I’ve always regretted never getting to see Led Zeppelin live. Just weeks before they were to embark on a North American tour, one in which I had front row tickets for the Chicago show, John Bonham died after an all day drinking binge. The concert was canceled, and a couple of months later Led Zeppelin was no more. The summer before that happened my friend banged out this stream-of-consciousness narrative about the band and their albums on his Remington typewriter. At three and a half yellow notebook pages long, I’ve had it in a box for 32 years, and I can think of no better way to “get the LED out” this summer than running to this fantastic catalog of music by this band, “that is English”.
Circa , Summer 1980
Led Zeppelin is a band that is English. The band’s four members are John Bonham (b. May 31, 1949), James Patrick Page (jimmy b. Jan. 9, 194l), John Paul Jones ‘John Baldwin, b. Jan. 3, 1946) and Robert Anthony Plant (b. Aug. 20, 1948). Page is the guitarist, Plant, the vocalist, Jones, the bassist and keyboardist, and Bonham the drummer and percussionist. They play many styles of rock and roll. When they first appeared they were considered ‘heavy metal”(hard rock that is very heavy on bass and the guitar is very prominent), which is probably fair. Though the band doesn’t like to be considered heavy metal, the first two albums, Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II practically defined the genre. On their third album Led Zeppelin III they headed in a more acoustic direction with Page demonstrating some very diversified acoustic leads. The untitled fourth album is now a classic. It contained the bands zenith in Stairway to Heaven. The fifth album. . . I’m stopping this for an album-by-album look at the band’s music.
OK Lets go, Led Zeppelin One of my personal favorites. It sounds as fresh today as it did on its release 12 years ago. Dazed and Confused (actually an old Yardbirds tune) is the Tour de force. On that song Page uses a violin bow in the tune on his guitar that is just phenomenal. It is most definitely heavy metal. How Many More Times (a crosscut between Howlin’ Wolf’s How many more Years and Albert Kings The Hunter) is an exercise in precision timing and on–the–dime stopping. A song that could have become too self–indulgent, it most of all represents heavy (Led) and light (Zeppelin). Two real blues tracks You Shook me (Willie Dixon) and I should have Quit You Baby show off Pages understanding of an electric blues guitar. Plant’s vocals (then only a sprite 20) are tremendous. Communication Breakdown (a fan favorite) and Good Times Bad Times are just out and out rockers. The startling Babe I’m Gonna Leave You is tender and exciting. Black Mountain Side is an instrumental born out of Page’s Yardbird song White Summer. Your Time Is ‘Gonna Come sets the stage for a trait to run through all of Zeppelin’s album, Jones’s economical but prominent keyboards (this time though organ) By the by this album was recorded in 18 hours.
Led Zeppelin II: Recorded in different studios while touring America, It is the heavy metal album. It contains the heavy metal anthem in Whole Lotta Love Pages techno tricks and piercing solo define flash HM. Moby Dick is J Bonham’s solo piece. Thank You and What Is And What Should never Be (whew) are two ballads that uncover Plants flowering writing abilities. Heartbreaker and Living Loving Maid are Vehicles for Page’s guitar ( by the by he plays a Gibson Les Paul) work. Two blues pieces The LemonSong and Bring it on Home some nice Plant Harmonica work. But Ramble on, an often forgotten song is the sleeper of’ the album. It shows off’ Plant’s vocal and Lyrical Proness to full advantage, and also Page’s composition ability.
Led Zeppelin III In 1970 singer/song writers were big stuff and LZ decided to show that they compose as well as any one else. The album starts off with the incredible syncopated Immigrant Song, short and sweet. Friends foreshadows side II’s acoustic emergence. The beautiful blues piece Since I’ve been Loving You ‘kept their roots intact Pages guitar is at its most emotional here and the whole band does a superlative job. Out On The Tiles is this albums high decibel piece. Side two opens with Gallo Pole. Plant was singing like never before. His voice had come down from his screeching and was very emotive. Page also stretched out. He played banjo On Gallows Pole, mandolin on That’s The Way, and steel guitar on Tangerine. The one thing about Zep is they, are always, maturing, and evolving. They don’ t follow trends, they set them. Tangerine was an old Page composition that is probably the mellowest thing the band has ever recorded. That’s the Way (my personal favorite) is very pleasant and calm and shows the visual imagery of Plant’s lyrics (later to show up on Kashmir) Bron*y Aur Stomp is a good nature foot stomper that takes a few listenings to really appreciate Page’s awesome guitar work. Hats Off To Harper is a tribute to a singer/songwriter friend of the bands.
