Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Jeff Beck—
Hi-Ho Silver Lining/Beck's Bolero


Released 1967 on Epic
The Seth Man, September 2002ce
Completely ahead of the curve as it predated the approaching birth of heavy Rock, “Beck’s Bolero” was a totally delirious re- and de-arrangement of Ravel’s famous composition which built from a faint whisper of woodwinds and terse snare rolls to a full bleed orchestra over the course of twelve minutes. Stirring soul, loin, groin and getting into your bones with ever-returning repetition, the constant cycling back of the passages and the barely perceived yet noticeable shift in volume blossoms and swells gently open like a rose exposed to light until by the end it’s in raging full bloom. But “Beck’s Bolero” is very different: to take an a milestone classical piece and feed it through the thrashing shredder of Beck’s furious but restrained guitar was barbaric genius as it rolled all over Ravel, told Debussy the fucking news and condensed all Ravel’s building motifs of feathery dalliances and ever-rising sexual anticipatory sap right up against and over the wall into a wailing three minute instrumental proto-metal gang-bang.

Soon before Jimmy Page joined The Yardbirds on second guitar alongside Jeff Beck in mid-1966, both guitarists entered the studio to record with sessionmen John Paul Jones on bass, pianist Nicky Hopkins and The Who’s drummer, Keith Moon. As legend has it, the session was such a roaring success that afterwards, the musicians discussed forming a new band together. One of them self-effacingly rejoined that they would ‘go over like a lead balloon,’ quickly followed by the ready quip always attributed to John Entwistle that the group should go one step further and call themselves ‘Lead Zeppelin.’ Of course, this didn’t happen until a couple of years later and the only track this ad hoc ensemble left behind as evidence was “Beck’s Bolero.” Released a year after its recording on the B-side to Jeff Beck’s first solo single, “Hi Ho Silver Lining,” it’s one of the earliest representations of proto-metal that Led Zeppelin themselves would unleash upon the world so successfully a little over a year later.

Confusingly enough, it was the unseen hand of Jimmy Page credited with writing “Beck’s Bolero” (with American copies of the single erroneously crediting it to ‘L. Page,’ thus confusing legions of Troggs fans stateside for years) as well as providing the rhythmic base of a constantly strummed rhythm on acoustic guitar which Jeff Beck then overlaid multiple searching and propelling guitar lines. When the slide guitar enters, it’s the soundtrack of burning seagulls falling from the sky in flames, streaking and searing the horizon, gently cawing as they rise and fall like smoldering sine waves. The main riff returns again, and then falls away into a brief silence that is broken by Keith Moon’s psychotic scream of “Ewooouughhhh!!!” that ignites the insane middle burn-out deluxe. But after this vocal pronouncement and a single, pounding drum roll he accidentally knocked over the recording microphone for his drums, resulting in a sizeable reduction of drum presence for the track’s duration. In fact, it’s just an ocean of swishing cymbals whipped into a froth in his inimitably explosive style, and it throws Page’s acoustic strum and Hopkins’ strident piano clusters to operate more as default percussion. The whole thing is total chaos and far full-bodied and heavier than any of Beck’s best rave-ups in The Yardbirds. Beck unleashes a thick torrent of distorto-tone upon the whirlwind proceedings until his previous even and precise main riff returns and is now lifting off and charting into the upper stratosphere encircled by an additional rhythm guitar halo playing its own echo and adjusting to lean into the wind to transform into yearning, sustained waves of sound reaching ever upwards. Beck then breaks loose to begin another searing solo until all lurches to a dead halt as though the recording desk has seized up due to the constant, battering of electricity coursing through it in a succession of pounding waves...

With that said, the A-side, “Hi-Ho Silver Lining” is far inferior a track, supplied by producer Mickie Most in his usual attempt for instant chart appeal. Jeff turns in a flat, bored and contemptuous vocal as he sneers like a droog from “A Clockwork Orange” attempting to sing/lip sync “Daydream Believer” with on a 1967 edition of Top of the Pops as lyrical and melodic hints of Syd Barrett’s “It Is Obvious” three years before its time are (to me, anyway) obvious, baby. A compressed and stinging guitar solo gets wedged in between choruses later on, although it seems more in concession to Jeff’s legendary flaring temper as such a bouncy pop song could not have been a less appropriate a musical platform for him at this (or any other) point in his career. Unlike its flip side, “Hi-Ho Silver Lining” did not make it onto Jeff Beck’s first solo album, “Truth.” Perhaps because one long year later after it was recorded it already sounded too dated and entirely out of step with the rest of the album’s harder-edged blues approach. But who cares: “Beck’s Bolero” easily dwarfs the rest of “Truth” with its innovation, raging heaviosity and untamed spirit.