Song of the Week – Running Scared, Roy Orbison; Beck’s Bolero, Jeff Beck; White Rabbit, Jefferson Airplane; The Bomber: Closet Queen / Bolero / Cast Your Fate to the Wind, James Gang

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

In 1927, Joseph Ravel was commissioned to compose his final and most famous piece – Boléro.  Though most people know Bolero as a musical composition, the commission was originally to provide a score for Ida Rubinstein’s ballet company.  But Boléro has become most famous as the score to a different dance.  (More on that later.)

Is the SotW venturing into classical music?  Hell no!  There are quite a few notable rock songs that reference Boléro, and that’s today’s topic.

Roy Orbison (aka “Lefty Wilbury”) is often credited as the first rock musician to use the Boléro theme in a rock song – “Running Scared” (1961).

“… Scared” opens with a simple guitar strumming, then builds with each verse, much like Ravel’s piece.  All of the instruments are layered on, piece by piece, building to an immense climax.  It is also notable that the song has no chorus.

In 1966 Jeff Beck, soon after leaving the Yardbirds, decided to record his first single and called on his old friend Jimmy Page to help out.  They proceeded to lay down “Beck’s Boléro,” which would become the b-side to the “Hi Ho Silver Lining” single.

They called on John Paul Jones to play bass and Keith Moon for drums.  Page agreed to play 12-string electric rhythm so Beck could take on lead guitar responsibilities.

The Jefferson Airplane hired Grace Slick to replace Signe Anderson as their lead singer in 1966. Slick brought a couple of her own songs to the group, including the Boléro based classic, “White Rabbit.”

“White Rabbit” reached #8 on the Billboard pop chart in 1967.  The military march that ties back to Ravel’s Bolero is immediately recognizable.  The song is currently featured in an ad for a cruise line!  Ugh!!!

Joe Walsh, of the James Gang (and later Eagles), was also influenced by Boléro.  The Gang’s second album, Rides Again (1970), included a suite — “The Bomber: Closet Queen”/ “Bolero”/ “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.”

The rights holders to Ravel’s Boléro objected to the James Gang’s use of the composition in their recording and forced the band to delete that section from future pressings of the album, instantly creating a collector’s item.

Ravel’s Bolero received a boost in popularity in 1979 when it was featured in the movie 10.  In the movie, Bo Derek’s character (physically a perfect “10”) tells Dudley Moore’s character “Boléro was the most descriptive sex music ever written” and asks “Did you ever do it to Ravel’s Boléro?”  Millions of copies of Boléro were sold following the commercial success of 10.

In 2012, London based music psychologist Dr. Daniel Müllensiefen analyzed the results of a Spotify survey of songs in “music to make love to” playlists.  The winner?  Marvin Gaye for “Sexual Healing” and “Let’s Get It On.”  But Ravel’s Boléro was next in line.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon, Jefferson Airplane

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

Humanbein-pToday is the 50th anniversary of the Human Be-In that took place in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on Saturday, January 14, 1967.

Some historians credit this “gathering of the tribe” for kicking off the 60s counter culture revolution and the precursor to the “summer of love.”

The celebration attracted a crowd estimated to be between 20,000-30,000 people for an afternoon of lectures, poetry and music provided by LSD advocate Timothy Leary, beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and the popular Bay area bands – Big Brother & the Holding Company, the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane.

At the end of the day’s events, Ginsberg requested that everyone do their part to clean up the park to make sure it was left as clean as it was when the day began. True to the ethos of the day, the participants happily cooperated and left the park in pristine condition.

Today’s SotW is “Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon” from the Airplane’s third album, late 1967’s After Bathing at Baxter’s. (I once read that Baxter was JA’s code named for LSD making the title’s translation After Tripping on Acid.)

“Saturday…” was written by Paul Kantner – who passed away a year ago – to commemorate the essence of the day.

Saturday afternoon,
Yellow clouds rising in the noon,
Acid, incense and balloons;
Saturday afternoon,
People dancing everywhere,
Loudly shouting “I don’t care!”

It’s a time for growing,
And a time for knowing love;

Saturday afternoon,
Saturday afternoon;

It has often been reported that Kantner’s lyrics were inspired by a column in the San Francisco Chronicle written about the event by Ralph J. Gleason. I’m not sure that’s the truth although Gleason’s article does make references to LSD, incense, balloons and dancing; but those things would have been observed by anyone that was there. You can read the article at the link below and make your own judgement.

Ralph J. Gleason – The Tribes Gather – January 16, 1967

The “Saturday…” parts of the song are less about the music and more focused on the trippy harmony vocal arrangement.

The band would reprise the song to capture the vibe at the Woodstock hippie festival (“three days of peace and music”) a couple of years later in the summer of 1969. The song was not included in the original release of the movie or the 3 album set. But it was on the less successful Woodstock Two and the longer director’s cut of the film seen here.

Enjoy… until next week.