The Basement Vapes, Volume 12: Friendless Summer Playlist—Recommended If You Like … Wilson!

In a cast-away world without desert-island discs and no Beach Boys to lean on, MAGNET’s Mitch Myers unearths sunken treasures and lost pet sounds to add some music to your day.  

Not sure about the beach this summer? Hopefully, you’ll figure it out. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of making use of the things around you. And no excuses! Just remember poor Tom Hanks and his resourceful character Chuck Noland in the 2000 movie Cast Away. Surviving is tough when you’re forced to make do with what you can salvage on your own, but it can be done.

For example, what if you were stranded somewhere remote without your beloved desert-island discs? Let’s just say that you had absolutely no access to anything by the Beach Boys. No Pet Sounds, no Smile sessions, no “Fun, Fun, Fun.” Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Could you still manage to sort out some good vibrations? I think we all know the world can be a lonely place without your pal Wilson.

Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys have permeated our world for six decades, but there are also forgotten treasures from recording artists who’ve been influenced by Wilson and Co. The group’s iconic sound has been frequently emulated with its the grand arrangements, sumptuous harmonies, layered vocals, luminous melodies, emotive orchestrations and occasional shoreline aesthetics. 

The Beach Boys begin generating ubiquitous hit singles in the early ’60s with surf and car tunes. Then came California sagas and symphonic sandbox celebrations fusing high-concept artistry, pop-savant introspections and quaint American sock-hop psychedelia with pristine sound production and lavish studio wizardry. From the beginning, unknown singers, industry producers and staff arrangers were duly inspired by Wilson’s eccentric genius and crafted their own musical offerings. To this point, we here at MAGNET have assembled some tracks to compensate for the hypothetical lack of Beach Boys songs: a Friendless Summer Playlist, if you will. So, let the games begin by saying the name … Wilson! 

Mark Eric “Where Do the Girls Of The Summer Go?” (1969)

Mark Eric Maimborg was a good-looking Los Angeles kid who stumbled into Hollywood as a musician and songwriter and later worked as an actor. His one album, A Midsummer’s Day Dream, came out in 1969 and revealed a profound Beach Boys influence with a splash of Bacharach. Maimborg’s winsome voice was limited but well suited for his yearning, Wilson-esque reveries, while dreamy orchestral arrangements for strings and horns help sustain the season-ending fantasia of “Where Do The Girls Of The Summer Go?” Where indeed.

Sagittarius “My World Fell Down” (1968)

Sagittarius was a 1968 project conceived by L.A. producer/musician Gary Usher, who’d co-written songs with Brian Wilson including “In My Room.” On “My World Fell Down,” Usher was abetted by the talented Curt Boettcher along with actual Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, producer/party boy Terry Melcher and Glen Campbell, who toured as a Beach Boy and sings lead here. The song even has Wrecking Crew kingpin Hal Blaine on drums. It represents an essential achievement in West Coast pop/psychedelia, sounding like a perfect cross between the Mamas And The Papas and “Good Vibrations”-era Beach Boys. While the Sagittarius musicians were individually responsible for much of the California sound at the time, it took them all working together on this one song to approximate Wilson’s artistry.

Billy Nicholls “Would You Believe” (1968)

Much like Maimborg, British singer Billy Nicholls got into the music business at a very young age. Gaining some attention, he garnered a quick record deal with rock impresario Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label. Oldham—a huge fan of both Phil Spector and Brian Wilson—served as the record’s producer and encouraged Nicholls to indulge his California-fueled music fantasies. Would You Believe was recorded in 1968 with U.K. musicians including Small Faces singer Stevie Marriott, and its title track boasts a Beach Boys-styled arrangement re-imagined by British fanatics who threw everything they could into the mix. 

Modern Folk Quartet “This Could Be The Night” (1965)

Brian Wilson “This Could Be The Night” (1995)

Young Harry Nilsson wrote “This Could Be The Night” as a tribute to Brian Wilson in late 1965. Performed by the Modern Folk Quartet and produced by Wilson’s personal hero Phil Spector, this buoyant performance is both an homage to the budding Beach Boys vibe and a template for the “wall of sound” that they, too, would use in the future. Not surprising since Wilson was at the original recording session at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood and adored the song. Thirty years later, he finally recorded it himself on tribute album For The Love Of Harry: Everybody Sings Nilsson. Both versions are sweet and vulnerable, but which track sounds more like the Beach Boys?

