Sunshine Superman by Donovan

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Sunshine Superman by DonovanEnglish folk singer Donovan found a new voice with his eclectic and slightly psychedelic third album, Sunshine Superman. Originally released in the US in September 1966, the album would not be released in Donovan’s native country until much later due to a contractual dispute. It is notable as one of the first pop albums to extensively use the sitar and other Eastern musical instrumentation while maintaining an overall radio-friendly  sound.

Born Donovan Philips Leitch and of Scottish descent, Donovan’s initial breakthrough came in London in early 1965 with the folk-inspired single “Catch the Wind” and the subsequent acoustic folk albums What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid and Fairytale. However, Bob Dylan’s famed trip to the UK that spring pigeonholed Donovan as a British “Dylan clone” in the press, a label he desperately wanted to shake and establish his own distinct musical identity.

In late 1965, Donovan was introduced to producer Mickie Most who, in turn, collaborated Donovan with top-notch London session players such as future Cream bassist Jack Bruce and future Led Zeppelin members John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page. Further, the early 1966 sessions for Sunshine Superman branched Donovan’s music out into the realms of jazz, blues, Eastern music, and psychedelic pop. These sessions proved to be very prolific and included early recordings of several tracks which were omitted from this album but appeared on later studio albums and collections.


Sunshine Superman by Donovan
Released: August 26, 1966 (Epic)
Produced by: Mickie Most
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Hollywood & EMI Studios, London, January-May 1966
Side One Side Two
Sunshine Superman
Legend of a Girl Child Linda
Three King Fishers
Ferris Wheel
Bert’s Blues
Season of the Witch
The Trip
Guinevere
The Fat Angel
Celeste
Primary Musicians
Donovan – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Donovan – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jimmy Page – Guitars
Eric Ford – Guitars
Spike Healy – Bass
Bobby Orr – Drums

Released a few months before the album of the same name, “Sunshine Superman” made an immediate impact which launched it to the top of the charts as Donovan’s sole number one hit in the USA. The song is rhythm built with stand-up bass by Spike Healy along with a slight sitar by Shawn Phillips in a simple but clever arrangement with subtle psychedelic elements and a cool rock guitar lead. This first product of the artist’s collaboration with Most is a vanguard of the fusion of psychedelia in pop music.

“Legend of a Girl Child Linda” is a finger picked, traditional folk track with elongated vocals and fairy-tale like images painted by the thick lyrics. “Three King Fishers” is pure, Eastern-flavored folk with heavy reverb on the vocals and a delivery which foreshadows Syd Barrett on Pink Floyd’s debut a year later, while “Ferris Wheel” makes a slowly progressive entrance before (as its name suggests) it gives a sense of childhood adventure. “Bert’s Blues” closes the first side as a smokey yet truly sixties flavored jazz track with a fine arrangement including harpsichord and string quartet.

Donovan in 1966

“Season of the Witch” features a funky electric arrangement with a unique and weird vibe that was entertaining enough to make the song a minor hit in November 1966. “The Trip” features a bluesy acoustic rhythm in the intro which is soon joined by the deeper rhythms of bass and drums and a slight stream-of-consciousness lyrical delivery by Donovan. This forthright, acid-themed song gradually builds into a nice groove through its four minute duration with the inquisitive hook “What goes on?” being repeated throughout. After the subtle, finger-picked English style ancient folk of “Guinevere” comes an overtly psychedelic and strongly Eastern-influenced gem called “The Fat Angel”. The album closes strongly with “Celeste”, featuring somber but melodic vocals which perfectly accent the gentle strumming and somewhat spastic overlays of tones, making it spacey and Earthy all at once.

After its release in September 1966, Sunshine Superman was a huge success in America. Due to contractual disputes between Pye Records and Epic Records, it wouldn’t be released in the UK until mid 1967, after Donovan had already released a successful follow-up album, Mellow Yellow in the US.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin

1975 Album of the Year

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Physical Graffiti by Led ZeppelinToday we cover an album that epitomizes everything that is great about classic rock. Through their dozen years as a band, Led Zeppelin released eight studio albums, all of which were excellent to differing degrees. But Physical Graffiti is the best for two reasons. First is simple math, as it is their sole double studio album, hence twice the normal rock n roll bliss. More importantly is the sheer diversity of this album, which combines newly composed material with outtakes from the group’s three previous studio albums and in the process captures an incredible array of styles, production and compositional methods. All of this, plus the simple fact that the individual performances are brimming with innovative and outstanding musicianship, helped to make Physical Graffiti an easy choice as Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for 1975.

In their first three years as a band, Led Zeppelin recorded and released four albums with sequential numerical titles. Over the course of these albums, the material branched out from heavy blues to acoustic folk and many subtle sub-genres in between. Released in 1973, Houses of the Holy ,was built more in the studio than any of its predecessors, taking advantage of technological advances and use of overdubs to forge the sound. To follow-up, the group went to Headley Grange in East Hampshire, England in late 1973. They had previously recorded, Led Zeppelin IV ,with Ronnie Lane’s Mobile Studio at this location but these later sessions were soon abandoned as the new material was underdeveloped and bassist John Paul Jones had fallen ill. Instead, the sessions were turned over to the new group Bad Company, who had recently signed to Led Zeppelin’s new label Swan Song and used the location to record their 1974 eponymous debut album.

