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Jeff Beck: Truth - Album Of The Week Club review

Eric Clapton's Cream were a year away from extinction, Jimmy Page was commandeering his own juggernaut, and Jeff Beck was determined not to be left out of the race

Jeff Beck: Truth
(Image: © Jeff Beck)
Jeff Beck: Truth

(Image credit: Jeff Beck)

Shapes of Things
Let Me Love You
Morning Dew
You Shook Me
Ol' Man River
Greensleeves
Rock My Plimsoul
Beck's Bolero
Blues De Luxe
I Ain't Superstitious

By 1968, Jeff Beck had become a major pioneering force on the electric guitar, following Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds, before clocking up two pop hits with Tallyman and Hi-Ho Silver Lining. By the time he was assembling the band for Truth (only later dubbed ‘The Jeff Beck Group’) he determined to make an album for himself.

With Ronnie Wood on bass, Rod Stewart on vocals and guests like Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Keith Moon popping up for guest spots on Beck’s Bolero, it was an album that not only helped establish the British blues rock sound, but featured many of its best exponents. 

Audacious and experimental, it smashes genre conventions at every turn. Willie Dixon’s You Shook Me and I Ain’t Superstitious are masterfully reinvented, even Broadway hit Ol’ Man River and the Henry VIII-authored Greensleeves are dragged into Beck’s musical vision.

Record company execs, meanwhile, thought that Beck was actually Rod: “They said, ‘We always knew that Beck would make it. By the way, who’s the fellow on guitar?’” Beck grimaced later. “They actually said that. I’ve still got those words ringing in my ears.”

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Background

With the release of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, Cream’s Wheels Of Fire, Free’s Tons Of Sobs, the Stones’ Beggars Banquet and The Beatles’ seminal White Album, 1968 was a watershed year for rock music. Britain was a fertile stomping ground for players seeking like-minded musicians. Electric rock was in its infancy, and people were willing to embrace the daring and the different.

With Beck having established himself as a guitar player of the first degree on a quartet of bold and wickedly wonderful Yardbirds albums in 1965 and 1966 (For Your LoveHaving A Rave Up With The YardbirdsThe Yardbirds [Roger The Engineer] and Over Under Sideways Down), producer/manager Mickie Most, thinking to capitalise on the guitarist’s visibility, conceived the notion of turning Beck into a pop crooner. 

All but forgetting that Beck was first and foremost an instrumentalist, Most shackled him with a series of less-than-guitar-focused songs. In fact it turned Jeff into a Top Of The Pops insta-celeb. But you can’t deny the producer’s instincts: Beck’s ditties Hi Ho Silver Lining and Tallyman bounced up the UK chart to No.14 and No.30 respectively in mid-1967.

In 1968 Beck recorded another Most selection, an instrumental version of the ballad Love Is Blue. But by now he’d had enough. Even while preparing to record that single, he had already been making moves towards forming his own group, like two other ex-Yardbirds guitarists. Cream, with Eric Clapton, were only a year away from extinction; Jimmy Page was commandeering his own juggernaut; Beck was determined not to be left out of the race.

Other albums released in August 1968

  • Wheels of Fire - Cream
  • Undead - Ten Years After
  • Cheap Thrills - Big Brother and the Holding Company
  • Mr. Wonderful - Fleetwood Mac
  • Sweetheart of the Rodeo - The Byrds
  • Donovan in Concert - Donovan
  • Every One of Us - Eric Burdon & The Animals
  • Outsideinside - Blue Cheer
  • Together - Country Joe and the Fish

What they said...

"Truth was almost as groundbreaking and influential a record as the first Beatles, Rolling Stones, or Who albums. Its attributes weren't all new -- Cream and Jimi Hendrix had been moving in similar directions -- but the combination was: the wailing, heart-stoppingly dramatic vocalising by Rod Stewart, the thunderous rhythm section of Ron Wood's bass and Mickey Waller's drums, and Beck's blistering lead guitar, which sounds like his amp is turned up to 13 and ready to short out." (AllMusic)

"On 1968’s Truth we hear a 23-year-old Rod Stewart wailing the blues, giving Robert Plant a run for his money. And we hear Beck displaying some of the most sonically radical guitar work of the era. The affinity with Jimmy Page is quite striking. In particular, the vocal/guitar call-and-response episodes on Let Me Love You and Rock My Plimsoul predate Led Zeppelin’s The Lemon Song by more than a year." (AllAboutJazz)

"You won’t find your mom’s Rod Stewart here. This is Stewart in blues belter mode, all piss and vinegar, sounding like a raspy, wearier Sam Cooke on Morning Dew and You Shook Me. He’s one of the lads too, his voice wrenching deep emotion yet blending organically like another instrument." (No Ripcord)

What you said...

John Davidson: Wow. I had zero interest in Jeff Beck... but this album is an eye opener. Not only does it show off Jeff Beck's talents, it reminds us why Rod Stewart became famous in the first place.

