‘Beck’s Bolero’ is one of the most iconic pieces of music that was borne out of London’s illustrious rock ‘n’ roll scene in the 1960s. It showcased the talents of Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Keith Moon and Nicky Hopkins, and was the first time that guitar hero Beck showed what he could do outside of the confines of his day job, The Yardbirds.
In 1993, Beck recalled: “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”. In addition to Beck wanting to let off some steam, he was also encouraged by the band’s management to try something new. They were promoting the individual band members to find success in solo projects and bring more attention to the band.
Famously, the instrumental was recorded over one day on May 16th, 1966. At this point, Moon was unhappy in The Who, and this impromptu band did initially plan to record and release a full album, but contractual obligations, amongst other things, prevented them from ever reconvening.
On paper, and via ‘Beck’s Bolero’, it had the makings of a stellar supergroup, one that would have no doubt eclipsed their contemporaries, Cream. However, plans were also shelved due to the fact that they couldn’t find a lead singer. Allegedly, the legendary frontman of The Small Faces, Steve Marriott, had been primed, but he was unwilling to depart the psychedelic heroes.
Two years following the release of the track, Page and Jones reunited as Led Zeppelin and Beck released the track as part of his debut studio album, Truth, in November 1968. The most famous part of ‘Beck’s Bolero’ is the fact that Page and Beck have disagreed over who wrote the song.
In a 1977 interview with Guitar Player magazine, Page said: “On the ‘Beck’s Bolero’ thing I was working with that, the track was done, and then the producer just disappeared. He was never seen again; he simply didn’t come back. Napier-Bell, he just sort of left me and Jeff to it. Jeff was playing and I was in the box (recording booth). And even though he says he wrote it, I wrote it. I’m playing the electric 12-string on it.”
He explained: “Beck’s doing the slide bits, and I’m basically playing around the chords. The idea was built around (classical composer) Maurice Ravel’s ‘Bolero.’ It’s got a lot of drama to it; it came off right. It was a good lineup too, with Keith Moon, and everything.”
Interestingly, it wasn’t just the songwriting that led to a dispute, and production credits have also been debated. Beck’s producer Mickie Most, who he was contracted to at the time, claims he produced the track, whereas Simon Napier-Bell also claims he produced it, although many accounts maintain that he left halfway through the session — a strange thing to argue if by all accounts he wasn’t there.
Obviously, Page also argues it was he who recorded the track, and given that he helmed the majority of Led Zeppelin’s production duties in the future, this isn’t an outrageous claim.
In the end, it wouldn’t matter who wrote or produced the song. It is one of the most widely respected tracks in rock history, and the most important part is who played on it, and we know. It may have been Page who had the first idea and finished off production, but this didn’t matter. It was a stellar team effort that is as mesmerising today as it was back then.
Listen to ‘Beck’s Bolero’ below.