The group reconvened at Headley Grange in January 1974 and were much more fruitful, recording eight new tracks over the next several weeks. The running time of these tracks extended beyond the length of a conventional album (at the time, vinyl albums were typically around 45 minutes), so the group decided to extend it out to a double length LP by including several unreleased songs from previous Led Zeppelin albums. This extended the project quite a bit as additional overdubs were required to establish sonic consistency, so final mixing did not take place until October 1974. The album’s title was coined by guitarist and producer Jimmy Page, who wanted to convey how much “physical energy” had gone into producing this album. The title also sparked the idea for its unique, Grammy nominated album packaging, with a die-cut sleeve through which various images can be alternated into the windows of a New York City brownstone tenement.


Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin
Released: February 25, 1975 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Various Locations in the UK and US, July 1970-February 1974
Side One Side Two
Custard Pie
The Rover
In My Time of Dying
Houses of the Holy
Trampled Underfoot
Kashmir
Side Three Side Four
In the Light
Bron-Yr-Aur
Down By the Seaside
Ten Years Gone
Night Flight
The Wanton Song
Boogie With Stu
Black Country Woman
Sick Again
Group Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals, Harmonica, Guitar
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Mandolin
John Paul Jones – Bass, Piano, Keyboards, Mandolin
John Bonham – Drums, Percussion

The album opens unabashedly with “Custard Pie”, which takes the simplest crisp guitar riffs and builds such an infectious groove around it by combining with Jones’ cool clavichord, John Bonham‘s steady but incredible drumming. Lyrically, the song pays homage to a few traditional blues songs – “Drop Down Mama” by Sleepy John Estes and “Shake ‘Em On Down” by Bukka White – with vocalist Robert Plant adding further authenticity with some fine harmonica playing over the otherwise straight-up rock music. “The Rover” was an outtake from a 1972 Houses of the Holy session and it is a wonder why it was ever cut (it would have fit perfectly between “D’Yer Ma’ker” and “No Quarter”). In any case, it remains one of Zeppelin’s most forgotten gems as solid hard rock at its melodic finest. Even more impressive are Plant’s vocals, which soar finely over the rock landscape which crosses both time and space;

Traversed the planet when heaven sent me, I saw the kings who rule them all. Still by the firelight and purple moonlight I hear the rested rivers call…”

“In My Time of Dying” is a rare track with songwriting credits going to all four band members (although the song’s roots date back to the 1920s) and is also distinct as the studio recording with the longest duration. As a slow and deliberate blues, it reverts back to Led Zeppelin’s debut album with Page’s impossibly slow slide guitar being complemented by Jones and Bonham, who are masterful at adding perfectly timed bottom end rhythm to give it all structure. At around four minutes in, a frenzied second part of the song commences, highlighted by Bonham’s incredible drum patterns and Page’s multi-textured multiple guitar solos. Then, after building the tensions as far as possible, the group returns with a heavy rock rendition of the opening part.

The album’s second side starts with “Houses of the Holy”, the title track which was left off the album of the same name. Unlike the aforementioned “The Rover”, this song is actually more at home here as a very basic track with just repeated verses and riff interludes. It never really travels anywhere musically, just gains in Trampled Underfoot by Led Zeppelinintensity in its vibe and sexually charged lyrics as it goes along. Sticking with the sex themes, “Trampled Under Foot” uses car parts as metaphors for female body parts and, much like the previous song, relies on repetition and building intensity. Musically, this track has a great funk groove throughout which never gets old, and features a funky clavichord lead by Jones with Page adding some whining guitar textures underneath.

“Kashmir” is a masterful and innovative track written by Page, Plant and Bonham over the course of three years. It is sonically pleasing and interesting throughout its eight and a half minute duration with several theatrical “scenes’ slowly unfolding in time. The song’s main progression is built on an ascending riff developed by Page with Jones conducting further orchestration performed by session string and horn sections and Bonham’s drums fed through a phaser for effect. Plant actually found inspiration for the lyrics in Morocco but preferred Kashmir (where he had never been) as a mystical, imaginative place which transcends a physical location on Earth;

To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world has seldom seen, they talk of days for which they sit and wait and all will be revealed. Talk and song from tongues of lilting grace, whose sounds caress my ear but not a word I heard could I relate, the story was quite clear…”

Side three of Physical Graffiti begins with “In the Light”, one of the oddest but ultimately entertaining songs in the entire Led Zeppelin collection. A long synthesizer and bowed guitar intro by Jones and Page breaks into an enjoyable and upbeat rock section with Jones providing some inspired electric piano. The track was originally a piano-driven ballad called “Everybody Makes It Through” but the verse sections were rewritten with the improvised outro section retained as a canvas for the layers of Page’s guitars. Next comes “Bron-Yr-Aur” the first instrumental since Led Zeppelin II as a pleasant solo acoustic bit by Page which turned out to be the group’s shortest track on record. “Down By the Seaside” is another totally unique song in the Zeppelin catalog as a mellow country/folk track which possibly drew inspiration from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Recorded during the sessions for Led Zeppelin IV in 1971, the song is pleasant and rewarding as a one-off foray into this musical territory and features Jones’ electric piano interludes complemented by Page’s ascending guitar textures.

