Thursday, June 01, 2006

One Last Rod Reference

BECK-OLA (1969) was the follow-up to TRUTH (see yesterday's post), and was released just prior to the group's disbanding (Rod Stewart and Ron Wood both left to join Faces, a new incarnation of the Small Faces, sans Steve Marriott, who had left Small Faces to form Humble Pie). The Jeff Beck Group was originally slotted to perform at Woodstock, but of course, never made it.

In any event, back to Beck-Ola. Tony Newman had replaced Mick Waller on drums, and Nicky Hopkins had been promoted to full-time band member. Thus, the line-up was Jeff Beck (guitar), Rod Stewart (vocals), Ron Wood (bass), Nicky Hopkins (piano), and Tony Newman (drums).

The song listing:
Side One
All Shook Up (Presley/Blackwell) – 4:53
Spanish Boots (Beck/Stewart/Wood) – 3:35
Girl From Mill Valley (Hopkins) – 3:48
Jailhouse Rock (Leiber/Stoller) – 3:16
Side Two
Plynth (Water Down the Drain) (Hopkins/Stewart/Ron Wood) – 3:07
The Hangman's Knee (Hopkins/Stewart/Ron Wood) – 4:48
Rice Pudding (Hopkins/Newman/Wood) – 7:28

I guess it's easy to see why Nicky Hopkins was credited as a band member, given that he has at least partial writing credit on 4 out of the 5 original songs here. It's interesting (to me at least) that both remakes included are of songs made famous by Elvis Presley.

Here are the liner notes from my vinyl LP (much briefer than those from Truth):
Today, with all the hard competition in the music business, it's almost impossible to come up with anything totally original. So we haven't--

However, at the time this album was made, the accent was on heavy music. So sit back and listen and try and decide if you can find a small place in your heads for it.

This is certainly a "heavy" album, although the piano, while definitely rocking, prevents me from tagging this record as "metal" (which I've read elsewhere, much to my befuddlement). In fact, though, this album does lack somewhat in the variety of its predecessor (e.g., "Ol' Man River" and "Greensleeves"). However, what it captures the band doing, they are doing very well. My only real "complaint" is that the total running time is barely more than 30 minutes. While certainly not unheard of at the time, there was certainly room for at least an 8th song.

"All Shook Up" is done slower, and a whole lot heavier than the Elvis version, and Beck absolutely rips his guitar to shreds. "Spanish Boots" is heavy, and features stinging guitar. "Girl From Mill Valley" is an instrumental, and not surprisingly, as it was composed by Nicky Hopkins, is primarily a piano showcase. "Jailhouse Rock" is ultra-heavy. In fact, it seems heavier even than the other songs here. Interestingly, I'm not sure if that's because it truly is the heaviest song, or because it's just soooo much heavier than the Elvis version. With "All Shook Up", the tempo seems so noticeably slower that it's barely reminiscent of Elvis at all. "Jailhouse Rock" is instantly recognizable, albeit MUCH heavier, and Beck provides crazy-excellent guitar solos. The guy really is mind-boggling on guitar.

"Plynth (Water Down The Drain)" is yet another heavy tune, but with AMAZINGLY biting guitar runs. Beck's guitar seems almost a deadly weapon here. "The Hangman's Knee" is another great guitar masterpiece, and also a demonstration of how well-suited for rock Rod Stewart once was. "Rice Pudding" is a heavy instrumental, and a great closer for the album. Hopkins really tickles the ivory here--what an amazing talent! There's a guitar break near the end in which Beck seems to anticipate that great Joe Walsh intro to "Funk #49". I'm not saying Joe stole anything. Let me just say that I can hear the inspiration...Also, "Rice Pudding" has what might well be the single most abrupt ending to any song ever. It's as if the tape ran out. Hey, maybe that's why the whole album is barely more than 30 minutes...

Despite its brevity, this is a highly enjoyable listen for any fan of guitar rock. I think it's also an important document, especially coupled with Truth, that proves beyond a doubt that Led Zeppelin wasn't the only band playing heavier, blues-inpired rock. They were just the ones that held together long enough to reap the rewards. Speaking of "coupled with Truth", Epic Records did a vinyl re-release in the '80s that coupled Truth and Beck-Ola as a double-LP. That would be a great way to get both albums. I have no idea what the CD situation is (remastered? bonus tracks? Sorry, I didn't do the research this time).

Note: Tomorrow's album moves us from the year 1969 to 1970, but with a completely different artist, and it will represent an abrupt change in style, as compared to Truth and Beck-Ola.


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