There are many reasons to cherish Jeff Beck. If nothing else he will be remembered for maintaining one of rock's most iconic haircuts. Save for a little judicious colouring in recent years, perhaps, Beck’s barnet has survived virtually unchanged from 1965 to the present day. No mean feat. Then there’s the small matter of his guitar playing. No other British guitar hero: not Clapton or Page, not Green, Taylor, Blackmore or Kossoff, nor any other fretboard giant from the 60s and 70s you care to mention has come close to matching Beck’s extraordinary flair, outrageous virtuosity or, indeed, his unparalleled longevity. His career has taken many twists and turns and survived more than a few ups and downs (some of the "downs" of his own doing), but virtually alone among his peers he continues to push the envelope and explore the limits of his instrument, seemingly improving with each passing year.
In 2020, more than 55 years after he first came to our notice in the Yardbirds, he remains as uncompromising and mercurial as ever, making music that excites and amazes in equal measure. His jaw-dropping guitar skills have seen off two or three generations of upstart young shredders and, despite a mercifully brief flirtation with pointy heavy metal guitars in the 80s, Beck and his music have never gone out of fashion. As his old friend Jimmy Page said in 2009 when inducting Jeff into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame “No one’s ever equalled what he’s done. He’s shifted the whole sound and face of electric guitar music.”
So, here is what I consider to be the 50 most memorable tracks by the greatest rock guitarist to emerge from the Surrey delta. It was a tough choice and you’ll probably disagree vehemently, but these are the records I reach for first when I feel the need to hear the music of Jeff Beck. Which I do very often. As Stevie Wonder once memorably said, “Do it, Jeff!”
“Watching them was an education,” Beck told writer Walter Kolosky of seeing the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s classic first line-up. “It was like having your pants ripped off and politely put back on again” he added, cryptically. Jeff toured with the second MO line-up in 1975 and he often jammed with guitarist John McLaughlin, so it was no surprise when he began performing a live version of the haunting “You Know You Know” from the 1971 debut Mahavishnu Orchestra album The Inner Mounting Flame. Find it on Live+.
49: Over The Rainbow (2010)
Some critics saw this as little more than filler when Emotion & Commotion first appeared, but it takes a special kind of dexterity and technical genius to play this classic melody using just whammy bar and harmonics. This kind of oddball track is Beck’s speciality and he doesn’t disappoint with a note-perfect rendition of the main theme from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Besides, hearing one of the greatest tunes ever written played on a high volume electric guitar can never be a bad thing.
48: The Stumble (1988)
Freddy King’s influence on the British blues scene is incalculable, with many big name guitarists covering his material, including Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Stan Webb, Dave Edmunds and Mick Taylor. “The Stumble” first appeared on Freddy’s album Let's Hide Away and Dance Away with Freddy King in 1961 and it was released as a single the following year. Peter Green covered the instrumental with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers on the 1967 A Hard Road album and for many years this recording was used as incidental music on BBC radio’s Friday Rock Show with DJ Tommy Vance.
The Yardbirds played it on a 1965 BBC session, but this was not released officially until the 2000s.
In 1988 Jeff recorded a rollicking version of "The Stumble" with Terry Bozzio and Tony Hymas for the soundtrack of the movie Twins. Find it on the 1991 Beckology box set. *Freddy King later recorded as Freddie King (see #9).
It may be an alien concept to anyone under 50 today but a “Tallyman” was a door-to-door collector of money for goods bought on hire-purchase or instalment plan.
Recorded in June 1967 with Aynsley Dunbar on drums, Jeff’s second solo single was another catchy pop song. It was the work of future 10cc co-founder Graham Gouldman who had already written “Heart Full Of Soul, “Evil Hearted You” and “For Your Love” for the Yardbirds, as well as a string of hits for the Hollies, Herman’s Hermits and others.
Even though Rod Stewart was hanging around the studio, producer Mickie Most coaxed a reluctant Jeff to take lead vocals. Despite a great tune and a short but powerful guitar solo, “Tallyman” barely made a dent in the charts, peaking at #30. Find it as a bonus track on the Truth album.
