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Jeff Beck - Jeff Beck Group: Beck-Ola CD (album) cover


Jeff Beck

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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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.

Report this review (#120476)
Posted Tuesday, May 1, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars Much like Larry Coryell had Jeff Beck exploited his fretboard prowess to it`s full potential he might have enjoyed much more commercial success. Of the three Yardbird guitarists he was certainly closer to Hendrix. Beck-OLa was unmistakingly one of the heaviest albums during the time Hendrix still roamed the Earth and had similar qualities to his visionary musical outlook. While other bands such as Deep Purple, Uriah Heep and more notably Led Zeppelin which spawned from this era and continued on their merry paths of heaviness The Jeff Beck Group departed in 1969 with Beck-Ola leaving fans grappling with many "what ifs".

Beck-Ola is a monumental jamming blues-rock extravaganza which bleeds with Beck`s psychedelic guitar lines, Ron Woods`loud compressed bass, sprinkled with Nicky Hopkins`piano backdrops & Tony Newman`s power drumming. Many critcs have dowplayed the album as being a mis-match of Rod Stewart`s vocals to Beck and the rest of the group. Save for the bluesed out Elvis covers, Jailhouse Rock and All Shook Up, Stewart really sounds like he could have been another Robert Plant on tracks like Plynth ( Water Down The Drain ) and Hangman`s Knee which were just as powerful as any early metaled out blues by Led Zeppelin.

It was personality clash rather than music flow which led to the dissolution of the band following the release of the album and this is more than evident on the final blues-rock fusion blowout, Rice Pudding which is so intense you can almost taste it. Beck twangs, screams, convulses here as he accompanies himself through overdubs and also shows off his compositional skills with some nice counterpoint on the softer sections of the 7 minute 22 second piece which then culminates into up into a sudden still silence.

It has also been considered to be a prototypical heavy metal album by many but the overall feel here is just too groovin` for it to be considered as such. Beck`s complexities even at rthis early stage of his career seemed to indicate his leanings more toward the realm of jazz-rock which he would eventually realize in the not too distant future. An early masterpiece from a guitar icon which in retrospective will still nag the new and old coniseuers of this outstanding work into asking the question " what if?".

Report this review (#133481)
Posted Friday, August 17, 2007 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
2 stars 2.5 stars really!!

As I wrote all of my Jeff Beck reviews without having re-listened the albums (I knew them well enough for that), I had not submitted this one, because I was kind of amazed at the few reviews already in and its extraordinary rating average, contrasting heavily with my own opinions. Had I missed something that others were flagrantly seeing? So I had to rent this album, just to make sure that I wasn't about to make a huge mistake, which is the reason why there is more than week between this review and the others.

The JBG tried for the double shot with an unchanged line up (except for Waller being replaced by Tony Newman >> future May Blitz), but ultimately failed to convert it properly. In itself, it is relatively hard to explain why Truth was so brilliant and Ola was so deceiving, but the main culprit is (IMHO) the choice of the material they covered. Indeed the choice is not only wider (spectrum- wise) but might seem a bit "hors de propos" and was ill advised. Indeed the Elvis covers are anything but good or even fun, let alone strange "apple" artwork too, almost referring to the Beatles. Fact is that this album was simply rushed both in recording and production and is a poor showing, even by '69 standards.

Another thing is that Stewart overdoes it by the ton, simply proving himself too much at times, and All Shook Up is a disaster, not even saved by Hopkins' usually brilliant piano, bedded in the muddy sound. The side closing Jailhouse Rock is a disgrace to the original version, but unlike the All Shook Up version, you can recognize it, unfortunately I might add. The difficult but impressive Spanish Boots is unfortunately too botched up in the sound-quality dept, that it loses whatever charm it might have had for progheads. The preceding Mill Valley is a Hopkins-piano piece that gives this album its only credential at a prog-related; much like Hopkins' piano would do the same with the 9-min+ magnificent Edward The Mad Shirt Grinder in Quicksilver Messenger Service's Shady Grove album.

The flipside opens with the other track worthy of interest, Plynth (Water Down the Drain), which starts on Hopkins piano then an ascending Beck guitar riff, but the funk beat stops this track of going somewhere, but it does remain interesting. Hangman's Knee is a heavy blues that goes to remind Zep, early Sabs and Purple but holds little interest for the proghead. The album closing Rice Pudding has some decent groundbreaking (for then) chord structure that would characterize the better Zeppelin metallic moments, then suddenly veers is a aerial jazzy theme, where Hopkins' piano is again too lowly recorded even if Beck's delightful twangs, screeches and Newman's indecent skin banging at the end make this track the third and final highlight.

