Something Else! Featured Artist: More Jeff Beck!

As fans await a forthcoming new album from Jeff Beck, we decided to dig deeper into the stacks to uncover more of our favorite tracks.

Though Beck appeared as part of the program “In Performance at the White House: Red, White and Blues” to celebrate blues music at the White House in February, he has since cancelled dates in New York and Toronto due to delays in his recording schedule, according to jeffbeck.com. This new project will be his initial studio release since 2010′s Emotion and Commotion, Beck’s highest debuting album ever in the U.S. and his best charting album ever in the UK — oh, and a double Grammy award winner.

That’s to say nothing of these career-making moments from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 2000s, as we present Part 2 of our Featured Artist series on Jeff Beck. So, yeah, no pressure, right?

“SHAPES OF THINGS,” with THE YARDBIRDS (Single, 1967): This was a great time for rock and roll on the AM radio dial. It seemed like every five minutes, you’d experience some wild, previously unheard new sound in the form of such revolutionary singles as “Light My Fire” and “Good Vibrations.” But even amongst those great, ground-breaking songs, the Yardbirds single “Shapes Of Things” really stood out when I first heard it. This song sounded like something truly out of this world when it first came booming out of the tinny sounding little speaker on my portable transistor radio (remember those?).

The first time I heard this song, it absolutely hypnotized me. I had simply never heard anything like this before, and I rushed out to the record store and bought the single immediately. Once I got it home, I musta’ played the damn thing over and over something like fifteen times in a row. I had no idea who Jeff Beck was at the time of course. (At eleven years old, my taste in rock and roll ran as much towards Paul Revere and the Raiders and the Monkees, as it did to more “sophisticated” bands like the Doors.) I also thought that Beck’s guitar solo in the middle was actually a violin for the longest time. But what really got me was that gnarly, vibrating rhythm guitar — my first exposure to the psychedelic, feedback-laden guitar sounds I became much more completely obsessed with just a few short years later.

Beck also remade “Shapes Of Things” for the Truth album with Rod Stewart, but that version doesn’t touch the original: It’s one of the greatest rock singles of all time. — Glen Boyd

[SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST We open a discussion on guitar virtuoso Jeff Beck, focusing on his 1960s and 1970s output both with the Yardbirds and as a fusion rock-focused solo artist.]

“CAUSE WE ENDED AS LOVERS,” with TAL WILKENFELD (PERFORMING THIS WEEK … LIVE AT RONNIE SCOTT’S, 2008): This project contained many of the same songs found on Official Bootleg USA ’06, released just the prior year. But Ronnie Scott’s has Tal Wilkenfeld on bass. It may sound kind of funny to state that this should matter so much when you’re supposed to listen to Jeff Beck albums for the guitar playing. After all, freakin’ Pino Palladino played bass on the original recording for Blow By Blow.

Meanwhile, Beck has long been at or near the top of a lot of people’s greatest guitarists lists and it’s not hard to see why. He’s a master technician, and possesses a highly unique, blues-based style that no one has even really come close to duplicating. And he can traverse rock, blues and jazz with equal ease, often all at once. After more than forty years of doing this, Beck is still playing with his massive chops intact. Then, there’s Wilkenfeld — then a newcomer in her (that’s right you chauvinist, her) early twenties.

Still, this little lady can not only hang with Beck, she seems to be pushing and challenging the old icon at times. Don’t get me wrong, Wilkenfeld never threatens to overtake the guitarist, but snaking, rubbery lines that show tremendous range can’t be ignored. Beck rewarded his young prodigy with a well-deserved solo on “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers,” and it’s … well, it’s pretty amazing. — S. Victor Aaron

“PEOPLE GET READY,” with ROD STEWART (FLASH, 1985): Beck has since called this album a record-company goof — owing perhaps to his pairing here with Nile Rodgers. It was, I suppose, a too-obvious attempt to capture the super-producer’s MTV-era hitmaking magic, but Beck never settles for the easy lick — creating something approximating funk-dance-metal on tracks like “Stop, Look and Listen,” before slowing long enough for a very moving reunion with original Jeff Beck Group vocalist Rod Stewart. Even today, that’s worth the price of admission.