46: Sleep Walk (1985)
One of the most famous guitar instrumentals of all time, “Sleep Walk” was written and recorded by brothers Santo and Johnny Farina in 1959. It reached #1 in the US and #22 in Britain. Jeff’s poignant version, played with a slide, first appeared on the soundtrack of the movie Porky’s Revenge, but he has often performed it live (notably on the Rock 'n' Roll Party (Honouring Les Paul) tribute CD/DVD in 2010) without the slide, using his incredible whammy bar technique to emulate a steel guitar.
*Guitar geek note: the original Santo & Johnny recording was made using a triple-neck Fender Stringmaster steel guitar.
It was all Mickie Most’s idea. As producer of both Donovan and Jeff Beck, Most came up with the unlikely notion of putting them together to see what would happen. As it turned out, not too much of value came from the sessions other than this solitary track (and the single B-side “Trudi”), but what a triumph it was. Recorded in May 1969 at Olympic Studios in Barnes, South West London with the entire Beck-Ola band comprising Ron Wood, Nicky Hopkins and Tony Newman (Rod may even have contributed backing vocals), “Barabajagal” is a three-minute slab of funk rock genius. A UK #12 hit in June 1969, find it on the Donovan album Barabajagal.
44: You Shook Me (1968)
"Last note of song is my guitar being sick - well so would you if I smashed your guts for 2:28". So read the hubristic sleeve notes on the Truth album. Jeff’s heavy rock treatment of the Muddy Waters blues classic was way ahead of its time, featuring plenty of fuzz box and wah-wah effects, so he was understandably miffed when, seven months later, Jimmy Page pulled the rug out from under him and released an equally proto metal version of "You Shook Me" on the debut Led Zeppelin album. Page’s protestations of innocence/ignorance didn’t hold up when it was pointed out that the LZ bassist John Paul Jones had played organ on the Truth recording.
Jeff probably first heard the song on a 1963 UK EP by Muddy Waters on Pye International, the label which handled Chess recordings in Britain during the 60s. The same four track EP also contained “You Need Love” which Jimmy Page turned into “Whole Lotta Love”. Both songs were written by the great Willie Dixon.
43: Behind The Veil (1989)
From Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop, a mostly instrumental album recorded with keyboardist Tony Hymas and ex-Frank Zappa drummer Terry Bozzio. Hymas wrote most of the tunes and, with no bass guitarist on the album, handled the bottom end on keyboards. Set to a reggae beat, “Behind The Veil” briefly settles into a funky blues groove before jumping a couple of octaves and veering off with the melodic hook line. This is another tune which developed and changed significantly over the years, with many great live versions available. But I’m sticking with the Guitar Shop original.
This Jan Hammer tune started life on the Wired album in 1976, but I’m going for the 1977 version from Live with the Jan Hammer Group. It’s a blistering performance with Beck and Hammer both at the top of their game. It even includes a cheeky snatch of the Yardbirds favourite “Train Kept A-Rolling” at 2:40 (see #41).
41: Train Kept A-Rollin (1988)
First recorded in 1951 by Tiny Bradshaw, this song was popularised by the Johnny Burnette Rock & Roll Trio in 1956 and it was this version which Jeff introduced to the Yardbirds. It was recorded by Sam Phillips at his studio in Memphis and appeared on the 1965 US album Having a Rave Up with The Yardbirds, becoming a major part of their live show. When Jimmy Page joined the band the song was revamped as “Stroll On” and a performance featuring both guitarists can be seen in the 1966 Michelangelo Antonioni film Blowup. Page took “Train Kept A-Rollin” with him to Led Zeppelin where it became their set opener in the early days.
The Yardbirds' recording would be the obvious choice here, but I’m going for a 1988 version with Andrew Roachford on vocals and actor Peter Richardson (of Comic Strip fame) on percussion, simply because it has so much swagger. Originally from the soundtrack of the movie Twins, find it on the 1991 Beckology box set.
40: The Pump (1980)
According to co-writer Simon Phillips “The Pump” was inspired by the Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus”. Other than the tempo I’m not sure I can hear much similarity between the two, but this atmospheric There & Back track rumbles along nicely with an extended guitar solo. In 1983 it was used during the Porsche car chase scene in the Tom Cruise film Risky Business.
39: How High The Moon (2011)
There’s so much going on here, it’s hard to take it all in. In an action-packed two minutes we hear a phenomenal multi-tracked vocal performance, plus a guitar accompaniment so mischievous and audacious it’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Originally written for the 1940 Broadway revue Two for the Show, “How High The Moon” became a jazz standard with literally hundreds of recordings to date. In 1951 Les Paul and Mary Ford made what is probably the definitive version. Featuring 12 guitar parts and 12 vocal overdubs (incredible for the time) their single spent 25 weeks in the US pop charts, including nine weeks at #1. It even topped the US R&B charts, a rare thing for a white act.