“Ten Years Gone” is Led Zeppelin at their studio best, as an exquisite song with outstanding contributions by each group member. The opening arrangement is just a simple ringing guitar and bass before launching into a majestic heavy riff which divides the verse stanzas. Started as a pure instrumental piece by Page, the track includes two of his most inspiring leads, which sandwich the heavy middle bridge section and where Jones’ bass and Bonham’s drums are brought out with their best elements. Each subsequent section in this suite builds on the last, reaching for an ultimate emotional crescendo as Page layers guitar upon guitar with distinct voices so that nothing ever gets buried underneath. Finally, there are Plant’s poetic lyrics of love, destination, regret and redemption sung in a very somber and reserved voice as he recalls the heartbreaking decision to abandon his teenage girlfriend in order to pursue his musical dreams. The outro is only real section where he raises his voice with great, desperate improvisation, almost as if he is trying to shout back through time.

Led Zeppelin in 1975

The fourth and final side begins with “Night Flight”, which dates back to late 1970. After the emotional intensity of “Ten Years Gone”, this bouncy rocker provides a lighter feel and owes much of its musical power to Jones’ Hammond organ with Page just adding strong rhythmic licks on guitar, almost as if their roles are reversed. Plant’s vocals are dynamic and strong throughout this track, almost to the point of straining. On “The Wanton Song” Zeppelin seems to step into the future musically with odd-timed but fierce riffs and Bonham’s unambiguous drumming. Two interludes contain fantastic guitar textures, attained by Page feeding through a Leslie keyboard speaker, which give the start sound just enough flavor and diversity to make it classic.

If there is any weakness on Physical Graffiti it is in the way the album wraps. While interesting in their own way, the final three tracks are rather tame in comparison with the tremendous material which precede them. “Boogie with Stu” was an improvised jam during the Led Zeppelin IV sessions, featuring Ian Stewart on piano with Page on mandolin, leaving Plant with his one and only session on guitar. Page returns to guitar on “Black Country Woman” with Jones moving to mandolin in what would turn out to be the last Zeppelin acoustic song on their original studio records. Recorded in 1972, the song features a truly authentic setting, outside with a passing overhead airplane left on the tape at the beginning. The album wraps with “Sick Again” which, unlike the other three powerful side closers, is a rather common heavy blues rock song to complete the album as a whole. With lyrics about the LA groupie scene, this track musically features a nice overdubbed, whining guitar through the chorus sections and obviously contains some impressive performances but does not seem to be mixed too well, with vocals and bass getting lost behind the guitars and drums.

Physical Graffiti was a success commercially and critically, reaching the top of the album charts upon its release and eventually going 16x platinum in sales. With half the album being like a tour of the multiple phases that this group with incredible musical diversity had gone through during their first five years and five studio albums and the other half showing the band progressing forward with the fusion of funk, heavy pop, soul, and the modern sound that would become new wave, this remains the single best example of what made Led Zeppelin such a tremendous musical force.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

The Firm

1985 Album of the Year
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The Firm 1985 albumThere was much anticipation ahead of the release of The Firm’s debut album. This “super group”, anchored by former Swan Song label mates Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Paul Rodgers of Bad Company, sparked a curiosity on whether these guys, who each hadn’t delivered any new music in several years, still had the individual magic as well as what kind of material they would produce collectively. Although the album (along with The Firm’s short career) has been considered a commercial failure by some, thirty years after its release it is clear that The Firm is a unique musical statement which seamless blends classic rock elements from earlier days with just a touch of eighties sonic innovation. These elements and the unique and excellent musicianship of the four group members ultimately makes this one of the best overall albums of the decade and our Classic Rock Review Album of the Year for 1985.

Following the death of John Bonham and dissolution of Led Zeppelin in 1980, Page worked on a series of small and short-term projects as well as the defunct super group, XYZ. In 1983, Page played a series of charity concerts with an ensemble that included Rodgers, who was then working on his first post-Bad-Company solo album. Following the tour, Rodgers and Page began to jam together and decided to write and record new material. They enlisted bassist Tony Franklin, who Page had worked with when touring with Roy Harper in 1984, and drummer Chris Slade, a former member of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band.

The new group self-produced the album in England. The songs composed for The Firm are simple, there is nothing earth breaking in structure or arrangement and no heavy lyrical messages. However the musical performance and production methods are done expertly, with the simplest elements brought to their full harmonic and melodic fruition with just a tad of synths and extra bits of ear candy throughout.


The Firm by The Firm
Released: February 11, 1985 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Page & Paul Rodgers
Recorded: Sol Studios, Cookham, Berkshire, England, 1984
Side One Side Two
Closer
Make Or Break
Someone To Love
Together
Radioactive
You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling
Money Can’t Buy
Satisfaction Guaranteed
Midnight Moonlight
Group Musicians
Paul Rodgers – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jimmy Page – Guitars
Tony Franklin – Bass, Keyboards
Chris Slade – Drums, Percussion

The opening track, “Closer” nicely blends Page’s Zeppelin-type, oddly timed rudimental riffs with Rodgers smooth and soulful rock melody. However, what is immediately of note is the strength of the group’s rhythm section, especially the potent fretless bass of Franklin. As an added bonus, this track also incorporates a brass section which gives the song an extra punch that adds to its overall unique vibe. “Make or Break” starts with Rodgers’ droning and hypnotic slow guitar slosh through the slow, new wave flavored verses. As the song progresses, Page and Franklin join in to add to the building intensity of the music with the real payoff comeing during the outro, where Page’s overdubbed, slightly psychedelic slide guitars and Slade’s frantic drumming give the track a bit of a “Dazed and Confused” heavy vibe while Rodgers’ intense vocals work to a crescendo before the song finally collapses.

