Jeff Beck is simply one of the most creative guitarists who ever lived. With his exceptional technique, Beck never minded experimenting and searching for new sounds, and opened up many of the paths that rock music would follow. Beck became the perfect replacement in the Yardbirds for the purist Clapton. He may not have had the global vision of Jimmy Page, because Beck is not a particularly gifted composer, arranger or producer, but if you look only at his work on the six-string, you can count on the fingers of one hand the guitarists who can match him. In his long career he has participated on many notable albums, and here are our five favorites.
The Yardbirds - Having a Rave Up with The Yardbirds (1965)
Having a Rave Up was released in November 1965 in the US and was not an album as such, but a strange compilation of singles, since the time Beck had joined the group in March of that year. It included two songs that had not yet been released and had been recorded at Sun Studios -Train Kept A-Rollin' and Mister, You're a Better Man Than I - the latter of which would be released in the UK in February of the following year as the B-side of Shapes Of Things. Like the A side, the B side was a selection of titles from the band's debut album, Five Live Yardbirds, released in 1964 when the lead guitarist was still Clapton. It's a perfect album to compare the band in two totally different periods, although in both the guitar is the absolute protagonist, (in the case of Beck his ‘54 Esquire with several pieces changed, making it the first great Frankenstein guitar of rock), but I think you can say that Beck, this time, comes out ahead. Furthermore, in both cases, the two guitarists are far ahead of the singer, with all due respect to Keith Relf, his voice simply wasn't up to the great British vocalists of the time - like Roger Daltrey, Steve Marriott, Paul Rodgers, Robert Plant or a character we'll talk about next, Rod Stewart - but Beck's work is so advanced that these songs are still key when it comes to tracing the evolution of the electric guitar. With the riff of Train Kept A-Rollin' you could say that he invented Led Zeppelin, with Heart Full Of Soul he puts himself at the forefront of psychedelia and shows that a guitar (with a good fuzz pedal) can sound like a sitar, while the solo with slide on Evil Hearted You is another great example of the incredible guitarist he is, sounding halfway between Morricone and surf. That Morricone influence is heard again on Still I'm Sad. And then there's Mr. You're A Better Man Than I's solo, which is possibly the best guitar solo that rock music had ever known until that moment.
The Yardbirds - Roger The Engineer (1966)
This was the only studio album the Yardbirds released in their own country. However, the album was not officially called Roger The Engineer, that was simply the name of the drawing that Chris Dreja did for the cover; Dreja wrote it and that's how it was published so, over time, everyone has ended up identifying it that way. The second thing is that if this album has ended up becoming a kind of cult work it is because of Beck's work on guitar, which is light years away from the competition at the time. The great song on the album is Over Under Sideways Down, which came out as a single a month before the release of the album, in May ‘66. Here he already had the Les Paul Standard from 58 with humbuckers that would define his sound in the following years, and with it he delivers one of the most creative riffs in history, one in which the blues fuses with oriental music and raga to create something totally new; showing that he was still at the forefront of the psychedelic movement. The Nazz Are Blue, sung by Beck himself, can be seen as an antecedent to the sound of the Jeff Beck Group and Led Zeppelin. It is a blues played loud and heavy and has a spectacular solo for the time, with possibly the longest feedback note to that date. Hot House of Omagararshid is further proof that this band was not afraid to explore new sounds, again the star is Beck; with a solo full of distortion and originality, Jeff's Boogie, a plagiarism of Chuck Berry's Chuck's boogie, is an instrumental vehicle for the band's superstar. What Do You Want seems like it is going to be easily forgotten until finally Beck appears and you start to wonder, my God, did this guy already play like this in 1966? He's Always There is the song, Over Under aside, that sounds most like the band's singles. With a lot of fuzz from Beck, the band could have lengthened that incredible ending. But, as I said, the Yardbirds were always a singles band rather than albums, so the best thing to do when listening to this album is to get the extended version in which appear Happenings Ten Years Ago and Psyco Daisies, the only two songs that Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page recorded together in the band, which are a huge treasure for any lover of the six strings.
Jeff Beck Group - Truth (1968)
Truth is a key album in the evolution of rock music towards its hardest sounds, at the height of stars like Jimi Hendrix and Cream. The Beck and Rod Stewart duo are spectacular, and are well accompanied by Ron Wood on bass (Beck was worth the solo spot on guitar), Micky Waller on drums and the special collaboration of Nicky Hopkins on piano. However, despite the fact that their most memorable song appeared in August 1968, it had been recorded two years earlier with a dream line-up, Beck and Jimmy Page on guitars, John Entwistle on bass and Keith Moon on drums. This is Beck's Bolero, an instrumental that still sounds ahead of its time, with Beck shining with his Les Paul through a Vox AC30. But you can't miss such memorable pieces such as I Ain't Superstitious, Let Me Love You or You Shook Me that would mark the way forward for Jimmy Page and his new band, Led Zeppelin.
Jeff Beck Group - Beck-Ola (1969)
Jeff Beck Group’s second album follows the path of Truth, but digs deeper into the heavyness of the band, something that has to do with the replacement of Micky Waller on drums by Tony Newman. You can also notice that Nicky Hopkins is given much more time on piano, which is understandable if we consider that by this time he had become a full member of the band. That said, the protagonists are once again Beck's guitar and Stewart's throat, the two Elvis covers are happily taken to their terrain. The material itself may not be top-notch but Spanish Boots contains a great riff and spectacular work by Beck, while Plynth (Water Down the Drain), The Hangman's Knee and Rice Pudding once again make it possible to draw comparisons with Zeppelin, especially seeing how, despite the fact that Beck and Stewart are better instrumentalists than Page and Plant, the scales clearly fall on the side of Zeppelin because the songs are so much better...
Jeff Beck - Blow By Blow (1975)
As is clear, Jeff Beck is primarily a brilliant instrumentalist, so it is only natural that his best solo work is instrumental. Of course, there's no rock musician who can shine if they don’t have a half-decent song to express themselves in. Luckily for Beck, he had become good friends with Stevie Wonder (whose Superstition he composed with Beck in mind) and Wonder gave him a couple of remarkable songs, in particular the excellent Cause We've Ended As Lovers, whose performance Beck dedicates to Roy Buchanan. The guitarist finds the right vehicle to express himself and with his famous Tele-Gib (a hybrid guitar with the body of a 1959 Fender Telecaster and various pieces from other guitars, including the pickups from a 1959 Gibson Flying V) he once again proves that he is still an exceptional and adventurous guitarist, after a career spanning more than ten years. On the rest of the album the guitar he used is the mythical Oxblood (originally a heavily modified 1954 Gold Top, with the P-90s replaced by humbuckers) with which he can be seen on the cover. Of the rest of the material, a version of the Beatles' She's A Woman stands out, on which Beck uses a Talk Box before Peter Frampton ‘made it his’, while on You Know What I Mean he shows that he has been listening carefully to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and on the Diamond Dust version he successfully enters progressive territory.