Jeff Beck Group
Jeff Beck Group (Audio Fidelity in Vinyl)
by Brian Arsenault
Rod (“Where’s my next blond?”) Stewart was gone. Ronnie (“I’ll be a Face of the Stones someday”) Woods was gone. The bluesier Bob Tench was brought in to sing and the late Cozy Powell showed why he was maybe the best of the British rock drummers of the era.
This was 1972’s Jeff Beck Group album, the fourth and final of the band under that name whatever the lineup. And at its best it is the best of the four.
The leadoff song alone — the Beck penned “Ice Cream Cakes” — is an unknown classic, if such a thing can be. It’s a bluesy number wherein Tench makes you wish he’d been the original vocalist, Beck provides rich and vibrant overlays of guitars, and Powell just drums everyone out of the corps. Why this song didn’t have a twenty year run on FM radio is a mystery to me.
And that sort of symbolizes Beck’s career. Revered by other musicians and electric guitar afficionados right up until today, he’s just never received the same public attention as other greats of the Second Golden Era of Rock in the late ‘60s and ‘70s.
Part of it was that he never quite popped the wow factor of The Who’s Tommy or The Beatles Sgt. Pepper. There was always Clapton forming Cream and of course Jimi mind blowing everybody. Yet there was never better musicianship than that provided by Beck and his band and it’s dazzling in more than one place on this album.
The second side’s lead-in song “Going Down” sees Cozy hit the incredible pace of “Ice Cream Cakes” yet again. Max Middleton plays his particular brand of honky-tonk rock piano and Jeff jumps in and away we go. The piano and guitar leads bounce off each other throughout to great effect.
What a pleasure it is to hear Beck playing within the structure and rhythms of the band, not jumping over it or simply biding time until his blasting solo. (Others will not be named but they know who they are.)
Another highlight is the cover of Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You.” Beck could be a real slow hand as well as blazing fast and he shows that here. But it’s Tench and the chorus that steal the number and give an early demonstration of how melodic and soulful a Dylan song can be when Bob’s tuneless gravely growl is removed.
Again we hear a generous Beck willing to play under the vocal rather Keith Richards-like. He just doesn’t have to compete with his singer or play over him.
“Glad All Over” has shades of early Cream and also reaches back to the John Mayall connection shared by so many of the elite Brit guitarists of the era. (Note to self: Why doesn’t Mayall get more attention and credit in the Rock Pantheon?)
Listeners will have other favorites but there are only nine songs on the album. A quirk of Beck’s that probably also worked against him was short albums. He also didn’t seem interested in producing a rock anthem, bless him. And bless all providers of vinyl albums in this digital (what does that mean anyway) era.
By the way, Johnny Fever said there was an obligation to teach the children about Rock. In that spirit and thinking of the young, all you have to know about the First Golden Era of Rock is the following.
1) Chuck Berry
2) Buddy Holly
One-two ranking is dependent upon my mood of the day.
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Brian Arsenault’s November and Other Tales is a collection of short stories exploring the way cold comes by degrees in winter and in the human heart. To check it out, click HERE.