Led Zeppelin were responsible for a Whole Lotta Great Hard Rock moments over the years and I have been the proud owner of all of their original albums, save for In Through the Out Door…’cause I just wasn’t goin’ there folks! I’ve had years to consider what I’ll write about each album, so you know I’m totally right about everything!
Led Zeppelin I ***** Easily one of the most influential debuts records ever released! Led Zeppelin were the Chuck Berry of modern rock; they launched a thousand bands and Jimmy Page was (rightly or wrongly) the most influential guitarist of the 1970s. There are about 439,403 videos on YouTube discussing Led Zeppelin’s lack of originality, with some even calling it outright thievery! Can you imagine? Actually…pretty much all of Led Zeppelin 1 is borrowed or “stolen”, whichever you prefer, but the point was…how the music was played. The band’s complete over-the-top approach to everything they did would be the hallmark of their legacy and this excess was completely suited to the amazing decade that was the 1970s. With every album the stakes would be raised to create work that was bigger and better than what came before and each time they succeeded until they no longer could.
As the album begins, the crunch chord intro of Good Times Bad Times announces to the world that this band ain’t screwing around. By the conclusion of this song it is apparent to the careful listener that the band is tight, the rhythm section is badass, the drummer has an AMAZING right foot, and the guitar player can play his ass off. It’s also pretty obvious, as the album tracks along, the production has captured a young band on the verge of exploding on every tune. On future LZ stunners, Dazed and Confused and How Many More Times the band effortlessly play through multiple modulations without ever losing their intensity or togetherness. For a band that hadn’t been together very long when the album was recorded, they already seemed to possess the instincts of musicians who were much better known to each other. Considering John Bonham and Robert Plant were barely 20 at the time, Led Zeppelin 1 is a pretty amazing achievement.
Of course, all of the critics who panned Led Zeppelin 1 and would come to LOVE the future frenzy of punk rock, completely missed the greatness of the fast, headbanging anthem Communication Breakdown; a three-minute blast of fast rock complete with sizzling guitar solo, great vocals and an amazing middle break where Plant yells “suck!”. Why? I don’t know. Too many mushrooms? Possibly. Of course the arty talent and finesse necessary to make Black Mountain Side, Your Time is Gonna Come, and Babe I’m Gonna Leave You work would also not be something the critics heard, but the kids and the guitar players did and that is why Page and Co. were Kings of the High School parking lot by the early 70s. Even the very standard blues, You Shook Me and I Can’t Quit You became something quite different with the slam-bam completely over-the-top approach the band brought to the music. This is what critics of the time really didn’t understand; the next generation was going to do away with all of the Fats Domino dynamics and just GO FOR IT! Heavy on the excess! How far can we push this? I want amps that go to 11! This is how mankind has always evolved and advanced in all areas of life and this album was a major step along the way of RAWK’s development.
Led Zeppelin II **** The band’s second album was very much a “road album” because it was recorded as they were doing successive tours of the United States and other locales. It definitely built on all of the power and success of Led Zeppelin I and did so in such an uncompromising way that even those who had speculated that the band would be a flash in the pan had to reevaluate their assessment. The album also showed the band’s continuing development in sound and style: the heavy crunch of Whole Lotta Love complete with theramin-driven craziness, more exceptional blues rock riffing with the very loose The Lemon Song, Sonny Boy Williamson’s redone Bring it On Home, and the Jimmy Page guitar extravaganza Heartbreaker! There was some solid crunch rock with Living Loving Maid, What Is and What Should Never Be, and Bonham’s drum solo vehicle, Moby Dick.
The most impressive tunes though were the ones that showed the band would be exploring softer and broader dimensions. Ramble On, with it’s acoustic textures and multi-tracked, harmoninized guitar solo, is the first real instance of Jimmy Page’s guitar symphony idea that would become a Zeppelin staple. Later tunes like Ten Years Gone, Stairway to Heaven and The Song Remains the Same would take this idea to dramatic lengths. The other major step forward, Thank You, is Robert Plant’s first full lyric and John Paul Jones adding a more involved organ/keyboard dimension to the group’s sound. Of course, both Plant and Jones would continue to develop their skills and bring even more contributions to each succeeding album.
