Saturday, November 18, 2017

Jeff Beck - 1976 [1990] "Wired"

Wired is the third solo album by British guitarist Jeff Beck, released on Epic Records in 1976. An instrumental album, it peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard 200 and has been certified platinum by the RIAA.

After the success of his previous album, 1975's Blow by Blow, Beck retained two of its key contributors for the follow-up, keyboardist Max Middleton and producer George Martin. Beck had also begun a musical relationship with former Mahavishnu Orchestra keyboardist Jan Hammer and drummer Narada Michael Walden; Beck would tour with the Jan Hammer Group after these sessions. The result of the interplay between Beck and Hammer was a more "synthesized" sound than that of Blow by Blow, hence the new album's title, Wired.

Although the band from the previous album appears on some tracks, four are originals by Walden and one by Hammer. Middleton contributed the homage to Led Zeppelin, "Led Boots," and Beck chose to interpret the Charles Mingus ode to saxophonist Lester Young, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," from the classic jazz album Mingus Ah Um. These last two tracks have been long-time staples of Beck's performance repertoire.

Jazz-rock fusion music has had no greater exponent than Jeff Beck, whose latest album, Wired, demonstrates how vital this genre can be. Even more important, Wired presents Beck in a context that finally satisfies both his uncompromising musical standards and commercial necessity.

Beck's first group, the Yardbirds, was the most inventive of the early Sixties British blues bands and is now credited with producing three of the most important electric guitarists of the past ten years — Eric Clapton, Beck and Jimmy Page. Both Clapton (with Cream) and Page (with Led Zeppelin) became famous after leaving the Yardbirds.

But Beck remained a relatively obscure figure. This despite the fact that the hits following "I'm a Man" — "For Your Love," "Shapes of Things," "Over Under Sideways Down," "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" — were all powered by his brilliantly manic lead guitar. In comparison, Clapton was an extremely conservative stylist and Page, merely a technician. But Beck's guitar work was visionary: "Shapes of Things" shows his mastery over raga-style guitar solos and multitracking, ideas which were in their infancy at the time. Beck experimented with blues progressions, using feedback and other distortion techniques to push the electric guitar's expressive capabilities into new areas, as well as developing rock and R&B styles along the same lines.

After leaving the Yardbirds, Beck made a classic solo album, Truth, with a band which included Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. Page, meanwhile, formed his own band, Led Zeppelin, whose music was a variation on Beck's concept (compare the versions of "You Shook Me" on Truth and the first Zeppelin album). He returned two years later with a jazz-accented R&B outfit based around keyboardist Max Middleton and singer Bob Tench.

Their two albums featured a lighter, more progressive guitar style. But Beck was still not satisfied and tried a brief, disastrous fling into heavy metal with the ex-Vanilla Fudge/Cactus rhythm section of bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice.

Last year, producer George Martin reunited Beck and Middleton for their greatest collaboration, Blow by Blow, which became Beck's best-selling solo album and established him firmly in the jazz-rock hierarchy. But Beck was only developing ideas he'd been playing with for years.

On Wired, Beck invites a direct and favorable comparison with John McLaughlin (with whom he toured last year) by collaborating with ex-Mahavishnu keyboardist Jan Hammer and his band. Martin didn't score any of the horn arrangements because Hammer's synthesizer fills all those spaces, but the album is better recorded and has a much fuller sound than Blow by Blow. Middleton's contribution is still essential — his one song, "Led Boots," opens the album at its hottest pace and it's definitely enhanced by the interplay with Hammer's keyboards and Beck's guitar. Hammer's synthesizers work from Middleton's clavinet base, and Beck stitches runs in between.

Beck wrote no songs for this record in order to concentrate on his playing, but he dominates the album conceptually. You can tell "Head for Backstage Pass" is bassist Wilbur Bascomb's song from the bass solo that kicks it off, but from there it's all that Beck/Middleton Metal Motown Machine. Drummer Narada Michael Walden contributed four songs, three of which sound like they could have easily come from the Blow by Blow sessions. "Sophie" shows the distance between McLaughlin's cerebral meandering and Beck's incisive, witty compositional ability as the song moves from an introspective theme to an incredibly hard-edged exposition. Hammer swings here in a sweating, unself-conscious ride of pure joy that needs no guru for inspiration. Hammer's "duet" with Beck, "Blue Wind," builds phased rhythm guitars against the tension of those slogging, perfectly imprecise drums into an anthem pitch with furious guitar-synthesizer solo duels overhead. Beck's cover of the Charles Mingus ode to Lester Young, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," is an unlikely if not unappreciated inclusion that seems too understated to clock in as more than a tentative exploration of an already well-covered tune, but Beck's soloing, as usual, carries it off with some bizarre phrasing and adventurous distortion.