Yellow Balloon “Yellow Balloon” (1967)

Another example of ’60s Hollywood in action, Yellow Balloon was the brainchild of producer Gary Zekley and musician Don Grady, a former Mouseketeer best known for the television series My Three Sons. Grady later made a fascinating solo record as Don Agrati, but Yellow Balloon was a prime example of the Wilson-ian “sunshine pop” movement in Southern California. The song starts out a little lightweight, but it reaches an inspired a cappella middle section in Beach Boys choir fashion replete with falsetto, so you have to consider this mission accomplished. 

Gary Usher “Friends” (1970)

High Llamas “Hawaiian Smile” (1996)

Previously titled Add Some Music To Your Day, Smile For Me: A Symphonic Tribute To Brian Wilson was “produced, conducted and arranged by Gary Usher.” Performed in 1970 with the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, Usher’s concept LP was one step away from elevator music but still ahead of the curve. Moreover, there’s no denying Usher’s grasp of Wilson’s harmonic sophistication, and the beauty contained therein. A quarter century later, Sean O’Hagan of the High Llamas was happily mining related terrain, creating his own ornate universe with bittersweet melodies that harkened back to Wilson’s collaborations with Van Dyke Parks à la Smile. How could you not?

California Music “Jamaica Farewell” (1976)

“Sloop John B,” anyone? That traditional Bahamian folk song had been around since the early 1900s and was performed by the Weavers and the Kingston Trio before Beach Boy Al Jardine convinced Brian Wilson that it would work with their group harmonies. A similar sounding West Indies ditty called “Jamaica Farewell” was recorded by Harry Belafonte in 1957 and had a lesser but comparable trajectory. Vocal group California Music was basically another studio project helmed by Boettcher along with his pals Melcher and Usher. The song was recorded in 1976 when these nostalgic West Coast music veterans put their heads together to craft a reasonable facsimile of their master’s voice one more time. 

Brian Wilson “One For The Boys” (1988)

It’s probably safe to say that nobody misses the Beach Boys as much as Brian Wilson. “One For The Boys” was from Wilson’s first solo album in 1988 with assistance from engineer/musician Andy Paley. The original title was “There We Were,” and just like some of the old recordings by the Beach Boys, this wordless a cappella features Brian doing all of the vocal lines himself. Still, I imagine he would rather have been singing harmony alongside his dear brothers Carl and Dennis, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and Mike Love. Don’t you?

BONUS TRACKS                                                                                    

John Cale “Mr. Wilson”( 1975)

All sorts of creative elites were down with the Beach Boys back in the day. Former Velvet Underground member John Cale made a point of singing Brian Wilson’s praises on his dark and powerful solo LP from 1975, Slow Dazzle. The song “Mr. Wilson” was a straightforward fan letter from Cale that also remembered not to skimp on the angelic backing vocals. He closes out the earnest paean intoning dryly, “California wine tastes fine.” 

Todd Rundgren “Good Vibrations” (1976)

In 1976, the multi-talented Todd Rundgren released his wonderful Faithful album, which included six classic rock tunes that he had re-created quite, well, faithfully. Besides covering all-stars like the Beatles, Yardbirds, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan, Rundgren chose to tackle the Beach Boys’ shining moment, “Good Vibrations.” Rather than trying to improve on perfection, Todd’s sonic imitation of this amazing song is simply letter-perfect. What better endorsement than the sincerest form of flattery? 

The Basement Vapes, Volume 11: Public Service Announcement—Blues Run The Game

MAGNET’s Mitch Myers rouses himself for the greater good and remembers Jackson C. Frank’s secret handshake, Nick Drake, the early British folk scene, Paul Simon’s upbeat culpability and more.

I hate to be a downer, but it has always been so. It’s like I made a moody mix-tape for my college girlfriend decades ago and never came back. A bad case of the blues? Probably. Everybody’s got them, and apparently the only thing to do is get back to work and do my part. So then, let us consider that sad old song by Jackson C. Frank entitled “Blues Run The Game.” 

Born in Buffalo on March 2, 1943, Jackson C. Frank was no stranger to sadness. He survived a terrible school fire at the age of 11 where some classmates perished, and the tragedy left him scarred physically and emotionally. His life would continue to be painful and littered with misfortune, but as a young man, Frank took the money he’d received in settlement for the fire and boarded an ocean liner to England. There, he ingratiated himself into the burgeoning folk scene of the mid-1960s alongside rising local performers like Bert Jansch, Al Stewart and Sandy Denny, as well as another visiting American bard named Paul Simon. 

