Revinylization #40: Beck & Croz

Turns out rock stars are human after all. Which means music fans should prepare themselves for the coming toll. The next few years are certain to be brutal: Bob Dylan, 81; Paul Simon, 81; George Clinton, 81; Brian Wilson, 80; Carole King, 80; Keith Richards, 79; Jimmy Page, 79; Sly Stone, 79; Rod Stewart, 78; Neil Young, 77; Pete Townsend, 77, and the inexorability rolls on. The news is even worse among the pre-rock era stars, where it's a matter of any day now: Tony Bennett, 96; Burt Bacharach, 94 (footnote 1); Sonny Rollins, 93. Even the ageless one, Willie Nelson, is 86.

January 2023 was a particularly cruel harbinger of the reckoning to come as guitar legend Jeff Beck and folk rock icon David Crosby died within eight days of each other.

If there's any consolation, it lies in the wonderful recordings these towering figures in popular music left or will leave behind. In the case of Beck and Crosby, there are quiet, high-quality audiophile pressings of two of their masterworks: a 45rpm, 180gm Analogue Productions pressing of Jeff Beck's 1975 solo album Blow by Blow and a Mobile Fidelity Ultradisc One Step 180gm version of CSN's 1969 debut, Crosby, Stills & Nash.

After beginning his recording career with two fantastic records—Truth and Beck-Ola, made with a version of the Jeff Beck Group that included singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ron Wood on bass—Beck hit his stride in the mid-1970s with another pair of records, Blow by Blow and Wired. Together, the two albums cemented his position as a "guitarist's guitarist," a technical wonder who could rock out with as much authority as he could swing, get funky, and play R&B–influenced licks. His lack of larger success—his highest-charting single ever hit #27 while Blow by Blow, his most successful album, made it to #4—is often traced to never working with a singer or a steady band for more than an album or two. But it's that same unpredictability and restlessness that make Beck's career such a fascinating ride.

With its utterly apt title, Blow by Blow is the audio definition of "tour de force." On the two-disc, 45rpm, 180gm AP pressing from 2015, Beck's technically precise playing has a cleaner sound, and his guitar tone has a newfound purity. More a conjurer of jams than a verse-chorus-verse songwriter, Beck dominates the fusion grooves of "Air Blower" with clean, tasteful lead lines and often blinding speed. When this jam slows, he shows how tasteful and tasty he can be. That's followed by one of rock's greatest individual guitar epics, "Scatterbrain," where Beck, using a fuzzy tone, ranges up and down in rapid-fire relentlessness. While this tends to blur in earlier pressings, the crisp articulation of notes is audibly better on this Analogue Productions pressing. Both tracks feature doubled melody lines and incisive solos from the partnership of Beck and keyboardist Max Middleton, whose use of the distinctive-sounding Fender Rhodes keyboard and early analog synthesizers give the album its bouncy, funky textures. Elite Trinidadian drummer Richard Bailey is the session's rhythmic backbone.

Another strength of this project is the great Sir George Martin, onboard as producer. His orchestral arrangements on "Scatterbrain" and "Diamond Dust" are beautifully illuminating. Finally, Stevie Wonder gave Beck two songs for the album, "'Cause We've Ended as Lovers" and "Thelonious," and played uncredited clavinet on the latter track.

Who can forget the performance by Crosby, Stills and Nash in the film Woodstock? After the trio makes it nervously through a strong acoustic performance of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," Crosby beams and holds up two fingers as Stills, also smiling and looking relieved, admits, "This is the second time we've ever played in front of people. We're scared shitless." Coalescing in an impromptu jam at a party at Mama Cass Elliott's house (or so the rock legend goes), the trio of Stephen Stills (who'd been in Buffalo Springfield), Graham Nash (who'd left The Hollies), and David Crosby (once of the Byrds) were a unique blend of music strengths that clicked immediately on their debut album. It's the only album in their catalog where everyone in this notoriously cranky ensemble seemed to get along.

While Stills was the major domo of the sessions and leaned toward a folky country sound, Crosby added soaring hippy atmosphere while Nash handled the pop hooks. Dominated by impeccable vocal harmonies, Crosby, Stills & Nash opens with Stills's "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," with tastefully overdubbed electric guitars and manicured vocals. That's followed by Graham Nash's "Marrakesh Express" with its perky, high-note guitar figure. Nash's "Pre-Road Downs" works up a head of steam, while "Wooden Ships"—a Crosby-Stills collaboration co-written with Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane—is one of the band's most emblematic songs.

The Mobile Fidelity two-LP, 45rpm, 180gm pressing, its process's digital step stated explicitly on a hype sticker—"¼"/15ips/analog master, DSD 256, Analog Console, Lathe"—is sonically impressive, enhancing the delicate layers of the vocal harmonies, though like Blow by Blow it was well-recorded initially. Cursed by some reviews that stressed its "amiability" and "pleasant" moods, this album remains the first masterpiece of folk rock and one of the defining touchstones of Southern California soft rock, a style that would eventually encompass The Eagles, Jackson Browne, and Fleetwood Mac.

Sad as the passing of Beck and Croz may be, artistry this profound is its own brand of immortality.

Footnote 1: Burt Bacharach passed away in February. Robert Baird will be offering an appreciation in the May 2023 issue of Stereophile.—Ed.


georgehifi's picture

But get the best uncompressed issue/versions from DRDB.
(Dynamic Range Data Base) You notice it's nearly always the latest or streamed/download ones that have been squashed (compressed)
Pick the one/year you want click on the title get the cat no. and get it for $2 on ebay

EG: Blow By Blow

EG: Crosby, Stills & Nash,%20Stil...

Cheers George

DH's picture

Paul and Ringo?
I have multiple versions of both albums shown above. There are also nice DSD versions of Blow by Blow. As far as CSN, find a CD remastered by Gastwirt, and you get a superior sounding version.

georgehifi's picture

"DSD versions of Blow by Blow"

Very rare but the two SACD re-makes, did fair better against the compression butchers than most do. But that mini "LP" CD from Japan got squashed severely, don't go near it

Cheers George

Glotz's picture

Thank you for assisting us once again.