Shape of Things opens strongly with a far far better version than the Yardbirds delivered. The next two songs are exemplars of 'classic ' blues rock You Shook Me hones a little too close to the formulaic blues template to be truly interesting to a heavy rock audience, but it's a cracking version none the less. Ol' Man River is similarly burdened with familiarity and while the addition of timpani and Rod's throaty lyrics add something to the song, it's still a bit 'meh'.

Greensleeves allows Beck to show his more classically trained side and is a little palette cleanser, before a return to the more blistering form of Rock My Plimsoul. Beck's Bolero gives us an insight into where so many heavy metal solos came from. Blues Deluxe is exactly what it suggests it will be: straight blues with a few bells on but for my money goes on a bit long. I Ain't Superstitious starts ok but isn't the curtain closer it should be.

Of the bonus tracks I've Been Drinking is the standout - and I cant believe it wasn't on the album proper. Rod Stewart is the revelation here. 

If the whole album had been like the first three tracks I'd have counted it a masterpiece, but for me it's too fragmented and lacks that overall cohesion that makes for a great album.

I've never really understood why Beck is revered and discussed in the same circles as Jimmy Page. This alums shows a glimpse of why, but at the same time (for me) underlines the weaknesses of that comparison.

Beck's clearly got bags of talent as a player, but given his most celebrated song is Hi-Ho Silver Lining I don't think it is unfair to say that his songwriting is distinctly second-rate compared to the likes of Jimmy Page or even Eric Clapton.

Michael Dean: Imagine if Rod the Bod continued to sing like this for his entire career! It would have been interesting to see where this band would have ranked among the greats if they could have lasted a few more years. Both records they did are great! Jeff is the standard by which all guitarists are measured.

Jacob Tannehill: I used to have this on vinyl. This was my very first exposure to Jeff Beck. I can’t listen to this album on CD or streaming without hearing the cracklings in between the songs when I used to listen to it. Rock My Plimsoul is my favourite tune. Shapes Of Things is outstanding. Great album to start with. The future only got brighter for both of them. I still wish they would have recorded a few songs recently, to see them come full circle 51 years later.

Randy Banner: This was my first foray into Jeff Beck despite years of being a fan of his contemporaries Clapton and Page. I wasn't sure what to expect going in, but I was pleasantly surprised. Not only was I blown away by Beck's exemplary skill on the guitar, but disappointed at how undeservedly overshadowed he seems to be in comparison to his former Yardbirds alumni. It's also intriguing to hear a pre-Stones Ronnie Wood and a fresh-faced Rod Stewart before the excesses of the 70s got hold of him. Both are in fine form here. Overall, an enjoyable experience for me.

Brian Anderson: I bought this album in the 80s purely for the Greensleeves cover. I was a little disappointed then because I never quite got Beck’s interpretation, but listening back now I really get it, it’s excellent. However, the rest of the album sounds like a jam session to me, which is a shame since it sounds like everyone’s just trying too hard to impress. While Beck has never been one of my favourite guitarists I think he is the best electric player there has ever been. He can turn his hand to anything and be brilliant at it, he is a real joy to watch live no matter what style he adopts. A true versatile virtuoso.

Nick Fitzgerald: I'm loving listening to this. After The Faces album the other week, I'm needing to seriously reconsider my opinion on Rod Stewart. I get what Brian Anderson means about the jam session feel, but I think that's what I like - it comes across to me as a really laid back recording. As I type this it's a mildly hungover Sunday morning and this is a pretty much perfect soundtrack for it.

Carl Black: A surprise album for me. I was expecting a dusty and musty blues album which belonged in a museum. Not the case. I got Fuzzy guitars, loud vocals (why can't Rod do more of this? All I hear him sing is Motown, Christmas songs or middle-of-the-road tish) and fresh sounding riffs. This is what the Jimi Hendrix Experience would have sounded like with some one who could sing. Really enjoyed it and will be giving it another spin soon.

Mike Knoop: I haven't listened to much Jeff Beck (too much music, too little time), but the impression I get from Truth is that as good a guitarist as he was, and he sounds very good here, he was an even better bandleader because Truth sounds like a real band album, not just a virtuoso with anonymous and interchangeable sidemen. Of course, most of his sidemen were already on their way to being aces: Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, Nicky Hopkins, and John Paul Jones, oh my!

Also, here at least, Beck is much more of an interpreter of songs than a songwriter, but the band does a great job putting a unique stamp on several well worn songs. My favourites that I keep coming back to are Morning Dew, You Shook Me, and a gob-smacking Ol' Man River with an elegiac melody on the Hammond by John Paul Jones while an uncredited Keith Moon smashes away on the timpani and Rod Stewart delivers one of his warmest and most effective vocals.

As other have written, a real nice surprise of an album. With Beck's career spanning 50+ years, as always, my question is, "What should I listen to next?"

Final Score: 7.99 ⁄10 (183 votes cast, with a total score of 1463)

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