Within most folk-music circles, the main currency is either the singer or the song, and the U.K. folk scene was no exception. In a gesture of authenticity, some artists revived traditional folk songs of the British Isles. Vintage tunes like “Blackwaterside” and “She Moved Through The Fair” became part of many a folk singer’s repertoire. 17th Century ballad “Scarborough Fair” certainly passed though many hands. Singers Ewan MacColl, Shirley Collins and even Marianne Faithful all recorded the tune before Paul Simon nipped the song arrangement from guitarist Martin Carthy and made it his own. 

Besides the new traditionalists, an advanced breed of singer/songwriters was emerging. Woody Guthrie protégé Ramblin’ Jack Elliott had long been familiar across England, but it was the time for Bob Dylan and his ilk to inspire. Somewhere between the traditional adaptations and the Dylan influences, strong original songwriting had finally become a premium among British folkies. Enter Jackson C. Frank and his aching lament, “Blues Run The Game,” a wandering troubadour’s song if there ever was one. For folk singers back then, performing your own version of this wistful tune was like knowing a secret handshake.

Catch a boat to England, baby/Maybe to Spain/Wherever I have gone/Wherever I’ve been and gone/Wherever I have gone/The blues are all the same

Frank recorded “Blues Run The Game” in 1965 as the opening track for his eponymous solo album, which was produced by Simon while the two were both living in England. Frank was insecure in the recording studio at age 22, yet his emotive voice and reflective songwriting carried the day. An autobiographical and uniquely personal meditation, the song conveyed a sense of searching, yearning and sadness—with lyrics that felt etched in stone. Other folk singers were immediately attracted to the timeless song, which could have been written yesterday or 100 years ago.

Frank’s melancholy style resonated with the U.K. folkies. Singer Al Stewart accompanied him in the recording studio that day along with producer Simon; Garfunkel was there, too. Frank dated British singer Sandy Denny at the beginning of her career, and she performed several of his compositions. Guitarist John Renbourn was a friend and admirer, as was his Pentangle bandmate, Scottish singer/guitarist Bert Jansch. In 1995, three decades on, Jansch was captured live, still performing the ballad to great effect. His sterling guitar work and pinched, world-weary voice suited the song’s poignant nature, and it remained in Jansch’s set list until his passing in 2011.

Send out for whiskey, baby/Send out for gin/Me and room service, honey/Me and room service, babe/Me and room service/Well we’re living a life of sin

The tragic nature of Frank’s life was complicated by mental illness. Disintegrating slowly, he went back to America, briefly returned to the U.K. and toured alongside the Fairport Convention, and finally retreated to Woodstock. Over the years, he was married, divorced, institutionalized, struggled with alcoholism, became homeless, destitute and obese. He even lost an eye to some kid with an air rifle before he died in 1999 at the age of 56. More recently, his talents and troubles led him to be remembered as a tortured artist cult-figure. His doomed mystique wasn’t romantic as that of someone like Nick Drake, but there is a new documentary about Frank in the works nonetheless.   

Regarding Drake, there’s no doubt that the forlorn, posthumously acclaimed poet laureate of British folk was a devotee of Jackson C. Frank. Before Drake released his first album, Five Leaves Left, in 1969, he made a series of home tapes, demos and private recordings. These early tapes were ultimately released on CD compilation Family Tree, and include young Drake singing a total of four songs written by Frank: “Kimbie,” “Milk And Honey,” “Here Come The Blues” and, of course, “Blues Run The Game.” 

When I’m not drinkin’, baby/You are on my mind/When I’m not sleepin’, honey/When I ain’t sleepin’\, mama/When I’m not sleepin’/You know you’ll find me cryin

Both Jansch and Drake’s renditions of “Blues Run The Game” contain the requisite amount of melancholy, Not so with Simon & Garfunkel, who performed it during a 1965 recording session for their Sounds Of Silence album. That track wasn’t included on the original vinyl LP, but the outtake appeared years later on the CD reissue as well as their Old Friends boxed set. While Simon grasped the tune’s affective power and major-chord craftsmanship, the upbeat culpability of S&G’s gentle harmonies actually make this sorrowful song of resignation feel less gloomy. 

