Heart Full of Soul - the Yardbirds
Jeff Beck, who sadly died on January 10th, was the great British rock guitarist that the average modern music listener has never heard of. In the early seventies there was much debate and even the occasional scrap in British playgrounds as to who was the greatest guitarist. Jimi Hendrix had died in 1970, so who was the new king? Most were crazy over Jimmy Page, lead guitarist with the latest hot group, Led Zeppelin, while others were still loyal to Eric Clapton, even though his band, Cream, had broken up in 1969, mainly because of his rematerialisation in supergroups Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominos. A small few, however, held out for Jeff Beck, ex lead guitarist from the Yardbirds, who had broken up in 1968. These were usually laughed at as none but the most dedicated blues/rock fans had listened to Beck's albums with the Jeff Beck Group. To most people the name Jeff Beck was synonymous with the lad anthem "Hi Ho Silver Lining" which had charted in 1967 and subsequently become a staple of football terraces.
It's curious that the three main British contenders for the top rock guitarist crown all grew up in the London / Surrey borderland of Sutton and Epsom, an area not normally considered the epicentre of "hard rock" and that all of them played with the Yardbirds in the sixties. The Yardbirds, formed in 1963, were a blues/rock band that included burgeoning rock guitarist, Eric Clapton. In 1965 the group recorded "For Your Love" which was a Top Ten hit in both the UK and the US. Clapton disapproved of the commerciality of the release, moving away as it was from their more bluesy roots, and quit. The song was the first hit for a young songwriter by the name of Graham Gouldman, later to be part of seventies' hit band 10cc.
The group approached successful young session guitarist Jimmy Page with an offer to be his replacement, but Page, happy with his session work, declined but recommended his friend Jeff Beck, only later to change his mind and join as bass player, later switching to rhythm guitar, often sharing lead with Beck.
One of the first recording made with the new recruit was the follow-up single to "For Your Love", also written by Gouldman, "Heart Full of Soul". The tape of the song sent to the group by Gouldman had an Indian feel about it, so the producer booked two Indian musicians, on tabla and sitar, for the recording session. While the tabla seemed to work, the sitar didn't sound right, either because of the sound or because the musician couldn't adjust to the song's rhythms. It says a lot about the confidence of the then 21 year-old Beck that he was able to approximate a the sitar sound while seamlessly slipping it into a rock context, achieving that oriental edge with a little distortion through a fuzz box.
The result was an even bigger hit than its predecessor as well as being the first British top ten hit to feature the use of a fuzz box by a day: the Stones "Satisfaction" was released two months later in August 1965.
The first actual sitar on a British pop record occurred six months or so later with the Beatles "Norwegian Wood", but "Heart Full of Soul" still has the distinction of being the first "raga" rock record, including, as it does, the first tabla. But it's Beck's guitar that raises the song above the ordinary, not because of his elegant but studied solo one minute in, but because of the infectious but nagging drone refrain that is, as in the old tv ad, so full of Eastern promise.