Led Zeppelin III **** Another great album that was unfairly panned by many critics of the day. I understand somewhat; lyrically there are some very weak moments, especially Out On the Tiles and Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, which are both pretty silly. Also, while the production idea of Hats Off to Roy Harper was a good one, Plant leans way too heavily on Bukka White lyric clichés, which turns the tune into parody. I’m pretty sure they didn’t mean it that way because on the next album When the Levee Breaks would follow the same “deconstructed blues with very spooky effects” formula with much better results.
The rest of the album is super-duper and Jimmy Page’s guitar contributions: hard rock crunch (Immigrant Song, Celebration Day), pedal steel (Tangerine), open-tuned acoustic/country blues picking (That’s The Way, Stomp, Roy Harper), banjo (Gallows Pole) are among his finest ever. There is also the amazing creation that is Friends, with its C-tuning acoustic guitar and future Kashmir-scale production arranged by John Paul Jones. That’s the Way, a very peaceful acoustic number with all pretension and excess missing, a great set of lyrics courtesy of Robert Plant and a nicely understated arrangement that anticipates, Goin’ to California on the next album. Finally, the stately, very pretty blues of Since I’ve Been Loving You, which is probably my favorite Zeppelin blues.
Led Zeppelin IV ***** I’ve lost count how many copies of Zoso I’ve had over the years, but if there is one album that you should always have on hand, it’s this one. Sorry Cardi B…maybe next time…or not. Anyhow, Jimmy Page should totally send me a THANK-YOU card or maybe $9.95 in cryptocurrency because I’ve burned through I don’t know how many copies of this record. It’s so good it’s EVIL. I’m sure he intended it that way. So there I was this month in the mood to hear a couple of tunes from this awesome recording from 1971 and I couldn’t find it anywhere so…to quote a very trippy and lo-fi Spine of God Monster Magnet song from 1992…
I Bought another copy of ZOSO
I recently moved to a new location…see what I’m sayin’? Some stuff got misplaced as it invariably does, yet none of that matters if it’s time to hear Led Zeppelin IV! I’ve been in love with the album since high school and yea, ok, I don’t need to hear Stairway to Heaven anymore, but you have to admit…even if Zeppelin does lose that lawsuit (and I don’t think they will) Stairway was a pretty amazing achievement. I mean it transcended its function as a “rock song” and became something totally different…as close to spiritual transcendence as American teenagers in the 70s and 80s ever got. Plus the musical component of the song is definitely a pinnacle of ROCK music and even if ROCK music ceases to be much of a thing over the next decades, Stairway and this album will forever be thought of as one of the high points of the style and era.
But even without all that, I will never tire of listening to other cuts from the album: The Battle of Evermore, Misty Mountain Hop, Four Sticks, Going to California, and When the Levee Breaks…’cause John Henry Bohnam. That Jimmy Page guy was a pretty good guitarist and a heckuva producer too. Robert Plant and John Paul Jones were jeez…I think they still get work from time to time because they were pretty talented as well. Do you really need me to tell you more about this disc? Like some of those reviewers who completely overdose on the adjectives when writing disc reviews and suddenly you find yourself reading a review of some lame band that 4 people like that has 3 paragraphs worth of hyperbole. Or Lester Bangs… No, on second thought, screw him. He didn’t like this album. He thought Zeppelin should sound more like the Stooges. ‘Cause dumb people think stuff like that. Know what I mean? Could the Stooges even begin to imagine the ethereal wonderfulness that is The Battle of Evermore? They would probably try to approximate Black Dog and would maybe be able to do the dumb parts, but they would never get that offbeat timing thing right. When the Levee Breaks is amazing for the groove, for the effects, for the performance and for the sheer power of the arrangement of the emotions involved. It crackles it is so electric. The atmosphere that the band was able to create on this album is timeless; forever cast in wax and plastic, the music preserved in all of its stony English Castle grandeur like honey in amber or something. It was good to hear this disc again…it was like…coming home to my past, while hearing strains of an unknown future as I meditated on the plane of all that will ever be. Wow! Reiki! That was pretty good. This album is a meditatively spiritual kick up the ass that you NEED to hear before you die!
