Beck's Bolero

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"Beck's Bolero"
Single by Jeff Beck
A-side "Hi Ho Silver Lining"
Released 10 March 1967 (1967-03-10)
Format 7" 45 rpm record
Recorded IBC Studios, London 16 May 1966
Genre Instrumental rock, psychedelic rock, hard rock
Length 2:53
Label Columbia DB 8161 (UK)

"Beck's Bolero" is a rock instrumental recorded by English guitarist Jeff Beck in 1966. It is Beck's first solo recording and has been described as "one of the great rock instrumentals, epic in scope, harmonically and rhythmically ambitious yet infused with primal energy".[1] "Beck's Bolero" features a "haunting melody"[2] with multiple guitar parts propelled by a rhythm inspired by Ravels's Boléro. The recording session brought together a group of musicians, including Jimmy Page, Keith Moon, John Paul Jones, and Nicky Hopkins, who later agreed that the line up was a first attempt at what became Led Zeppelin.

Background[edit]

The recording session for "Beck's Bolero" was conceived of as a side project for Jeff Beck while he was a member of the Yardbirds. According to Beck: "it was decided that it would be a good idea for me to record some of my own stuff ... partly to stop me moaning about the Yardbirds". It was also thought that the Yardbirds' management was encouraging individual band members to bring attention to the band through success in solo projects.[3] Beck called on long-time friend and studio guitarist Jimmy Page, who had recommended Beck as Eric Clapton's replacement in the Yardbirds, to work up some ideas for songs to record.

Although there is a disagreement about who came up with what (see disagreement over credits section below), both Beck and Page agree that Page began by playing some chords on a twelve-string guitar using a rhythm based on Boléro. The one-movement orchestral piece, composed by Maurice Ravel in 1928, is "built on a persistent, repeating motif supported by a snare drum ... re-creating the Spanish 'bolero' dance pattern for full orchestra".[2] A melody line was developed along with a middle section to break up the rhythm, reminiscent of Yardbirds' arrangements for "For Your Love" and "Shapes of Things".

With at least the outline of one song and Page on board to play guitar, Beck turned to Who drummer Keith Moon. Moon, who was unhappy with the Who at the time, readily agreed to participate, but wished to do so incognito to avoid a confrontation with Pete Townshend and the Who's manager Kit Lambert. Moon recommended bandmate John Entwistle, who was similarly discontented with the Who, to provide the bass.

Recording[edit]

A recording session was scheduled for 16 May 1966 at the IBC Studios in London.[4] Keith Moon arrived at the studio disguised in sunglasses and a Russian cossack hat.[5] John Entwistle could not make it, so studio musicians John Paul Jones (bass) and Nicky Hopkins (piano) were brought in at the last minute.[6] The Yardbird's producer, Simon Napier-Bell, was on hand to produce the session (see disagreement over credits section below).

Moon had limited time to devote to the session, so recording was completed in two to three hours. For the guitar parts, Jeff Beck used a Gibson Les Paul played through a Vox AC30 amplifier and Jimmy Page played a Fender Electric XII twelve-string electric guitar. Half way through the song, Keith Moon smashed the drum microphone with his stick. According to Beck, "you can actually hear him screaming as he does it",[2] "so all you can hear from then on is cymbals!".[6] After Moon and Napier-Bell left, Beck and Page added overdubs and sound treatments to complete the track.

Composition[edit]

"Beck's Bolero" is roughly divided into three parts – The first part opens with a section of twelve-string guitar chording with the bolero rhythm and the melody line, played on an overdriven guitar with "infinite sustain", is introduced. In the second section, the backing piano, bass, and drums come in and the tension builds. The third section "suddenly set[s] off from the main motif into a beautiful serene section highlighting slide-glissando guitars",[4] with Beck's echo-laden slide sounding similar to a steel guitar. The fourth section returns to the main melody with overlaid "downward-swooping" slide. According to Beck, "the phasing was Jimmy's idea ... I played a load of waffle and he reversed it".[7] The tension mounts as Moon adds drum flourishes, climaxing with a break.

The second part begins with Moon's simultaneous drum break and scream and launches in different, hard-rock direction. "It was my idea to cut off in the middle, Yardbirds-style", according to Beck, "Keith upped the tempo and gave it an extra kick. It's like a bit of The Who, a bit of The Yardbirds and a bit of me".[2] The amply-distorted guitar provides "a thick-toned, descending riff",[2] which modulates through higher keys.

The third part returns to the main motif with added guitar fills. The melody line is abandoned in the second section and replaced with several "cross-faded layers" of guitar effects, including phasing, echo, and controlled feedback. It concludes with a few bars of heavily-overdriven lead guitar and an abrupt ending.

Releases[edit]

Japanese single picture sleeve with image of later Jeff Beck Group.

Beck, Page, Hopkins, Jones, and Moon were reportedly pleased with the recording and there was talk of forming a working group and additional recordings. This led to Moon's (or Entwistle's) famous quip, "Yeah, it'll go down like a lead zeppelin". However, "it was never a realistic option"[8] because of existing contractual obligations. Although other songs were recorded at the session, "Beck's Bolero" became the only one to be released.

