The Title Is “Truth” And The Music Is Good
Truth is an amazing album. It of course starts with the band’s take on the Yardbirds tune, “Shapes of Things”. Same song but done oh so much differently. Things had just evolved. Of course, this version featured Rod Stewart versus the Yardbirds’ Keith Relf, but that really is just the beginning of it. The Jeff Beck version had Ron Wood’s bass, this rich bass that just filled the groove, and it was right there front and center. And then there was the guitar, coming at you from all different angles – the solos, the fills, the swells – all of it. All so much bolder than the Yardbird’s version.
The guitar, and the recording, was just done with a much richer language or vocabulary. The toolbox had in those two or three years simply expanded. If you play the two versions back to back, you can perceive the frustration that Jeff Beck suffered with his amplifiers and technology while with the Yardbirds. I imagine he could almost taste what could be, what would be possible, but it wasn’t there yet in 1966. It was barely there in 68, but the electric guitar had progressed from the wasp farts of “Heart Full of Soul” in 1965.
From those opening salvos of “Shapes of Things” they quickly move onto “Let Me Love You”, a variation on the Buddy Guy tune. A blues-based rocker, it affirms “Shapes of Things”. Stewart, with that golden rich voice, is at moments more than heard. And then there are these moments of tenderness and tension courtesy of the play between Stewart’s voice and Beck’s guitar. You can hear Buddy Guy’s influence on Beck’s playing if you check out Buddy Guy’s original version. I point to that flourish – the fireworks in the opening of Buddy’s version.
Two songs later it is the Willie Dixon classic, “You Shook Me”. With this tune you have the original Willie Dixon version, which had only been recorded a few years before, then there was this Jeff Beck Group version here, and then there was the Led Zeppelin version on their first album. It must be noted that Beck’s version found on Truth and Led Zeppelin’s version found on their first release were released only weeks apart.
The Beck version of “You Shook Me” with the piano and organ parts are for me a nod to Dixon. That is until you arrive at the exchange of licks between Nicky Hopkin’s piano and Jeff Beck’s guitar. You have there in that exchange tradition and not. And then there is the tone of Beck’s guitar both at the beginning and end of the tune. At both moments Beck’s guitar is almost outside of the song. It intrudes upon the piano, organ, and vocals, it intrudes upon the song. That is until that exchange where the keyboard in fact frames and focuses you on the guitar. At that moment you feel almost shaken.
Going to Zeppelin’s version of the song for a moment, it is in a similar vein, again until the ending, again involving an exchange but this time between Page’s guitar and Plant’s voice. The two versions of this same Willie Dixon classic again illustrate the connection, and the competition between Beck and Page. Not only the competition between them, but how much they share, how much they have in common. It was visible in the Yardbirds, and it is exposed again in the selection of this tune by both. Their separate takes on Dixon’s “You Shook Me” just illustrates and reaffirms that tension.
Returning to Truth, we now turn our gaze to “Morning Dew”, which we had skipped over. Morning Dew, which unlike “Let me Love You” that precedes it, and “You Shook Me” which follows it, is very much a pop song. It was in fact written by a folk artist, Bonnie Dobson, but did ultimately find its way to the pop charts. Further, it appears from my searches that a range of artists have covered this tune. This includes not only Jeff Beck but Devo, Robert Plant, Nazareth and Blackfoot.
Above, I skipped over “Morning Dew” to highlight the blues-driven hard rock of “Shape of Things”, “Let Me Love You”, and “You Shook Me”. Even with those three together, however, this album does offer a mix of music. Blues driven, hard rock? Yes. Perhaps even the beginnings of metal? Maybe. Regardless of what boxes this album checks, however, it offers a range of music. Morning Dew is an example of that.
So far, we have covered the first track, “Shapes of Things”, a nod to where Jeff Beck is coming from. Followed quickly by a solid blues rocker in “Let Me Love You” and then I jumped to Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me”, where Beck’s guitar truly shakes it up until it is inside. Then there is “Morning Dew”, originally a folk tune written in 1964, became a pop hit in 67 and so forth. Why is it here? It showcases Rod Stewart’s voice, with that light golden rasp. It is contemporary. It is folk-pop focused, before you return to the blues of Dixon’s “You Shook Me”.
There is, however, another part or piece to this song – the post-apocalyptic. It is a folk song that deals with a man and woman after the apocalypse. The chorus in it is “There is no more morning dew”. In short, it is the lyrical equivalent perhaps of the Yardbirds rave, or more appropriately, Jeff Becks guitar or any number of other his solos, which just challenge and provoke. It is equivalent to the selection of such pieces as “Greensleeves” and “Ol’ Man River”. Each of these will be touched upon below. In each, however, whether it be via lyrics, solos, or even in song selection, the band challenges or provokes.
It also should be said that in ‘Morning Dew’, you can hear what becomes a trademark for Jeff Beck, regarding his work with vocalists. He just has a way of framing vocals with his guitar stylings. He just adds and embellishes with his fills and all. Not stealing the spotlight but rather complementing and pointing it back at the vocals. In the end, Morning Dew does not really slow it down for a moment, but rather just takes you in a different direction before bringing you to “You Shook Me”.
