From the Vaults

Heavier on the Heavy: Jeff Beck’s sophomore slump “Beck-Ola”

jeff-beck-beck-olaJEFF BECK – Beck-Ola (Epic ’69): Beck’s problem has always been emphasizing how he could fuck his guitar rather than how he could craft good tunes as vessels for guitar virtuoso delivery, so in that case it’s probably good so much of his career—and most of his best stuff, honestly—has been covers of other people’s songs. Which is why, compared to the ten-track, three-cover Truth, Beck-Ola is a far grimmer affair, with only seven songs at thirty minutes with five of those being originals. Coming less than a year after the debut, the album not only sounds rushed, it also sounds like it exists solely to push the limits of Beck’s idea of heaviness.

At least they had that irreverent streak vital to rock & roll; not everyone has the guts to cover not one, but two Elvis Presley favorites. Still, what made “Shapes of Things” so distinctive was its complete de- and reconstruction of the original song, whereas these renditions merely give the songs a loose groove. Hearing them on their own you might not think they’re too bad, though when you remember Presley’s takes it’s like comparing the Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” to Mountain’s sludgy cover.

Not only that, but four of the originals—the Nicky Hopkins piano-led instrumental “Girl from Mill Valley,” out-of-tune “Spanish Boots,” and interchangeable-they’re-so-forgettable “Plynth (Water Down the Drain)” and “The Hangman’s Knee”—sound like rough drafts, polished jam sessions they happen to catch on tape the few days they were in the studio. It’s only the seven-minute and album-closing instrumental “Rice Pudding” that’s Zeppeliny enough to perk your ear, but it’s so like Zep you wonder whether Beck heard Page toodling around one day and lifted the riff. And it’s not like he or the band wind up doing anything too interesting with it, so what does it matter?

Before writing this review I tried to fish out my vinyl copy and couldn’t find it. When I figured I probably sold it a few years back with a few other records I’d guessed I probably wouldn’t need, I wondered why I would off an album by an artist I like even if it wasn’t the best. After popping in the CD I remembered. It is such a bad record. D


Jeff Beck – Truth (Epic ’68)A


3 thoughts on “Heavier on the Heavy: Jeff Beck’s sophomore slump “Beck-Ola”

  1. I haven’t listened to Beck-ola in quite a while but as I recall, you are correct in asserting that it is nowhere near as good as Truth. But over the years I’ve personally also come to the conclusion that while Truth contains some of the finest British blues recorded, there’s enough so-so material that I’m compelled to drop it to a B+ Greensleeves? Old Man River? And Morning Dew is OK.

    But the rest? Ferocious. Anyway, thanks for saving me a trip down memory lane with this album. Meantime, I’ll give Rice Pudding a spin.

    • Hey, Jim!

      You know, before diving into this review, I hadn’t heard the album in quite some time, either, but I thought I remembered it well enough that I imagined myself giving it a B+ of some sort. But it became very apparent very quickly just how poor this album is. Which is sad.

      But you know what? Beck dumped this band in favor of a brand-new lineup for his third and fourth albums, and while they’re not masterpieces, they are pretty tight (especially the self-titled “Jeff Beck Group”).

      And ‘Morning Dew’? Man, I like that one. I know it’s hardly a lick different than the famous version, but its aesthetic fits so perfectly into Truth that I’m more than willing to let it slide.

      • Yeah it’s not a bad song. It’s just that when I’m in that blues thang, that’s all I wanna hear. I actually have the Truth CD in the car. (How many people can say that?) 😁 And so listening to that song depends on my mood. BTW, I listened to Rice Pudding. Good tune but almost sounds like two different songs with that airy piano interlude.

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