Fast forward 59 years to February 2010 and Jeff and Imelda May performed “How High The Moon” at the 52nd Grammy Awards. A few months later this was developed into a full-blown Les Paul tribute show held at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City on what would have been Les’s 95th birthday.
In order to reproduce Mary Ford’s lush multitracked vocal harmonies Imelda sang along to pre-recorded tapes of herself, with remarkable results. To complete the effect Jeff played a Gibson Les Paul guitar onstage for the first time in years which he used to duplicate Les’s fretboard trickery note-for-note. David Bowie, Kirk Hammett, Meat Loaf and Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes were among the celebs in the Iridium audience.
The heart-warming results can be heard and/or seen on the 2011 DVD and CD Rock 'n' Roll Party (Honouring Les Paul).
38: JB’s Blues (2003)
Jeff was the final instalment in Beck's trilogy of electronica influenced albums (the others being Who Else! and You Had It Coming). “JB’s Blues” is more of an atmospheric, loose jam than a tightly arranged piece, but it’s no worse for that with some fearsome guitar in places.
This dreamy instrumental is co-credited to Beck and producer Dean Garcia. Best known as a member of the alternative rock duo Curve, Garcia has collaborated with many different artists and released his own solo recordings.
37: Big Block (1989)
Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop was a long way from the jazz fusion Beck had been exploring on previous albums, adopting a more straightforward rock approach. Even so, “Big Block” takes some strange and interesting twists, with Tony Hymas providing keyboard stabs and synth bass, while Jeff’s multilayered guitar parts sound almost orchestral in places.
36: Freeway Jam (1974)
Max Middleton was Beck’s go-to keyboard player for several years in the early 70s, appearing on four albums (two either side of the Beck, Bogert & Appice interlude) and writing some strong material. Middleton’s “Freeway Jam” may be just that - a jam - but the guitar solo is legendary, and George Martin’s production brings out the best in all concerned. Find it on Blow By Blow.
Drummer Terry Bozzio learned his trade in Frank Zappa’s band, appearing on 26 (count ‘em!) FZ albums recorded in the 70s and 80s. Small wonder that, along with his incomparable drumming skills, Terry brought a touch of Zappa-style humour to the table for Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop. As Jeff pulls a range of unearthly machine-like sounds from his guitar on the title track, Bozzio recites some bombastic guitar jargon, of the kind you might find in an 80s music magazine, using a classic American TV announcer’s voice: “Deep cutaways, no pick guard and a couple of humbuckers. Full shred! Balls deluxe!” and so on. It all worked perfectly and after a fallow period, Beck was back with his best album in more than a decade.
34: What Mama Said (1999)
Synth guitarist Jennifer Batten does much of the heavy lifting on the Who Else! album. That’s her providing the powerful rhythm parts and incredible tapped lead lines throughout “What Mama Said”, while Jeff adds slide and some frenetic soloing to this powerhouse track. The spoken word sample features actor Dick Shawn (in character as “Sylvester Marcus”), from the 1963 film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
33: Jeff’s Boogie (1966)
“We’re gonna bring out Jeff’s Magic Bag for ya” says Tim Bogert, as he introduces “Jeff’s Boogie” on the 1973 Beck, Bogert & Appice Live In Japan album. Beck then proceeds to rip through his frenetic party piece, throwing in snatches of “Over Under Sideways Down”, “Steppin’ Out” (the Clapton/Mayall version) and even the Beverly Hillbillies theme tune(!)
Based on Chuck Berry’s “Guitar Boogie” from his 1958 second album One Dozen Berrys, “Jeff’s Boogie” was an incredibly confident statement of intent for the 22 year-old Beck when it first appeared on the 1966 second Yardbirds’ album, aka “Roger The Engineer”. The BBA live version is jaw-droppingly good, but it’s a little too fast and loses momentum in places, so I’m sticking with the Yardbirds studio original, if only because there was virtually nothing else like it in rock at the time.