The remastered version comes with some bonus track from other sessions of that year, the first of which is Autumn-recorded Sweet Little Angel is a lengthy Hendrix-like blues of no great interest (Hopkins is now in QMS), but one of Stewart's better intervention in the JBG and this track is clearly another Zep inspiration. Throw Down A Line is just as shabbily recorded as the rest of the album, but Hopkins' presence is giving the track some interest it wouldn't normally have. And unfortunately, the two Presley covers get another chance to annoy us, albeit both versions are shorter than the album versions, but All Shook Up is more recognizable and Zep-esque here.

Clearly this album together with Truth were a likely and successful answer to Page's Zeppelin, but this hardly makes these albums a must for progheads, partly due to poor production. To this writer, if it wasn't for Hopkins' brilliant piano, this album wouldn't be worth picking up.

Report this review (#145213)
Posted Wednesday, October 17, 2007 | Review Permalink
2 stars As I wrote in my previous review for Beck`s "Truth" album, I listened for the very first time to this album in a one CD release which also included "Truth". I have to say that the last track in the CD, "Rice Pudding", sounded to me as being cut by several seconds (without a fade-out) to force the inclusion of the two albums in one CD, but as I have not listened yet to the LP or to other versions of this album, I can`t say if this cut was originally intended for the song.

This is another "mixed in styles" album from Beck and his group, which now included as a full time member the excellent session pianist Nicky Hopkins, who died in 1994, but who played in a lot of very good albums mainly during the seventies.

This album is more Blues-Rock oriented than their first, and with less Prog- related sounds than their first. It even includes some old Rock and Roll oldies like "All Shook Up" and "Jailhouse Rock" . The rest of the songs are more Blues-oriented in sound. So, I prefer "Truth" more than this album, but this album still is good.

After this album, the band split due to personality conflicts mainly between Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck. Ron Wood and Rod Stewart later replaced Steve Marriott in the band SMALL FACES which after this changed their name to THE FACES, a band which was very popular mainly in the U.K. during the seventies.

Report this review (#159977)
Posted Sunday, January 27, 2008 | Review Permalink

After the Blues-Rock masterpiece Truth, Jeff got the band together again, this time with a new drummer, Tony Newman, but keeping the rhythmic section of Wood and Hopkins and, of course, the vocal chops of Rod Stewart, who had proved to be quite an amazing Blues-Rock singer. Beck- Ola, however, is a completely different deal from Truth - this time the emphasis is strictly on ROCK. And that's what we get - big time.

An almost unrecognizable version of Elvis' classic All Shook Up opens the album with a punch- in-the-nose-sound that just yells "get up from that chair and jump". Rod, Tony Newman and pianist Nicky Hopkins really drive it forward, the punch coming from Beck's heavy riffing at the beginning (like a train coming your way), and wild soloing and effects towards the end (very uncommon for 69). Spanish Boots ensues, one of the group's compositions, again with some heavy riffing backing the driving piano work. The sonority is pretty much heavy rock n'roll, nothing like the blues we had been presented with in Truth. Great bass and guitar work, not to mention the piano, which is spotlighted on the next track, Girl From Mill Valley, an instrumental Hopkins piece where the piano takes the lead with the remaining of the band just providing background support. Kind of reminds me of the type of music you would find in a wild west Saloon, if not for the occasional presence of the electric guitar and organ. The quietness of this mellow track is highly contrasted by the song that follows it, another Elvis cover, again delivered with a fiery intensity that would give the King a heart attack in his early 20's - Jailhouse Rock really gets a new life in this version. Jeff quite nearly blows the speakers out with his heavy riffs and scorching soloing, while Rod nearly sings his guts out. Tony Newman pounds his drums like he was working in a quarry crushing rocks, while Hopkins contrasts the brutality of the percussion with some more restrained but highly driving piano work. Plynth (Water Down The Drain) begins with a small piano intro that might have one thinking there is a Beatles-influenced pop track on the way - the band immediately get that out of the system, resuming their heavy playing in a constant pace throughout the first minute that suddenly changes time. There seems to be some overlays in this track, which add to its complexity - a much jazzier track that the ones preceeding it. The Hangman's Knee is probably the closest piece to the blues present on this album, but it's still quite, quite heavy. Despite this, the structure is still pretty much simply and predictable, as any good blues track. Yet after 2 minutes we are introduced to an almost instrumental section (Rod blurbs out here and there) for almost another 2 minutes, and what follows towards its end is mostly improvisation. One track to go, and you would expect something a bit calmer after the noisy extravaganza we were presented with so far - you couldn't be more wrong. The final track, Rice Pudding, is one of the noisiest, hardest pieces of rock I've heard coming out of the 60's. Black Sabbath were already dabbling with the kind, but their more sombre and slow approach had nothing on this up-tempo early piece of heavy-metal. The opening chords will make you jump from your comfy seat, giving you a bit time to rest as the middle section slows a bit, driven by the piano and drums providing a solid background for Jeff to rock out freely. After the repeat of the opening section, we are gifted with an even calmer interlude, where Jeff displays some excellent soloing (with great slide-guitar), beautifully accompanied by the blissful piano playing of the late Nicky Hopkins, who shines as well in this piece, perhaps even more than on the bland Girl From Mill Valley. A slow crescendo introduces what is going to be the last reprise of the heavy opening section - at this point, the track is clocking in at more than 7 minutes, something quite unusual for a track this heavy in the 60's. The power is so much that it kind of makes sense that instead of a fade-out or a more composed closing, the song stops suddenly, as if all the electric power of the studio was out, drained by the colossal sound waves coming from the amps.

