Sunday, June 21, 2009
L - Led Zeppelin - "Led Zeppelin""
Led Zeppelin changed my life.
They redefined in my mind what a rock group should be. They had the best of everything: best vocalist, best instrumentalists, best songs, best records, best album covers, best mystique - the list goes on (as does the beat, but that's a moot point). I started listening to them around 7th grade: by the time I was in high school, they were second only to AC/DC of my favorites (and that's only because AC/DC was more fun). Though it was more due to a general laziness than anything else, I still somewhat blame Led Zeppelin for taking away my focus (or even interest) in maintaining good grades at school. What would you, as a suburban kid, rather do: study algebra or rock to "The Immigrant Song" over and over again?
This was all when I was a teenager, though. I really don't listen to them much anymore, partly because of over-exposure (totally the fault of classic rock radio, by the way. I could go the rest of my life without ever needing to hear the following Zep songs again: Whole Lotta Love, Thank You, Living Loving Maid, Rock and Roll, Stairway to Heaven, Dancing Days, D'yer Mak'er (HATE that song), Trampled Underfoot, Fool in the Rain, & All My Love), partly because the initial buzz of discovery has been tempered by all the copycat bands that still pop up, and partly because my interest in the heavy blues rock genre is dead as a doornail. Though I still think very highly of John Bonham's drumming, Jimmy Page was talented but overrated and sloppy as hell on guitar, and Robert Plant got so much better when he wasn't shrieking (his recent work with Alison Krauss was REALLY good).
It was interesting to listen to this record in whole again after not having played it for years. Considering it was one of the regulars on my turntable, I remain very familiar with the songs, and wasn't surprised by anything. I got out of it what I expected: some of the songs are still really good (mostly the pop ones) and some are dreadful (mostly the blues ones).
· "Good Times Bad Times" - a great rocking way to kick off the record. Good vocals, bass, and drumming - and superb guitar playing. There are two awesome dramatic moments in the song: the first is the hesitation right before the first solo - it's a perfect moment because the solo comes roaring into a full speed gallop after the pause; the second is after the final chorus: as the bass plays through the bar unaccompanied, you hear the guitar pick chip at the strings, like Pagey can't wait to come back in, and when he does, it's this super speedy run. YEAH!!!!!
· "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" - one of Zep's trademarks was the light/heavy - acoustic/electric contrast. Sometimes it worked very well ("Ramble On"), other times not so good. Like this song, for instance. Musically, it just isn't very interesting, but it's the lyrics and vocals that totally sink it. I'm not sure what Plant is doing during this song. He starts out by declaring to "Babe" that, well, he was going to leave her: he even specifies that this event will happen in summer (Babe: "but it's October!"). In the second verse, he says that no, he doesn't REALLY want to leave – (pause) – just kidding, of course. Seriously, he's outa there (to "ramble", apparently.) He never specifies WHY it's so important that he leaves "Babe", but it's clearly starting to get him, because he starts SCREAMING apropos of nothing. When the verse finally comes back in, it seems like he's changed his mind YET AGAIN. So now they're staying together with the action plan for the future including daily trips to the park for walks (this kind of exercise must be a big part of Plant's regimen because he YELLS this at "Babe" as well.) Okay, they're fine now emotionally and physically (he even has changed his nickname for her to "WO-man"), he admits to being very happy to be with her, then hollers that he's "got to go away". At this point, "Babe" must be shrieking at HIM to make up his damn mind already, or, at the very least, shut the hell up. I guess he gets this message because he ends the song with a low moan, still indecisive. Believe me, “Babe”, I feel for you – I’m frustrated just having to sit through it. (Rip-off alert: the song is credited on the record to "Traditional, arranged by Jimmy Page", though the song was actually written in the 50's. Starting in the 90's, the composer finally received credit and back royalties.)
