Jeff Beck is one of the greatest revolutionaries of the electric guitar; of all the great British guitarists of the 60s, Beck was the most original, bold and daring. He was never content with a single style and continued to innovate over the years, always looking for new sounds on the instrument. Few guitarists can match him in terms of influence; it is true that he was never a great composer and needed others to find the best vehicles on which his guitar could shine. That's why our 10 favorite songs from his career focus on his time in the Yardbirds and the early days of the Jeff Beck Group.
Heart Full of Soul
Eric Clapton may have been the Yardbirds' first guitarist but that band didn't reach its full potential until Jeff Beck came along to change everything. After the success of For Your Love, it was decided to bring back the songwriter from that number, Graham Gouldman, to take over the writing of their new single. Gouldman came up with an even better song, influenced by the Beatles' flirtations with Indian music. They were going to record it with a sitar, the instrument made fashionable by George Harrison, but Beck plugged his '54 Esquire into a 'Fuzz box' and started playing the mythical riff and everyone agreed that it sounded much better that way. From the first moment it could be seen that the combination between the Yardbirds and their new guitarist was going to be perfect, because the former wanted to innovate and the latter was the perfect guitarist for it; an adventurer who was going to become the lighthouse for explorers of the six strings.
Evil Hearted You
Another great song by Gouldman (of which much later the Pixies would do an excellent Spanish version, Corazón Diablo), was done for a band that had put a new guitarist at the helm and given him every chance to explore the limits of his instrument. Here he mixes Spaghetti Western soundtracks with surf music and creates a totally original and fresh sound, especially when he puts on the slide for the wonderful solo.
Shapes of Things
One of the defining moments of Beck's career came with the revolutionary Shapes of Things, composed by bandmates Jim McCarty, Keith Relf and Paul Samwell-Smith. The song was already pretty good on its own but what made it a classic was Beck's solo, which managed to control the use of feedback and bringing in an Eastern influence that presaged the arrival of psychedelia. Despite not having composed it, his name was so attached to the song that he re-recorded it when he formed his first solo band, with Rod Stewart on vocals and Ron Wood on bass, in another excellent version for the Truth album, with his '58 Les Paul Standard replacing the Esquire.
Over Under Sideways Down
The Yardbirds were primarily a singles band rather than albums, but even so, they still had time to record the remarkable Roger The Engineer, an album that contained this gem on which Beck delivers the best riff of his career and debuted his newly acquired Les Paul with humbuckers. Blues and raga merge on Beck's guitar strings to create something entirely new.
Happenings Ten Years Time Ago
If Shapes Of Things was one of the starting pistol of psychedelia in the UK, Happenings Ten Years Time Ago was pure psychedelia but it already anticipated that this was hardening and taking giant steps towards hard rock and heavy. It is for good reason that on this song two of the most important guitarists of all time, Beck and Jimmy Page, join forces to create an explosive bomb whose scope was extended with the appearance of the Jeff Beck Group and Led Zeppelin. Speaking of the latter, although Page's appearance saw Chris Dreja, the Yardbirds' rhythm guitarist, on bass, on the studio version of this song the man who takes over the four strings is John Paul Jones.
But Happenings Ten Years Time Ago wasn't the first time Beck recorded with Page and Jones. The former was one of his best friends and, in fact, had been the one who had recommended him for the Yardbirds slot in the beginning, so it is understandable that when in May 1966 Jeff Beck approached a studio to record his first solo tracks he did it with Jimmy Page, of course, the rest of the band he was going to assemble was not going to be left behind. The thing is that Jeff Beck's favorite drummer was Keith Moon of the Who, and it turns out that Moon was not going through the best moment in his relationship with Pete Townshend, so he accepted Beck's offer. Not content with that he proposed John Entwistle as bassist, knowing that he was not happy with the leader of the Who either. But on the day of the recording Entwistle didn't show up, so Page called John Paul Jones and Nicky Hopkins to close a quintet of real luxury. The song they recorded had begun with some chords played by Page in the manner of Ravel's Bolero, and in the studio they perfected it: Beck added part of the melody with Page and the slide parts, Moon put all the strength of his drums and the resulting piece was probably the best song of Beck's career, Beck's Bolero, an instrumental that had part Yardbirds, part Who, half of Led Zeppelin (a group Moon unwittingly christened when he said that if that group went on "it would go down like a lead zeppelin") and two of the greatest guitarists of all time. Had it been released at the time of its recording, in May 1966, it would have been a real hit; and it is not for nothing that when it appeared as the B-side of Hi Ho Silver Lining 10 months later and on Beck's first solo album, Truth, released in 1968, it still sounded ahead of its time. Even so, its legacy is evident, being a song that foreshadowed the advent of hard rock and heavy and, if that wasn't enough, its slide part was one of the reasons that prompted Duane Allman to put a coricidin bottle on his finger...
I Ain't Superstitious
The duo of Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page in the Yardbirds did not last long, and in November 1967 the former finally left the band or was expelled - depending on who we listen to. What is clear is that Beck had been ready to leave the band for some time, since early 1967 he had been playing with vocalist Rod Stewart and rhythm guitarist Ronnie Wood and various bassists and drummers. When he finally found himself on his own, Beck closed the definitive line-up, Wood switched to bass and signed Mickey Waller as drummer on Stewart's recommendation. With this line-up he would record the best album of his career: Truth. An album that was six months ahead of Led Zeppelin's debut, with a very similar sound. Truth closed in a powerful way with a splendid version of Willie Dixon's I Ain't Superstitious, the combination between Stewart's voice and Beck's guitar was spectacular, with Beck making his wah-wah sound as if it was talking.
Another Truth marvel is this version of Bonnie Dobson's folk classic, which Jeff Beck's band turns into wonderful psychedelic hard rock, again with a plethoric Beck making great use of the wah.
Plynth (Water Down the Drain)
The second album of the Jeff Beck Group's first line-up, now with Nicky Hopkins as an official member and Tony Newman replacing Waller on drums, Beck-Ola, was a good follow-up to Truth, although it didn't reach the same level. That said, there is this marvel written by Wood, Stewart and Hopkins that is one of Beck's great classics and features one of his most powerful riffs.
Of all the songs Jeff Beck is associated with there is none better than Superstition. Of course the definitive version is the one that appears on the Talking Book of its composer, Stevie Wonder. But few know that this song was composed by Wonder for Jeff Beck to thank him for his participation on that album. The fact is that Wonder had found out that Beck was a fan of his so he asked him to play on Talking Book, and as compensation it was agreed that Wonder would write a song for the guitarist. While they were in a session, Beck got on the drums and began to fool around with a funky rhythm, Wonder asked him to continue and at some point he composed Superstition, riff included. The Motown genius was going to give it to the guitarist to release on his new trio's new album, with Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice, but the album was delayed and Motown's top man, Berry Gordy, heard the song and told Wonder it was going to be a clear number one. In the end Wonder released his version first and made Gordy's prophecy come true. Beck's version came out in March 1973 and is not bad either, with a less funky but more hard rock. Of course, Stevie Wonder would end up giving two more songs to Beck, Thelonius and Cause We've Ended as Lovers, the latter possibly the best known of his solo career.