In his nearly 60 years as a professional musician, guitarist Jeff Beck has recorded and performed with many great singers, from Rod Stewart to Diana Ross, Tina Turner to Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder to Roger Waters. That’s one reason the prospect of Beck recording with actor and sometimes musician Johnny Depp seemed … not quite right. Sure, Depp has recorded with the likes of Oasis, Marilyn Manson, and Aerosmith, and he plays guitar in the occasionally active “supergroup” the Hollywood Vampires, along with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and shock-rock titan Alice Cooper. But a whole album with Jeff Beck? Seemed too odd to be true.
However, because the universe has a sense of humor and apparently appreciates good music, Beck and Depp’s resulting album, 18, is a solid affair. Its 13 tracks skew mostly towards covers, with classics like John Lennon’s “Isolation,” Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs,” and the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” and “Caroline No” receiving respectful, spirited renditions. Depp can sing, and Beck is … well, Jeff Beck – one of the best to ever put fingers on guitar strings. Three of the covers on the record are must-hears; check ‘em out below –
“Time” (originally recorded by Dennis Wilson): There is a ragged beauty in Dennis Wilson’s 1977 album Pacific Ocean Blue. Years of hard living had coarsened Wilson’s voice, but not his penchant for melody, nor his ability to place himself in the finest musical settings, all in the service of his songs. Those songs – “Time” included among them – could be fragile things, made all the more so by Wilson’s fractured delivery. Depp gets this, and his and Beck’s take on “Time” proceeds softly, the actor/singer cradling the song with his voice, before ending with a spectacular stomp, as the great drummer Vinnie Colaiuta channels his inner caveman and Beck cuts loose with a torrid solo.
“Ooo Baby Baby” (originally recorded by the Miracles): Smokey Robinson is a singular voice in American pop and soul music – you can’t touch him, can’t even approach the supple way he wraps his voice around a song. On this Miracles classic, Depp certainly tries, spending the entire time working his falsetto into the track’s contours, first backing up Beck’s run through the first verse and chorus, before taking the spotlight himself. And while he’s a thousand miles away from achieving what Robinson achieved, his own heartfelt take is quite affecting, and well worth the repeated spins you’ll likely give it.
“Let It Be Me” (originally recorded by Jill Corey; popularized by the Everly Brothers): Those incredible Everly Brothers harmonies made “Let It Be Me” a slow-dance classic back in 1960. Beck and Depp stretch out their version to a languid 4:41, wringing every bit of sweetness out of the lyrics and melody, voice and guitar covered in a scrim of reverb. One can imagine this soundtracking a love scene in a movie, or a dark night of the soul, filtered through car speakers as the driver puts miles between himself and his troubles.