All in all, a very good piece of 60's hard rock, without the flashiness of Hendrix or the gloominess of Sabbath. Of course Blues and Hard-Rock are not the reason why Jeff Beck is featured on ProgArchives, yet this early phase in his career is not without interest, and anyone familiar with his later work might well be interested in this work - in fact, I much prefer the Blues-instigated, rock-driven Jeff Beck than his later jazz-fusion incarnation. For the PA crowd, three stars will suffice, not taking any merit away from one of the finest hard-rock albums of the late 60's - and to think that it's not even as good as the first!

Report this review (#189249)
Posted Friday, November 14, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars "Beck-Ola" was certainly no big apple (pun intended, I was waiting quite a long time to say that) when it was released back in 1969. Since the world now had a Led Zeppelin to grind girls to, Jeff Beck and co. were now second bananas (Now, that fruity pun was both coincidental and actually intended because it fits.) and as a result, Beck became discouraged with the band's current direction. Bob Plant and Jim Page had more or less swiped the whole 'Turn the amp volume waaaay up on boogie and blues tunes thus alchemically creating hard rock' style that Beck had pioneered on his group's first album, Truth. For one reason or another, the world turned a blind eye on Beck's Big Artistic Contribution to The History of Music (Perhaps due to lack of notoriety? That would be very ironic in Becky's case considering he played in The Yardbirds, just like Mr. Page) and Zep's debut was universally praised instead.

So, you're bankrupt in artistic credibility now that you've been thrown into somebody else's shadow, what's next? Well, a very bitter Jeff Beck sums up the answer pretty nicely in the liner 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."

Beck probably had a lot of animosity towards the good ol' British recording industry due to his lack of acknowledgement. The man should have penned the first over-inflated, angsty wanksty, double LP rock opera back in the wee years in 1969 just to let the hot air out of his pants! Now how original would that be? However, instead Jeff and the band simply decide to tear the doors right off your Brand New Cadillac and make the girls moan a.k.a. make everything HARD RAWWK!

Singer Rod Stewart, totally obliterates his vocal cords to give us the finest (and some of the first) hard rock screeching ever committed to tape. Oh, and Stewart completely > Robert Plant when it came to the improvised vocal carousing that both of them has a tendency of doing simply because Rod knew when to showcase his mighty vocals and when to STFU. The hereby dubbed by Ray Davies "Session Man," Nicky Hopkins plays some gritty, mean barroom, Drummer Tony Newman, takes a proto-Bonham stance when it comes to skin bashing, Beck seems to have an endless pot of guitar noises and unconventional tricks that he grinds out in almost all the songs, and bassist Ronnie Wood, certainly contributes to the heaviness vibe with the loudest bass fuzz sound circa '69.

"Beck-Ola" only runs for a half hour, which really showcases the bands lack of ideas but this is all compensated on how hypnotic the ideas they have are. If you're the kind of chap who never gets a headache from head banging to a whole AC-DC album then you'll be ready to fall in love with their predecessor. The entire album consists of typical AND atypical heavy grooves (bar one) and I can find myself both entertained and occasionally disinterested by such.

