As I sat at my computer, lit a cigarette, and began musing over how to start this review, many thoughts resonated through the inner-most confines of my brain. I didn’t know where to start quite honestly, as the context of the album and the setting it was released in all those years ago has already been sufficiently broken down in many other reviews, too many to bother counting. To simply carbon copy and paste a portrait of American and British society in the 1960’s from one of them would be a horrible cliché, one which I can’t see myself committing any more than I already have. I wondered, as I took yet another drag in silence, where to begin, and how to convince you, the reader, to invest your time and effort and energy into bothering with this album. Perhaps, compare the bands of the time" No, that wouldn’t do. While Led Zeppelin was completely and irrevocably different from all of it’s peers from the outset, it wasn’t quite light years ahead yet with it’s first release, Led Zeppelin. Then how about comparing and contrasting modern rock with the pulsating counter-culture brand of sound" Hmm… Perhaps, perhaps. But quite honestly, what’s the point of that" Where as now heavier, Drop-D riffing and tragic lyrics permeate through every speaker, warmed-over blues and thumping, vivacious rock was the standard formula then. All apples and oranges, if you like. I realized that perhaps the best way to sum up the album was from a more personal perspective, one that ignores the praise the band has garnered for its contribution to music in general. I put out my cigarette and got to work.
When pinpointing a member of Led Zeppelin to label as the most talented, many often look to guitar and producer extraordinaire, Jimmy Page. Others feel the desire to award Robert Plant with this label for his original take on the position of vocalist. Often overlooked, however, is John Paul Jones, who single-handedly kept every experimental endeavor Led Zeppelin undertook from floundering with his diverse and extraordinary talent with multiple instruments. On this album, however, a different option prevails.
Perhaps John Bonham, when compared to numerous other drummers, is not the god he is made out to be. Even if this is true, one would be mentally unstable to deny that he is a ferocious drummer. Evidence of this fact was made right from the get-go of the bands’ career thanks to multiple live performances, and Good Times, Bad Times
was the proof that cemented the theory. Indeed, Jimmy Page riffs up a storm and John Paul Jones was never more calculated, but the drumming is something else. It doesn’t simply fit with the now-generic blues rock theme of the song, it makes
it. And frankly, that is a very important reason for Led Zeppelin’s success, then and now. Perhaps he wouldn’t be anything worth debating over for hours at a time if he merely took one song and made it his own, but the fact is that nearly every song with his name attached has something stunning to offer, from thumping, solid beats and grooves to subtle, bluesy shuffles. While I find myself on the subject of blues shuffles, Led Zeppelin
is full of them. Quite frankly, a little too full of them. You Shook Me
demonstrates Page’s talent as a guitarist and producer, but throwing in two epic blues pieces that drag on and on is a little much.
