How Jeff Beck Defined The Rock Guitar

BeatleMatt

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How Jeff Beck Defined the Rock Guitar

by Alex Petrachkov

Episode 3. Rock Rhapsody with Heavy Metal. Beck’s Bolero (recorded in May 1966)

In May 1966, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page with friends, all future rock legends (John Paul Jones, Keith Moon, Nicky Hopkins) recorded the ethereal Bolero. Nothing close to similar was recorded in pop music at that time to this avant-garde instrumental rock rhapsody. Although the composition was released only ten months after the recording, it was still ahead of its time, even though rock music evolved at incredible speed.

Beck’s Bolero, largely conceived by Jimmy Page for his friend to display his skills, consists of four parts (some authors mention only three). The first part is driven by the rich Ravel-style rhythm provided by Page on his 12-string guitar. On this foundation, Beck builds the main melody with a cosmic “horns-of-heaven” effect from his fuzz-toned guitar. In the second part, Beck’s guitar slides into a glissando to create a sunny hovering sound, before revisiting the main theme. The third part begins with a fierce drum break by Keith Moon giving way to another change of style from Jeff Beck - a thick descending riff. This part is formally the first heavy metal guitar ever recorded. The fourth part returns to the main theme climaxing with various guitar effects, including phasing, echo and controlled feedback. The whole composition makes the most powerful and varied display of electric guitar-playing that was technically possible in May 1966.

Of course, no promotional video was made for the instrumental, especially with Keith Moon’s “secret” participation. But it is worthwhile watching Jeff Beck playing the Bolero, with amazing ease, at live performances recorded some forty to fifty years after its original release. Bolero remained one of his favourites over the years.

The musicians themselves listened to the results of their recording session with some awe. Keith Moon uttered the words “lead balloon” to describe the impression from Jeff’s guitar backed by the rhythm section, which John Entwistle changed to "lead zeppelin" (we know what followed two years later when the “a” was dropped).

The Beatles with Rubber Soul, released in December 1965, unleashed their second musical revolution (the first being the British Invasion). Pop/rock music became conceptual and elaborate art, not just teenage entertainment. Complex compositions followed suit but, before Good Vibrations, A Day in The Life, Space Oddity and Bohemian Rhapsody, there was Beck’s Bolero.

I have the single version release of “Beck’s Bolero” and “Hi ** Silverlining” on a 7” picture disc. It has that 20 seconds of distorted guitar noodling in the outro that I much prefer to the album versions which just end in piano, guitars, cymbals crescendo.
 

Rock1960s

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Lucky youand I agree with you. Bolero is overlooked as one of the most avant guarde pieces in pop/rock. I am a forever fan of the Beatles who were recording beautiful sparkling stuff at the time for Revolver, probably the best album ever ( + PW and Rain). But Bolero, it was another planet. 19 May, 1966 unbelievable
 

recgord27

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Nice thread @Rock1960s. Jeff Beck was indeed something else.
The Yardbirds for me were a huge part the early to mid 60's rock scene. In today's world, it's almost inconceivable that three of the greatest guitarists of the time landed up in that group, each putting their own distinctive stamp on the sound. For me it is difficult to choose a favourite Yardbirds era, but hey, Jeff was right up there. It's a pity that his "Truth" was completely overshadowed by Led Zeppelin's debut.
 

Rock1960s

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Oh I agree. Pity Jeff could never build up on the things he started. He probably did not have the killer mentality needed for rock superstardom and just went his own way.
 

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