“Someone To Love” is another track where Franklin’s bass really stands out, adding a definitive punch to the sloshy riffs by Page, which themselves are in stark contrast to Slade’s measured and steady drum beat. On the vocal front, Rodgers has a spot on melody, making the most of the simple lyrics in a strong and soulful declaration. Page returns to his folk roots with the intro of simple acoustic ballad, “Together”. The acoustic backing is accented by electric pedal-effect guitars in the foreground and later on Page adds a mellow but melodic electric lead. During the bridge sections, the song really elevates with Rodgers’ melodic vocals being mimicked by Franklin’s bass, all working together to make this an absolute forgotten gem which has so much more substance than the typical “power ballad”. Listening to this album 30 years later, it is hard to believe that “Radioactive” was the only real “hit” from the album, reaching the Top 30 on the pop charts. Now, that’s not to say that this isn’t a fine track – it is – and very original to boot. This is especially due to Page’s odd, squeaky guitar interludes, which turn this standard and steady rock song into a unique, new wave mechanical piece.

 
The second side begins with, perhaps, the only real mistake on this album, a cover of the Righteous Brothers classic “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”. That being said, this is a unique rendition to a popular standard with Rodgers showing his exquisite crooning chops and Franklin standing out with his buzzy bass bends along with a fine chorus of backing singers. However, that leaves Page and Slade basically at the level of wedding backing band, methodically playing the chords and hitting the beats. “Money Can’t Buy” is the most Bad Company-like song on the album with its dark folk elements and even Page seeming to mimic Mick Ralphs in style. During the bridge sections, the song employs a strong rock riff section while the rest has a nice blend of acoustic, multiple electric, synths, and rhythms, especially during the middle lead section.

 
The legendary Jimmy Page saved his finest work for the final two tracks of the album. “Satisfaction Guaranteed” is a steady track which gives Page plenty of room for sonic mastery, including the use of some bowed guitar starting in the second verse. This song also features the finest lead on the album, with the heavy, bluesy guitar returning during the long outro. Rogers’ vocals draw you in and the rhythms are simple but potent throughout, driven by Slade’s drumming, which finds the space in between the various measured riffs. The closing track, “Midnight Moonlight”, takes the listener back to another time, ten years gone. It got its birth as an unfinished piece entitled, “Swansong”, which was left over from Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti sessions in 1974. With Rogers collaborating, this deliberative and patient song goes through several slow and delicate acoustic sections, like a soft and surreal journey, held together by frequent returns to the main theme and ever-surprising new melodies and instrumental arrangements. There is a section for about a minute in the middle where Page is completely solo, playing a variety of acoustic motifs in differing styles before the full band roars back with a full backing chorus before the track builds through a long crescendo at the end.

The Firm peaked at #17 in the US and #15 in the UK, which was rather lukewarm given its quality and group membership. The Firm would record a follow-up album, Mean Business in 1986, before the group dissolved and the musicians went their separate ways. Slade went on to become AC/DC’s drummer while Franklin did a lot of work with television and movie soundtracks. Ultimately, both Page and Rodgers reunited with the former bandmates from the 1970s, albeit both for a limited time.

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1985 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

 

Led Zeppelin III

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Led Zeppelin IIILed Zeppelin III is a classic album from Led Zeppelin. Composed largely at a remote cottage in Wales which lacked any modern amenities, the band found a pastoral vibe of folk and acoustic instrumentation, which ultimately led them to thrive as one of the most diverse rock acts in history. However, the plethora of acoustic tunes were not met with great accolades at the time by either critics or the rabid fans who had enormous anticipation for the long awaited a follow-up to the group’s pair of fantastic 1969 albums. In fact, the album fared much better pre-release (with advance sales driving it to #1 on both sides of the Atlantic) than afterward, as it was one of the weakest selling records in the group’s catalog when they disbanded a decade later.

Led Zeppelin had been touring relentlessly through 1969 in both the US and Europe, with each successive tour booking larger and larger venues. Some of these early concerts lasted in excess of four hours and the band members took no extended breaks to rejuvenate. In early 1970, guitarist/producer Jimmy Page and vocalist/lyricist Robert Plant retreated to a Welsh cottage called Bron-Yr-Aur to write new material. With no electricity, they were forced to compose songs with acoustic instruments and they found strong influences in local Celtic folk music.

Later, Page and Plant were joined by drummer bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham for rehearsals and initial recordings at another rural location called Headley Grange in Southern England. Adding to the album’s mystique was the totally unique cover for the original vinyl edition. Designed by an art school friend of Page’s, the packaging featured a rotating wheel behind a gatefold, similar to crop rotations. Further, the original pressings of the album included inscribed phrases from occultist Aleister Crowley, whom Page studied intensely.


Led Zeppelin III by Led Zeppelin
Released: October 5, 1970 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Bron-Yr-Aur, Snowdonia, Wales, Headley Grange, England, and Olympic Studios, London, January–August 1970
Side One Side Two
Immigrant Song
Friends
Celebration Day
Since I’ve Been Loving You
Out On the Tiles
Gallow’s Pole
Tangerine
That’s the Way
Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
Hat’s Off to (Roy) Harper
Group Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Banjo, Dulcimer
John Paul Jones – Keyboards, Bass, Mandolin
John Bonham – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

While Led Zeppelin III is considered their “acoustic” album, it is kind of ironic that it begins with one of Led Zeppelin’s heaviest and most strident numbers. Written during the band’s tour of Iceland, “Immigrant Song” is the ultimate action/adventure song, fitting in just as easily with Saturday action matinees as with the Norse legends it portrays. Released as a single, the song reached the Top 20 on the pop charts, a rare feat for this decidedly non-Top 40 band.

