I grew up thinking of Jeff Beck as basically “the poor man’s Eric Clapton”, which is a bit of a harsh (and wrong) conclusion to come up with. Still, Beck never proved to be the most prolific artist, so maybe it was an easy mistake.
Because the truth is, listening to this, that not only was Beck quite the guitar hero, but he was more than capable of putting together a rock belter. This album has been called “The First Heavy Metal Album” but then they said something similar about Iron Butterfly and, just as then, it’s not a definition I’m buying.
Still, it is a great guitar album. It starts with the quite ahead of its time “Shapes of Things”, which opens the proceedings up with a big bang, before easing in to the Cream-esque “Let Me Love You”. Like the track before it, Rod Stewart takes the vocals (Beck was never the great vocalist), and “Morning Dew” is a great redeemer for a man who’s better remembered for silliness like “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and that godawful Three Musketeers single. It’s gentle, soulful and lets Beck show off his axe skills here and there.
“You Shook Me” is of course more famously known from Led Zeppelin’s cover, but this version is a different beast, more subdued and blues. Things step up a notch for the simply epic “Ol’ Man River” (from the musical Showboat), which is just beautiful. Rod Stewart, who knew?
The guitar cover of “Greensleeves” falls flat, and then for the rest of Side B it’s proper dirty blues territory. “Beck’s Bolero” is bold as hell, and, for me at least, the only point where the ‘heavy metal’ tag applies. It’s still blues at heart, and the other tracks, “Rock my Plimsoul”, “Blues Deluxe” and the delicious closer “I Ain’t Superstitious” aren’t ashamed of it.
For me, this is the album that bridges the gap between the tinged-with-British-invasion guitar rock of The Yardbirds and the mind-blowing magnificence of Led Zeppelin (not long now, pop pickers). It’s a talented, sincere blues album from an underrated musician, like a refined companion to John Mayall’s “Blues Breakers” and it’s a joy to get your teeth into.