Recording any kind of full-length album is a challenge. Following up an LP that revolutionized rock guitar? That’s another matter entirely — and the struggled faced by Jeff Beck as he entered the studio to work on his third solo release.
Beck’s second solo album, 1975’s Blow by Blow, which found him working alongside keyboardist Max Middleton and producer George Martin on a set of songs that placed him firmly at the rock/jazz fusion vanguard while catapulting him to fresh commercial heights. A Top 10 hit, it gave Beck his first platinum record — and expanded expectations accordingly.
Unsurprisingly, Beck opted not to reinvent his sound for the follow-up. Retaining Middleton and Martin, he added another pair of key contributors for the sessions: former Mahavishnu Orchestra keyboardist Jan Hammer and drummer Narada Michael Walden, both of whom brought original material to the table while broadening the sonic palette he’d employed for Blow by Blow.
Hammer in particular had an audible impact on the new songs, adding synth-derived textures to the arrangements and freeing up Middleton to focus on clavinet and Fender Rhodes. Walden, meanwhile, not only anchored the rhythm section, he wrote half the album, contributing four of the eight tracks recorded by Beck and the new band. The result, in a nod to the album’s more electronic sound, was titled Wired.
Released in May 1976, Wired wasn’t the groundbreaking effort its predecessor had been; instead, it found Beck building on the fusion template he’d used the previous year. Though the subgenre would soon devolve into an easy listening playground for lowest-common-denominator smooth jazz records, in the early-to-mid-’70s, fusion could be genuinely exciting, as proven by influential hits like Blow by Blow and Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters LP. With Wired, Beck used the arrangements as launchpads into challenging instrumental excursions that took advantage of jazz’s freedom without sacrificing rock energy.
That rock/jazz blend was arguably best reflected in a pair of Wired cuts: the Middleton original “Led Boots,” which led off the album with a nod to Led Zeppelin, and a cover of Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” which used the jazz legend’s classic as a framework for some of Beck’s finest guitar work. Throughout the record, the group showcased their rich interplay, summed up with a concluding trio of Walden tracks that left equal room for melody and instrumental virtuosity.
Their efforts were rewarded with another impressive showing on the charts. Although Wired didn’t quite reach the heights achieved by Blow by Blow, peaking at No. 16, it added another platinum record to Beck’s list of hits, and seemed to cement his status as a rare rock artist who didn’t need vocals to enjoy consistent mainstream success. Dating back to 1972’s Jeff Beck Group, he’d landed four consecutive releases in the Top 20, each of which had sold at least half a million copies.
Ultimately, Beck would find it difficult to sustain that momentum — his next studio release, There & Back, didn’t arrive until 1980 — but the work he’d done throughout the ’60s and ’70s, capped with the commercial success he achieved with Blow by Blow and Wired, made him a household name while paving the way for decades of creative freedom.
Source: Ultimate Classic Rock.