Many of Beck's older fans claim he's toned down to play this music, but listening closely, you can hear all the fire and imagination that has characterized every phase of his career. Wired is the realization of a style Beck has been working toward for years, and should finally attract the recognition he deserves.

Recording any kind of full-length album is a challenge. Following up an LP that revolutionized rock guitar? That's another matter entirely — and the struggled faced by Jeff Beck as he entered the studio to work on his third solo release.
Beck's second solo album, 1975's Blow by Blow, which found him working alongside keyboardist Max Middleton and producer George Martin on a set of songs that placed him firmly at the rock/jazz fusion vanguard while catapulting him to fresh commercial heights. A Top 10 hit, it gave Beck his first platinum record — and expanded expectations accordingly.
Unsurprisingly, Beck opted not to reinvent his sound for the follow-up. Retaining Middleton and Martin, he added another pair of key contributors for the sessions: former Mahavishnu Orchestra keyboardist Jan Hammer and drummer Narada Michael Walden, both of whom brought original material to the table while broadening the sonic palette he'd employed for Blow by Blow.
Hammer in particular had an audible impact on the new songs, adding synth-derived textures to the arrangements and freeing up Middleton to focus on clavinet and Fender Rhodes. Walden, meanwhile, not only anchored the rhythm section, he wrote half the album, contributing four of the eight tracks recorded by Beck and the new band. The result, in a nod to the album's more electronic sound, was titled Wired.
Released in May 1976, Wired wasn't the groundbreaking effort its predecessor had been; instead, it found Beck building on the fusion template he'd used the previous year. Though the subgenre would soon devolve into an easy listening playground for lowest-common-denominator smooth jazz records, in the early-to-mid-'70s, fusion could be genuinely exciting, as proven by influential hits like Blow by Blow and Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters LP. With Wired, Beck used the arrangements as launchpads into challenging instrumental excursions that took advantage of jazz's freedom without sacrificing rock energy.
That rock/jazz blend was arguably best reflected in a pair of Wired cuts: the Middleton original "Led Boots," which led off the album with a nod to Led Zeppelin, and a cover of Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," which used the jazz legend's classic as a framework for some of Beck's finest guitar work. Throughout the record, the group showcased their rich interplay, summed up with a concluding trio of Walden tracks that left equal room for melody and instrumental virtuosity.
Their efforts were rewarded with another impressive showing on the charts. Although Wired didn't quite reach the heights achieved by Blow by Blow, peaking at No. 16, it added another platinum record to Beck's list of hits, and seemed to cement his status as a rare rock artist who didn't need vocals to enjoy consistent mainstream success. Dating back to 1972's Jeff Beck Group, he'd landed four consecutive releases in the Top 20, each of which had sold at least half a million copies.
Ultimately, Beck would find it difficult to sustain that momentum — his next studio release, There & Back, didn't arrive until 1980 — but the work he'd done throughout the '60s and '70s, capped with the commercial success he achieved with Blow by Blow and Wired, made him a household name while paving the way for decades of creative freedom.

Tracks Listing:

1. Led Boots (4:03)
2. Come Dancing (5:55)
3. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat (5:31)
4. Head for Backstage Pass (2:43)
5. Blue Wind (5:54)
6. Sophie (6:31)
7. Play with Me (4:10)
8. Love Is Green (2:30)

Total Time: 37:17

Line-up / Musicians

- Jeff Beck / electric & acoustic (8) guitars
- Max Middleton / clavinet (1,2,4,6,7), Fender Rhodes (3,6)
- Jan Hammer / synthesizer (1,2,5,7), drums (5)
- Narada Michael Walden / piano (8), drums (1,2,6)
- Wilbur Bascomb / bass
- Ed Greene / drums (2)
- Richard Bailey / drums (3,4)



  2. great album. i love led boots. thanks to you.

  3. I haven't heard this since its release (unbelievable, I know!), but I was thinking about it today and then found it here on your site. Many thanks sharing it, and for the memories too!