From the Vaults

Shapes of Things: Jeff Beck’s “Truth” molded a hard rock movement

jeff-beck-truthJEFF BECK – Truth (Epic ’68): After departing from the Yardbirds, where he and his competitive contemporaries Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page more or less got their start in the big leagues, guitar virtuoso Jeff Beck teamed up with an extraordinary group that was every bit as super (on paper, at least) as Led Zeppelin. He recruited Ron Wood on bass, Mick Waller on drums, employed Nicky Hopkins on occasional piano, and gave a young Rod Stewart a chance to flex his blues muscles. Though the group was short lived, they managed to record a record largely consisting of covers that predated the hard rock of Led Zeppelin, the trippy sludge of Vanilla Fudge, and the manic riffing of Deep Purple. It was heavier than Hendrix and more bluesy than Cream without the excess of guitar heroism.

The primary mode is for Beck and company to dismantle others’ songs and build them back up from virtual scratch. Compare, for example, the clean, white r&b/blues-pop sheen of the Yardbirds’ “Shapes of Things” with the loud, drunken rumble of Beck’s cover. They triumph in “Morning Dew,” (though primarily a heavier version of Tim Rose’s 1966 hit interpretation) where the bass and guitar start as tepidly as reluctant rising sun before galloping toward the horizon at the behest of Stewart’s increasingly frantic vocals. “Greensleeves,” originally included as filler to beef up the runtime, has become by popular demand a staple of his live shows. And say what you will about their stab at “Old Man River,” but hey, it takes balls to throw that on a rock album and try to make it stick.

Though it’s a shame the original Jeff Beck Group never lasted, there’s little to indicate they would have been much of a songwriting powerhouse. Of the three original songs here (credited to Jeffrey Rod, har har), only “Let Me Love You” has any staying power as a hard rocking blues buster, as the other two (“Rock My Plimsoul” and “Blues Deluxe”) are by-the-numbers. The only great original is “Beck’s Bolero,” a track Beck and Jimmy Page have squabbled about over the songwriting credits for decades. Keith Moon had to be snuck in and out of the studio to record his drum part because he didn’t want to annoy Pete Townshend, with whom he was displeased at the time—or because of his contract with another label, who knows? The song starts with a vibrant, chiming bolero rhythm before a piercing guitar slides atop it. In its third phase, incognito drummer Keith Moon wails hard before the song drops into its hard rock/proto-heavy metal breakdown, notable because Moon’s shriek signals when he knocked over one of his microphones, partially muting his performance. “Beck’s Bolero” remains one of Beck’s best songs.

But as should have been apparent even in 1968, Beck’s loyalty to bandmates was nothing if not ephemeral. For the follow-up Beck-Ola, drummer Micky Waller was replaced by Tony Newman. By the time Beck released Rough and Ready in 1971, the entire lineup had changed, and he’d only release one other album with them before teaming up with Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge and Cactus. From there he’d go solo, picking up and dropping off musicians as he needed them. Truth, though, was Beck’s first crack at bandleader, and while his career has had high peaks and schlock lows, it remains one of his best efforts, even apart from whatever historical value as an influencer it might hold. Led Zeppelin was released a mere five months later, and while they can’t be accused of wholly stealing Beck’s sound, it’s impossible to deny the number of tricks Jimmy picked up from Jeff. And it goes on down the line. A

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3 thoughts on “Shapes of Things: Jeff Beck’s “Truth” molded a hard rock movement

  1. Love this album. Raw British blues at its best. I could live without Greensleeves but Let Me Love You is superb. I doubt if most people ever knew Rod was a blues singer. BTW, you’ve got a couple different versions of the Moon story in there.

    • Ha! Thanks for pointing that out; edited now. The Keith Moon story–as well as the varying accounts of how “Beck’s Bolero” came into being–is so mercurial that it’s impossible to tell which one is true. Maybe none of them is, or all of them are. One of those things that’s lost in the ether!

      • Well, they say there’s always three versions of the truth – my version, your version and what really happened. I rather like both your original versions and will continue to assume both are true. 😀

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