Led Zeppelin IV or Untitled or the runes album: whichever title one chooses the music remains the same i.e. extraordinary. This album combines HM of the first two albums and the acoustic bits of the third album. It was titled by four runes (one for each member) to say to the public that the name of the band was unimportant only the music mattered. It opens with two basic rockers, Black Dog and, Rock and Roll (both concert favorites); The battle of Evermore is filled with some very nice Page guitar and a vocal duet by Plant and Sandy Denney, whose voice resembles Plant’s. At the end of side one is probably the bands pinnacle of music expression, Stairway to Heaven. It above anything crystallizes what the band was about. Lyrical meaning, arrangements superior, musicianship splendid and very listenable, it also contains Page’s most famous solo. Stairway to Heaven was to the seventies what Satisfaction was to the sixties. ‘An anthem, while it speaks of raw deals which were abundant in the 60’ s Stairway is a song of hope for the 70’s and Ever More Sticks and Misty Mountain Hop are rockers though MMH has a Sort of mystic quality to it that would show up on the next album in more obvious ways. Going to California bares Plant’s hippie stance in a pleasant context. The blues roots were intact on the stark powerful song, When The Levee Breaks. Bonham’s drums were upfront and controlled (later on Kashmir) yet almost pretty. Page puts in his best electric guitar work since Since I’ve Been Loving You. Funny how he always stands out on the more structured tracks when he is considered one of the foremost improvisational guitarists around.
Houses of The Holy: two years later their fifth album was released and contained a variety of directions or maybe none at all. It opens with The Song remains The Same a rollicking rocker that showed Jimmy was still playing with fire. It runs straight into the calm mystical Rain Song. Jones stepped into the center of this song with his lush use of a mellotron. Over The Hills And Far Away is a folksy mystical rocker that is an absolute pleasure to listen to. The cute filler The Crunge completes side one with a tinge of soil. Side two contains rockers, The Ocean and Dancing Days. Both contain strange lyrics but ample power chords. The murky No Quarter has some fine Page work but drags, D’yer Mak’er is spoof of the old fifties 45’s. Overall marginally disappointing compared to the fourth album.
Physical Graffiti: Led Zeppelin’s Sgt. Peppers? Maybe but a definite return to the second album. The reason many of the songs resemble LZII is because they were written back then and only now did the group have time to get them out of the can and rework them. A double album to do it right it has some of their hardest rock and some of their most bizarre. Custard Pie opens it with pure power rock. The Rover is a more tuneful power. In My Time Of Dying is laced with delicate power and contains some very heavy Plant vocals. Bonham also shines thru. Houses of The Holy is a bit off tune. Trampled Under Foot is too much. Page’s guitar is so subdued that one really has to listen. Plant comparing a girl to a car was a stroke of genius (very appropriate) Bonham again with the drums and organ, piano, and other keyboards stand out. Kashmir, a ten minute epic in controlled tension, ends the side. It is filled with Eastern influences, which have been in Page’s playing since his Yardbird days. Bonham performs some incredible drumming and Plant’s vocals are in top form. The lyrics are so sensually provocative that the song just swallows the listener up. It has a driving beat that threatens to explode at any second but never does, leaving, the listener drained almost soaking wet with anticipation. A masterpiece. Side three starts with the mystical In The Light It isn’t hard rock like Custard Pie but it is just as powerful. It has an awesome amount of power when propelled at a majestic amount of volume. Bron–yr–aur is a Jimmy Page instrumental, which had been performed at concerts five years earlier. Down By The Seaside is really lush. Page’s guitar at points sound like waves, now that’s incredible. It’s very tinny and Plant puts in some nice voice. One thing here, John Bonham makes out his own drumbeats; nobody patterns them out for him unlike the Who, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Journey. Ten Years Gone is a beautiful song. It Shows off Jimmy’s very emotional playing. The lyrics hit home to me very much and that is one of the reasons it is one of my favorites.
