it ripped right in half, and that’s really saying a lot since they were so incredibly forward thinking to begin with. Having already gained a randy dandy reputation in the blues wailing band as an axe-slinging god, Jeff elevated his status to even heftier heights when this baby hit the stands. Amplified to maximum effects, his guitar produces roll upon roll of menacing, combative and bewildering chords. The supernaturally restless temper of “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” communicates splendidly with the song’s subject, which is reincarnation. Waves of crashing feedback, partnered with punishing rhythms, add a double dose of hair-raising kicks and tricks to the hard driving psychedelic classic.
Another cool thing about “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” is that it marked the first record Jimmy Page played on with the Yardbirds. So along with Jeff’s paralyzing stunts, there’s Jimmy flailing away on his six-string, giving us a taste of what was to come in the mighty Led Zeppelin. Much applaud deserves to be showered on the whole band in general on “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago,” as lead singer Keith Relf delivers a positively bone-chilling vocal performance, bassist Chris Dreja turns out loping licks by the score and drummer Jim McCarty beats the tubs straight into submission.
Simply mind-altering, “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” sounds as futuristic now as it did when it was initially aired. Jeff Beck certainly shines like the star he is here. A truly influential mass of loud and lovely racket, “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” not only transported psychedelic rock to an entirely new dimension, but it further opened the gates for a yet unnamed genre of music eventually called heavy metal. Ok, Jeff, take a bow! — Beverly Paterson
“BLUE WIND,” with JAN HAMMER (JEFF BECK WITH THE JAN HAMMER GROUP LIVE, 1977): This song, and the album that it came from, might be one of the first examples of “sophisticated” rock music that ever made its way into my head. I spent the better part of the summer of 1978 hangin’ out with my friend Billy, cruising the streets of suburban Connecticut in his parents’ Chevy Nova. The crummy (though incredibly loud) Kraco 8-Track player w/Jensen speakers featured the following standard rotation: Ted Nugent – Double Live Gonzo, Bachman Turner Overdrive – Four Wheel Drive, and Jeff Beck’s with the Jan Hammer Group Live.
At the time, I remember rating those albums in exactly that order, with Nugent on top … but there was just something about Jeff Beck. He didn’t sound like anybody I’d ever listened to before. This version of “Blue Wind” is perhaps a little rougher than the studio take, but the combination of control and aggressiveness (pretty sure I didn’t know who The Yardbirds where at the time, but somehow I still managed to dig the reference to “Train Kept A Rollin’) had me hooked from the very start. — Mark Saleski
“BECK’S BOLERO,” (TRUTH, 1968): Beck’s first solo album after departing the Yardbirds is famous for a number of things, not the least of which is introducing the world to future Rolling Stone Ron Wood and his one-time Faces bandmate Rod Stewart. But the song most people remember Truth for is “Beck’s Bolero,” a wild instrumental piece based loosely on classical composer Ravel’s “Bolero.”
“Beck’s Bolero” stands out on Truth for many reasons. On an album that otherwise works solidly within the British blues/rock medium later used to far greater commercial success by Led Zeppelin, “Bolero” is a wildly experimental track that in just under three minutes, manages to throw everything at the listener but the proverbial kitchen sink. Anchored by Beck’s crying lead guitar, it twists and turns abruptly between raucous hard rock, spanish flavored flamenco, baroque classical, and even a touch of Hawaiian sounding guitar.
The song is also noteworthy because of the band playing on it, which includes Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Nicky Hopkins, and Keith Moon (that’s him you hear screaming just before that crazy drum break in the middle). Although the song is called “Beck’s Bolero,” it is Page who actually owns the songwriter’s credit here. As a textbook example of what every aspiring rock guitarist should know, Beck puts on a virtual clinic here. Although the studio version remains unmatched, Beck has also made it a staple of his live shows over the years, including this recent version from the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, above. Reunited with Jimmy Page, Beck tears the house down here in a ripping take on “Bolero” that also incorporates parts of Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” — Glen Boyd
“SUPERSTITION,” with TIM BOGERT AND CARMINE APPICE (BECK, BOGERT AND APPICE, 1973): Jeff Beck may be primarily known for his rock guitar work, but in interviews such as his December 28, 2010 appearance on NPR’s World Café, he reveals an interest in world music, classical artists, and R&B. No other track better represents his multi-genre talents as “Superstition,” penned by Stevie Wonder. While Wonder may have scored the bigger hit with the song, Beck’s subsequent version demonstrates the huge influence soul and blues have on his music.
Beck and Wonder’s partnership reaches back to the early 1970s; after hearing Wonder’s Music of My Mind, Beck expressed great interest in working with the Motown legend. Beck’s representatives contacted Motown CEO Berry Gordy, asking if Wonder would be open to collaboration. Wonder readily agreed, as he was in the midst of recording the followup album Talking Book. As they were learning each other’s styles, Wonder wrote three songs for Beck, one being “Superstition.” According to Beck, he laid down the original drum groove for the track while Wonder was out of the room. When Wonder reentered the studio, he instructed Beck to keep playing while he joined the guitarist on clavinet. Beck also collaborated on the lyrics, and then the two laid down a demo. Wonder intended for Beck to record “Superstition” as a thank-you gift for his guitar work on Talking Book (notably on “Looking for a Pure Love”); as soon as Gordy heard the track, however, he correctly deemed it a monster hit and dictated that Wonder record it first. By the time Motown released Talking Book in 1972, Wonder’s version of “Superstition” stormed the charts.
The following year, Beck finally got his chance to play the song intended for him. In 1973 Beck teamed with ex-Vanilla Fudge and Cactus members Tim Bogert (bass) and Carmine Appice (drums) to form the power trio Beck, Bogert, and Appice; their self-titled debut album sold well, peaking at No. 12 on the Billboard 200. But the disc may be best remembered for the group’s grungier, blues-heavy take on “Superstition.” Imagine Led Zeppelin giving the song a good thrashing, and you get an idea of the trio’s take on the track. Beck’s sharp notes resound loudly and clearly among his otherwise crunching guitar, Bogert’s pulsating bass and Appice’s pounding beat.
It’s a vastly different perspective on the R&B tune, but it proves to be a perfect showcase for Beck’s heavy yet precise solos. “Superstition” also illustrates Beck’s heavy debt to the blues and his obvious respect for soul music, which he would further explore two years later on his seminal work Blow by Blow. As Beck mentioned in the 2010 interview, his collaboration with Wonder forever altered his career, and “Superstition” represents the musical crossroads that would lay down the foundation for Beck’s guitar god status. — Kit O’Toole