32: Heart Full Of Soul (1965)
“Heart Full Of Soul” was the first Yardbirds single recorded after Beck joined the group in March 1965. A real Indian sitar player was hired to play the distinctive instrumental hook line but the poor man couldn’t get to grips with the song’s 4/4 rock beat. So, Jeff stepped up with his trusty Fender Esquire and fuzzbox and nailed the sitar-like riff in one take. Job done. Had the Indian instrument actually been used on the Yardbirds’ song, it would have beaten, by several months, the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” which is thought to be the first pop song to feature a sitar. One of three Graham Gouldman songs recorded by the Yardbirds (plus a fourth released as a solo Beck single), “Heart Full Of Soul” reached #2 UK and #9 US. Find it on Having A Rave Up With The Yardbirds or virtually any Yardbirds hits compilation.
31: Star Cycle (1980)
Casual listeners will know “Star Cycle” as the theme to UK TV music programme The Tube which ran on Channel 4 from 1982 to 1987. To Beck fans, however, it will always be the powerful opening track to There & Back. Written by Jan Hammer, this spirited guitar and synth face-off represents 80s jazz fusion at its most commercial.
30: Plynth (Water Down The Drain) (1969)
“Today, with all the hard competition in the music business, it’s almost impossible to come up with anything totally original. So we haven’t – However, at the time this album was made, the accent was on heavy music. So sit back and listen and try and decide if you can find a small place in your heads for it” – Beck-Ola sleeve notes.
Always the master of self-deprecation, Jeff never missed an opportunity to underplay his achievements. On the other hand, he may still have been smarting from having his thunder stolen by Led Zeppelin.
The main problem with the second Jeff Beck Group album was a lack of strong original material (and a muddy production on the original vinyl pressings). Remove the pair of shambolic Elvis covers and a Nicky Hopkins piano solo from the equation and there wasn’t too much left to write home about on Beck-Ola. But “Plynth” was a rare exception. With a killer riff and a great vocal from Rod, it virtually stole the show.
An acoustic slide version titled “Around The Plynth” showed up a year later on the 1970 debut Faces album First Step. Composer credits on First Step were listed as Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, while on the Beck-Ola version Nicky Hopkins also received a writing credit.
It’s the one operatic tune even people who know nothing (and care even less) about opera will instantly recognise. Following Pavarotti’s memorable performance of “Nessun Dorma” at the 1990 FIFA World Cup this aria from the final act of the Puccini opera Turandot lodged itself in the public consciousness like no other classical music piece of recent times, appearing in films, sport and, inevitably, pop/rock music. Despite raising a few eyebrows at the time Jeff’s wonderfully bombastic version on Emotion & Commotion was exactly the kind of thing we have come to expect from him. Speaking of which, check out the live footage from the 2010 Crossroads Festival where Jeff falls to his knees, James Brown style, at the dramatic climax of “Nessun Dorma”.
28: New Ways/Train Train (1971)
The Mk II Jeff Beck Group brought in Cozy Powell (drums), Bob Tench (vocals) Max Middleton (keyboards) and Clive Chaman (bass) to record Rough & Ready. Jeff wrote/co-wrote six of the seven tracks, a higher percentage than any of his records before or since. On an album where the performances were probably stronger than the material, the funky “New Ways/Train Train” was a stand-out track.
27: Lookin’ For Another Pure Love (1972)
Jeff has made many memorable guest appearances, but few were as significant as his work with Stevie Wonder. We know the story about “Superstition” (see #4) but Beck was also involved with another Talking Book track. “Lookin’ For Another Pure Love” finds our man at his most restrained. His delicate and melodic low volume solo, without a hint of distortion, prompted Stevie to exclaim “Do it, Jeff!” midway through. Tim Bogert later spoofed this moment on the BBA Live In Japan album (see #19).
26: Manic Depression (1993)
With Seal on vocals, Jeff delivered an incandescent version of the Hendrix classic for the 1993 compilation Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix. The pair were reunited in 2012 to record an equally strong version of “Like A Rolling Stone” for the 4CD collection Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honouring 50 Years of Amnesty International.
25: Angel (Footsteps) (2008)
This delicate Tony Hymas-penned instrumental started life on the Who Else! album but grew in stature when played in concert. I’m picking the 2008 version from Live At Ronnie Scott’s. Listen out for Jeff playing some astonishingly precise slide guitar notes way, way beyond the end of the fretboard. Imagine if a Stratocaster had 50 frets (instead of just 21), that’s where he ends up at the close of this track.