I really dig what the guys did with the two Elvis covers, who have the complete mush, beat out of them, reinventing them into near unrecognizable heaps of proto-hard rock. "All Shook Up" does hold out on a jam for a tad too long but the actual song is a mercilessly rocking monster full of rip-snorting guitar distortion, really triumphant sounding, almost 'progressive' chord progressions, (Yes, in an Elvis song no less. I would have loved to see what these guys would have done to a Frank Sinatra song!) and some real passionate, raunchy, n' loud vocalizing from Stewart. Now, jam pack all of the same goodness into a more truer cover of "Jailhouse Rock" which almost boogies in the same way as that one section in Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog". (You know, that one funky part right after the "Ahh, Ahh, Ahh, Ahhs") My favorite part is the furious clash in the middle between a Beck solo and a scorching hot, superspeed Hopkins piano solo.

Other then the two novelty but seriously good Elvis interpretations, we have a rousing bunch of riff rockers and a couple of oddball instrumentals. "Plynth" is basically built on a simple but mesmerizing riff and lots of intensive pounding by Newman. The Stewart penned "Spanish Boots" has a great herky jerky feel with the verses, riffs, and chorus butting heads in start and stop fashion. "The Hangman's Knee" ( notable for the opening "Hangman, Hangman" line which was later ripped off by Led Zeppelin on "their" song, "Gallows Pole".) has a rudimentary blues melody combined with a somewhat glam rock guitar sound and silly folkie lyrics,

Nicky Hopkins pens the only real spark of diversity on the album with "Girl from Mill Valley." It sure is strange to have such a gospel flavored and romantic number on such a proto-metal/hard rock record but hearing this downbeat piano instrumental really puts me in a pensive mood. The piano melody sways back and forth, dwelling on a particularly charming motive and conjures up a really uplifting feeling.

The only other odd number is the seven minute instrumental, "Rice Pudding", which usually gets the rep as the low point of the album. Although, Rice Pudding does contain a tasty blazing riff that cuts right through my stereo as soon as the track begins it soon turns into a meandering affair. Hopkins, at least contributes some more soothing, gospel piano that helps rescue this number from becoming a self indulgent mess.

Beck-Ola was quite an underrated record during it's time of release, as we all know and I find most of the songs to be pretty likable, indeed. What significance this album has to the genre of Prog beats me to hell, however. With the exception of quite a few could-have-been- progressive cord sequences and maybe, the dwelling longitude and multipart composition of Rice Pudding but other then those factors this album is mostly a lively, addicting, groove filled, drunken romp that is much more the predecessor to Hard Rock then anything else. If you're a prog fan who enjoys head banging music as much *insert 20 minute prog epic here,* you'll be quite happy you picked this apple. B+

Best Songs: All Shook Up, Jailhouse Rock, Girl From Mill Valley

Worst Songs: Rice Pudding

Report this review (#291267)
Posted Wednesday, July 21, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars After the success of Truth, the Jeff Beck Group was slated for another tour of the United States in 1969 and felt they needed to justify it by having an album to promote. Now, a lot of people accuse artists of slapping together a second album with little to no concern for quality just to cash in. This album would seem to be like that because it was put together very quickly, barely clocks over 30 minutes, and contains two new renditions of classic rock and roll songs. But this is The Jeff Group, the guys who invented heavy music. Though short, it packs a serious punch.,

The album is more raucous and bluesy than its predecessor and not as diverse. Yet again, they take the familiar, in this case the two Elvis classics All Shook Up and Jailhouse Rock and render them virtually unrecognizable until you get to the vocals. Once again, Rod Stewart sings as if his throat had been torn out and sounds great doing it. Beck himself plays with greater abandon and rips some serious lines out of his axe, flashy and intense. Ron Wood is still playing bass, and Nicky Hopkins has become a full fledged member of the band. In fact, his piece, Girl From Mill Valley adds an unusual soft tune, soft and smoky that is. This is no frills rock, but performed with imagination and grit. Progsters will be most interested in the final tune, Rice Pudding, which contains a rippin' riff, nice dynamics, sheer power, and unfortunately and abrupt ending (the kind I really do not like). All seven tracks were recorded over a two week span. The 2006 version, however, contains a few more tracks, some recorded earlier, which includes alternate versions of the Elvis tracks.

Finesse was not Beck's purpose at this time. He wanted to rock and he wanted to rock hard. There is no attempt here to do otherwise. Although Beck-Ola does not rise to the same heights as Truth, it kicks even more. For those that want to hear GOOD raunchy rootsy bluesy rock, they will be well advised to give this one a spin.

Report this review (#523493)
Posted Wednesday, September 14, 2011 | Review Permalink

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