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.