Communication Breakdown – Led Zeppelin // Buy
Babe I’m Gonna Leave You – Led Zeppelin // Buy
I should probably preface this article by saying that I’m absolutely nuts over Led Zeppelin. My own opinions aside, though, it’s important to revisit Led Zeppelin I to explore the genius of the band’s music during its original release and the legacy it still holds today. While the songs are at points excessive and overly-confident, the album successfully captures the intense, spontaneous feel of a band that had only known each other for two weeks. The stylistic versatility of Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham gave Led Zeppelin the musical flexibility that set them far apart from other rock bands of the period. Led Zeppelin I foreshadows the variety of styles that span the band’s 8 studio albums — from monolithic blues-based jams to revitalized folk tunings and the stylings of Middle Eastern music. The tracks that make up Zeppelin’s debut album stand out as unique, bizarre reinterpretations of the popular music of the late 60s.
The opening drumbeats and Page’s power chords in “Good Times Bad Times” burst forward and announce the heavy, raw energy that will carry the album forward. “Communication Breakdown” stands out to me as one of the precursors of the punk sound. Page plays a slamming guitar riff at breakneck speed while Plant discovers his wild, unrestrained and fierce vocals, working himself up into a frenzy and demanding the listener to “suck me!” as the song comes to an abrupt close. Led Zeppelin’s out-of-sight cover of Joan Baez’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” takes the folk original to its extreme with quickly shifting moods raging from ear-shattering electric aggression to restrained acoustic folkier sounds.
Zeppelin also played with call and response between the guitar and vocals or the guitar and bass. In “Dazed and Confused,” Page mirrors the bass line by playing an octave higher, and Plant mimics the guitar with his vocal call and response with Page. For guitar lovers, the effect is heaven and hell reverberating and ricocheting off Page’s power chords.
Inspired by music of the delta blues, Led Zeppelin recreates that sound to fit a heroic mold — the soul of the blues has been amplified to the almighty vast, and the songs sound as though they were descended from Valhalla itself. Despite selling out massive stadiums and breaking records set by The Beatles, critics of the time downplayed and derided Zeppelin’s musical prowess in the studio and on stage. It’s good to see that the fans always knew.
Robert Plant has been enjoying the success of his collaboration with Alison Krauss, which produced the 5-time Grammy winning Raising Sand, and his newly re-formed Band of Joy. Jimmy Page has been making various appearances recently, joining the Black Crowes onstage one night and performing at Roy Harper’s concert three weeks ago. John Paul Jones just won his own Grammy this year for Best Hard Rock Performance with Them Crooked Vultures, the new supergroup formed out his work with Dave Grohl and Josh Homme.
“You Need Loving” by Small Faces is a great comparison to Led Zeppelin’s approach to electrified and distorted blues — they also happen to be another of my favorites. The track covers the same blues originals that Led Zeppelin took inspiration from, and the song actually requires a few listens to really distinguish Steve Marriot’s voice from Robert Plant’s. Jimmy Page’s former suit The Yardbirds previewed several of the songs off of Led Zeppelin I. Page shows glimpses of his musical ambitions with these early versions of “Dazed and Confused”, “White Summer” and “Train Kept a Rollin.” Hats off to The Alabama Shakes for their awesome live cover of “How Many More Times”. Without sounding anything like Zeppelin, the Shakes charge up the song with their own soulful, searing Southern rock.