“Friends” goes to the true heart of the album as a song which straddles both the acoustic and electric elements. Starting as a totally unplugged number with a true Middle Eastern flavor, the song builds with a string arrangement along with an early synth effect by Jones. Bonham plays a unique percussive rhythm while Page employs an open tuning for the first of many times on the album. “Celebration Day” is a distinctly “modern” seventies rock song, perhaps the first moment when Zeppelin moved a little away from the raw blues of “II” and towards the more polished rock of “IV”. Page utilizes several guitar riffs simultaneously while Plant’s lyrics were inspired by his first trip to New York City.

“Since I’ve Been Loving You” appears to be the original blues classic that Zeppelin had been searching for through their first couple albums. Recorded live in the studio, the song features Jones played Hammond organ and bass pedals behind Page’s blistering blues guitar work and Plant’s most soulful vocals. Not to be outdone, Bonham’s drum sound is as potent as any ever recorded, a tribute to both his playing talent and Page’s production methods. Bonham also got a songwriting credit for “Out On the Tiles”, the side one closer which he named after the British phrase for hitting the pubs. The track contains one of the more aggressive riff sequences along with some heavy natural reverb and unique rhythm and syncopation. Played live only a few times in the early 1970s, this is truly an underrated gem in the Led Zeppelin catalog.

Led Zeppelin in 1970

 
“Gallows Pole” sets the pace for the purely acoustic second side. Derived from a centuries old Scandinavian folk song called “The Maid Freed from the Gallows”, this rendition of the song is great through its building first half, but does lose some steam through the bit-too-long outro, where the song’s building motion loses some momentum, even if Page’s banjo playing is a fascination. “Tangerine” is the oldest composition on the album, written solely by Page while he was a member of the Yardbirds. On the track Page uses a twelve-string acoustic and pedal steel guitar on this excellent folk/Country song, which is often forgotten in the pantheon of Zeppelin greats. The track is also the final one on the album to feature a full rhythm arrangement with electric bass and drums.

“That’s the Way” is a fantastic piece in its elegant simplicity, pure beauty, and poetic lyrics. Page and Jones find perfect texture with acoustic guitar, dulcimer, mandolin, and pedal steel through the somber verses. During the song’s outro, the song uses subtle backward masking on the acoustic for a unique effect. “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” is an acoustic rendition of a heavy blues instrumental called “Jennings Farm Blues”, which the band performed and recorded in late 1969. Pure fun (stomp is so adequate), the album version pays tribute to the Welsh cottage with Page and Jones strumming dual acoustics and Bonham playing spoons, castanets, and a thumbing kick drum throughout the recording. Finishing off the album is “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper”, an odd tribute to Bukka White as well as the afore mentioned harper. The song was recorded solely by Plant and Page, using a vibrato effect and a slide acoustic guitar respectively.

In 1990, twenty years after its release Led Zeppelin III had reached double platinum status. However, just nine years later the album’s total sales had tripled and this classic work’s stature has only grown through th early 21st century, with the recent 2014 special edition of the album entering the Top 10 of the Billboard album charts.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

 

In Through the Out Door
by Led Zeppelin

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In Through the Out Door by Led ZeppelinThrough most critics eyes, the years have not been kind to, In Through the Out Door, the final studio album by Led Zeppelin and only one released in the group’s last four years of existence. In spite of the poor reviews, this album reached number one on the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic and sold over 6 million copies in the United States alone. The album is most notable for the contributions of bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones, who co-wrote six of the seven tracks on the album. On the flip side, In Through the Out Door contains the only two original Led Zeppelin songs which were not in-part composed by lead guitarist Jimmy Page.

The group’s previous studio release, Presence, was released in the Spring of 1976 and was followed up later in the year by the concert film and soundtrack, The Song Remains the Same. Led Zeppelin launched a major concert tour in 1977 where the band set concert records, including a Guinness Book of World Records entry for a single act concert record of 76,000+ outside Detroit, MI. However, tragedy struck in late July when lead singer Robert Plant‘s five-year-old son died suddenly from a stomach virus and the rest of the tour was cancelled immediately. The band went on hiatus for over a year with their future uncertain.

In November, 1978 the group reunited at ABBA’s Polar Studios in Stockholm to write and record new music. The emerging genres of disco, punk, and new wave had all blossomed since the last time Led Zeppelin was in the studio and the group knew it needed to develop a fresh sound. On each of their previous LPs, Page was at the vanguard of Led Zeppelin’s musical direction but, in this case, he and drummer John Bonham were struggling with substance abuse and often showed up late to the studio. With this backdrop, Jones and Plant stepped up to fill in the void, resulting in several tunes which were driven more by synth and piano than guitars.

In Through the Out Door album cover variations

Although recording was wrapped up by December 1978, the album’s release was delayed several times and the group’s August 1979 concerts at the Knebworth Music Festival, which were supposed to be sort of a large scale “record release party”, took place about a month before the album’s release. When the album was finally released, it had very unusual packaging. Wrapped in what resembled a plain brown paper bag, the retail packaging concealed one of the six possible album covers, each of which show the same sepia-tone barroom scene, but from from different angles.