Try another city baby
Another town
Wherever I have gone
Wherever I’ve been and gone
Wherever I have gone
The blues come followin’ down

The confluence of English and American folk music in the 1960s was reflected by the ubiquity of this tune, and like the song says, the blues can follow you anywhere. Hence the inherent ennui that can be found on the late New Zealand-born French singer Graeme Allwright’s 1968 recording, “Je Perds Ou Bien Je Gagne.” Allwright was well known in France during the ’60s and ’70s for his interpretations of songs by artists like Dylan, Cohen, Tom Paxton and Pete Seeger, in addition to Frank (all righteous songwriters to be sure), and Allwright’s tender French version of “Blues Run The Game” has that certain je ne sais quoi, wouldn’t you say?

Livin’ is a gamble, baby
Lovin’s much the same
Wherever I have played
Whenever I’ve thrown them dice
Wherever I have played
The blues have run the game

Pop culture has caught up Frank’s bittersweet muse. In recent years “Blues Run The Game” has been used in This Is Us, Robert Redford film The Old Man & The Gun and a documentary entitled The Vietnam War. Another stark Frank composition, “My Name Is Carnival” was in the films Joker, Calvary and Catch Me Daddy. Contemporary performers like Counting Crowes, John Mayer, Laura Marling, Colin Meloy (Decembrists) and Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes) have all covered “Blues Run The Game,” but their well-sung versions aren’t nearly sad enough for my somber taste. Like Charles Bukowski used to say, these folks sound like they never even had a toothache. 

Maybe tomorrow honey
Some place down the line
I’ll wake up older
So much older mama
I’ll wake up older
And I’ll just stop all my trying

A semi-disastrous performance by Mark Lanegan is more interesting. Hailing from the Pacific Northwest and a weathered survivor of the ’80s/’90s grunge-rock craze, Lanegan clearly has that depressive gene in his DNA. Although he recorded a studio version with the Soulsavers production team, this ragged live rendition better captures the true spirit of the song. It starts out suitably downtrodden, but one of the guitar amps starts screeching feedback and brings the show to a halt. Encouraged to start over he cautiously demurs. “Life’s very fragile,” says Lanegan. Finally, he starts up again in the middle of the song, playing with even greater focus and conviction. And that’s what it’s all about.

Catch a boat to England, baby/Maybe to Spain/Wherever I have gone/Wherever I’ve been and gone/Wherever I have gone/The blues are all the same

Bonus Track
Here’s an episode of forgotten BBC radio program My Kind Of Folk from November 1968, hosted by Frank. Sharing the program with the Young Tradition and a tune from supporting guitarist Chris Hardy, Frank plays a total of five songs, opening the show with “Blues Run The Game” and closing with “My Name Is Carnival.” Of equal note are Frank’s telling confessional performances of “Golden Mirror” and “I Want To Be Alone.”

The Basement Crepes (Breakfast Special): The Wakenbake Café Needs Your Help!

MAGNET’s Mitch Myers keeps the funny side up with a Jerry Garcia photo contest in Marin County                                    

Sad news for hungry Deadheads in Northern California, as the old Wakenbake Café in San Rafael will be closing down next month after 40 years of catering to their longtime hippie clientele and other loyal customers.

Despite well-meaning community efforts that included a citywide petition and GoFundMe campaigns in support of the endangered café, the end is officially in sight. Adding insult to injury, reports indicate the beloved eatery is slated to become a Pinkberry in the fall.

The other news here is that Wakenbake owner/manager Adam Coil will be parting with his unique collection of previously unseen photographs of Jerry Garcia. Apparently, the guitarist had consented to these portraitures over the years in exchange for a lifetime of complimentary breakfast specials. Coil regrets that he never bothered to date his headshots of the Grateful Dead frontman (inspired by a 1973 Rolling Stone cover), but the café owner believes the photos were mostly taken in the years between 1974 and 1992. 

So, the Wakenbake Café is now calling on all Deadheads to please help date these long-forgotten Garcia images before they are put up for auction. Title suggestions are welcome. So let the sunshine daydreams begin!

All photos courtesy of Adam Coil. © Adam Coil

The Basement Vapes, Volume 10: Definitely Maybe—Jeff Beck Is Rock’s Greatest Interpreter

OK, Boomers! MAGNET’s Mitch Myers dives deep under the covers with guitarist Jeff Beck while Stevie Wonder, Syreeta Wright, Charlie Mingus and Pavarotti get totally wired

Let’s face it: Rock music and the electric guitar both peaked way back in the 20th century. Still, rock remains a viakble art form, and there are plenty of folks capable of playing great guitar. Naturally, there are going to be those next level musicians who continue to defy convention—gifted players who push forward and make everything sound new again, reminding us that there are no real limits except in your own imagination. Take Jeff Beck, because there’s nobody like him. He’s a guitar virtuoso who’s been performing for more than a half century and could well be rock music’s greatest instrumental interpreter. 