24: People Get Ready (1985)
1985’s Flash album received mixed reviews, but this version of Curtis Mayfield’s oft-covered 1965 inspirational ballad was an undeniable highlight. The song re-united Jeff and Rod Stewart for the first time since 1969 with spectacular results. Beck delivers some wonderfully melodic guitar lines and Rod sings the hell out of the classic tune. Released at the dawn of the MTV era, the song even had its own big budget video showing Jeff and Rod riding a freight train across America.
If there could be a simple four-word definition of “torch song” then surely it would read “I’d Rather Go Blind”. First released in 1967 by Etta James, this is arguably one of the most emotive blues ballads ever recorded. Most people in Britain probably heard the song for the first time in 1969 when Chicken Shack, then fronted by Christine McVie, took it to #14 in the UK charts. Since then it has been covered by numerous artists ranging from B.B. King to Paul Weller and Rod Stewart. In her 1995 biography Rage To Survive, Etta is said to have expressed a liking for Rod’s Never A Dull Moment version.
With Jeff’s old sparring partner Jan Hammer on keyboards and the amazing Beth Hart belting out the vocals, this powerful live version is something to behold. You don’t need me to tell you it also features a heart-stopping guitar solo. Find it on Live At The Hollywood Bowl CD/DVD.
21: I Put A Spell On You (2010)
Written and recorded in 1956 by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, “I Put A Spell On You” is one of the most covered R&B songs of all time with versions by Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Nina Simone and countless others. The 12/8 time signature and pumping minor key tempo provides the perfect launch pad for some extreme whammy bar work and, with Joss Stone on vocals, Beck delivers a performance to match them all, except perhaps the 1956 original. Find it on Emotion & Commotion.
The 7th Yardbirds single performed well in the charts, reaching #10 UK and #13 US in May 1966. A group composition, Jeff played guitar and bass, with regular bassist Paul Samwell-Smith (who would leave the band a month later, to be replaced by Jimmy Page) acting as co-producer and backing vocalist. Ranked #23 in Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time, “Over Under Sideways Down" gave its name to the Yardbirds’ third US album.
“Sweet Sweet Surrender” was the third Don Nix song Jeff recorded in the space of two years. It first appeared on the BBA studio album, but I’ve gone for the concert version from Beck, Bogert & Appice Live In Japan simply because the guitar solo is so much better. As Beck hits his stride Tim Bogert wisecracks “Ah, do it, Jeff!” mimicking Stevie Wonder’s famous exhortation during the solo from “Looking For Another Pure Love” (see #27).
The song itself is nothing special and Jeff’s vocals are perfunctory, but the ferocious guitar solo was quite astonishing for the time, easily matching much of Clapton’s work on the Bluesbreakers’ “Beano Album” which, coincidentally, was recorded the same month (April 1966).
The term "The Nazz" was coined by Lord Buckley, an American comedian of the 40s and 50s whose monologues were couched in hip, black, jive-talk. In Buckley's routines Jesus was known as "The Nazz", a corruption of The Nazarene. Mods in Britain later used the expression to mean “The Ultimate”, hence its use in the title of the Yardbirds song. Ever the anglophile, Todd Rundgren then took the name for his band Nazz who recorded three albums between 1968-71. Todd later confessed he’d never heard of Lord Buckley but loved the Yardbirds’ track.
Find “The Nazz Are Blue” on the UK album Yardbirds (aka “Roger The Engineer”).
After the second Jeff Beck Group folded in July 1972, Jeff teamed up with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice, both previously in Vanilla Fudge and Cactus, to form Beck, Bogert & Appice. He had originally attempted to form the power trio three years earlier (the news was even announced in the music press) but the project was put on hold following Beck’s serious car accident in November 1969.
BBA issued just one self-titled studio album, plus a live double set initially released only in Japan, before imploding in 1974.
Written by Don Nix, the man who gave us “Going Down”, this riff-heavy grunge precursor features a rare lead vocal from Jeff. “Black Cat Moan” was released as a UK single in February 1973 but failed to chart. Find it on Beck, Bogert & Appice.
To use modern parlance, in April 2020 a new Jeff Beck single unexpectedly “dropped”, together with a stylish lyric video clip. It was a quite splendid cover of “Isolation” (from the 1970 album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band) with Johnny Depp on vocals and long-time Beck collaborators Vinnie Colaiuta on drums and Rhonda Smith on bass. The band first performed the track live at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in Texas in September 2019.