In Through the Out Door by Led Zeppelin
Released: August 15, 1979 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Polar Studios, Stockholm, Sweden, November–December 1978
Side One Side Two
In the Evening
South Bound Suarez
Fool In the Rain
Hot Dog
Carouselambra
All My Love
I’m Gonna Crawl
Group Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Gizmotron
John Paul Jones – Bass, Piano, Keyboards
John Bonham – Drums

A long, haunting intro builds the anticipation at the top of this long awaited Led Zeppelin LP until Plant’s single rendition of the song’s title launches “In the Evening” to fully kick in with its a steady rock drive. Guided by the ever-strong drumming of Bonham, this track contains a few moments of nice re-arranging but, for the most part, the nearly seven minute song sticks to the same formula with the exception of the atmospheric post-lead section where Jones’s string synths are most prevalent. “South Bound Suarez” lightens things up considerably as a Jerry Lee Lewis influenced pure roots rocker with Jones leading the way on honky-tonk piano. Much like the opening track, Plant’s lyrics here are rather pedestrian to express a mood rather than a deeper meaning.

Led Zeppel in 1979With the exception of possibly “Livin’ Lovin’ Maid” on Led Zeppelin II a decade earlier, “Fool in the Rain” may be the closest to a full-fledged pop hit attempt in the long, non-Top-40-seeking, history of Led Zeppelin. The first track on the album where the vocals and lyrics are up-front, this story-telling track is accented by measured musical flourishes of reggae and samba blended with a traditional rock riff. The mid-section builds to a percussive crescendo showing Bonham’s talents had not diminished one iota late in Zeppelin’s career, and Page contributes his own very long, buzzy guitar solo. On the first side closer “Hot Dog”, the group takes a lighted-hearted foray into rockabilly, starting with a nice, long Country piano lead by Jones. Although usually cheap stunts like this don’t work well for rock bands (see the Rolling Stones), this case seems like an affirmative, legitimate rocker. Half a universe away is “Carouselambra”, an extended track which is totally unique in the Zeppelin catalog. The synth-infused pattern of sound makes for a true centerpiece for Jones, on both synth and bass, where he plays as animated as ever during part A of this three part suite. The song’s middle part touches on some cool soundscapes on both synths and droning guitar. The thick lyrics are hidden in Plant’s vocals deep beneath the swirl of sound, but seem to describe the fall of a society which refuses to acknowledge exterior threats;

How keen the storied hunter’s eye prevails upon the land, to seek the unsuspecting and the weak / And powerless the fabled sat, too smug to lift a hand, toward the foe that threatened from the deep. Who cares to dry the cheeks of those who saddened stand adrift upon a sea of futile speech? And to fall to fate and make the ‘status plan’…”

The most bittersweet song the group has ever recorded, “All My Love” is a real gem on this album. The only possible flaw here is the relative absence of Page on the track, but everything else is exquisite and puts it on the top echelon of all Zeppelin tracks. Equally potent to Jones’s brilliant synth arrangements and performance is Plant’s voice and greatly poetic lyrics, all above Bonham’s ever-steady thump. The key jump in the coda brings everything to a climatic height on a song which is at once a tribute to Plant’s late son and his newborn son. Plant’s most dynamic vocal performance on the album finishes things up on “I’m Gonna Crawl”. Commencing with Jones’s (now signature) synths, the song morphs into a true modern blues track where Page and Plant really shine, just like in the old days.

In Through the Out Door stayed on top of the charts for seven weeks and, upon this album’s release, all seven previous Led Zeppelin albums re-entered the Billboard 200, an unprecedented feat. Page later admitted that he was not very keen of this album and stated he wanted to follow-up with “something hard-hitting and riff-based again.” Unfortunately, the next album would never come as Bonham died in September 1980 and Zeppelin soon permanently disbanded, making In Through the Out Door the final chapter in one of rock n’ roll’s greatest sagas.

~

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

 

Comebacks and Reunions

Woodstock '94 stage

Through the long history of rock and roll, there have been impressive second acts. We’ve spoken about such comebacks during some of our late 1980s reviews, most prominently the full re-ascent of the band,  Aerosmith, and the  Traveling Wilburys 1988 Album of the Year. As for reunions, the group Yes made the ultimate attempt with their 1991 album Union, which included all eight past and (then) present members from various eras of the band.

1994 Albums and Tours

The year 1994 was a particularly active year for comebacks and reunions. We’ve touched on some of these in recent weeks with our reviews of The Division Bell by Pink Floyd and American Recordings by Johnny Cash. For Pink Floyd, it was their final album and sparked what would be their last world tour, while for Johnny Cash it was the beginning of the last great phase of his long career. Below is a list of four additional “reunion” albums released during 1994.

Hell Freezes Over by The Eagles

Hell Freezes Over
The Eagles
November 8, 1994 (Geffen)
Produced by Stan Lynch, Elliot Scheiner, Carol Donovan, & Rob Jacobs

As the title suggests, by the early 1990s an Eagles reunion seemed like a very remote possibility. But The Eagles had reformed after a fourteen-year-long break up, with the same lineup which was intact when they disbanded in 1980. Hell Freezes Over, its accompanying video, and the subsequent two-year tour which followed were all very successful. Even though there were only four new tracks on this live release, the album sold over six million copies. Music fans were more than ready for an Eagles reunion in 1994 and they enjoyed the newer arrangements of classic songs while propelling two of the newer tracks to Top 40 hits.

