Friday, February 12, 2010

#15 All aboard the Led Zeppelin

On 12 January 1969 Led Zeppelin released their first album to generally negative reviews but huge commercial success at the same time. It was pretty clear that the fans knew something that the critics didn't. For the time, this was something of an enigma. All the reviewers thought that Led Zeppelin had no future and at the same time they were dominating the airwaves and filling stadiums at a rapid pace. Over the years many of those critics have changed their minds and have admitted that Led Zeppelin consisted of more then 'Big hair and Bigger guitar solos'. Now, in 2010, Led Zeppelin is considered one of the greatest Rock bands in history. The band consisted of Jimmy Page (lead guitar), Robert Plant (lead vocals), John Paul Jones (bass guitar, keyboards) and John Bonham (drums, percussion). They brilliantly crafted a sound that combined the fiery intensity of hard rock with the depth and soul of the American Blues greats. Led Zeppelin exploded into the 70's, practically redefining rock in the process. Their massive impact has extended through the years since they disbanded, influencing countless musicians from all over the world of Rock. Then and now, Led Zeppelin are one of the legendary bands for the ages. Their almost mystical power to evoke primal passions and their intense ability at creating musical and lyrical genius have kept fans wanting more for almost 40 years. The combination of Jimmy Page’s powerful, layered guitar work, Robert Plant’s trademark piercing vocals, John Paul Jones’ melodic bass playing and beautiful keyboard work, and of course, John Bonham’s epic, animalistic drumming (his style actually influenced Jim Henson to create the character 'Animal', the drummer on the Muppet show). Being so jam packed with talent definitely made them a band whose musical magic that has proved enchanting and irresistible.

When Jimi Page formed the band in 1968, his friend Keith Moon (of The Who) remarked that such a band 'would go down like a Lead Zeppelin' which of course gave Page the idea for what to name his new band. I thought it was cool when I read that Page intentionally misspelled the name as Led Zeppelin so that fans wouldn't mispronounce the name. It is one of those moments of Rock irony that the career of Led Zeppelin would be the exact opposite of what Moon had remarked. To me that stands up there with the record executive who turned down The Beatles, saying "No thanks, guitar groups are on the way out". In the 70's, Led Zeppelin became so huge that they were dubbed 'The Biggest Band In The World' and were often called the 'Beatles of the 70's' (something page would always deny, stating "Our music sounds nothing like theirs").

Time To Party:

The 70's saw them becoming incredibly rich and famous all over the globe. Their antics on tour began to become the stuff of myth and legends and what we now would consider the stereotypical Rock Star behavior. They traveled from gig to gig aboard a Jet airliner they renamed 'The Starship'. Rumors spread like wildfire about how they would rent out entire flors of their hotels and always trash their rooms, throwing Tv's out of the high windows. The debauchery was getting so ridiculous that they began to be banned for life from certain higher class hotels around the world. One story told how John Bonham rode a motorcycle down one of the hallways of a hotel during a massive hotel party. The passionate energy that the music was steeped in probably helped to create this mythic vision of Led Zeppelin as the rowdiest rockers in the world. They were crafting that famous slogan of 'Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll' and were living and breathing it as they took over the world with their loud, powerful music.
Sadly, the partying lifestyle took its toll and on the 24th of September 1980, John Bonham was found dead after having aspirated on his own vomit as a result of severe alcohol abuse. The surviving members of Led Zeppelin disbanded and released a statement saying "We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend and the deep respect we have for his family, together with the sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were."

The Facts:
-Between 1969 and 1971 they released four of the greatest Rock albums in history (Led Zeppelin 1-4)
-Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and won the Grammy lifetime achievement award in 2005.
-Page was accused of plagiarism in the way he used material from the old Blues musicians of the American south. Over the years many have questioned the authenticity and identification in the music of Led Zeppelin (spawning the Homer Simpson quote "Look honey, there goes Jimmy Page, the greatest thief of American black music that ever walked the earth").
-Eight albums and one released after Bonham's death form the backbone of the Led Zeppelin discography.

Fave Album:
-My fave would be the infamous album with no name that was released in late 1971. This infamous album featured four symbols on the inner sleeve, each chosen by a member of the group to signify himself. Jimi Page explained that the cover art was intended to bring out a city/country dichotomy that had initially surfaced on their previous album, 'Led Zeppelin III'.
"It represented the change in the balance which was going on. There was the old countryman and the blocks of flats being knocked down. It was just a way of saying that we should look after the earth, not rape and pillage it. The cover was supposed to be something that was for other people to savour rather than for me to actually spell everything out, which would make the whole thing rather disappointing on that level of your own personal adventure into the music."

I think that is pretty well said in my opinion. This album is quite simply one of the most awesome albums in Rock. Every track on this album is pure gold and to have an album like that, where each track is so amazing, is pretty rare in any genre of music. The album bolts right out of the starting gate with the pumped up rocker 'Black Dog'. From there it carries right on into another explosive rocker 'Rock and Roll' before switching things up a bit and diving into a fantasy epic right out of Middle Earth with the folk rock tale 'The Battle of Evermore'. It finishes side one with a song that is arguably one of the greatest songs of the last hundred years, Led Zeppelin's opus 'Stairway to Heaven'. This song has been played so many times that many people can't stand it anymore and has been talked about to death so if you want to know more check out Stairway to Heaven. Just when you think it can't get any better, Side two begins with 'The Misty Mountain Hop', which is one of my fave Zep tracks (I totally dig Plant's vocals in this song). From there you get to hear one of the greatest drum intros ever as 'Four Sticks' begins. The next track 'Going to California' is mellow and beautiful. If you close your eyes, you can picture Robert Plant sitting on a stool with a smoke and a glass of wine, conjuring up this tale of the search for love like some sort of musical shaman (it's rumored that he wrote it about Joni Mitchell whom he and page were totally infatuated with at the time). The album closes with the only admitted cover song of the record 'When the Levee Breaks'. It was originally a blues song from the twenties that was written about the great flood of 1929 in Mississippi. This song starts off with another fantastic drum intro by John Bonham except this intro has way more power and kick to it. It sounds as if he is beating his drums half to death in the pursuit of perfection (which he achieves here). The harmonica on this track is staggering in its blues filled intensity, helping to give the song that extra something that turns it from good to great.

See you all on Monday and thanks for dropping by!


Here is an awesome live version of 'Going to California'

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