If John Bonham is half as good as I’m making him out to be, and I assure you he is, then rock and roll regulations decree that he must have a rhythm partner to match. Enter, John Baldwin (surrogate, John Paul Jones). The titan that would drive The Lemon Song
to new heights is oddly underwhelming here, offering numerous tasteful bass fills, but more or less staying in the shadows and providing Jimmy and Robert Plant with a base on which to wail (this term applies for both men). Like all greats though, John Paul does get his moment to shine, and it is ironically during what is usually considered to be an iconic Page solo. Indeed, the backing rhythm for the epic Dazed and Confused
may not be an overtly complicated thing, but it’s physical requirements are astounding. The repeating bass lick seems to go on forever, and at mammoth speeds. Not at all out of place in a rather surreal psychedelic rock song, albeit a rather unconventional one. One of the many controversies with the band, is of course, the alleged plagiarism committed by Jimmy Page. Well, I’m here to tell you that these rumors are one hundred percent true. Dazed and Confused
is in fact a stolen song, one that Jimmy had been putting under the microscope since his Yardbird days. While musically the song could very well define early Led Zeppelin, the album and the band tend to suffer from this heinous lack of originality and pilfering. Luckily, the album has songs like Your Time Is Gonna Come
to make up for this rather severe problem. Tranquil, soothing, relaxing… all of these adjectives can be easily attached to the song, which also happens to show off one Mr. Robert Plant, who’s vocal prowess had been the subject of much debate prior to the release of the album. Gentler songs would soon play a much larger role in the overall picture of Led Zeppelin, one that would soon outshine the bombastic and hyper-kinetic energy exuded by future anthems such as Whole Lotta Love
I stopped typing rather abruptly after scribing these words, looking over for any contradictions or other mistakes on my part. Beating myself up over what I considered to be a dull and thoroughly run of the mill review had become a standard practice as of late, one which tended to occupy a lot of my time. I skimmed over the words I had written, looking for some kind of fresh angle to approach from. You still haven’t mentioned Robert all that much, perhaps you could describe how fresh and new such a sound was to a time when Paul McCartney and Doug Ingle ruled the airwaves with an iron fist" Yeah, I know. Maybe I should, and I probably will. I’d like a less common approach, though. After some unfruitful deliberation, I decided to trek onwards, so far, without any interesting or innovative ideas.
Newly added to the counter-culture’s arsenal for recording its beloved music was a technique called dynamics. Said feature is a subtle, sophisticated way of enhancing a song, and is often an indicator of a musical genius. Many bands, found themselves using this technique, a procedure that is still widely in use today. Led Zeppelin also commandeered this practice, perhaps best displayed in the epic Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
. It might be the gentle intro. It could be the marvelous use of the aforementioned modus operandi that leads to a blindingly heavy and energetic yet still soft and forlorn chorus. Or, perhaps it is Robert’s jaw-dropping vocals. Whatever it is that makes Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
the best song on the entire album, it does its job very, very well. Arguing the point with proclamations such as “Dazed and Confused
is so much better” is rather futile, because (even if it is a Joan Baez cover) it is still a better song in every way, from originality to construction and producing. Of course, escaping the inevitable is a tremendous oxymoron, and as such, a rather boring track is present on the album. Otis Rush probably wasn’t expecting such a droning cover of his signature I Can’t Quit You, Baby
, and upon hearing of the songs’ existence, neither was I. But alas, fate is a cruel mistress, and instead of gold she dealt lead, and it shows. While still a relatively faithful re-working, the overall song is just boring and obnoxious, quite like seeing Napoleon Dynamite
for the sixth time, or ever for that matter.
Overall, everything I’ve said points to a really great album, right" Well, some unidentified force has plotted against the album, and dragged down its’ credibility and a lot of its potential. This could be due to the fact that it’s the bands’ debut, and they hardly new each other while recording it. Perhaps it is because of something trivial, like the track listing. Maybe it’s both, but either way, it inexplicably drags down the appeal of the album as a whole. However, letting something like this thwart you from listening to the album is rather extraneous, whether it’s your first time or your thousandth. The diversity offered by the album, from the gentle, English folk of Black Mountain Side
to the epic rock of How Many More Times
is astounding, and even more so when you take into consideration that this was merely a debut album by a British rock band. That, I believe, warrants a listen from everybody for this album, kleptomania and all.
I once again read over everything I had written, and began to pace the floor. I started picking the review apart, identifying everything I had written and matching it with what I thought to be appropriate adjectives such as “bland”, and “derivative”. As I paced, a sudden revelation came over me. Amidst all of the musing and worrying and such, I realized that the review (much like the album it was attempting to summarize) was not particularly innovative or fresh. It didn’t have to be. It was (again, much like the album) merely a refinement; a new rendition of an earlier style that had been hackneyed and over-abused to death. Yes… An enhancement, and in my eyes, a satisfactory one at that. Suddenly I quit pondering, I quit pacing, and I stopped reading. I carried on with my regular day-to-day activities, no longer laboring over whether I had completed my mission. A refinement… that’s good enough for me.