Far From Home by Traffic

Far From Home
Traffic
May 9, 1994 (Virgin)
Produced by Steve Winwood & Jim Capaldi

At the urging of Bob Weir, the living members of Traffic reunited to open for The Grateful Dead during their 1992 summer tour. Two years later, Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi recorded and released a new album under the name “Traffic”, the first such release in 20 years. Although Far From Home had no involvement from the other four members of the group, it reached the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic and sparked an independent tour. This tour included an appearance at Woodstock ’94 (more on that festival below) and provided the content for a 2005 double live album and DVD package called, Last Great Traffic Jam.

Voodoo Lounge by The Rolling Stones

Voodoo Lounge
The Rolling Stones
July 11, 1994 (Virgin)
Produced by Don Was, Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Their 20th studio album, Voodoo Lounge was the first new release by The Rolling Stones in half a decade. With the influence of producer Don Was, this was also mainly a return to the blues, R&B, and country rock which the band had employed during their classic late 1960s/early 1970s recordings. The result was a critical and commercial success as the album debuted at #1 in the UK and reached #2 in the US, spawned several radio hits, and is considered by many as the last great studio effort by the Stones.

No Quarter by Page and Plant

No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded
Page & Plant
November 8, 1994 (Atlantic)
Produced by Jimmy Page & Robert Plant

After nearly a decade and a half of anticipation, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant finally reunited for a 90-minute “UnLedded” MTV project, a stripped-down, “unplugged” concert of Led Zeppelin classics recorded in various locations including Morocco, Wales, and London. With a great response to the television special, the duo decided to release an album called No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded. Along with the re-worked Zeppelin tunes, the album features four new original, Eastern-influenced songs, something the pair desired to compose since the Houses of the Holy sessions more than two decades earlier.

Woodstock ’94

A quarter century after the original, historic Woodstock festival, a new geneation experienced “3 More Days of Peace and Music” in Saugerties, New York at Woodstock ’94 on the weekend of August 12-14. The location of this concert (10 miles from the artist colony of Woodstock, NY) was originally intended for the 1969 festival, but that concert was ultimately moved to a farm in Bethel, New York.

Woodstock 94 muddy crowdThere were some striking similarities to that original concert, starting with the larger than expected crowd which ultimately caused the gates to be wide open and several thousands to enter for free. Ultimately, an estimated 350,000 attended Woodstock ’94, a huge crowd but about 100,000 short of the 1969 show. Another striking similarity between the two festivals was the rainy weather on the second day, which in this case turned much of the entire field had turned into mud.

Although the bulk of the more than 80 performance acts were contemporary performers, there were a respectable amount from the original Woodstock who appeared at Woodstock ’94. These included Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, The Band, John Sebastian, Santana, and Country Joe McDonald. Also, some members of original groups Sweetwater and Jefferson Airplane along with Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, were additional Woodstock alumni to appear at the festival.

This concert was also a special event for three members of Aerosmith who attended the 1969 concert as teenagers and performed as a headliner in the 1994 festival. This was also a showcase for Peter Gabriel, who headlined the last night of the festival and closed Woodstock ’94.

21st Century Reunions

In more recent times, we’ve had Rush make an incredible comeback in the 2000s, various reunions by The Who, and a full reunion of the four core members of Pink Floyd for one single set during the Live 8 concert in 2005. Led Zeppelin also finally came together for a single reunion concert in London on December 10, 2007, with Page and Plant being joined by John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham, son of original drummer John Bonham.

Led Zeppelin 2007 reunion concert

As the years go along, there are increasingly more comebacks by classic rock acts.

~

Ric Albano

Led Zeppelin’s 1969 Albums

Buy Led Zeppelin I
Buy Led Zeppelin II

Led Zeppelin I and Led Zeppelin II double album reviewWhile there have been many fine debuts in rock history, it can be argued that no band ever made such a game-changing splash than Led Zeppelin did in 1969. The group released two albums, Led Zeppelin (I) near the beginning of the year and Led Zeppelin II in the Fall of 1969. Both of these albums were produced by guitarist Jimmy Page and fused together hard core American blues with English folk and added to the mix indelible guitar riffs, jazzy bass rhythms, thundering drum beats, and majestic lead vocals with just a touch of psychedelia to forge a new hard rock direction which would sustain for decades.

Led Zeppelin originated from the latter days of the British group The Yardbirds, which Page joined in late 1966 while they recording their, “Roger the Engineer” , album. Page wanted to form a supergroup with fellow guitarist Jeff Beck and a few members of The Who but only one song resulted from that project, “Beck’s Bolero”, written by page but released on Beck’s solo album, Truth. In that recording session was bassist-keyboardist John Paul Jones, a seasoned and respected London session player. After the Yardbirds split for good in July 1968, Page maintained the group’s name in exchange for promising to perform at committed concerts in Scandinavia. Scrambling to find a group, Page was referred to Robert Plant, lead singer for the Band of Joy. Plant accepted and, in turn, suggested drummer John Bonham, a childhood friend. Jones completed the quartet, which was initially named “The New Yardbirds”.

