Dear sweet Lord. I had never heard any Beck beyond Hi Ho Silver Lining throughout my formative years, when it was all Kinks and Cream and Deep Purple (with some Eurythmics, Fleetwood Mac (Poppy Mac, not Bluesy Mac) and classic soul thrown in). Then came Zep, and then came properly raiding the paternal record collection.
Truth has one of those album covers that just scream art, and invite one seductively. For copyright reasons, I won’t put it on here, but Google will do the trick. So there I am at home, sitting on the floor, cans on ears, platter on deck, when Rod bloody Stewart starts singing over this chaotic bluesy metal mayhem. I thought I’d got the wrong vinyl, but all was good once I’d heard the whole of Shapes of Things; so much better than the original Yardbirds version, with much more bite, more power, more soul.
My ownership of a debit card and the discovery of Amazon (Used and New) have aided me in finding great music, on CD, at ridiculously cheap prices. For £3, I am the proud owner of one of the best albums, by one of the most underrated of the ’60’s guitar gods (although, to be fair, he had to fight with Clapton, Page, Hendrix, George Harrison and then Ritchie Blackmore: all more populist, all more hooky, all more stable and secure. In fact, Beck reminds me of Peter Green and Mick Abrahams – great guitarists who couldn’t quite reach the upper echelons of superstardom, simply because they were either in the wrong band, or just couldn’t get the breaks…), and I have many bonus tracks. However, I hate bonus tracks, they feel so spurious: that’s what box sets are for.
But back to that music: deep growling bass and drums, then crazy, mental slides and effects, liquid lead lines and Rod Stewart, pre Maggie May, pre Sailing, when he was a blues shouter and great rock vocalist, of the same school of sound as Paul Rodgers. There we go, another British great: Paul Kossof. More on him another time. So, Shapes Of Things? Many different shapes conjured before my eyes, but mainly guitar shaped ones, huge, glowering Gibsons hovering in the air, and scaring me witless. In a good way of course. Another blues-rock hybrid in Let Me Love You, which Charles Shaar Murray and Beck, in the expanded liner notes, inform us is in fact a Buddy Guy rip-off. Still, marvellous riff, and groovy as hell.
We arrive at Morning Dew thinking that we’ll get another good old blues belter. We do, but we also get bagpipes, multi tracked vocals and generally mindbending goodness from old “Geoffrey Rod”. Then a much more spirited version of Willie Dixon’s You Shook Me follows, being a bit more, well, aggressive than Zeppelin’s stately, jazzy, jammed out murk. Nothing can beat Zep’s version, for delayed solo loveliness, harmonica craziness and Hammond organ soloing, but it’s interesting to hear Beck destroy the guts of a guitar, and JPJ moonlight on this version, with, you guessed it, a Hammond organ! How to finish off a side? Why, cover a Kern/Hammerstein II number! Ol’ Man River, that classic Paul Robeson signature tune, with Keith “Oh my word, it’s that chap from the Who” Moon on tympani. Oh, the sheer loveliness of it.
Acoustic versions of English folk songs sound so Zeppelin it hurts, but while they took three albums to really get there, Beck was kicking out the Greensleeves in ’68. It’s great, but works better on record – the gap between side 1 and 2 is lost on CD, the biggest problem in the digital age. Rock My Plimsoul is another blues rocker, with some great interplay between Jeff and Rod, but isn’t really the most memorable of the tracks. Two massive tracks follow: the instrumental Beck’s Bolero, with Jimmy Page, and Keith Moon, JPJ and Nicky Hopkins. From Bolero time to flat out rocking nightmare, this is easily the best riff (shock! written by Jimmy Page, I think, which might account for the pure memorability of it – he is the greatest riff writer, along with Hendrix and Clapton, really, I’d wager) and one of the best songs as well. The dynamics just explode from the speaker, the intensity of the performance is just wild. The extra tracks contain a version in mono with the extra backwards guitar missing from the main album version.
My favourite track tough has to be Blues De Luxe: a huge jam with overdubbed crowd noise, Nicky Hopkins goes wild on the piano, and Beck plays some of his most sublime work on the whole album here. Not much else can be said, apart from that it’s a stellar performance: no one is weak on this song, it’s all so tight, as to be almost too tight. Still, there’s a bar-room sloppiness in some of it to sound just right. Ending with I Ain’t Superstitious, an “excuse to be flash on guitar”, this disc really blew my mind about three years ago, when I first discovered it, and it still does now. Every day. I’m that sad.