Make no mistake, Jeff Beck has written and performed plenty of groundbreaking original material in his epic career, but his ability to definitively interpret other people’s music is no less creative a skill. A versatile interpreter in the truest sense, JB resonates with his chosen tunes, their histories and their composers. The strength of an interpretation is found within artists’ capacities on their instruments—and the vision to claim a song and make it their own. That’s where Jeff Beck lives. 

As recounted in excellent Showtime documentary, Jeff Beck: Still On The Run, the British-born lad became enamored with Les Paul’s guitar wizardry in the 1950s. He also was friendly with Jimmy Page when they were teenagers, and the fledgling guitarists were obsessed with reproducing the sounds of sharp American sidemen like James Burton with Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley’s guy Scotty Moore and Cliff Gallup from Gene Vincent’s band, the Blue Caps. Beck and Page were kindred spirits, discovering the electric guitar as well as the potential within themselves, and they would impact each other in the years to come.

In 1963, a young British band named the Yardbirds got together and was swept up in the white rhythm ‘n’ blues explosion alongside groups like the Rolling Stones, Pretty Things and Animals. Making records and enjoying some success reworking old blues material with lead guitarist Eric Clapton, the Yardbirds endeavored to become more commercial and hit the pop charts with the song “For Your Love.” Blues purist Clapton exited soon after, and in 1965, Beck joined the band on his friend Page’s recommendation. The Yardbirds were already on the rise, but the infusion of Beck’s visionary style led to a real burst of creativity. His unique approach pushed well beyond the blues, and they blossomed into a bona-fide psychedelic rock ensemble. 

The Yardbirds toured relentlessly the short time Beck was a member, including a trip to America, where they recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis. He stayed with the group for less than two years, but his impact was profound. Leading an evolution in rock guitar utilizing bends, swells, reverb, distortion and Eastern tonalities, Beck plastered his innovations all over original, cutting-edge Yardbirds classics like “Heart Full Of Soul,” “Over Under Sideways Down” and “Shapes Of Things.” While Clapton was pursuing the supercharged blues thing with his group Cream, Beck had already invented a new psychedelic guitar vocabulary with the Yardbirds. 

This all was part of the first big wave of British rock, and there were pressures within the band. Pressures led to changes, which resulted in Page joining the Yardbirds. For a brief time, the two guitarists performed together, but frustrated and unhappy, Beck quit during an American tour in 1966. Even before he left the band, JB had already recorded his first instrumental cover as a solo artist. Well, kind of a cover. Page wrote “Beck’s Bolero” with a little help from Beck, but the clarion call was based on Ravel’s “Bolero,” which premiered in 1928. Fronting the ad hoc studio group that spawned Led Zeppelin, Beck was joined by Page on electric 12-string, the Who’s Keith Moon on drums, future Led Zep bassist John Paul Jones and keyboardist Nicky Hopkins. Not bad for starters.

Jeff BeckBeck’s Bolero” (1966)

In 1968, JB assembled the Jeff Beck Group, a heavy new band with singer Rod Stewart. Their first album, Truth (credited only to Beck), was a revelatory hard-rock recording. It was a guitarist’s tour de force—and Stewart’s debut was impressive—but the record was devoid of original material. Truth shared similarities with Led Zeppelin’s first LP in approach and execution by stealing old blues tunes and electrifying two Willie Dixon’s classics, “You Shook Me” and “I Ain’t Superstitious.” They did a sharp updates of the Yardbirds’ “Shapes Of Things,” Jerome Kern’s “Ol Man River” and folk singer Bonnie Dobson’s nuclear protest “Morning Dew.” Beck even performed a solo-acoustic rendering of British ballad “Greensleeves,” which dates back to the late 16th Century

Follow-up Beck-Ola (from the following year and credited to the Jeff Beck Group) added keyboardist Hopkins and showed the group stretching out on original material and instrumentals, with two covers associated with Elvis Presley: “All Shook Up” and “Jailhouse Rock.” The music was exciting, and things were moving forward, but once again Beck quit during an American tour, this time just weeks before the band was scheduled to play Woodstock. Still, those first two albums were essential late-’60s prototypes of bluesy hard rock, and they furthered Beck’s reputation as one of the leading lights on the electric guitar. 