On his official website Jeff explains:
“Johnny and I have been working on music together for a while now and we recorded this track during our time in the studio last year. We weren’t expecting to release it so soon but given all the hard days and true ‘isolation’ that people are going through in these challenging times, we decided now might be the right time to let you all hear it. “You’ll be hearing more from Johnny and me in a little while but until then we hope you find some comfort and solidarity in our take on this Lennon classic.
The Beatles catalogue is sacred ground and anyone bold enough to attempt a cover version (and an instrumental one, at that) had better be sure of what they’re doing. With George Martin producing, that was never in doubt and Jeff (literally) breathed new life into this Lennon/McCartney tune via his Kustom Bag talk box effect. The purely analogue device, enabling a guitarist to speak/sing through his guitar pickups via a length of plastic tubing, is laughably outdated now but it must have seemed like the future in the mid-70s. Even so, Jeff’s phrasing is quite exquisite throughout this Blow By Blow track and he would develop the “guitar as human voice” idea further in later years.
Jeff ‘s tongue-in-cheek liner notes on the Truth album said this about ”Blues Deluxe”: “Thanks to Bert and Stan, we were able to give you a perfect example of “live” blues music that we sometimes give forth, and please let’s own up about the piano solo”.
Beck never takes things too seriously and “Blues Deluxe” is overdubbed with unashamedly fake audience noise. Not only that, much of the seven minute-plus track is taken up by a quite bizarre Nicky Hopkins piano solo, mostly played way up on the ridiculously high keys. When the short guitar interlude finally arrives at around the five minute mark Jeff pulls out all the stops, making most other blues boom guitarists of the time sound like amateurs. An alternate version with more guitar and less piano, but minus the overdubbed applause, was added to the Truth CD in 2005 as a bonus track.
Although cheekily credited simply to “Rod”, “Blues Deluxe” appears to be based on B.B.King’s “Gambler’s Blues” from his 1967 album Blues Is King.
Joe Bonamassa is a huge Jeff Beck fan and in 2003 recorded a commendable version of “Blues Deluxe” on his album of the same name.
This beautifully melodic piece was written by guitarist/producer Nitin Sawhney and first appeared on his 1999 album Beyond Skin, where it was sung by Swati Natekar in the Brij dialect of Hindi. Jeff covered it instrumentally for You Had It Coming, magically recreating the ethereal sound of the original vocal on slide guitar.
12: I Ain’t Superstitious (1968)
“This number is more or less an excuse for being flash on guitar” says Jeff with typical understatement in the liner notes for Truth. Like so many blues classics of the 50s and 60s "I Ain't Superstitious" was written by the great Willie Dixon. It was first recorded by Howlin' Wolf on a 1961 Chess single and while it didn’t stick to the standard 12-bar blues format, everyone from the Grateful Dead to Megadeth has tackled the song over the years. By the time Beck had finished with it, the song had mutated into a high volume wah-wah extravaganza far removed from anything Willie or the Wolf could have envisioned. No one else on earth, other than perhaps Hendrix, was playing electric blues with such confidence or swagger in 1968.
11: Shapes of Things (1968)
The opening track on Truth was a bold reworking of the 1966 Yardbirds hit single. Slowed down and given a heavy rock treatment (Jeff used a Fender Sho-Bud steel guitar alongside his trusty Les Paul) it was radically different in almost every respect.
The song is credited only to Paul Samwell-Smith on the original Truth LP sleeve, while the 2005 CD correctly names fellow Yardbirds Keith Relf, Jim McCarty and Samwell-Smith as co-writers. Meanwhile, the 1991 Beckology box set also adds Chris Dreja to the list of composers. Take your pick.
Jeff has often attempted to disown his first solo single, famously describing it as “like having a pink toilet seat hanging around my neck for the rest of my fucking life”. But the guitarist doth protest too much, methinks. Let there be no doubt, “Hi Ho Silver Lining” is a great pop record with a short but almost perfect (and eminently hummable) fuzz guitar solo. As I believe the young people say, what’s not to like?
