Five Great Jeff Beck Solos

It’s something of a fool’s errand to attempt a ranking of the five greatest guitar solos by Jeff Beck. His work with the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck Group, Beck Bogert & Appice and as a solo artist is filled with superb, highly melodic and technically dazzling guitar playing. His approach to his instrument encompassed many styles, from hard rock to jazz fusion to rockabilly and more. Beck passed away in 2023 at age 78, but his body of work will stand as a testament to his taste and skill as a six-string master. And even though there’s so much superb material from which to choose – every listener likely has his or her own strongly-held opinions as to which are the best – here are five songs featuring notable Jeff Beck guitar solos.

“Over, Under, Sideways, Down” from The Yardbirds’ Roger the Engineer (1966)
In the just over five years of their original run, The Yardbirds went through no less than four lead guitarists. Top Topham held the lead guitar spot for the group’s first six months, but left before the band cut its debut album. By that time Eric Clapton had taken over. But disappointed with the band’s tendency toward what he thought too pop-oriented material, he left after eighteen months as lead guitarist. For about a year and a half, Jeff Beck was the Yardbirds’ lead guitarist, though toward the end of his run he shared those duties with Jimmy Page, who’d soon take over on lead. A highlight from among the three Beck-led Yardbirds LPs is this tune, with a distinctive, snaky guitar riff.

“Beck’s Bolero” single (1967)
While still a member of the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck assembled an ad-hoc band for one of his first solo recordings. The lineup on the instrumental rave-up reading of Maurice Ravel’s classical piece featured a who’s who of rock legends: Beck and former band mate Jimmy Page on guitars, session great Nicky Hopkins (Beatles, Rolling Stones and many others) on piano, future Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, and – from The Who – drummer Keith Moon. Originally released as a single in 1967, the recording was also included on Beck’s 1968 LP Truth.

“Superstition” from Beck, Bogert & Appice (1973)
It may be difficult to believe, but Stevie Wonder actually wrote “Superstition” for his friend Jeff Beck. The British guitar master featured a supremely heavy (yet funky) reading of the song on the debut album from his power trio with former Vanilla Fudge members Tim Bogert (bass, vocals) and Carmine Appice (drums). By most accounts, Wonder liked what BB&A did with his song, but not so much that it kept him from cutting his own version, featured on his 1972 Talking Book LP. The original plan was for Beck’s version to be released first, but Wonder’s label head Berry Gordy knew a hit when he heard one, so Stevie’s recording hit the shelves first, soaring to the Number One spot on the singles chart.

“’Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” from Blow by Blow (1975)
After displaying his brilliance within a rock context, by the mid 1970s Jeff Beck channeled his considerable talents in a quite different direction. Produced by Beatles collaborator George Martin, 1975’s Blow by Blow is an instrumental jazz fusion record. The album served up a mix of Beck originals and inspired covers (including a reading of The Beatles’ “She’s a Woman”). The guitarist’s friend Stevie Wonder contributed two songs to the album, including the subtle and sublime “’Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers,” dedicated to guitarist Roy Buchanan. For his efforts, Beck would be rewarded with his best-selling release ever.

“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” from Wired (1976)
The music of upright bassist and jazz great Charles Mingus might not seem a good fit for a musician outside the jazz idiom. But Mingus’ work has been expertly interpreted by artists as varied as Joni Mitchell and folk singer June Tabor. On Jeff Beck’s second fusion outing, 1976’s Wired, Beck featured Mingus’ signature tune, long a staple of the guitarist’s live shows. Beck remains true to the composition’s jazz aesthetic while seamlessly incorporating distorted, rock-leaning textures into the arrangement.