Jeff Beck

TrackAlbum / Single
People Get ReadyFlash
Where Were YouJeff Beck's Guitar Shop
Big BlockJeff Beck's Guitar Shop
She's A WomanBlow By Blow
You Know What I MeanBlow By Blow
Rice PuddingBeck-Ola
I've Been Drinking1968 single (Columbia DB 8359)
Beck’'s BoleroTruth
Nessun DormaEmotion & Commotion
Hi Ho Silver Lining1967 single (Columbia DB 8151)

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Contributor: David Lewis

It’s a little ridiculous to point to one person and say ‘greatest living guitarist’: after all – what type of guitar? What style? Is it rhythm backup style? or flashy leads? Classical? Country? Metal? Rock? But, if you ask me who the greatest living electric rock guitarist is, and I don’t default to five others, I’ll say ‘Jeff Beck’. He’s not my favourite guitarist, that would probably be Brian May of Queen or Martin Barre of Jethro Tull, or Danny Gatton, or Eric Clapton, or … it might be Jeff, after all …

But no-one touches Beck in terms of inventiveness, musicality and sheer brilliance. He generally eschews pedals (most players have at least one: I’m a conservative player who owns about 6, for example). Beck can get sounds out of basic guitars which no-one else can. Happiest with a Stratocaster and a Marshall amp, his sonic approach is nothing short of incredible.

He has been a top guitarist since replacing Eric Clapton in The Yardbirds. He has had an idiosyncratic career; while famous, most casual fans would struggle naming a track he has played on, except perhaps for one. Beck seems content working on his hot rod collection, and touring every couple of years, stretching the limits of the electric guitar even further.

So, how to distil it. Nothing from Yardbirds (like I said in my Clapton toppermost #189, they deserve their own list). No guest work or session work. There were various Jeff Beck groups, and Beck, Bogert and Appice … so that’s it: 10 from Jeff Beck. Brian May wrote a song about him called The Guv’nor which Jeff plays on – and that’s about the best description I can come up with …

So the 10:

People Get Ready (feat. Rod Stewart) is simply the best version of the song. The original is great, no question. But listen to those arpeggios. And Rod Stewart is the finest singer of his generation – a generation that had no shortage of great singers. Beck brings an intensity and a power to the song that Curtis hinted at, but restrained.

Where Were You is possibly the best thing Jeff has ever done. Based on the melodies and harmonies he heard in a recording of Bulgarian choirs, it is the centrepiece of the Guitar Shop album. All done with a Stratocaster, a touch of reverb and those incredible hands, and judicious use of the tremolo

Also from Guitar Shop, Big Block, with its foray into 7/8, and its spoken word bridge is just a bit of fun, yet much more substantial than such a track would suggest. The spoken word bit by Terry Bozzio – guitar terms taken from magazine ads.

Blow By Blow, produced by George Martin, is one of Beck’s great albums. On it, he shows how fusion (then still pretty new and visionary) could be done. Produced by George Martin, he reinterprets She’s A Woman, bringing a more mature approach to the melody. Beautifully supported by Max Middleton on keys, the talk box Beck uses is not a gimmick, but a musical statement.

Such a good album had to produce two tracks, and might have produced eight of the ten. I’m going with the opening track, You Know What I Mean, though I might easily have gone with ‘Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers.

Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck were friends, from before either of them were compatriots in The Yardbirds, so it is possible that Led Zeppelin would have formed without the various Jeff Beck groups for inspiration: listen to Rice Pudding, to hear where Zeppelin might have got their ideas from … a blistering riff, and the blues.

Rod Stewart and Beck worked together for some years, though it ended somewhat … difficultly, when Rod left Beck for other opportunities. Nonetheless, some of the finest blues appeared from their combination (which also included Ronnie Wood on bass). I’ve Been Drinking is another stunning performance by Rod.

