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Jeff Beck - Beck-Ola CD (album) cover

BECK-OLA

Jeff Beck

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.29 | 54 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
5 stars "Beck-Ola (Cosa Nostra)" is not only the most overlooked and underrated album in rock history, it's also the earliest specimen of progressive heavy metal music in existence. You heard right. I'll stake my reputation on that statement. Of course, metal was just a classification of certain chemical elements in 1969 and not even close to being known as a musical genre but this incredible recording has the undeniable energy, the mutinous go-against-the-grain attitude and the bone-crushing volume to qualify as the forerunner. While their first LP, "Truth," was soaked in the blues, this has none. Quoting directly from the album notes, "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, this album was made with the accent on heavy music. So sit back and listen and try and decide if you can find a small place in your heads for it." That was the first time my friends and I had ever heard of "heavy" music and it sounded delicious to us. We didn't want subtlety. We didn't want happy tunes. We wanted something that recognized and addressed our testosterone-pressurized need to startle our suburban neighbors and that's just what this album did for us. It is snarling, ruthless rock played with abandon.

The band starts things off with an Elvis tune but if it weren't for the "All Shook Up" lyrics you probably wouldn't recognize it. First of all, the young Rod Stewart will never be mistaken for The King and that's okay. His gravelly rasp is just what the doctor ordered. And, while former drummer Mickey Waller was well suited for the bluesy tone of the previous LP, Tony Newman is a better fit for this album and he proves it right away with some inventive snare work on the bridge. Jeff cranks out some short but brilliant bursts from his guitar as Nicky Hopkins plays excellent rhythm piano underneath. Next up is their own "Spanish Boots," featuring a progressive song structure that was unheard of in '69. Beck provides some razor sharp, staccato licks and Ron Wood's rude, loud bass is right up in front, especially at the end when he takes off on a bellowing solo. Hopkins' "Girl From Mill Valley" is a real surprise. Like Jim Gordon's gorgeous theme at the end of "Layla," it's too beautiful a tune to ignore and the group, unable to resist its charms, had no choice but to include it on the album. It's mostly a piano instrumental as the band stays far in the background, unwilling to dare disrupt the gospel-like atmosphere the simple melody projects. In comparison to the rough-edged songs that come before and after, it provides a moment as calm as the eye of a hurricane. Their unceremonious version of "Jailhouse Rock" follows and the band comes barging in to demolish the peace like a gang of unruly thugs. Jeff's guitar teeters on the verge of feedback throughout and the whole group sounds as if they're bouncing off the walls of the studio. Beck's blistering lead is electrifying and when Hopkins takes his solo the whole band goes into double time. While Led Zeppelin could rock just as hard, they usually showed restraint. These boys didn't know what that word meant.

If you doubt that there was any prog going on here, "Plynth (Water Down the Drain)" will erase it from your mind immediately. After a short, playful piano intro from Nicky the group explodes into a driving rock pattern with Rod singing his billiards off. Again, this is no standard run of the mill chord progression going on here. Jeff plays incredible killer stuff over the band's funky, syncopated accents. He gets very impolite sounds from his axe that make you shake your head and wonder "what did he just do?" The man is amazing. "The Hangman's Knee" is cocky, low-down rock and roll with an infectious, loping groove that never lets up from start to finish. Jeff tosses in a little slide guitar, then proceeds to wrest agonized screams from his instrument that make you feel sorry for it. But from its tortured soul comes pure sublimity to a rocker's ears. "Rice Pudding" is progressive metal before there was such a thing. Powerful with a capital P. It opens with a knock-you-out-of-your-chair riff, then levels off into a tension-filled coast that sizzles and pops like frying bacon. After a repeat performance of that sequence, they transition to a softer, piano-led segment where Beck pulls out the slide again, creating a dreamy feel. Gradually they build back up to the steamrollering riff once more as they escalate into an insane frenzy before climaxing with a dead stop. The silence is deafening.

As you know, metal was a much-needed rebellion against the slick, glittery big-hair bands that dominated the late 70s and early 80s. It was a hard-as-nails, all-out assault of volume and intensity with no frills allowed. In a show of insolent contempt for the cute, pinup combos that were opportunistically coat tailing the "British Invasion" Mersey Beat in the late 60s, The Jeff Beck Group was doing exactly the same thing with this album. Rebelling. I wore the grooves out on this record from the day it was released and have never tired of its defiant, swaggering, disrespectful and arrogant attitude that I cherish. Now, don't get me wrong. This isn't inane punk noise because these musicians are as good as they come and they ply their trade with pride. They just didn't want any part of anything that wasn't genuine. Jeff Beck has the admiration of every rock guitarist who has ever lived because he gets notes out of his instrument that no one else can or ever will and because he refuses to lower his standards. Unfortunately, this dynamic lineup didn't last for long afterward but they inspired everyone from Deep Purple to Dream Theater and showed them all how it's done. This is one album from the sixties that you should have in your collection.

Chicapah | 5/5 |

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