Jeff Beck’s 20 Greatest Songs

In tribute the legendary guitarist, who has passed away aged 78, MOJO selects Jeff Beck’s greatest ever songs and performances.

Jeff Beck, Moscow

by Chris Catchpole |
Published on

From early, ground-breaking cuts with The Yardbirds, to The Jeff Beck Group, solo triumphs and dazzling collaborations with everyone from Kate Bush and Stevie Wonder to a real-life blackbird, MOJO salutes ‘the guitarist’s guitarist’ by selecting 20 of the best songs and performances from across Jeff Beck's career.

Jeff Beck Remembered: Read MOJO's tribute to the late guitar hero.


The Jeff Beck Group

Beck’s Bolero (stereo)

From Truth, 1968

Initially recorded in 1966 with Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Keith Moon on drums, Beck’s Bolero not only displayed his peerlessly sublime tone and ability to absorb all manner of styles into his playing –classical, garage rock, baroque psychedelia, proto prog, nascent heavy metal and more are swept up in under three minutes – but also drew up an astonishingly ahead of its time blueprint for the journey music would take post-Sgt Pepper. Page, Pink Floyd et al were taking notes.


I Ain’t Superstitious

The Jeff Beck Group

From Truth, 1968

Shortly after being booted out of The Yardbirds, Beck showed his old paymasters what you could *really* do with the blues. Forming The Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart on vocals and Ronnie Wood on bass, The Jeff Beck Group took Willie Dixon’s blues standard and transformed it into a molten colossus of a track. Beck’s opening four notes alone are enough to make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up.


The Yardbirds

Heart Full Of Soul

Single, 1965

Within weeks of joining The Yardbirds, Beck had transformed them from blues purists to avant-pop outliers to rival The Beatles and The Stones. On this 1965 single Beck’s playing manages to mimic a sitar in the eastern drift of the main riff before nose diving into a blistering fuzz-toned solo, predating Norwegian Wood by six months and Paint it Black by almost a year.


Jeff Beck

Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers

From Blow By Blow, 1975

Written by Stevie Wonder, this slow-burning, brooding number from 1975’s Blow By Blow shows the sheer depth of emotion Beck could wring from his instrument. There’s more feeling in these five-and-a-half instrumental minutes than most singers manage in a lifetime.


The Jeff Beck Group

The Shape Of Things To Come

From Truth, 1968

If Beck were the type to be bothered about that sort of thing, he would have looked on at Led Zeppelin’s success through the ’70s and wondered why the private jets and mega sales hadn’t come The Jeff Beck Group’s way instead. The Shape Of Things To Come is a prime example of the sheer transcendent power the unit he assembled could summon. Rod Stewart’s blue-eyed rasp provided perhaps the best vocal counterpart Beck ever found. Stewart certainly thought as much, saying as recently as 2018 that the pair were “a match made in heaven”.


The Yardbirds

Happenings Ten Years Time Ago

Single, 1966

There aren’t many better examples of how far out Beck pushed The Yardbirds in his short, 20-month stint as a member than the bad trip heebie-jeebies of Happenings Ten Years Time Ago. One of the few Yardbirds tracks to feature both Beck and his old mate and soon-to-be-successor, Jimmy Page.


The Yardbirds

Beck’s Boogie

B-Side to Over Under Sideways Down 1966

Though it was based on Chuck Berry’s Guitar Boogie, what a young Beck did with his source material here is astonishing. Effortlessly flitting between styles at a rate that was breath-taking. Eric who?


The Jeff Beck Group

Spanish Boots

From Beck-Ola, 1969

Here, once again, are The Jeff Beck Group out-Led Zepping Led Zeppelin. Micky Waller’s replacement on the drum stool Tony Newman provides a thunderous bedrock for Beck’s monster riff-a-rama and lightning solo runs. Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood departed soon after to form The Faces, taking some of this loose-limbed boogie with them, but Spanish Boots’ power is inimitable.


Jeff Beck

Freeway Jam

From Blow By Blow, 1975

A fan favourite, the wandering yet always sweetly melodic playing on Freeway Jam rides past a funky, jazz-fusion backdrop that showed Beck was already moving in far more adventurous waters than his former blues boom alumni.


Jeff Beck

Hi Ho Silver Lining

Single 1967

Beck was embarrassed by his accidental 1967 hit, referring to it as like having a pink toilet seat hung around his neck for the rest of his life. Yet there is a simple reason why to this day no wedding disco is complete without Hi Ho Silver Lining – it’s as wonderful a burst of joy and optimism as the ‘60s produced.


