Hi Ho Silver Lining got Jeff Beck into the charts: he never forgave it

Jeff Beck wearing a hat
(Image credit: Ivan Keeman)

When Jeff Beck's first solo single Hi Ho Silver Lining was released in March 1967, he admitted to Melody Maker that the A-side was “commercial, because I want to sell some records,” but “the B-side is more my cup of my tea. It's an instrumental bolero based on Ravel.”

That revealing aside told you that lightweight pop was never going to be a comfortable fit for Beck. But after a two-year run with The Yardbirds shaking up Britain's guitar scene with his aggressive blues playing and controlled feedback, he was a free agent considering his next move.

Meanwhile, American songwriting duo Larry Weiss and Scott English, who'd made inroads into the British pop scene by writing hits like Help Me Girl for The Animals and Bend Me, Shape Me for The Outsiders, were working closely with Beck's producer Mickie Most. Drawing on a catchphrase from The Lone Ranger TV show, Weiss started writing the chorus to Hi Ho Silver Lining

His partner English hated it. But Most loved it, and encouraged the pair to finish it. So English tried to sabotage the song by writing what he thought were ridiculous lyrics: “Saying everything is groovy when your tires are flat / Flies in your pea soup baby and they're waving at me...

Most still loved it, and thought it would be perfect to launch Beck's solo career. Working in Soho's De Lane Lea Studio (originally founded by a French intelligence attaché to dub English films into French), Beck was backed by a remarkable band - John Paul Jones on bass, Clem Cattini on drums and Rod Stewart on backing vocals. Rod was on backing vocals because Jeff was singing lead, another uncomfortable fit.

For the B-side, Beck's Bolero, a different group of players came in, including keyboardist Nicky Hopkins, drummer Keith Moon and Beck's pal from the Yardbirds, Jimmy Page (Page has argued that he produced this side, because “Most was basically interested in singles” and didn't care about “album tracks.”)

Hi Ho Silver Lining, with its up-with-people quarter note bounce, sounds like it could've been a hit for The Mamas & The Papas or The Association. And it charted for Beck, peaking at number 14 on the UK charts, released a few days after another version of the song, by English freakbeat combo The Attack. It didn't crack the Top 100 in the US. 

The raucous instrumental B-side meanwhile pointed towards a more promising direction, and ended up on Beck's 1968 debut solo album Truth. By then, Rod Stewart had stepped in to the lead vocalist role, and the band was rounded out by Ronnie Wood and Micky Waller.

In the years since, Hi Ho Silver Lining has enjoyed some unexpected longevity in the UK as a wedding band staple and a terrace anthem (during the chorus, fans replace the words “silver lining” with the name of their football team – supporters of Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers have adopted the song – while others sing abusive chants about the opposition using the melody). 

Beck trotted the song out in 1983 at the ARMS Charity all-star jam with Steve Winwood, then again on tours in 2009-10 he did with fellow Yardbird alumnus Eric Clapton. But his real feelings about it were best expressed when he said it was “like having a pink toilet seat hung around your neck for the rest of your life.”

Bill DeMain

Bill DeMain is a correspondent for BBC Glasgow, a regular contributor to MOJO, Classic Rock and Mental Floss, and the author of six books, including the best-selling Sgt. Pepper At 50. He is also an acclaimed musician and songwriter who's written for artists including Marshall Crenshaw, Teddy Thompson and Kim Richey. His songs have appeared in TV shows such as Private Practice and Sons of Anarchy. In 2013, he started Walkin' Nashville, a music history tour that's been the #1 rated activity on Trip Advisor. An avid bird-watcher, he also makes bird cards and prints.