1982 was a year that can arguably be summed up by three musical groups: ABBA, The Cure, and Judas Priest. Classic rock had pretty much died with the 70’s, leaving many a long-haired flower child and on-the-go feminist looking down on their Ram Jam and Peter Frampton album cover(s) in anguish. To signify the death of a decade, John Lennon was assassinated (given, it was in December of 1980), Bon Scott was found dead of an overdose of alcohol, and Led Zeppelin parted ways after the death of their titan drummer John Henry Bonham. The groups’ mastermind and resident kleptomaniac Jimmy Page once stated, “It would be an insult to bring in someone to replace John Bonham." So naturally, it was kind of a shock when in 1982, a collection of studio outtakes and live performances were released on one, 8 track long album entitled Coda
It was indeed a ballsy move to release an album of Zeppelin outtakes just as hair metal was beginning its reign over the masses. Indeed, by the time the album was released, spandex and hair spray were already the norm. For guys. So how is it that the album itself reached number six, and three of these eight songs managed to crack the top twenty on the billboard singles chart? The answer proved elusive, but with steadfast determination and dedication to the cause, I may have found the answer. While “We’re Gonna Groove" was playing, I realized I had heard the exact same performance somewhere before. That’s right, it’s the same performance as on the 2003 Led Zeppelin
DVD, with multiple guitar overdubs and a slightly shortened guitar solo. As this wasn’t one of the singles, I would not find my answer here, though it did prove to be a fantastic little ditty, even if it was a cover track. Ironically, even with Jimmy’s solo and Bonham’s inherent groove, it was John Paul Jones who stood out on the song with his suave and calculated bass line. Who knew?
Pacing the room with my headphones turned up to ten, I listened carefully as one of the three singles made its access. Recorded during the sessions for Led Zeppelin III
, “Poor Tom" begins with a snare-kick pattern from Bonzo before Robert starts serenading the listener about a man by the name of Tom. Before long, Jimmy slides in with an almost ethereal guitar accompaniment, and the song takes on its true form. It was here that the first piece of the puzzle was handed to me. Perhaps, the glossing rhythm and unearthly guitar fills had sedated the average listener long enough for them to put down their leather pants and Asia record? It seemed feasible, but the question had not yet been fully answered. I decided to trek onwards.
While the somewhat dull but musically inclined “I Can’t Quit You, Baby" put its two-cents into the ring, I realized that this as well was taken from the concert on January 9, 1970, featured on the aforementioned DVD. The song is a cover of a blues staple, written by Willie Dixon and later made famous by Otis Rush. While it exudes self-indulgence in its lengthy guitar solos, it is a valuable tool for musicians to obtain ideas on improvised jamming. Plus, it features a rare occasion where Zeppelin f*cks up live. This was an appealing notion, so I took the liberty of rewinding it a few times and listening to Jimmy fall off beat. Then I thanked God for CD players as I bitterly recalled the days of cassette tapes.
Recorded during the Houses of the Holy
sessions, “Walter’s Walk" contains a rather dull guitar riff, with outright annoying vocals by Robert. I knew that not everything Zeppelin touched instantly turned to gold, but this was just too much. I comforted myself in the fact that even Jesus drank wine, and moved on to the next track, as “Walter’s Walk" wasn’t exceedingly long in length. And then came the next single.
“Ozone Baby" has everything that a classic Zeppelin track should have, and in some instances, more. While boasting fantastic playing by all the members of the group, it also displays a blistering solo courtesy of Mr. Page, and a melodic bridge in which Bonzo displays the force of a Panzer tank. This was certainly no mystery, it seemed that this song could have easily bridged the gap between Motley Crue and Aerosmith, even if it was somewhat more peppy and Roberts’ voice wasn’t completely jaw dropping. Some studio trickery also presents itself in the refrain of the chorus when Mr. Plant is joined vocally by Alvin, Simon, and Theodore; The Chipmunks Three. Fantastic.
I admit it. I was caught of guard by “Darlene". It is painfully obvious even to a freshmen Zeppelin listener that this is an outtake from 1979’s In Through the Outdoor
. How, you may ask? The entire song is dominated by John Paul and his boogie piano lines, with Jimmy settling in to his role of back-up musician with grace. There is a solo though, and it is a very lovely one at that. But it still awed me that this song that many a Zeppelin fan consider lackluster reached number 4 on the charts and was the highest ranking single for the album. I pondered this for some time.
Traditionally, “Moby Dick" is regarded as the only
drum solo John Bonham ever created. May I suggest that you give a curt but firm slap across the face to those who would mention such a thing? “Bonzo’s Montreux" quite simply shames “Moby Dick", at least in terms of easy listening. Beginning as a rather normal drum solo (excluding the fact that it is
John Bonham), around halfway through the song, the drums are accompanied by various percussion instruments that provide a melody for the tune. That is right, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a drum orchestra.
In 1979, punk and disco ruled the roost, musically speaking. Suddenly, extended guitar solos and long hair seemed outdated. Many punks, including The Sex Pistols, were quick to dismiss Zeppelin as a band that was past their prime. Indeed, one Johnny Rotten referred to the band as “Old dinosaurs", and claimed to have fallen asleep during their 1976 film The Song Remains the Same
. Zeppelin was pissed. And, utilizing their anger, wrote what is without a doubt the fastest and heaviest Led Zeppelin song. “Wearing and Tearing" could have easily been a Sex Pistols song were it not for Roberts’ trademark crooning. Sadly, it wasn’t released on any album prior to this; so many assumed Zeppelin took the punks insults in the teeth and went on with it.
As “Wearing and Tearing" reached its conclusion, I sat and pondered the album what I had just listened to. Many would be quick to rule this as a mediocre album, but I for one find it enjoyable, and fairly consistent. While definitely not a classic Zeppelin album, Coda
remains an invaluable album, and a graceful way to end the Zeppelin legacy.
Perhaps you’re wondering about my conclusion? I feel that the album was successful because it, like the band that spawned it, is timeless. Age has treated nearly all the albums by Led Zeppelin well, and this is no exception. While not serving up any tremendous, instantly recognizable hits, it still subtly and rather timidly delivers the goods. And I’m sure many a hippie was satisfied.
Some great tunes
Live tracks sound better ala over-dubbing
Some listeners may find the album dull