Jeff Beck

Goodbye Porkpie Hat

From Wired, 1975

By 1975’s George Martin-produced Wired, Beck was moving more and more into jazz-fusion territory. This twinkling, subtle reinvention of Charles Mingus’ Goodbye Porkpie Hat was a highlight. Other players might have been tempted to fill in the gaps here just because they could, but Beck’s approach was both restrained and magical, with not a note wasted.


Stevie Wonder

Lookin’ For Another Pure Love

From Talking Book, 1972


Beck, Bogert & Appice


From Beck, Bogart & Appice, 1972

Born out of a jam with Stevie Wonder for the Talking Book sessions (Beck came up with the distinctive drum opening heard in Wonder’s version). Wonder originally wanted Beck to release his version first, but Motown boss Berry Gordy had other ideas and denied Beck a hit. Still, this version recorded with his short-lived trio with Vanilla Fudge’s rhythm section, drummer Carmine Appice and bassist Tim Bogert, provides a dirty funk rock delight that feels like it’s been dug out of the mud on the banks of the Mississippi, with Beck deftly recreating Wonder’s clavinet part on the guitar.


Jeff Beck

Angel (Footsteps)

From Who Else!, 1999

Showing that his antennae for changes in music was as sensitive as ever as he approached his sixties, Beck’s first regular studio album in ten years saw him embracing electronic, techno and ambient music. As on this gorgeous highlight, it was his playing that took centre stage, though, curling and spooling through dreamy clouds of sound that recalled both Eno/Jon Hassell and then producer du jour, William Orbit.


Kate Bush

You’re The One

From The Red Shoes, 1993

Beck’s presence is initially almost inaudible on Kate Bush’s gorgeous tale of post-break up heartbreak (which also features Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker on Hammond) but it’s the subtle runs he spins underneath Bush’s vocal that help incrementally heighten the emotional intensity of You’re The One, eventually sending the song off with a searing solo as Bush wails in anguish.


Jeff Beck


From You Had It Coming, 2001

Not a cover of the White Album’s bucolic ballad, but Beck instead placing his blues-informed call-and-response playing in an even more natural setting by duetting with an actual blackbird. Not the novelty track you might imagine, the resulting one-and-a-half minutes is quietly majestic.


The Yardbirds

Stroll On

From Blow Up, 1966

Director Michelangelo Antonioni originally wanted The Velvet Underground for Blow Up’s iconic club scene, but the cost of flying them over to London from New York proved prohibitive. Necessity proved to be the mother of invention, however, as the short-lived Beck/Page two-guitar Yardbird line-up exploded with more feral power and menace than Lou Reed and co could have ever mustered.


The Yardbirds

Over Under Sideways Down

Single 1966

Beck wasn’t only pushing the boundaries of what he could do as a player in The Yardbirds, but was revolutionising what the band did in the studio, manipulating his instrument beyond almost all recognition. The guitar sound on Over Under Sideways Down’s rave-up is still impossible to pin down: part snake charmers’ pungi, part kazoo – how *did* he do that?


Roger Waters

What God Wants, Pt. I-III

From Amused to Death, 1993

The albums Roger Waters made after flouncing out of Pink Floyd had plenty of the grandeur and ambition that helped forge Dark Side… and The Wall, but they lacked a certain something: namely, David Gilmour. There was only one other guitarist in Waters’s rolodex (it *was* the early ’90s after all) who could provide the same musical transcendence that the bassist’s curmudgeonly concepts needed. On What God Wants, Beck delivers blistering mutant blues fireworks, chiming reveries and cosmos-touching solos that almost single-handedly elevated the three-part suite to the level of Floyd at their peak. Nick Mason confessed that Pink Floyd had initially wanted to ask Beck to replace Syd Barrett but were too afraid to ask him. Here’s a taste of what that alternative history might have sounded like.


ZZ Top

Rough Boy – Live From London

From Live! Greatest Hits From Around The World, 2016

Beck and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons had been close friends for decades (see the clip below of Beck presenting Gibbons – “the guy who made beards famous” – with his MOJO award in 2009). On this live version, Gibbons invites his “ buddy Jeff Beck” onstage to deliver a series of scorching, dazzling solos on their mid-’80s hit, Rough Boy. Each one is a short tour-de-force in its own right, showing precisely why the world’s best guitarists considered Beck to be the undisputed master.

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