And from “You Shook Me”, it is “Ol” Man River”, the last song on the Side One if you recall that an album at that time was on a vinyl record. (I did not until pondering all this.) It is a show tune from the Broadway play, the musical, Show Boat. which dates back to 1927. It was composed by Jerome Kern with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein. The song is basically Broadway’s take on a black spiritual. If you are still asking how a pop tune snuck into this bluesy hard rock mix, good luck on explaining this one. All I recall is a buddy of mine in my youth doing his version of ‘Old Man River’. It was not pretty.
Again, for those who listen to the album on vinyl “Old Man River” is the last song on side one. It is the Jeff Beck Group doing their thing, so you have Rod Stewart singing, and Jeff doing his thing, but I know of no other rock album with such a song seriously embraced. I wonder what folks thought of side one of this album. What was their response to this eclectic mix of music as they got up and flipped the vinyl record over to side two?
And then side two begins with some acoustic guitar. Jeff playing Greensleeves, the sixteenth century English folk tune. Greensleeves is heard at various moments, including the holiday season, random movie soundtracks, perhaps in a quiet moment of an Elizabethan period piece. A hard rock album is for me not one of them. Granted Richie Blackmore certainly challenged that whole proposition, but then he ultimately did find himself doing Renaissance music.
The Truth album cover notes do tie it together nicely, pointing out the band is after all English, and it is played on the same model of guitar as Elvis plays. Album cover notes. Again, there was no such thing as album cover notes a few years before this. A 45 came in a sleeve. Again, Greensleeves, an acoustic English folk song, is how the second side of Truth opens.
From there we move back to the blues, back to Jeff on the electric guitar, Ron Wood on bass, and Rod Stewart on vocals, a band. Specifically, we have “Rock My Plimsoul”, which is Jeff and Rod’s take on B.B King’s “Rock Me, Baby”. We then move onto “Beck’s Bolero”, which as I noted above was recorded and released on the B-side of “Hi-Ho Silver Lining”.
Again, “Beck’s Bolero” was the result of that session in 1966 involving Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Keith Moon and Nicky Hopkins. The session took place during a period when Jeff’s management was pondering what the next step was for Jeff. At that recording session, it was Jimmy Page who introduced the idea of using a bolero, a nineteenth century dance rhythm. The most well-known of boleros is the classical piece by Ravel, “Ravel’s Bolero”. The bolero is also commonly associated with flamenco music.
Here, in “Beck’s Bolero” Jeff and his mates use it to seduce. They use the bolero to pull you into the song, before pulling the rug from under you, and descending upon you. The song does provide a glimpse of what Jimmy Page had up his sleeve, but ultimately it is Jeff’s.
It is Jeff’s guitar that offers up the melody, and it is Jeff that transitions into some slide guitar before returning to the melody, all with Page’s bolero rhythm underneath. And then it stops midway. The bolero is halted and they steal or borrow the Yardbird’s rave, where the rhythm is quickened, and chaos ensues. It is at this moment that you hear Keith Moon yelling, just going crazy on the drums. And a heavier riff embraced for a period before the bolero returns, only now with some of Nicky Hopkins’ piano and Jeff’s lead guitar now ascending. It is Jeff’s take on a bolero.
From what has become a Beck standard, we go to “Blues Deluxe”, which just begins with this amazing piano. For me this playing, and much of Nicky Hopkins on this album, does not make me think of the blues so much as the classic black and white western movie with the piano player in the corner of the saloon, playing until the gunslinger comes in the door. Of course, in addition to Nicky’s playing here there is some great blues singing courtesy of Stewart, Ron Wood’s stark bassline, and likewise those lovely blues licks courtesy of Jeff.
And once again on this song Jeff just so flips it as he often does. You have to wait till past the midway point. It is almost over, but it isn’t. His tone, his riffs, his contrast to that piano at that moment just rips the scar off. He makes it raw again. He is the gunslinger here.
Lastly, there is Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Ain’t Superstitious”. Which starts not with the piano but Jeff’s Beck’s guitar calling out. Twice. Three times Beck’s guitar calls out. The third time Rod Stewart responds to the call. The song basically is Jeff’s guitar and wah-wah versus Rod’s golden voice. That is the song. Rod’s voice and Jeff just playing. Truly playing in every sense of the word.
And that is Truth. In the end for me this is not metal or even hard rock. It is primarily blues with rock guitar that he is offering, or what is becoming rock guitar. That mix of Muddy Waters, BB King, and Les Paul. It is blues, complete with the traditional blues piano, which I imagine is an upright piano. Jeff largely took the classic blues tunes that he had come to love and brought his electric guitar, complete with the various effects, the modern studio, or at least the studio heading in that direction, and Rod’s voice to the project. Yeah there is a beat behind him, but still blues.
The rest of the album is experimentation or perhaps more provocation. It provokes. Consider the old show tune / black spiritual “Ol’ Man River”, or the acoustic “Greensleeves”. There is the apocalyptic pop tune found in “Morning Dew”. Add to this “Beck’s Bolero”, with the collaboration of Beck and Page involving a classical dance theme. All of these are a departure from the blues driven mix, but all, in various ways challenging, provoking the listener.
Again, the album was recorded before they left England, Recorded in Abbey Road Studios. Recorded in two weeks? It was one of those albums that just happened. That was the way they made albums at that time. It was certainly the MO of the Yardbirds. And Jeff Beck and Mickie Most so did the same here. And once it was done, it was off to the US. That was the focus. The album was almost an after-thought. Something that had to be fit into their schedule. Yes, they recorded an album, but more importantly – they were headed to the US – NYC, New York City, in early June.