Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin
Released January, 1969

This week’s main review is brought to you by Adam, who grew up in an extremely musical family, lives in Sydney and is a well-respected lecturer in hospitality management.  His students know him not only for his international hotel management expertise, but also for his extremely large music collection (which he oft shares in his tutorials) and his passion for musical analysis. What we are trying to say is we think Adam is pretty great.

If you were to jot down a list of ten of the greatest rock guitarists, drummers, singers and bass players it would be hard not to come up with at least three from Led Zeppelin. The amazing thing is that Plant, Page, Jones and Bonham managed to work together in relative harmony over 12 years, discarding their egos for our benefit.  Had it been my choice, I probably would have chosen “Led Zeppelin II” to feature rather than this self titled album that freed my young mind to delve into genres of blues, heavy metal and folk rock that I had not previously been aware of.

I had no problem getting into this album as I have been rocking to Led Zeppelin since 1969. They have been listened to on a Lenco, a Thorens and a Revox; through AR2’s, JBL’s, Kef Concertos and Bose Acoustimass with the assistance of Sansui, Harmann Kardon and B&O. They were a permanent feature on my Sony Walkman (the yellow waterproof one!) and yes, countless iPod’s. But then, nothing beats vinyl. Unfortunately my copy of Zep 1 has been through the ‘Good Times and the Bad Times’ and so I must succumb to the CD version. So yes, you could call me a music lover from way back.

Zeppelin has often been referred to as a ‘Supergroup’ a name which is often synonymous with good acts but Zeppelin were more than that. The tag probably came about due to the enormous talents that each band member had. Page and Plant are often credited with the success of Zeppelin, however it really was a marriage of four gifted artists. In my opinion, none more so than John Bonham. Contemplating Zeppelin without the driving force of Bonham on his Ludwig drums and using his ‘trees’ (he used the longest and heaviest drumsticks) would be unthinkable.

One of the more interesting aspects of the band is the way you can weave through their tracks absorbing great rock guitar riffs, chilling out to the blues and then ‘time warping’  your way back to medieval times with some ‘olde’ English folk songs.  This album is heavily blues orientated, the best number being ‘You Shook Me’. The re-working of Willie Dixon’s music may not be to everyone’s liking, however it showcases Page’s versatility and adds credo to his reputation.  ‘I Can’t Quit You Babe’ features some excellent blues licks and is complemented by Plant’s range of wails and shrieks. The hidden gem of the album is ‘How Many More Times’ , which starts off sounding like a Spencer Davis Group number and then slowly crescendos into a medley including a passage from ‘The Hunter’ written by Booker T Jones and popularised by Albert King.

Most have heard of the daring and bizarre efforts of Jimmy Page using a violin bow to play his guitar in ‘Dazed and Confused’, (if you have not, treat yourself to a few minutes here on You Tube) which was one of the 60’s earliest forms of heavy metal. This piece was to become a staple at all their live concerts and was used to provide ‘a brief rest’ for the other members of the group.  And where would we be without a quirky organ/keyboard intro. ‘Your Time is Gonna Come’ reaches out to you and asks you to join in the chorus with Page’s slide guitar in accompaniment.

‘Communication Breakdown’ and ‘Good Times Bad Times’ are good examples of  the sounds and riffs that we associate with Zeppelin, however my favourite track is ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’, a folk song written in the late 1950’s by Anne Johannsen. It highlights Plant’s softer vocals and features Page on an acoustic guitar, morphing into the more recognisable howl of Plant and the cymbal crashing of John Bonham.  I had the pleasure of seeing them perform this in Montreux and Hammersmith. They certainly were an amazing live act.

This may not even be their third best album, but it does contain some gems and is an absolute must in any serious rock collection.

Whenever I listen to Led Zepp, I smile to myself thinking of how much I hated it when Dad used to blast it on Sunday arvos. In fact I am probably familiar with more Led Zepp that I even realise, there’s heaps of songs I would recognise but have no idea of the name. Everyone knows they were one of the most successful bands of all time. This album was just the catalyst for what would lead them to be cited as the forefathers of hard rock and eventually, heavy metal. To me, for an album to be great, it needs to get the balance right between the big moments and the subtle moments. That’s why I respect this album, because there’s so many dynamics to it. There are absolutely rocking moments, like ‘Communication Breakdown’, that are then followed by chilled-out blues-rock numbers embellished with Page’s freakishly good guitar solos and riffs. I personally enjoyed the quieter moments, such as my favourite track ‘Black Mountain Side’. This song was inspired by an Irish folk tune. It’s an instrumental, with an Indian feel to it that was achieved without a sitar (Thank god! The sitar was grossly overused in the 60’s). Instead, Page used open tuning and over-dubbing to replicate the sound of the sitar. It sounds so much less contrived than it could have and it provides a perfect interlude to the album. It’s almost like a palate cleanser for the rest of the album.  I know that we throw around the word ‘influence’ a lot here at the afyccim camp, and yes, that’s part of the reason we are covering these albums. But in all seriousness, to say that this band was influential is somewhat of an understatement. Their back catalogue features some of the most recognisable riffs and vocal hooks, let alone songs, of all time.