One of Jeff’s most controversial records is Beck’s Bolero, which may be Jimmy Page … but still, a masterful piece. Taking the rhythm of Ravel’s Bolero, it’s a stomping rock revelation.

Nessun Dorma, released on Emotion & Commotion in 2010 is a stunning piece of work. The album is full of standards and classical music, but Beck manages to get the soaring tenor voice in a guitar. In a lesser player’s hands, this would be portentous and dull.

The last track: I think, to assuage Peter Viney, who I know is not a Beck fan, I’ll go with his biggest selling single, Hi Ho Silver Lining. Perhaps the most uncharacteristic thing he’s done (although his version of the Eurovision Song Contest entry, Love Is Blue, is perhaps… anyway…). It is a marvellous pop song, full of hooks, well sung (by Beck, who was right to stick to guitar, rather than voice) and great fun. He doesn’t really like it, though he has performed it on special occasions.

Jeff Beck has had a patchy career, and not everything he’s done has been brilliant. When he gets it right, though, no-one can touch him. He’s pushed the electric guitar about as far as it can go, in many many genres.

Jeff Beck official website

Jeff Beck fan site

Jeff Beck biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #247

6 Comments

  1. Keith Shackleton
    Apr 8, 2014

    Great list, but I’m gonna have to say:

    I am very happy you left his rockabilly covers out.. I understand how big a Cliff Gallup fan he is, and I know he can pretty much play anything, but someone like Darrel Higham (Mr. Imelda May) is a far better bet for that kind of music. But, and it’s a big but, so maybe that should be BUT, despite its association with my football team, I feel the same way about Hi Ho… as I do about Whiskey in the Bloody Jar.

  2. David Lewis
    Apr 8, 2014

    No track vexed me more about whether to put it in, Keith… It’s an insane recording when you look at it. Produced by the normally sharp Mickey Most, it featured Rod Stewart on BACKING VOCALS. Its lyrics make no sense. It has no real melody. Then again, it was a hit. So, perhaps ‘always sharp’.

    But it has hooks the size of jumbo jets, and succeeds despite its limitations… Alternatives included Superstition, (originally written by Stevie Wonder for Jeff, till Berry Gordy found out).

    • Keith Shackleton
      Apr 8, 2014

      An eloquent defence, m’lud.

  3. Andrew Shields
    Apr 8, 2014

    Great list on a superb guitarist – much as I like his & Rod Stewart’s version of ‘People get Ready’, though, am not sure if it’s better than The Impressions one, which had a beautiful subtlety to it…

    Like the opening to ‘Shape of Things’ a lot, too…

  4. Peter Viney
    Apr 8, 2014

    I’ve got Hi-Ho Silver Lining and I’ve Been Drinking / Morning Dew, both on 45s. I’ve also got Love Is Blue and Tallyman. I like Love is Blue. Tallyman is good too. I was once stuck in Wales with a friend who played Guitar Shop all day at high volume, and thus became an ex-friend. I tend to class him with Steve Vai and Joe Satriano- only interesting if you are an accomplished guitarist yourself.

    A guitarist friend told me I HAD to get a Jeff Beck album about three years ago, Rock & Roll Party Honouring Les Paul. I did because Imelda May is on it and Gary US Bonds sings New Orleans. The interesting bit turned out to be classic instrumentals: Peter Gunn, Apache and Sleep Walk. Apache is very faithful but with modern equipment. The American audience does “recognition applause” for Sleep Walk, but not for Apache, but every guitarist Jeff Beck’s age would have learned Apache. Few could play it as well. New Orleans by Gary U.S. Bonds is fantastic, but it’s all sax. The other one that made it to my permanent playlists is Walking In The Sand, sung by Imelda May. Stunning guitar too.

    Definitely The Impressions for People Get Ready, then Aaron Neville.

  5. Keith Shackleton
    Apr 8, 2014

    I’ll swap Hi Ho… for Nadia, from You Had It Coming.

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