Recorded in February 1967 with John Paul Jones on bass, the ubiquitous session drummer Clem Cattini and, at the insistence of producer Mickie Most, Jeff himself on vocals. The song was the work of two American career songwriters Scott English and Larry Weiss. Between them the pair wrote several huge hits, including “Bend Me, Shape Me” (American Breed and Amen Corner), “Brandy”/”Mandy” (Barry Manilow) and “Rhinestone Cowboy” (Glen Campbell).
A slightly earlier (by just a few weeks) version of the song was released by The Attack, a little-known band featuring future Nice guitarist David O’List, but their record disappeared without trace as Beck’s single began to take off.
“Hi Ho Silver Lining” reached #14 in the UK charts and quickly became a wedding disco favourite. With amended lyrics it was also adopted as the unofficial anthem of several UK football clubs (including my own team Sheffield Wednesday) and that’s surely the highest accolade any pop record could ever hope to achieve.
Jeff has seemingly warmed to the song in recent years and now sometimes plays it in concert.
A stereo mix was added to the 2005 CD of Truth as a bonus track.
9: Going Down (1972)
There’s a well-worn adage in rock circles which goes: “Whenever two or more guitarists are gathered together, they will eventually end up jamming on “Going Down”.
Beck’s 4th solo LP, officially titled Jeff Beck Group (but commonly known as “The Orange Album” because of the fruit pictured on the cover) was not well received on release. But one track stood head and shoulders above the rest.
“Going Down” was written by Don Nix, an important, if shadowy, figure in Southern rock and was first recorded by the obscure Memphis band Moloch on their 1969 self-titled album. Freddie King covered it in 1971 on Getting Ready and a year later Nix released his own version. But it was Jeff who turned “Going Down” into a gilt-edged rock standard, leading to dozens more cover versions.
Don Nix wrote “Black Cat Moan” and “Sweet Sweet Surrender” on the 1973 Beck, Bogert & Appice album and he also penned “Same Old Blues” as recorded by Eric Clapton and many others.
8: A Day In The Life (2008)
This track first appeared on the 1998 compilation In My Life, a collection of Beatles songs re-imagined by an unlikely assortment of artists, ranging from Goldie Hawn to Billy Connolly, via Jim Carrey and Sean Connery. The connection was Sir George Martin, who produced both the originals and the covers. Jeff’s instrumental take on “A Day In The Life” was the highlight of the album by some margin. Picking up where “She’s A Woman” left off in 1975, Beck once again demonstrated his uncanny ability to reproduce every nuance of the human voice with his guitar (except there was no talk box involved this time).This song has since become a fixture of his live set with several concert recordings available, each one as good as the last. It’s a tough call, but I’m going with the 2008 version from the album Live At Ronnie Scott’s, with Tal Wilkenfeld (bass), Vinnie Colaiuta (drums) and Jason Rebello (keyboards).
It sold poorly on release (reaching only #30 US/#43 UK) but the Yardbirds’ 8th UK single is now considered one of the greatest psychedelic records of the 60s. If that wasn’t enough recommendation, “Happenings…” was also the first release to feature the twin lead guitar attack of Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. The pair had recorded “Beck’s Bolero” together a few months earlier, but that was not released until early 1967.
Often overlooked behind the stuttering riff, eastern rhythms and otherworldly layered guitar solos was a spoken word section placed low in the mix. This was Jeff’s typically British joke. He had recently visited a, ahem, sexual health clinic and was amused by something that was said to him there:
“Pop group, are ya? Bet you're making the money
Why you all got to wear long hair?
Bet you're pulling the crumpet, aren’t ya?”
6: Goodbye Pork Pie Hat (1976)
This Charles Mingus jazz standard dates from 1959 when it first appeared on Mingus Ah Um, his debut album for Columbia records. It was written as an elegy for saxophonist Lester Young who died shortly before it was recorded.
There have been more than 150 cover versions of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” but it’s thought the first was by Bert Jansch and John Renbourn on their 1966 Bert & John album (released in the US as Stepping Stones). Another track from Mingus Ah Um “Better Git It In Your Soul” was recorded by acoustic guitar legend Davy Graham on his 1965 Decca album Folk Blues and Beyond (to be strictly accurate, Graham’s recording was actually based on the 1963 Mingus remake titled “Better Get Hit in Yo' Soul”).
“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” has long been a Jeff Beck stage favourite and appears on a few of his live albums, but I’m going for the studio recording from Wired, produced by George Martin. Sublime and subtle throughout, Beck’s version switches from clean guitar tones to blasphemous distortion in the blink of an eye.