The next edition of the Jeff Beck Group was jazzier and more soulful with singer Bobby Tench, and they made a progressive pair of rock records to usher in the new decade. 1971’s Rough And Ready contained all original material, but 1972’s Jeff Beck Group was produced by Steve Cropper in Memphis and revealed Beck’s growing interest in soul music. They did striking covers of Dylan’s “Tonight I’m Staying Here With You,” Don Nix’s blues anthem “Going Down” and Stevie Wonder’s “I Got To Have A Song.” “Definitely Maybe” (Beck’s own instrumental composition) contained three interlocking guitar melodies, while his interpretation of “I Can’t Give Back The Love I Feel For You” (by Motown songwriters Nickolas Ashford, Valerie Simpson and Brian Holland) was originally performed by Stevie Wonder’s future wife, Syreeta.

Rita WrightI Can’t Give Back The Love I Feel For You” (1968)

Rita “Syreeta” Wright recorded “I Can’t Give Back The Love I Feel For You” in 1968. She was a Motown office worker at the time, but they let her take a crack at a tune that was ready-made for Diana Ross & The Supremes. Released on Motown subsidiary Gordy, Syreeta nailed it, exceeding versions that followed by Dusty Springfield and even Miss Ross herself. Beck’s rendition is on a totally different level, evoking Wright’s unique vocal performance and the song’s grand dynamic structure. Beyond his affinity for the music of Syreeta and Stevie Wonder, Beck’s showcase-driven instrumental work signaled an even larger musical turning point.

The Jeff Beck Group I Can’t Give Back The Love I Feel For You” (1972)

Beck was deep into Motown and actually played on Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book. Wonder also wrote “Superstition” for JB, which appeared on 1973’s Beck, Bogert & Appice alongside two more Nix covers and Curtis Mayfield’s “I’m So Proud.” That power-trio album was something of a hard-rock anomaly, but it did set the stage for his next pair of groundbreaking recordings, 1975’s Blow By Blow and 1976’s Wired. Both instrumental albums, they are considered electric-guitar classics and remain high-water marks in the realm of jazz fusion.

Esteemed Beatles producer George Martin was at the helm for Blow By Blow and he highlighted Beck as the album’s featured performer. Martin put orchestral strings behind the guitarist on two tracks, and they even recorded a cover of the Fab Four’s “She’s A Woman.” Front and center as lead instrumentalist without the burdens of a rock group or lead singer, Beck transformed into a fusion guitar hero. Borrowing riffs from electric Miles Davis and Mahavishnu guitarist John McLaughlin, JB added his searing rock sensibilities to the mix and captured the jazz-rock zeitgeist.

Syreeta “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” (1974)

Blow By Blow featured another Syreeta Wright cover, this one written by her by-then-ex-husband Stevie Wonder. “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” first appeared on 1974’s Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta. Again, Beck was inspired by Syreeta’s aching performance, and his anthemic interpretation echoed her vocal and song’s bittersweet poignancy. Beck dedicated his version of the tune to fellow guitarist Roy Buchanan, and he mimics Buchanan’s tone and trademark volume swells on the song’s haunting introduction. The album includes another, funkier Wonder composition called “Thelonius,” but “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” will be remembered as JB’s ultimate Wonder cover. 

Jeff BeckCause We’ve Ended As Lovers” (1975)

This was a new threshold in jazz-rock fusion, and it provided a distinctive identity for JB. A pioneering rock guitarist with great nuance, tone and loads of technique, Beck had an instrumental approach that was incredibly fluid, melodic, imaginative and risk taking. His guitar had a distinctive voice, and it was singing more than ever. 1976’s Wired was an extension and a refinement of the context established on Blow By Blow. Martin was again the producer, Mahavishnu keyboardist Jan Hammer lent his talents, and the band was tough, deep and funky. Beck’s exquisite playing was especially transformative on his deft handling of classic Charles Mingus instrumental “Good Bye Pork Pie Hat.” 

Charles Mingus “Good Bye Pork Pie Hat (1959)

Mingus composed “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” in homage to late saxophonist Lester Young. Originally performed in 1959 on Mingus A Um, the ruminative elegy contained ample space for improvisation and was an ideal jazz standard for Beck to record. As a set piece, JB hit all of his marks. He mastered the moody melody, stating and restating the themes, and he solos with great urgency and virtuosic skill. This spectacular interpretation of Mingus’ rich jazz tune was another peak recording for Beck, and he still plays the tune in concert to this day. 