The record release of "Beck's Bolero" was delayed for ten months, well after Jeff Beck had left the Yardbirds. It appeared as the B-side of Beck's first single, "Hi Ho Silver Lining", which was released on 10 March 1967 in the UK (Columbia DB 9151) and 3 April 1967 in the U.S. (Epic 5–10157). The initial UK pressing of the single listed the title as "Bolero" with Jeff Beck as the composer,[9] while later pressings showed "Beck's Bolero" and "J. Page". The single reached number fourteen in the UK Singles Chart.[10] The instrumental also appeared on the 1968 Jeff Beck Group debut album Truth. On the British monaural releases, "Beck's Bolero" has a fifteen-second backwards guitar coda. This version is included as a bonus track on the 2006 remastered Truth CD and on the Sundazed Records reissue of the original mono vinyl album.

Jeff Beck "still lists 'Beck's Bolero' as one of his all-time favourites"[11] and has performed it numerous times, often as his opening number. A live version in 2008 appears on his Live at Ronnie Scott's album and video. On 4 April 2009, Page formally inducted Beck into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and together they performed "Beck's Bolero" at the induction ceremony, with Page playing the original Fender XII electric twelve-string guitar which he used for the 1966 recording session.

Disagreement over credits[edit]

Production[edit]

At the time of the release of "Beck Bolero", Jeff Beck was under contract to producer Mickie Most. Thus, Most received a "contractually mandated production credit",[12] although he was not involved in the recording. The Yardbirds' producer, Simon Napier-Bell, who was present for at least the recording, has claimed that he produced it.[2] However, according to Jimmy Page, "the track was done and then the producer, Simon Napier-Bell, just disappeared ... [he] just sort of left me and Jeff to do it. Jeff was playing and I was in the console"[2] and considers himself to be producer. Most's name appears on the single and album as producer.

Composition[edit]

Jimmy Page filed for the composer credit for "Beck's Bolero" and it is his name that appears on the credits for all but the initial release. However, Jeff Beck has claimed credit for his significant contributions to the composition. Both Beck and Page agree that Page came up with the Boléro-influenced chords and rhythm. However, Beck specifically claims that the guitar-melody line and the second part "hard-rock" break are his.[13] While not addressing the melody or break, Page asserts "I wrote it, played on it, produced it ... and I don't give a damn what [Jeff] says. That's the truth",[2] but adds "the slide bits are his".[14] Beck added, "No, I didn't get a songwriting credit, but you win some and lose some down the years". Nonetheless, Beck and Page have made several appearances together in interviews and concerts over the years.

Recognition and influence[edit]

"Beck's Bolero" has appeared on various "best of" lists[15][16] and the May 1966 recording pre-dated other 1960s milestones in hard rock, such as the formation of Cream, Jimmy Page's joining the Yardbirds later to become one of the first dual-lead guitar teams with Beck, and Jimi Hendrix's arrival in England to form the Experience. Guitarist Mike Bloomfield recalled that "Beck's Bolero" had a "significant impact on Jimi Hendrix, who named it among his favorite tracks".[6] Beck recalled performing a live version with Hendrix on lead guitar, but a recording has not been forthcoming.[17]

According to pre-Allman Brothers Band Hour Glass bandmate Paul Hornsby, "Beck's Bolero" inspired Duane Allman to take up slide guitar. He played Beck's record and Allman "loved that slide part and told me he was going to learn to play it".[18] Also, the American rock group the James Gang used the slide-guitar section of "Beck's Bolero" in their own multi-part suite, "The Bomber" (which also included a rendition of Ravel's Boléro) for their 1969 album James Gang Rides Again.

Several artists have recorded "Beck's Bolero", including SRC, The Posies, Les Fradkin, Eric Johnson, and Return to Forever. Jimmy Page used it in the medley portion of "How Many More Times" for the Led Zeppelin debut album.[19]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ di Perna 2012, p.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Power 2011, p. 130–132.
  3. ^ Hjort, Hinman 2000, p. 49
  4. ^ a b Some place this session in November 1966 after Beck left the Yarbirds, but most agree that it was in May. Unterberger, Richie. "Beck's Bolero — Song Review". Allmusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved 29 June 2013. 
  5. ^ Beck: "I remember [Pete] Townshend looking daggers at me when he heard it ... because it was a bit near the mark. He didn't want anybody meddling with that territory at all". Fletcher 2000, p. 188.
  6. ^ a b c Carson 2001, p. 67.
  7. ^ Carson 2001, p. 56.
  8. ^ Shadwick 2005, p. 12.
  9. ^ "Jeff Beck — DB 8151". 45cat. Retrieved 29 June 2013. 
  10. ^ "Jeff Beck — Singles Chart History". The Official Charts Company. Retrieved 29 June 2013. 
  11. ^ Clayson 2002. p. 95.
  12. ^ Clayson 2006, p. 176.
  13. ^ Beck also says that the second part of "Beck's Bolero" contains "the first heavy metal riff ever written and I wrote it". Power 2011, p. 131.
  14. ^ Wall 2010, p. 15.
  15. ^ "The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944–2000". Acclaimed Music. 2005. Retrieved 29 June 2013. 
  16. ^ Creswell 2005, p. 234.
  17. ^ Clayson 2002, p. 95.
  18. ^ Freeman 1995, p. 31.
  19. ^ Shadwick 2005, p. 53.

References[edit]