1969 was a fantastic year for music. Blind Faith, the short-lived super-group built upon the ashes of the almost equally short-lived Cream, released their one and only album (Blind Faith
), one that is now revered as classic. The Rolling Stones released the infamous Let It Bleed
, and Frank Sinatra was still proving he could hang tough against the newer musical styles brought about by the British Invasion. The year also saw the death of many beloved groups, such as Cream, who released their Goodbye
album in March of that year. Perhaps most famously, the year signaled the death of the Beatles, who had broken up in September, unbeknownst to the public at large who wouldn’t find out for another ten months. It has often been said that with death comes birth, or re-birth, as it were. This certainly seems to be the case, as 1969, possibly the single most important year of an equally important decade, saw the birth of a band called Led Zeppelin.
Having just released their eponymous self-titled debut in January, and subsequently undertaking a tour to support it, the band began to feel pressure from the suits at Atlantic Records to record the follow up to what was quickly becoming one of the hottest albums of the year. The deadline was set, and Zeppelin got to work, recording in between shows and cities. Such shoddy time-framing might have effected the production, which was significantly under-polished by Zeppelin standards, but honestly who cares? How are the songs? Well, dear reader, the aforementioned rushed time-frame tended to dip into the bands’ originality factor, and as such they ended up with a lack of original tunes. Not to worry, as in true Zeppelin fashion, the band re-worked some classic blues lyrics/melodies and subsequently made them louder, rawer, and arguably (in some cases, you blues Nazis) better.
While Whole Lotta Love
is generally agreed upon as an undisputed classic, I personally feel it may be the only song that brings the album down. The solo? Dazzling. The groove? Contagious. But the same, simplistic riff for three minutes and a mock psychedelic breakdown for the rest reveals a tendency to drag down an otherwise fine performance. The song, which was re-worked from an old Willie Dixon number entitled You Need Love
, showcases some atypical Zeppelin lyrics of the day, a day when introspect meant little when placed next to a girl with a tight sweater. Perhaps the best thing about the song (excluding the aforementioned dazzling guitar solo) would be the use of theremin during the breakdown, which displays a clever studio musician at work.
It would be fitting for one to overlook the negatives (or the positives, as the case may be) of the previous track, and if you should maintain the course, and choose to continue the album, you’ll find yourself engulfed in a ditty that goes by the name of What Is And What Should Never Be
. Unlike ninety percent of grunge bands, this song marks one of the rare occasion where Zeppelin indulges in the “soft verse, loud chorus" formula. The thing that sets this apart from a good many other groups is it is done well. Well? I meant brilliantly. While Plants soft voice serenades you and draws you in, Jimmy subtle strumming offers you a drink. Bonham’s tender beat-keeping pulls you up a chair, and just when you’re settled in, the entire band starts beating you over the head with their respective instruments.
Led Zeppelin evolved drastically throughout their twelve-year career. By the time the band broke up in 1980, they had dabbled in everything from bluegrass to early 80’s synth pop. One thing that the always did right up until the end was keep one foot in the blues pool while dipping the other into various other musical landscapes. While I’m Gonna Crawl
is an almost alien form of the blues, it still offers a unique view at an overly unique band. However, out of all the Zeppelin albums, not one song can claim to define blues rock quite like The Lemon Song
. You may wonder, “Who dominates the song? I’ll bet it’s Jimmy". Well, you’re wrong. While Mr. Page does provide some blistering guitar work (and a little bit of Howlin’ Wolf in the guitar solo), it is actually John Paul Jones who controls the tune, providing a thoroughly distinguished bass line and a calculated, thought out groove. So sayeth I.
Before the band released their first album, Atlantic issued many press statements claiming Zeppelin as the next musical messiahs. Before a note was released on vinyl, their label was comparing them to Hendrix. The backlash was inevitable, and it came hard. The band was derided as an over-hyped, corporate band, and releasing a few advance tracks did little to salvage the situation. The music was labeled as bombastic and arrogant. What better way to counter such accusations than to cover a Joan Baez song, right? Fast forward about seven months. Having already demonstrated a prowess for the gentler atmospheres, it was decided that a quiet song was needed for the second album, as well. Thank You
is a rather beautiful song, driven by Pagey’s 12-string guitar and Robert’s touching lyrics and vocal delivery.
In stark contrast to this, Heartbreaker
is as audacious as can be, boasting an instantly recognizable main riff and a guitar solo that once again shows Jimmy’s prowess on the guitar. Let’s analyze this for a moment. Is it a good idea to feature a break down where the only instrument being played is guitar? Perhaps. Is it smart to have said guitar maintain no beat or any particular order? Not really, no. While the guitar solo is undoubtedly self-indulgence in its’ purest form, it is indeed captivating, much like a train wreck carrying nuclear waste. Perhaps you have noticed it? Whenever I hear Heartbreaker
on the radio, it is inevitably followed up immediately by Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman)
. While the band insisted it was far below average and never played it at any live concert, I tend to lean towards it quite often, as I find the playing tasteful and the alternating arrangement deviously clever.
It has been noted that Robert Plant had some sort of fixation on J.R.R. Tolkien and his fantasy novels, The Lord of the Rings
. While many Zeppelin fanatics will argue against their favorite singer being into a rather nerdy novel like this, the proof that Mr. Plant is indeed like every man can be found in the song Ramble On
. Once more, we find the band utilizing the soft verse, loud chorus formula, this time to even better effect than the last. Bonham provides a gentle beat, and Jimmy strums away and provides a vaguely surreal environment for Robert to spin a yarn in. For example:
T’was in the darkest depths of mordor
I met a girl so fair,
But gollum, and the evil one crept up
And slipped away with her.
Ain’t nothing I can do, no.
Guess I’ll keep ramblin’
One of us. One of us.
The drum solo. An art that requires one exert a mammoth presence yet a refined style. One must prove that they are capable of separating their four limbs as much as possible, and perhaps most importantly, one must hold the attention of those for whom the solo is played. Moby Dick
excels in each of these categories, and also asserted John Bonham as a force to be reckoned with in the drumming world. About a minute and a half into the tune, Jimmy and John Paul drop out, while Bonham takes center stage with a series of drum maneuvers that may have very well left his set in pieces by the end of the song. Unlike other contemporaries (Iron Butterfly…), the song doesn’t drag on in the slightest, which is rather odd if you take into account over half of it deals with no pitch.
As previously rambled in other reviews of mine, closing an album is always a daunting task, one which more than likely causes many musicians to second guess themselves for months after a release. On first listen, one could assume that Bring it On Home
would be such a song. Indeed, the cliché blues guitar progression, accompanied only by a very gruff sounding Mr. Plant seem to signal a significant lack in material for a closer. By about a minute into the song, you’re fathoming the genius of the band as they proceed to simply rock you into oblivion with an energetic and bombastic verse and/or chorus (label them what you like). As the song fades away into silence, you’re left pondering the album which has just assaulted your ears for the last forty-four minutes.
While the production of the album isn’t graceful, that only betters the albums’ theme, which is one of proto-metal and noise. While dynamics aren’t always apparent, they are most always there. Songs such as Whole Lotta Love
aren’t particularly mind-blowing, but as far as serving its purpose, it does so most admirably. As far as Zeppelin albums goes, there are better; there are worse. But to deny the genius that is/was Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham is like denying Jesus. You… do like Jesus, don’t you?
In your face style
John Paul Jones
“Whole Lotta Love" can be boring
“The Heartbreaker" solo can wear thin