Beck and Stewart’s initial collaborations were so explosive, and so symbiotic, across 1968′s Truth and 1969′s Beck-Ola that Rolling Stone magazine’s devastatingly negative review of Led Zeppelin’s debut release actually turned on the fact that the newcomers didn’t compare to the Jeff Beck Group. Upon arriving in America for the first time with Beck, Stewart then received a career-making nod from Robert Shelton of the New York Times, who enthused about “the interaction of Mr. Beck’s wild and visionary guitar against the hoarse and insistent shouting of Rod Stewart.”

Same here, as the duo — propelled by the liquid lines from Beck, in a rare turn on a Jackson Soloist — smartly updates Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions’ “People Get Ready,” In many ways, Stewart seemed to have developed his vocal style alongside Beck, and their collaborative moments have often proved to be high points for both. You hear that all over again on “People Get Ready,” as they recall the long-ago joys found on their covers of “Ol’ Man River” and “Morning Dew” from Truth, even as they resurrect for a new generation one of popular music’s most powerfully redemptive moments.

Beck and Stewart occasionally reconnected, after their 1969 split — notably on the Stewart single “Infatuation,” which went to No. 6 in 1984. By 1994, Beck could be found inducting Stewart into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — but none of it so far has gotten closer to the emotionally direct interplay of their original collaborations as this one did. — Nick DeRiso

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Nile Rodgers talks about Chic, how their legacy crossed over into a series of smash pop records in the 1980s, and carrying on without Bernard Edwards.]

“WHERE WERE YOU” (JEFF BECK’S GUITAR WORKSHOP, 1989): This lovely ballad from the killer album Guitar Shop, with Terry Bozzio and Tony Hymas, is a prime example of Jeff Beck’s less-is-more approach to the guitar. With precision and deft use of the volume knob and whammy bar, Beck tells a story with gorgeous artificial harmonics, plucked notes, and shimmering, attack-free tones.

For a man who can lay down the burn, “Where Were You” takes the opposite approach, filling the space with subtlety and emotion. — Mark Saleski

“A DAY IN THE LIFE” (PERFORMING THIS WEEK … LIVE AT RONNIE SCOTT’S, 2008): Once Jeff Beck ditched working with lead vocalists altogether on more fusion oriented, mid-1970s albums like Blow By Blow and Wired, the most interesting thing that happened was his emergence as a musician who had a unique gift for interpreting the songs of others. Chief amongst the earliest examples of this, would be Beck’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” from Blow By Blow.

More recent however, is his superb interpretation of Lennon and McCartney’s “A Day In The Life” from 2008′s Live At Ronnie Scott’s CD/DVD collection. As is the case with all of Beck’s greatest work, he pulls some of the most unbelievable sounds you’ve ever heard out of his Fender Strat here, all the while making it look so easy and effortless, you’d think anyone could do it.

Backed by a great band including drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, keyboardist Jason Rebello, and bass prodigy Tal Wilkenfeld (note to Jeff: please bring back Tal), Beck starts this amazing performance by using his signature crying guitar to mimic John Lennon’s original vocal. But then, when he shifts to McCartney’s middle section, he veers off into all that crazy vibrato shit with the whammy bar that Jeff Beck simply does like no other guitarist on the planet. By the time the song ends, Jeff also manages to come up with his own unique take on that famous closing, never-ending chord that closes the original Sgt. Pepper album. The stunned crowd, including Led Zep’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, seems to collectively stand still for a minute afterwords, before responding with a roar of approval. — Glen Boyd

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The Something Else! webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, has been featured in The New York Times and NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • MRodifer

    Oh, man — nice that somebody else was as floored as I upon hearing “Day in the Life”. What an extraordinary cover!