Jeffrey Arnold Beck. No, not Beck, as in Beck Hanson, whom, for the two cents worth, is one of the relatively few truly gifted and ultra talented stars of today’s popular music. Jeff Beck is the guitar hero’s guitar hero, and has been since the early ’60’s with his first record with The Tridents, carved a path in rock and popular music that is equally the genius caliber of Jimi Hendrix, and second to nobody else ever. This is a man whom was every bit as influential and brilliant in introducing hard blues rock to the world as The Rolling Stones and by being in The Yardbirds even for a short time places him in the same level of greatness as that other guitarist whom, for a short time shared lead work with him. You might recognize the name Jimmy Page.
Jeff Beck made his mark with the landmark album Truth, an album that was every bit as great as Led Zeppelin in its heaviness, and acoustic breaks as well. And what made that album extra special was the band – drummer Mickie Most would go down as more of a British pop song maker, but there happened to be one Ronnie Wood, who played bass, and a painfully shy singer who would soon take Wood with him, form The Faces and become one of the greatest singers of all time. We’re talking about Rod Stewart, who would, with Wood, make the Jeff Beck Group’s second and final album Beck-Ola before splintering off on his own.
Jeff Beck, who was figured to be a huge star and badly wanted in the first Woodstock festival by its organizers, sadly would be in a bad car crash and suffer migraines that plagued him a long time and kept him from getting a band and playing, which may have been the difference between being a household name on the level of Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix or Van Halen, but because he was not one for being idle, he soon delved into jazz rock and delivered astonishingly great fusion albums before taking a bit of a hiatus and then coming back in the ’80’s with a different sound, and then eventually getting into near industrial music intensity and taking guitar once again to new levels that the guitar community had little choice but to drool over as the great man has shown he isn’t about to slow down and can either bring tears with great ballads or rock like it’s 2099!
These ten albums are essential in covering the best of his career, and because Jeff Beck has done so much in terms of variety and style changes, it probably is best to list these albums more or less chronologically. For this author, if it’s Jeff Beck, that’s really all I need to know.
The great debut of the Jeff Beck Group, this album, which many rock historians regard as more important in developing the huge blues rock industry soon to follow than its primary comparison to Led Zeppelin. One thing Jeff Beck did not do was steal old blues numbers and take credit for them, as somebody else was infamous for doing. But if Rod Stewart was so shy that his first gigs were spent hiding behind speakers, he showed no such intimidation in the studio. “Shapes Of Things” took the Yardbird chestnut and added a ton of musical heft to it, basically becoming the blueprint for heavy rock and roll.
On “Beck’s Bolero,” Jimmy Page himself contributed 12 string guitar, and wild man Keith Moon, who was on the outs with The Who at the time and considering leaving them, nonetheless showed up under cover and pounded the skins into dust. You can hear him scream right at the start of the heavy section. Elsewhere, Jeff Beck taught us he was the best blues player, and was taking his noise making and other sounds to places only Hendrix was visiting. Jimi reportedly loved Truth, and asked Jeff how he came up with some of his sounds.
9) Blow By Blow
After his break from the scene, Jeff Beck formed Beck, Bogert and Appice, with the late Tim Bogert on vocals and drums and Carmine Appice on drums. Although it was a fine album it basically followed the same formula. It was the album Blow By Blow that shocked everybody who had pegged Jeff Beck as just another blues lead player, albeit a great one. Here, there were no heavy blues rock to be found. “You Know What I Mean” opened up with a funky rhythm that exploded as keyboardist Max Middleton, bassist Phil Chenn and drummer Richard Bailey took flight, with searing guitar lines that were just as important because Jeff Beck made them memorable to the average listener, and jazz and rock music would never be quite the same.
Where other fusion players would make their own distinctive impact, Jeff Beck somehow remembered to keep things rocking and on great songs like Stevie Wonder’s “‘Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” showing his incredible sense of melody before blowing the doors off on “Freeway Jam” and closing with the majestic and beautiful “Diamond Dust” would be regarded even more as one of the most innovative and original guitar geniuses of all time.
Jeff Beck did a trilogy of these jazz fusion albums, and the second installment Wired is just as great as the predecessor, and could have been part of a fantastic double album, but on the other hand, Jeff gives us so much to listen to that too much at once would probably make us miss something we’d regret later, always a risk with double albums. “Led Boots” was an obvious nod to his friend Jimmy Page, but other than that, it was a tour de force with a strange drum tempo that only the best could try. This album flies by – it’s all killer with tracks like “Blue Wind” and “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” breaking the speed limit, but he also finds the time for his pretty stuff, primarily “Sophie”.
This is a bit of a toss up, but it’s important as it re-introduces us to new Jeff Beck music, a fresh new approach with the help of Nile Rodgers on production. It shows Jeff Beck adopting a more pop style but fusing his always razor sharp lead work in a new framework, giving room for his fireworks. Perhaps more interesting is the reuniting of Jeff Beck with Rod Stewart, who joins him for a beautiful “People Get Ready”, maybe the most soulful solo Jeff Beck would ever play. He sings on two cuts albeit is not Rod Stewart, and “Nighthawks” is one of his underrated tunes.
6) Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop
In 1987 Jeff Beck decided to do things his own way minus the “hit formula” of Flash. This album would be the new standard for his own excellence and left other great guitarists groveling as they knew once again this man had beaten the competition just by being himself, with the best balance between burning down houses with his lead work and a song that would be regarded by many to be his possible masterpiece.
With only the great Terry Bozzio on drums, a Frank Zappa alumnus and working with the pop band Missing Persons, and keyboard extraordinaire Tony Hymas who handled bass keyboard as well aboard, this astonishing album was a cranium dissolver from the opening title track, where Bozzio describes the guitar, presumably a Strat Jeff has been pretty much devoted to for the last several decades, with details on pickups, the neck, etc., while Jeff “plays” power tools like drills as he “builds” the guitar from scratch. No guitarist had ever produced those sounds! The centerpiece of the album is “Where Were You”, one of the most beautiful electric guitar performances ever recorded, unless we consider a couple coming up here.
Jeff Beck has always been a master of using his whammy bar in the most exquisite and melodic ways, far from just yanking on it to produce predictable dive bomb sounds when a guitar player has no better idea what to do to close out a solo. On this song, which HAS to be heard to be believed, we see visions of flights of birds riding the thermals, cruising perhaps along a beach at sunrise or sunset, and a culminating climax that, like the rest of the song, is a beautiful sound in and of itself. Jeff Beck on this song invented a new technique but his touch is that of the most sensitive violinist.
5) Who Else!
An apt title to be sure. Jeff Beck takes on industrial music and sampling, does it brilliantly as usual, and adds yet another notch to his belt.
4) Jeff Beck’s Rock and Roll Party Honoring Les Paul
Whew! This album needs a fire extinguisher nearby, such is the energy and great sounds of good old fashioned real rock and roll and good times. Jeff Beck and the legendary Les Paul were good friends, and often when he was stateside Jeff would go to Les Paul’s weekly gig and jam with his own hero. After Les passed away, Jeff Beck decided to honor the great man and set up a concert that has to be heard. It features as its centerpiece a medley of some of Les Paul and Mary Ford’s biggest hits with Imelda May taking the place of Mary Ford, no easy task because Ford had a gorgeous voice and was almost as technically adept as her husband Les was. What is truly amazing here is Jeff Beck‘s ability to play Les’ solos note for note! Elsewhere he rips on “Cry Me A River”, invites Gary U.S. Bonds and Trombone Shorty to the show, and a showdown show ender with Brian Setzer as they play a furious version of Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock”. Here, we’re among duel geniuses. Jeff Beck can do it all in any style, and it would be great to see these two titans do a project together!
3) Emotion and Commotion
Right now it’s my favorite Jeff Beck album, and pretty much has stayed there ever since it was released. This album has such an array of sounds it’s unbelievable, but overall it is one of the most beautiful albums ever by Jeff Beck and yet again shows us just how dynamic and broadly talented he is. Opening with a Jeff Buckley tune, the heaviest rocker soon takes off on “Hammerhead”, with a killer blues riff augmented by a real orchestra. The big moment here however as far as the “emotion” portion of the album is concerned is the magnificent cover of “Over The Rainbow”. This much recorded chestnut has had several degrees of success depending on who covered it, but Jeff Beck does his version with such grace and a tear inducing arrangement that other than the original, other versions are rendered moot.
Utilizing of course his whammy bar technique he stays primarily with the main melody line, but his emotion as he approaches the end of the song is that of, well, nobody. The song has been taken to a brand new level, the orchestra works perfectly, and once again Jeff shows when he wants, he can treat his guitar with a delicacy unparalleled. Imelda May appears for “Lilac Tree”, a very pretty ballad, and Josh Stone gives us a rip roaring performance of “I Put A Spell On You”, and sounds like she really means it. Even “Nessum Dorma”‘s main movement is here, and Jeff Beck matches its profound emotional load easily. There really are no guitar albums quite like Emotion and Commotion.
2) Live At Ronnie Scott’s
Jeff Beck had done a live album with Jan Hammer in the fusion era, but live albums apparently suit him as he did the aforementioned . . . Rock and Roll Party . . . and would release another live album later. This album was videotaped, and is a great album to have. Most of his best known work is here – “Led Boots”, “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” and a bit rushed “Where Were You”, but he once again outdoes himself with “A Day In The Life”, and shows he is one of the few who can do a Beatles song justice. Needless to say his live band is top shelf stuff, but we knew they would be.
1) Loud Hailer
Brits call megaphones “loud hailers”, hence the name. On this album Jeff Beck has vocals throughout with a couple of gals holding up incredibly well. Vocalist Rosie Bones is great, full of energy that she utilizes to great effect, and the album’s lyrics are sometimes quite political. Carmen Vandenburg is the rhythm guitarist who makes up the basic core of this line up. Songs like “The Revolution Will Be Televised” and “Oil” rock with the power of any metal band and Jeff Beck seems to be especially charged up on this set of ultra contemporary songs that would delight NIN fans as well as Beck fans who continue to marvel at his incredible range of style. This is probably the “heaviest” Jeff Beck album, showing everybody that if you have the goods, you can blow anybody out of the water. What an absolute wizard.
Top 10 Jeff Beck Albums article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
Classicrockhistory.com claims ownership of all its original content and Intellectual property under United States Copyright laws and those of all other foreign countries. No one person, business or any organizations is allowed to republish any of our original content anywhere on the web or in print without our permission.