Six definitive songs: The beginner’s guide to Jeff Beck
If like us you have been avid devourers of rock and roll since you were knee-high to a Les Paul then chances are you will have come into contact with Jeff Beck at some point in your life. While not able to grab as much attention as his counterpart, Jimmy Page, Beck was arguably one of the more prominent founding fathers of the rock and roll scene that burst out of sixties London.
We thought what better way to reacquaint ourselves with Beck’s talents than by revisiting six of his career-defining songs. They may not necessarily be the best, we’ll have that debate another day, but they sum up one of rock’s quietly illustrious careers.
The mercurial musician has never been one to fit within the tramlines of any prescribed notion. Beck has always found himself on the peripheries of the mainstream, quietly making some of the most notable tunes in rock and roll.
With his band The Yardbirds, Beck made some incredible and his rhythm guitarist of that group, Chris Dreja proclaimed: “Jeff was, and is, a fucking genius.” Judging by the below he’s not wrong.
See the selections, below.
‘Train Kept A Rollin” (1965)
Some of Beck’s proudest moments have come with The Yardbirds and their 1965 single ‘Train Kept A Rollin”, a track that has always been near the top of any list of rock greats.
Beck was speaking with Louder Sound reflecting on the song when he said: “We did that with Sam Phillips at Sun Studios in Memphis on our first tour of America. Giorgio Gomelsky, who was in charge of the band at that time, phoned him up and Sam said: ‘It’s Sunday. We’re closed’. Giorgio told him he was missing a great opportunity to record a happening band, and eventually persuaded him. So we went down and recorded a couple of tracks.”
A cover of an original standard, as was a particular favourite for British invasion bands, Beck wasn’t as keen on their single as the original. “To be honest, our version of ‘Train Kept A Rollin’’ was pretty awful but it was different. I’ve studied the Johnny Burnette Trio version since and it’s still the most amazing track ever. It’s also kept Aerosmith going for quite a while. In fact, it backfired for me when I put it back in the set, and people would come up and say: ‘I loved that Aerosmith track you played’.”
‘Beck’s Bolero’ (1967)
One song will go down in history as nearly forming one of the most incredible supergroups of all time. In fact, the session would go on to inspire John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page to name their later band Led Zeppelin. The track, ‘Beck’s Bolero’ is one of his finest.
“That was recorded with John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, Nicky Hopkins and Keith Moon,” he once said. “And that was the band we hoped to form out of that session. Keith had agreed to play drums for one day, and when he turned up we were hoping that he might be interested in a permanent position. He was not happy with his current band; something to do with the vocalist, I think.” The band being The Who and the vocalist, of course, being Roger Daltrey.
“I don’t know if it would have worked or not but it sounded so great in the studio,” Beck added. “I couldn’t believe it when we went back and listened to it in the control room. We were going: ‘This is amazing. What can we do with it?’ And the next thing we know Keith is back with The Who and the whole thing never got off the ground. But all we needed was a singer.”
It’s clearly a missed opportunity within Beck’s mind: “Unfortunately there was no Peter Grant [Led Zep manager] around at the time to grab us and do something with us.”
‘You Shook Me (From The Truth)’ (1968)
After it was clear that Led Zeppelin would happen without Beck, he continued on with his pursuit of success with the jeff Beck Group. However, when Zeppelin arrived on the scene it didn’t stop Beck from finding it a little amusing: “When Peter Grant played me the first Led Zeppelin album I thought he was having a laugh. Never mind. It all worked out great for them.”
Beck soon became a big enough persona for the whole band and was constantly causing Peter Grant trouble. It’s why eventually he ditched Beck for Zeppelin but not before great songs like this stinking rhythm and blues beauty.
One song which highlights Beck’s ability to transcend genre and style, and also highlights his incredible musicianship, is Stevie Wonder’s classic ‘Superstition’. It’s a song helped compose and was meant to be for his own release.
“Epic Records were bleeding for a record from me, ’cos I was only making about one album every 10 years,” Beck told Louder Sound. “So they said: ‘If we can get you on Stevie’s record and he writes a song for you, will you make a record for us?’ And I said: ‘What time’s the plane?’ I’d heard [Wonder’s] Music Of My Mind and I was just in awe.
“One day, during a break, I was fooling around playing a drum lick, and Stevie walked in and he thought I was the drummer. He said: ‘Don’t stop,’ and walked over to the clavinet and started playing the riff. Which was the beginning of ‘Superstition’. We played for about two minutes and then we started working on it properly.
“That was supposed to be my song. But when Stevie took a demo of it back to Motown, [Motown boss] Berry Gordy said: ‘This is yours.’ And that was the end of that.”
‘Led Boots’ (1975)
The track, taken from Beck’s album Wired, saw the guitarist once again in a dominant mood. This time not only showing that he was a genius with the guitar but that he was open to every kind of music.
“I wanted to take as much inspiration out of the Mahavishnu Orchestra without anybody recognising it,” revealed Beck. “The only tell-tale sign was [Mahavishnu keyboard player] Jan Hammer. I wanted a huge amount of his input. His playing is so fast but it’s very deceptive. It’s like playing with a demon. And I love the way he understands compression and funk. He’s got all the elements that I love about rock ’n’ roll.”
‘People Get Ready’ (1985)
“I’d done it as an instrumental version, and Rod Stewart heard it and he loved it,” remembered Beck of his track ‘People Get Ready’. “He was on the phone to one of his blondes when I played the demo, and he suddenly said: ‘What the fucking hell’s that? Let’s record it.’ So we booked a studio.” It’s the kind of spontaneity that Beck has thrived on in his career.
“And I remember it was a magic session. People in other parts of the studio stopped what they were doing and came to listen, so there was quite an audience in the control room. It was one of those great moments. And I think that was one of the best performances I’ve ever heard Rod do.”