Saturday, January 27, 2018

Truth (1968)

Some years ago, after I wrote about the first Led Zeppelin album, someone dropped by and left the following comment: "Gotta admit, I loved this album the first time I heard it - when it was called Truth, by the Jeff Beck Group." This was intriguing. I knew Beck and Jimmy Page both spent time in the Yardbirds but I hadn't realized there were such invidious distinctions to be made between them, with Beck as the genuine article (and/or first to it) and Page the talentless commercial copycat, or so I read the implication. Of course, most of Zepp's various plagiarism lawsuits speak for themselves. But it's not as if Beck and company are so much above that particular fray, with two songs here credited to Willie Dixon (same as Led Zeppelin) and three to "Jeffrey Rod" (that's Beck and Stewart, respectively), with "reworkings of previous blues songs" (it says in Wikipedia). I mostly missed Jeff Beck's early albums in their day and didn't really catch up with him until the mid-'70s and Blow by Blow and Wired, which are closer to jazz fusion. I liked them very much. It's interesting to circle back finally. Plainly I missed a lot. Truth is not only Beck's first solo album, but also a big break for Ron Wood and Rod Stewart (or Sir Roderick David Stewart, Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, as he is known now). I've never known what to make of Rod Stewart. In general, his voice is so singular it calls too much attention to itself for me. It can be effective at evoking a certain melancholy with remarkable resonance, e.g., most famously, "Maggie May," but a little of that can go a long way (and radio gave us a lot of it).

Within parameters, he always sounds the same. On Truth he sounds like Rod Stewart, with all his future history which we now know, in front of a blues jam, which works as well as anything, kind of, although the most melancholy track here is an instrumental, the traditional "Greensleeves." If that commenter intended a one-on-one comparison it does raise interesting questions. Who is the better singer, Robert Plant or Rod Stewart? Who is the better songwriter / band leader / guitar player, Jeff Beck or Jimmy Page? Of course, these things are easily muddied. That's Jimmy Page himself, and John Paul Jones for that matter, on one of the best tracks here, "Beck's Bolero." Jones is on other tracks too, and not just playing bass. Yet, whatever the reason, I can't concede Truth as the superior album to Led Zeppelin—Led Zeppelin's whole mood is not only more coherent, but operating on higher levels generally (keywords: dazed and confused). Truth is a bit tentative and patched together, uncertain of its direction and confecting a few different ones: the production polish of instrumental novelties like "Beck's Bolero" and "Greensleeves" (which come to think of it look forward to Blow by Blow), the spaces for Rod Stewart to ham it up and preen (notably the show tune "Ol' Man River," which unfortunately never fails to remind me of a Stan Freberg sketch) (note that no show tune appears on Led Zeppelin), and finally, my favorite, the longer bluesy rock band workouts. They are the longest tracks here, "Blues Deluxe" (by Jeffrey Rod) and "I Ain't Superstitious" (by Willie Dixon). My answer to my first question above, by the way, is Robert Plant, flaws and all. I just always hear too much of the ridiculous in Sir Rodney and really like only one or two early albums and some of the disco singles. The second question is not as easy, but I lean toward Beck. Certainly he is more lyrical and wide-ranging than Page as a guitar player, and perfectly capable of matching the power. From "Greensleeves" to "Blues Deluxe," Truth is a hodgepodge. But an interesting one with some great moments.

3 comments:

  1. Probably should offer my C.V. before commenting. Outside the obvious (Beatles), The Yardbirds were my favorite group when I was a teen (born in 1953). And while I find Rod Stewart's career monumentally disappointing, through the first few (good) albums, I thought he was as good as it gets.

    Jeff Beck might be the better "pure" guitar player, compared to Jimmy Page. But that's pretty much all he is, which is impressive, indeed. But Page is pretty good on guitar, too, and as what I've always assumed was the main person doing Led Zep arrangements, he is one of the all-time greats. Beck, as I say, is a great guitarist. Truth is his best album, thanks in part to Stewart, and I'm always up for watching a video or two of him shredding in concert. But the Led Zep debut is better, and that was just the beginning for that band.

    I'm not trying to dis Beck ... I played Truth to death back in the day (I probably like it more than you do), and think his work with The Yardbirds was the best of the Big 3 guitarists. But I listen to Led Zeppelin on a regular basis to this day, while I haven't played Truth in a very long time.

    Obligatory mention of other Yardbirds guitarist: Great as Beck and Page (and Led Zeppelin) are, they never made an album as great as Layla.

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  2. I wondered how you'd come down on all this. Interesting stuff, thanks.

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  3. Love their cover of "Shapes of Things," also like "Morning Dew" and "Beck's Bolero." And Scorsese took something I normally wouldn't have any use for, "I Ain't Superstitious," and made it work (Casino, I think). I have it as a double with Beck-Ola, but only used to play Truth.

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