My first experience with Led Zeppelin was in New Zealand. I was fourteen, hanging out with some Canadians in Christchurch and ‘Black Dog’ came on the stereo. When I came back home, which at the time was Albany, I asked my dad why we didn’t have any Led Zeppelin in the house (this was before downloading was an option). He suggested we go halves in the first four albums on CD, so he bought LZII and the Runes Album, and I got LZIII and this fantastic debut of theirs. It was a good decision. Led Zeppelin have been engrained into my musical psyche for well over half of my life. This album is a brilliant example of how each band member was such a vital cog of the machine. Take any musician away and they stop being Led Zeppelin, as we learnt when drummer John Bonham passed away. Robert Plant’s distinctive howl enlivens what could have been tedious blues workouts on Willie Dixon’s ‘You Shook Me’ and ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’. No doubt that Plant’s vocal style went on to define the hard rock/metal genre. Jimmy Page’s talent for atmospheric guitar is showcased in ‘Dazed and Confused’ and his solos are blistering. The drum work on opening track ‘Good Times Bad Times’ might just be the best trick Bonham ever pulled and John Paul Jones’ versatility as a bassist and organ player hold all the pieces together. His opening solo on ‘Your Time Is Gonna Come’ is just sublime. They manage to pull off acoustic hard rock, years before it was fashionable, with the balladesque ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’. The song changes feel throughout its six minute plus running time with ease. You can’t go past this album for excellent rock music, that still holds up four decades later.

Led Zeppelin were one of those superbands that consisted of four greatly talented musicians that as a whole created something incomparable. They are often cited as inventing Heavy Metal but that brush stroke is a bit too broad for my liking. Within the heavier moments there are lots of spaces with really pretty music. This album was a really good indication of the directions the band would head in over their career. If anything it gets a little bogged down in standard 12 bar blues, but the prettier and more inventive moments well make up for it. I was only familiar with Led Zeppelin’s ‘Remasters’ album, which included a lot of their more popular work, so this was my first listen to this album in its entirety. I recognised a few of the tracks but was blown away by how mature this album sounded for a debut. One thing I really liked about it is how it all seemed to fit together. None of the tracks felt too long or too short and even breaking the heavier songs up with more folky stuff really seemed to work. Favourite track was “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”.  I love the way it starts out slow and folky and then Plant just lets rip and it’s off. It’s worth checking out Joan Baez’s version, which influenced Led Zeppelin to do their own version, to see where it originally came from and how unique their interpretation is. I really love how they meld the folky and heavy stuff on this song so successfully. To me this is what Led Zeppelin were all about. “I don’t know what it is I like about you but I like it a lot”. That lyric from ‘Communication Breakdown’ pretty much sums up how I feel about this whole album.

Seriously. How great is Led Zeppelin. Throughout this project we go through albums I’ve never listened to, or never even heard of, but then we get albums I’ve listened to literally hundreds of times in my life. Led Zeppelin 1 is one of those. I love listening to every second of it, from the up and about ‘Communication Breakdown’ to the slow, bluesy ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’. The story of how Zeppelin came about is a super interesting one, featuring legends like Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. “Led Zeppelin 1” doesn’t carry my favourite Zeppelin tracks, but no one could deny how kick ass this album is as a debut. Their perfect fusion of jazz and rock, combined with some of the best players in history made Zeppelin one of the biggest bands in music. I think one of the things this album demonstrates is how flexible the blues is. Almost all Zeppelin songs fit a traditional blues structure, and yet their songs have huge dynamic lifts and rarely stay at the same level they start at. Listen to ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’. It starts with a beautiful acoustic picking and builds to huge crescendos withe driving guitars and splashing cymbals, all the while stating within the confines of the blues. The talent of all the players is showcased from start to finish, but particularly the guitar work of Jimmy Page. His acoustic playing is particularly brilliant in tracks like ‘Black Mountain Side’, and his electric playing in ‘Communication Breakdown’. I actually need a lot more words than I am allowed to say how great this album is, but as far as staying on my iPod? It’s been on there since first sync. I’m fairly confident it isn’t going anywhere.

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