5: Brush With The Blues (1999)
It’s blues Jim, but not as we know it. Who Else! was Beck’s first album of original material in a decade and saw him working with Guitar Shop keyboardist Tony Hymas again and, fresh from Michael Jackson’s touring band, guitarist Jennifer Batten. This slow, sultry instrumental was recorded live in Germany and demonstrates Jeff’s absolute mastery of his instrument with whammy bar wizardry, squealing harmonics and a jaw-dropping solo. “Brush With The Blues” became a concert favourite and was even performed at the White House for President Obama in 2012. But the 1999 Who Else! version contains all the guitar pyrotechnics most people will ever need.
We all know the famous story of how Stevie Wonder came up with the riff of the century (as Beck later described it) during a jam session. Stevie initially gifted it to Jeff, then realised “Superstition” was too good to give away and so ended up recording it himself on the Talking Book album. As a consolation prize Jeff was able to release his own version a year later on the Beck, Bogert & Appice album. Beck may have been beaten to the punch, but the BBA version remains a heavy rock/funk masterclass.
Predating virtually all mid-60s heavy rock and psychedelic recordings of significance (including Cream, Hendrix and the Beatles’ Revolver album), “Beck’s Bolero’ is one of rock’s genuinely great instrumentals. Recorded in May 1966, when he was still with the Yardbirds, Jeff’s first solo outing remained unreleased for almost a year, before turning up in March 1967 as the B-side of “Hi Ho Silver Lining”. In what was retrospectively seen as a dummy run for Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page, Keith Moon, John Paul Jones, and Nicky Hopkins played on the recording. Beck insists that he co-wrote the instrumental, despite it being credited solely to Jimmy Page. Likewise, Page and Simon Napier-Bell each claim to have produced the record, while Mickie Most received the credit.
Jeff still regularly plays “Beck’s Bolero” onstage, often opening his concerts with it. Several great live recordings exist, but the original 1967 single B-side is the one to go for. Find it on the Truth album.
2: Let Me Love You (1968)
The very first time I heard the opening to “Let Me Love You” it was game over. In mid-1968 no rock music on earth sounded as angry or as uplifting as that muscular seven note guitar introduction. Since then it’s been my go-to Jeff Beck track, not only on Truth, but of almost his entire catalogue and fully deserves the runner-up spot here.
Arriving a full eight months before the first Led Zeppelin album, Truth not only threw down the gauntlet for all heavy rock to follow, but it also introduced Rod Stewart and Ron Wood to the world. Not a bad start.
The concept of “call and response” in music was nothing new. It had been around in jazz for a long time, but Jeff and Rod put a new twist on it whereby the guitarist mimicked the vocal line with uncanny accuracy. No one was more qualified to do this than Beck, of course, and the idea was quickly seized on by other bands of the era, notably Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.
Loosely based on Buddy Guy’s 1961 Chess single “Let Me Love You Baby” (a Willie Dixon song) “Let Me Love You” was credited simply to “Rod” in the Truth sleeve notes.
1: Cause We've Ended As Lovers (1975)
And the winner is… “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers”. This song was largely overlooked when it first appeared as a vocal performance on the 1974 album Stevie Wonder Presents: Syreeta, before Jeff turned it into one of the most sublime guitar instrumentals of all time. Starting quietly, the track builds slowly with a clean guitar tone over electric piano. Then, at 2:40, Jeff stomps on the distortion pedal and the momentum builds with fierce pinch harmonics, feedback and outrageous string bends.
It became a concert favourite and there are many great live versions available, but the original Blow By Blow recording produced by George Martin remains the purest and, in my view, ultimate version.
“Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” carries the sleeve note addendum “(Dedicated to Roy Buchanan and thanks to Stevie – JB)”. Guitar hotshot Roy Buchanan was flavour of the month in the mid-70s, recording several critically acclaimed albums with his vintage 1953 Telecaster and lauded by guitarists around the world, Beck among them. It’s even rumoured Roy was on the shortlist to replace Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones in 1969. Sadly, Buchanan’s career stalled in the 80s and he met an untimely end, taking his own life in 1988. As for Stevie, he donated two songs for the album, supposedly by way of compensation for not giving Jeff first crack at “Superstition”. Along with “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” the other was “Thelonius” on which he plays clavinet, uncredited.