Jeff BeckGood Bye Pork Pie Hat” (1976)

Beck pursued the fusion trend but gradually absorbed his jazz inclinations into a larger whole. He showed conviction in his artistic choices and used a rotating cast of fine supporting musicians. For 1985’s Flash, Beck and producer Nile Rodgers devised a glossy rock album with singer Jimmy Hall. One of the tracks created without Rogers reunited Beck and Rod Stewart for an outsized version of Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.” The original 1965 performance by Mayfield and the Impressions was an undeniably inspirational message. The gospel-like ode was also a righteous vehicle for Stewart’s soul-driven rasp, and Beck’s chiming counterpoint amplified Mayfield’s song of hope and anticipation. 

Near the end of the 20th century, Martin assembled an all-star tribute album of Beatles songs called In My Life. Considering Martin’s sterling pedigree as producer of John, Paul, George and Ringo, he couldn’t have found a more appropriate stylist to interpret “A Day In The Life.” Beck, a true contemporary of the Beatles, performed a majestic instrumental rendition of the immortal tune framed by Martin’s 64-piece orchestra. Telling the story as expressively as any singer, JB knocked this one out of the park with his guitar. Again.

George Martin With Jeff Beck “A Day In The Life” (1998)

Beck always followed a uniquely personal musical course. In 1993, he made an album of jumping rockabilly celebrating the music of Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps guitarist Gallup. In 2010, Beck made a live recording at the Iridium Jazz Club in NYC called Rock ‘N’ Roll Party Honoring Les Paul, which was comprised of old vocal standards and vintage instrumentals like “Peter Gunn,” “Apache” and “Sleep Walk.” Beyond artistic connections to his original heroes, the guitarist was open to all kinds of music and found equal value in contemporary trends and modern rhythms. 

Nitin Sawhney “Nadia” (1999)

On 2001’s You Had It Coming, Beck adapted a dance-floor track by British Indian musician Nintin Sawhney entitled “Nadia” featuring Swati Natekar singing in the Brij dialect of Hindi. Beck’s approximation of the vocalist’s Eastern-styled microtones utilized the guitar’s tremolo bar, intense string bending and volume swells to replicate her acrobatic vocal scales and unique leaping from note to note. Much like his devoted emulations of Syreeta, Beck embraced this electro-world vocal performance and turned it into an instrumental for the ages.

Jeff Beck “Nadia” (2001)

It’s been one long victory lap, and JB can do whatever he wants. Sometimes, it almost feels like he’s showing off. In 2010, Beck released an album filled with ambitious covers. Emotion & Commotion contained vocal tracks like “I Put A Spell On You” (featuring Joss Stone) and evergreen show tune “Lilac Wine” (with Irish singer Imelda May). The LP included a stunning instrumental rendition of that age-old interpreter’s favorite, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” Beck also chose Middle English hymn “Corpus Christi Carol” by way of singer Jeff Buckley’s own remarkable version. And then there’s “Nessun Dorma.”

Luciano Pavarotti “Nessun Dorma”

“Nessun Dorma” (“let no one sleep”) is from Puccini’s opera Turandot and one of the classic tenor arias of all time. It was popularized by Luciano Pavarotti’s many performances as well as renditions by Plácido Domingo. Pavarotti performed it at the World Cup in 1990, and then again as part of the Three Tenors in 1994, 1998 and 2002. Pucinni’s score allows for holding long sustained notes at the very top of the tenor range. Pavarotti certainly did this, and as one might expect, Beck’s fearless guitar work reaches for those dramatic high points in grand fashion.  

Jeff Beck “Nessun Dorma” (2010)

Almost all of the cover songs featured here remain alive in Beck’s performance repertoire. These tunes are more than just guitar showcases, because as an interpretive artist, JB continues to make them his own. Almost all of these awesome interpretations can also be found in aforementioned documentary Jeff Beck: Still On The Run. All of which invariably leads me to hereby state—for the record, officially—that Jeff Beck is rock’s greatest interpreter.

BONUS TRACK
After so many cover tunes, we thought it only fair to include an original Beck composition. When deciding on which song to feature, there was only one clear answer: “Definitely Maybe.” This version actually displays two Jeff Becks stacking his guitar melodies on top of one another. So there.

