Jeff Beck: Truth and Beck-Ola

The liner notes to these reissues find Beck to be proud, combative, honest, and reflective -- pretty much a parallel to the often fierce music on these seminal albums.

Jeff Beck


Label: Legacy
First date: 1968, 1969
US Release Date: 2006-10-10
UK Release Date: 2006-10-16

Jeff Beck


Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2006-10-10
UK Release Date: 2006-10-16

Once upon a time, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck pretty much represented the holy trinity of British guitar. The three were intertwined early in their careers when they succeeded each other on a little farm team known as the Yardbirds, but their paths split after that. Clapton left to join bands like John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and Cream before forging a successful solo career. Beck followed him, playing in the Yardbirds until health reasons reportedly forced him out. Page, the last of the Yardbirds guitar heroes, went on to form Led Zeppelin.

From the start, Beck may have been a more accomplished guitarist than either Page or Clapton, but Beck's playing lacked the carnal groove of Page's, and while Clapton may not have turned out to be God, he rightfully gained a reputation for channeling his personal pain into the blues. Beck could play pretty much anything, but the fates conspired to keep him from reaching the commercial heights of his Yardbirds brethren.

As Beck's post-Yardbirds career was gaining steam, he lost a year recovering from a head injury suffered in a car crash, backed out of playing Woodstock, and lost vocalist Rod Stewart and bass player Ron Wood to the Faces. At times, Beck seemed the victim of bad luck; other times, he seemed to go into self-imposed exile. So whatever momentum he built for himself tended to find a way to get derailed.

But the Jeff Beck Group burned bright and brief; the lineup of Beck, Stewart, Wood, drummer Micky Waller, and pianist Nicky Hopkins lasting only two albums: Truth and Beck-Ola. After Beck-Ola, Stewart and Wood would defect to the Faces, and Beck would turn his group into a more subtle but less satisfying beast. Still, it's hard to imagine Zeppelin, Cream, or any host of British "blooze" acts ever being the same without the template Beck and company laid down.

In fact, legend has it that Beck was furious with Jimmy Page when Led Zeppelin followed Beck's version of Willie Dixon's classic "You Shook Me" with their own version. Beck heard Led Zeppelin I as proof that Page had stolen his ideas. And who could blame Beck? The two bands followed remarkably similar blueprints, right down to an emotive, slightly androgynous singer.

The year 1968 also saw Cream release Wheels of Fire and Hendrix release Electric Ladyland, so a few people were nosing around the same ideas for a new blues sound as was Beck, but Beck's sound was probably the most immediate, relying as it did on pure, uncomplicated power. Some credit Truth and Beck-Ola with laying the groundwork for heavy metal; whether or not that's the case, there's no denying his early influence. Several techniques that we take for granted now -- call-and-response between singer and guitar, phased guitar effects panning back and forth in the listener's headphones, distortion -- sounded fresh at this time, and Beck put them to good use with his new band.

Right out of the gate on 1968's Truth, Beck signals this new approach with a remake of the Yardbirds' "Shapes of Things" that ramps up the blues quotient. The guitars, bass, and drums are on overdrive, competing with Rod Stewart, who wails over everything (yes, despite his recent attempts to woo our grandmothers with his standards records, Stewart used to be not only young, but one heck of a rock 'n' roll singer).

So that's what you notice first about Truth: that sledgehammer approach to the blues. But Truth also holds a few surprises and left turns, in the form of a nimble rendition of the traditional "Greensleeves", the blues / jazz hybrid of "Beck's Bolero" (ironically, written by Page), and a slow blues cover of "Ol' Man River". Some of this was due to the fact that the group had very little original material, but it also represented the constant power struggle between Beck, who wanted to follow his own vision, and producer Mickie Most, who saw anything other than mainstream pop as a dead end.

In the short amount of time it took to release the follow-up, 1969's Beck-Ola, acts like Zeppelin and Cream had begun to dominate the charts. So it's no wonder that Beck-Ola ditches some of Truth's eclecticism in favor of cranking the amps up even louder. The sound here is even heavier, placing more emphasis on guitar power. Elvis' "All Shook Up" is a mix of screaming guitar and rollicking piano, while "Jailhouse Rock" is a workout featuring slinky, funky guitar / piano interplay. "Plynth (Water Down the Drain)" boasts a riff that sounds for all the world like primo Zeppelin. On the one hand, Beck-Ola isn't as satisfying as Truth -- Beck himself admits that they were just winging it, trying to get something on the shelves -- since it's shorter and less varied. But there's a certain charm to the bash-it-out style with which they attack these songs. It's fun, but it's also a reactive album, spurred by flagging attendance at shows and by the attention other bands were getting, rather than a visionary one like Truth. It's a shame the band could spend only four days on it. An instrumental like "Girl from Mill Valley" just begs for the sweet kind of vocals that would earn Stewart his millions later on.

These 2006 reissues are notable for a couple of reasons past their clean remastering. They share a dozen bonus tracks between them, and the liner notes offer Beck's revealing track-by-track opinions on the albums, roughly 30 years later.

The bonus tracks for Truth consist of Beck's three pre-Jeff Beck Group singles (and their b-sides), as well as a piano-less take of "You Shook Me" and a take of "Blues De Luxe" noticeable for its lack of fake crowd noise. Those early singles, even though they were hits at the time, might come as a revelation to some listeners ("I've Been Drinking" is a nice blues groaner that was tucked away as a b-side to the harpsichord-laden chamber pop of "Love is Blue"). They certainly offer a glimpse into an alternate reality where Most had his way, transforming Beck into a pop artist. The enormously popular "Hi-Ho Silver Lining", in particular, seems to weigh on Beck -- he once compared the song's success to having a pink toilet seat hanging around his neck, and hasn't grown more charitable towards the song since.

Beck-Ola gets early versions of "All Shook Up" and "Jailhouse Rock", as well as B.B. King's "Sweet Little Angel" and Hank Marvin's "Throw Down a Line". For the most part, they entertain in the way that good blues workouts should. If anything, though, the leanness of the bonus materials here underscores the no-frills circumstances that surrounded the album's creation. Beck recalls "Throw Down a Line" as an example of Most's pop leanings, but admits that the song held potential, if only the band had found time to do it justice.

The liner notes are refreshingly frank in that way; Beck minces no words about the growing strife within the band, or with Most. Even though these albums were recorded decades ago, Beck's memory is impressive. He remembers instrumentation and circumstances -- things that you'd think would blur with time -- just as well as he remembers Keith Moon screaming over his drums as the band kicks into high gear on "Beck's Bolero". He's also honest about the business realities that drove some of the band's decisions, even though 20-20 hindsight reveals some of them to be mistakes. Even so, he comes across as undeniably proud of the band's accomplishments, as he should be.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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