Before he was a Led Zep, before he was a Yardbird, Jimmy Page was an incredibly busy London session guitarist with several notable production credits under his belt.
And we're not talking about long-forgotten recordings made under a flickering lightbulb in his cousin's basement; Page played on countless high-profile sessions, appearing on seminal tracks by the Who, Donovan, Joe Cocker, the Kinks and many more.
One thing he never did, however, is play on a Beatles song. That honor went to only a handful of non-Beatles, including (but not limited to) Billy Preston, Nicky Hopkins, Alan Civil, Beatles producer George Martin, the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones, Anil Bhagwat and, of course, Eric Clapton.
It turns out, however, that Page was involved in a seriously Beatles-related session in 1964; his guitar playing can (apparently) be heard in the score for the band's first film, the hugely successful A Hard Day's Night.
According to a 7-year-old article by U.K. broadcaster Tony Barrell, Page would typically show up for a session "cold," as in, not knowing what he was going to play that day, exactly who had hired him, where and how the music would appear, etc. One day in early '64, he arrived at EMI Studios in London for a session led by Martin. After examining the music, he quickly realized he was working on the score for A Hard Day’s Night.
In the article, Barrell says Page played background guitar (not—we repeat—NOT the lead guitar part) on "Ringo's Theme," which is an instrumental version of John Lennon and Paul McCartney's 1963 tune "This Boy." The performance is heard during the scene where Ringo Starr is trying to "get away from it all"; he travels alone along a river, runs around a bit, takes a few photos and strikes up a short-lived friendship with a young “deserter.”
The lead guitar part was played by Vic Flick, the same guitarist who played the iconic lead part on the "James Bond Theme." Flick played his '62 Strat through a '62 Fender Vibrolux to get the exact sound Martin was looking for. Flick's distinctive tone and touch also can be heard on "Beat Girl" (a favorite of mine) and in the films The Pink Panther, The Ipcress File and Midnight Cowboy—among many others. Rightfully so, Flick was honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
As for Page being present at the "Ringo's Theme" session, Flick has this to say (via email): "[Page] wasn't even in the EMI Number 2 studio."
According to Barrell's article, Page's guitar can be heard earlier in the film, when Ringo turns on a radio and—just as the band starts getting into the music—it is (very) quickly turned off by a boring old businessman (played by veteran actor Richard Vernon) who joins them in their train compartment (skip to 4:02 in the clip, although the entire thing is really quite good). The businessman travels on the train regularly, "twice a week!"
You can hear the complete "train song" below (we're not sure why the Blues Brothers are pictured). Besides Page, the track features a performance by U.K. musician Big Jim Sullivan.
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Here's a 1976 clip of Page discussing the Beatles' influence on music and culture, followed by a 1969 clip of the Beatles' George Harrison hearing about Led Zeppelin's debut album. "Jimmy Page? Is he the one who was in the Yardbirds?"
Damian Fanelli (opens in new tab) is the online managing editor at Guitar World. His New York-based band, the Blue Meanies, has toured the world and elsewhere. He writes GuitarWorld.com's The Next Bend column, which is dedicated to B-bender guitars and guitarists. His latest liner notes can be found in Sony/Legacy's Stevie Ray Vaughan: The Complete Epic Recordings Collection. (opens in new tab) Follow him on Facebook,Twitter and/or Instagram.