Houses of the Holy ***** Another high point of Led Zeppelin’s amazing career was this album and the various tours of 1973. All that had come before was synthesized with elements the band would work out later in their career to make a very well-balanced, mature, and influential album. The first thing I’ve always liked about this disc is the bright and clear production value, which even Jimmy Page has been quoted as saying was maybe the best they ever had. All the tracks and all of the instruments sound great on this record and it sounds really good cranked loud! The band’s comfort in the studio and Jimmy Page’s abilities to do what he called “building up guitar armies” were taken to a whole new level and that’s the second thing I like about the album. Because of these factors, Houses of the Holy expanded on the blues rock foundations Zeppelin had mined through the first 4 albums and laid the groundwork for later tunes like Kashmir and Achilles Last Stand.
It has the incredibly classic and ambitious The Song Remains the Same, which is not only one of John Bonham’s greatest rhythm tracks, but also contains some of Jimmy Page’s best soloing. Other great hard rock crunch includes The Ocean, No Quarter, and Over the Hills and Far Away — phenomenal Zeppelin material for sure! Then there is the intricate open-tuned glorious blues with Mellotron of The Rain Song, the chimey guitar / almost Beatle-esque Dancing Days, the drum slam of D’yer Maker and the John Paul Jones favorite The Crunge. All of the bombast of the band, which they did better than anyone, is used more for effect and less as a rule on this album. There would still be plenty of over-the-top crunch on tour and on the four sides of the next album, Physical Graffiti, but this album shows the band in a comfortable and more diverse plane of existence. As a guitarist I can’t help but marvel at the sounds Page got on all of these tunes, especially Dancing Days, The Rain Song, The Song Remains the Same, The Ocean and Over the Hills and Far Away. These are all classic Zeppelin guitar rips and I have had great fun over the years jamming on them! Jimmy Page and the rest of the band were certainly inspired to great performances throughout.
Also, the album cover is a classic! It was designed by the legendary Hipgnosis and featured photos of Giant’s Causeway and Dunluce Castle in Northern Ireland (h/t to reader DC Cardwell)
Physical Graffiti ***** The last GREAT Zeppelin album, this double disc was a combination of new songs with some odds and ends that had been lying around since the early part of the decade. While I’ve never thought the sound of this disc was as good as the previous two albums, the tracks make up for it. Some of Zeppelin’s most famous and enduring work; Kashmir, In My Time of Dying, Ten Years Gone, Sick Again, The Rover, Trampled Under Foot, and In the Light can be found on this album. All of these tunes show the band at the peak of its creative powers and proved to the rest of the world that they were the hardest rocking band going. While Jimmy Page (and John Bonham) would enjoy two more glorious hard rock moments (Nobody’s Fault But Mine and Achilles Last Stand) Physical Graffiti would be the final testament to the tight and well-arranged hard rock orchestra vision that began with Dazed and Confused, took full flight with Stairway and The Song Remains the Same and peaked with the aforementioned songs on this album.
In addition to Page’s many great guitar moments, John Paul Jones’ orchestrated keyboard parts on “Kashmir”, his song-driving clavinet on “Trampled” and the otherworldly ethereal synthesizer on “Light” would help make this a great album. While Jones’ keyboard contributions had always been important, they would take on a new dimension for the rest of Zeppelin’s career, culminating in the very keyboard-driven In Through the Out Door album. Safe to say that he was the “XFactor” of the group that later rock acolytes of the band would miss when trying to copy the band or capture their musical depth and success with just a “hot guitar player and a singer who could scream real good”. Though Jones’ work on In Through the Out Door was admirable, and a very valiant attempt to bring the band into the 1980s, it was obvious on first listen that the disc was not the caliber of Physical Graffiti or their other great work from the 70s.