Jeff Beck “Definitely Maybe” (1972)

The Basement Vapes, Volume Nine: Spoiler Alert! Shadow Beats The Heat

Together again for the very first time, De Niro and Pacino get mixed up with DJ Shadow in the perfect movie trailer that never was. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers yells “Action!”

“I do what I do best. I take scores. You do what you do best. Try to stop guys like me.”

In tribute to the reunion of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in Martin Scorsese’s latest film The Irishman, let’s recall the first time these two icons met face to face, cinematically. The year was 1995, the director was Michael Mann, and the movie was Heat. Yes, two decades earlier, both actors were in The Godfather Part II, but they were never onscreen at the same time. In Heat, however, the confrontation between these two outsized personas was precisely the point.

One cop. One robber. Not really that different from one another. Each with a backstory. Each with a team of macho minions. Both in fractured love relationships. Both totally consumed by their work. Two alpha dogs hurtling toward the inevitable collision of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. All of this is exemplified in the much-ballyhooed roadside diner scene where the duo trades lines mano a mano, sitting across the table from one another. Set in Los Angeles and based on a true story, the bank-heist film has a solid supporting cast including Val Kilmer, Ashley Judd and Jon Voight. If you’ve never seen Heat, don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you how it ends. Hint: Two men enter, one man leaves.

What I will tell you is that in 1996, the year after Heat came out, DJ Shadow released Endtroducing….., his groundbreaking full-length debut. Shadow (Josh Davis) was an innovative hip-hop “bedroom composer” outside Sacramento who devised an astounding sonic experience entirely out of samples, mostly from old, forgotten vinyl. The entire LP is a headphone masterpiece and probably the first of its kind. Consider haunting album track “Stem/Long Stem/Transmission 2,” an elaborately constructed electro-chamber suite. The track stitches together obscure instrumental samples and urgent drum-machine flourishes with found dialogue interspersed. “Stem” presents an ominous synthetic world of sound with strong recurring motifs. It sustains a wide dramatic arc, demanding engagement and provoking an emotional response—kind of like a good movie.

Which brings us back to the cops and robbers. According to legend, back then DJ Shadow was in the U.K. when Mo’Wax label owner James Lavelle asked him to cough up a remix off of Endtroducing….. to help plug the record. Since Shadow was on the road and away from his immense record library, he had to make do with whatever source material was on hand, which apparently was the movie Heat. The net result, “Stem (Cops ‘N’ Robbers Mix)” takes the first movement of Shadow’s original track and transposes selected dialogue from Heat to highlight and embellish his dramatic vision.

As Shadow’s suspenseful soundclash unfolds, we’re introduced to the film’s two main protagonists and the inexorable fate that awaits them. Besides Al and Bobby’s frank exchange at the diner, there’s the set-up, the cop analysis and thwarted pursuit, the big bank heist and, of course, the climactic conclusion. Shorn of the film’s side-trips and entanglements, Shadow’s abridged take is tension-filled—anchored by sampled synthesizers, an elegiac violin and punctuated by gabber-paced drum beats unleashed in the guaranteed gunfire crescendo. This “Stem” remix serves as a worshipful reconstruction of Heat, as Shadow condenses the storyline and presents a concise, riveting audio cut just less than four minutes long.

Here’s the thing. After having listened to the “Cops ‘N’ Robber Mix” countless times and being convinced of Shadow’s dazzling auteur instincts, I stumbled upon a YouTube video where some savvy fan had edited Heat to conform with Shadow’s audio portrayal. And it’s freaking brilliant. Using Shadow’s dialogue samples to guide the visual cues and matching the DJ’s impossible beats with high-action explosions and machine-gun bursts timed down to the second, this film edit is a thrilling music video that also serves as a hyper-advanced, spoiler-alert, perfect movie trailer that never was. So, if you don’t have time to watch Heat in its entirety (which you really should), just check out this four-minute version. There’s a similar edit online with a sharper picture, but I prefer this one for its editorial choices and painstaking precision. This ain’t no director’s cut—but this ain’t no fooling around either.                                          

For the record, here’s the original theatrical trailer for Heat, so we can see how clichéd movie trailers were back in 1995. You’ll notice instances of the same scenes being used in Shadow’s mix—because these classic performances simply had to be showcased. Still, Heat is far better than this overdone studio trailer represents, and it proves that the movie really did deserve the crazy-visual remix it ultimately received.

When else has a film been remixed with a built-in soundtrack that then becomes an after-the-fact movie trailer and messes with the space-time continuum? We’ll have get back to you on that.