Plant’s vocals also make the song very moving. One has to sit and truly listen to it to understand it. The final side is fantastic. It starts off with the rollicking Night Flight (good Plant vocals) the Wanton Song, a catchy rocker, Boogie With Stu a boogie woogie number that will set toes-a–tappin, Black Country Woman, a Ode to Plant’s long lost girlfriend (nice acoustic), and ends with the sizzling Sick Again, a song about Plant trying to pick up a groupie. Maybe it’s not fair to compare PG with other albums because it had more room to make good but then it also had more room to fail. Of course it didn’t fail and it just might be their best album.
Presence: This album is pure sonic attack. There most down to earth recording, it was recorded while Plant was recovering from injuries sustained in a car accident in Greece. The band couldn’t tour so they decide to record their next album. This album is almost a Jimmy Page solo LP. It starts out with a heavy mania piece, Achilles Last Stand. Page pulls off quite a few riffs that could have probably been used for several songs. For ten minutes Page plays like his hands are on fire. Plant has some very strong vocals. This band really gets together and really jells on this album. For Your Life presents some very animalistic vocals with Plant shouting for his life because in real life he was doing just that. After a few listens you can almost imagine very fist–banging–on–table type of vocals. Royal Orleans closes the side with a little soul/rock number. Nobody’s Fault But Mine is very piercing, almost chaotic. Jimmy plays some fine guitar and Plant plays an instrument that we hadn’t heard from them lately, the harmonica. Candy Store Rock is a little heavy macho ditty, cute but not spectacular. Hots On For Nowhere is a little guitar rave–up that also has a structured mess feeling about it. Tea For One is the first real blues piece since When The Levee Breaks off the fourth album. Page is very nimble and controlled. No one breaks out and the song develops slowly but surely. One of their best blues works.
The Song Remains The Same (Live Soundtrack): It’s hard to rate a live album. Either it’s bad or its good. This I would call a nice souvenir of a concert. It’s not really spectacular but fun at parties. Songs of special interest: Dazed and Confused, Whole Lotta Love, & title track.
In Through The Out Door: Like any Zeppelin albums it takes repeated listening to fully enjoy, but this one takes an extra few. It represents a total departure from the last studio album. John Paul Jones takes the spotlight with some really exhilarating keyboard and synthesizer work. The thing about this band is that it is a band, they mesh perfectly and everyone gets his chance to show his competence as a musician (something I don’t think can be said about The Who or Stones even though I really enjoy those bands). Anyway In the Evening starts the ball rolling with an intriguing rocker that shrouds a bit of mystical quality. Page pulls off a really fantastic solo in that song. South Bound Suarez is a bit of barroom foolishness that has Jones tinkling the ivories lovingly and Plant is just fine. By the by Plants vocals have reached a new maturity and are fresh and just possibly his finest to date. Fool In The Rain is a fun musical topic, and is laced with Latin rhythms. Plant here is singing like Tony Bennett, smooth as silk and just luscious. Bonham does the job of keeping the whole thing under control with his heart–skips–a–beat percussion. Hot Dog ends the side on a honky tonk/country note. They can master it all. Carouslambra is a ten minuter. It has surprisingly graceful power. Page is somewhat subdued but Jones’ synthesizer takes up the slack beautifully. It cuts through and really satisfies. Plant is doing it again here. The big AM hit this time is All My Love sort of a sickeningly sweet ballad. Plant does his best but it’s just too nice. I’m Gonna Crawl is the band’s “we didn’t forget our Blues roots piece. Its nice but not up to Tea or One or other s of that like. Page does some nice picking and Plant cuts his obligatory album scream. 0.K. if you got the time.
Nine albums under their belt they have carved their niche in rock history in deep smooth letters. They have occasional lows but they hit the highs more often. A band that has inspired a host of imitators, they truly are the best and will probably be so for years to come.