· "You Shook Me" - this song is a very good definition of the word "plodding". I'm sure in 1969, this kind of generic heavy blues impressed a lot of people, but man, it is dull, cliched, and goes on forever. Pure cock rock, with a decent electric piano solo, an awful harmonica solo, and more Plant screaming unnessarily. Instead of fading out, it leads right into
· "Dazed and Confused" - a super great descending bass/guitar riff leading into the first real classic of Zep's career. Plant is having girl trouble again and lashing out at women in general (“the soul of a woman was created below” - it was at this point that I became uncomfortable by how down on women (or maybe it was just "Babe") this record has been. Scanning side two, it doesn't get any better) but his overwrought vocals fit the song well. The quiet middle section featuring Page bowing his guitar strings is nice, but more for the actual usage of the bow rather than actual notes played. I like the speeding up the tempo before the guitar solo, and there's some cool ensemble playing before throwing on the brakes into the last verse. There's a good buildup at the end, then fade side one. (Rip-off alert: the song was written by a folksinger named Jake Holmes in the late 60's. The Yardbirds (featuring Jimmy Page) played the song often in their last year, though they never recorded it for release. For the first Zeppelin album, Page re-wrote the lyrics, and took full credit. To this day, he has not given Holmes even a co-writer credit. THEIF!)
· “Your Time is Gonna Come” – beginning with a keyboard solo from John Paul Jones that pays tribute to (or rips off, depending on what side of the fence you’re on) the organ solos that Garth Hudson of the Band would play leading into their classic “Chest Fever”, the song settles into a mellow acoustic groove that sits there impotently, while Plant threatens “WO-man” with retribution for running around on him (can you blame her, though? First he’s staying, and then he’s going. First he’s happy with her, then he’s not. I’m guessing WO-man did not take his threats very seriously, cause he’s not going anywhere.) Page plays a pleasant steel guitar, but the song seems unfinished, and fades out.
· “Black Mountain Side” – starting in his Yardbird days, Page showed an affinity for middle-eastern or world music, as it came to be called. Thanks to George Harrison, Indian music still seemed the rage in 1969, even though generally Indian music played by white British rock stars tended to be simply pop music tarted up to sound foreign. On this short acoustic piece, Page is joined by an Indian tabla player. It’s okay: his acoustic compositions would be better in the future – this one is a little redundant, but it’s over soon enough.
· “Communication Breakdown” – the BEST song on the record: short, heavy, dramatic, excellent. Pagey firebombs the solo and Plant pitches a fit on vocals. The Dead Kennedy’s said it best in their song “Short Songs”: “I like short songs” repeated very fast 13 times. So do I.
· “I Can’t Quit You Baby” – another drab blues cover; like “You Shook Me”, written by Willie Dixon (perhaps Page had a dose of honesty and moral responsibility that week when he actually credited the correct songwriter. Or maybe he just had a lot of respect for the legendary Chicago bluesman. Of course, that respect must’ve drifted off by the next LP, as Willie himself was completely ripped off, as Page/Plant claimed they wrote “Whole Lotta Love”. Willie eventually got his credit years later.) This cover is better than it’s counterpart on side 1, but you can still pass over it without missing much. Luckily it leads into the skipping bass/drums beginning of
· “How Many More Times” – the second best song on the record, and one where the length actually benefits it. Yes, at its core, it’s just another blues song, but through its volume, dynamics, and killer heavy riff, it becomes something very different – heavy metal. Though I would not want to listen to it for days, I think I actually could. The whole band is on fire, and it swings AND it STOMPS. A phenomenal closer (despite being a RIP-OFF: blues icon Howlin’ Wolf (Chester Burnett) wrote a song called “How Many More Years” that Zep somehow figured they could call their own with a few lyric changes. Guess what? Howlin’ Wolf is now properly credited on Zeppelin re-releases. Totally shameless.)
They do look very cool on the back album cover, for a bunch of cheaters.
VERDICT: it meant a whole lot more to me when I was younger, but I still like it. Mostly.