After completing the Scandinavian tour, the group entered the studio to record their first album in September. Incredibly, after being together barely two months the group was able to record and mix the album in nine days. With no recording contract in place, Page and manager Peter Grant financed the recording costs themselves, with Page firmly in control of all production duties. After the recordings were completed, the band changed their name to Led Zeppelin when former Yardbirds members threatened legal action. The name was suggested by The Who drummer Keith Moon who had suggested the original supergroup with Page and Beck (which he was part of) would go down like a “lead balloon”.

In November 1968, the group signed with Atlantic Records, a label which traditionally courted blues, soul and jazz artists, but had made a concerted effort to court progressive rock acts. Arriving with “tapes in hand”, the terms of the new contract were favorable to the band, granting much autonomy to Led Zeppelin over the content, design, and promotion of each album.

Beginning in late 1968, Led Zeppelin completed a total of eight separate tours of the US and the UK. Still, they used any available time to develop and record new material for a second album. Unlike the first album recorded in one London studio over a short time, Led Zeppelin II was recorded in various North American studios including New York, Los Angeles, Memphis, and Vancouver. Each song was separately recorded and overdubbed, making it all the more amazing that the finished product sounded so cohesive.


Led Zeppelin I by Led Zeppelin
Released: January 12, 1969 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, September–October 1968
Side One Side Two
Good Times, Bad Times
Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You
You Shook Me
Dazed and Confused
Your Time Is Gonna Come
Black Mountain Side
Communication Breakdown
I Can’t Quit You Baby
How Many More Times

Led Zeppelin II by Led Zeppelin
Released: October 22, 1969 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Various Studios, Europe & North America, January–August 1969
Side One Side Two
Whole Lotta Love
What Is and What Should Never Be
The Lemon Song
Thank You
Heartbreaker
Livin’ Lovin’ Maid
Ramble On
Moby Dick
Bring It On Home
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Theremin, Vocals
John Paul Jones – Bass, Organ, Vocals
John Bonham – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

According to Page, the first album is mainly a live album, with sparse overdubs on top of core tracks recorded live with much natural room ambience used to enhance the texture of the sound. The opener “Good Times Bad Times” displays the group’s compositional inventiveness within the first 15 seconds, turning the metronome-like intro into an inventive riff. Starting from the second verse of the song, Jones really stands out and makes a presence on bass, with out-front fills added between parts. For the guitar lead, Page fed his guitar through a Leslie speaker to create a swirling effect. Overall, the song was far ahead of its time and set the stage for much more excellence to come.

Led Zeppelin IThe band immediately shows its other side on “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”. Page’s finger-picked, acoustic guitar pattern of the verses is first separated by a Spanish-like acoustic interlude, but later replaced by a full-fledged electric onslaught once described as the Zeppelin dropping its first bomb. It is an excellent sonic effect driving a fine song with the only downside being the repetition after the 3:30 mark, which unnecessarily stretches the track to nearly seven minutes long. However, the song does recover with the quiet and melodic folk ending, a marked change following the myriad of heavy rock. Written by Anne Bredon in the 1950s, this would be one of many songs on the first two albums to be controversial due to lack of proper songwriting credits.

No such controversy with “You Shook Me”, rightfully credited to Willie Dixon from the start. However, Jeff Beck did have an issue with its inclusion, as he had previously recorded the same track for his Truth album with Rod Stewart on vocals, and he accused Page of stealing his idea. But there is no doubt that the Zeppelin version is far superior as this song can make a blues man out of any rock fan. Page’s space-like guitar is real treat here, mocking Plant’s vocals through the verses. Another highlight is the triple middle solos – all excellent, starting with Jones’s soulful organ, Plant’s bluesy harmonica, and Page’s other-worldly guitar. The concluding section includes some brilliant backwards echo, which Page used on Plant’s vocals.

Side one of the first album ends with “Dazed and Confused”, one of the most famous tracks from Zeppelin’s early years. The doomy and hard rock of this track forged a template for Black Sabbath and several more of the “darker” rock bands of the 1970s, then simply known as heavy metal. Although Page claimed compositional credit, the song was actually written by Jake Holmes as a folk song in 1967. Holmes opened for The Yardbirds at a gig in New York and Page instantly began adapting the song for a rock arrangement. Two years later, the Led Zeppelin version featured long instrumental passages and a unique, bowed guitar in the middle. After the release of Led Zeppelin I, the group continued to develop the song live, gradually extending its duration to well over a half hour and being a staple of Led Zeppelin’s concerts.

“Your Time Is Gonna Come” starts with Jones’s long church organ intro seems superfluous at first, until it breaks down into the upbeat waltz of the main riff. Bonham then thunders in with an unapologetic drum thump, accompanying Page’s folksy acoustic guitar in beautiful melodic contrast. From here, it is a totally pleasant pop song with Page adding a pedal steel guitar for a country effect during the choruses and the second verse. “Black Mountain Side” is an acoustic instrumental, which seems out of place on this part of the album, While certainly a mesmerizing tune, the unsettled un-smoothness never quite jives together. Drummer and sitarist Viram Jasani played tabla on the track, adding a slight Eastern flavor.

“Communication Breakdown” is a pure, hard rocker, with Plant’s vocals hyper and desperate in the highest of registers, complemented by Bonham’s drumming, which seems as amped up as Plant. In contrast, Page and Jones play at rather steady pace (with the exception of Page’s blistering lead), and this is one of a few songs  on which Page sang a backing vocal. A second Willie Dixon cover, “I Can’t Quit You Baby” follows, but is much less interesting than the earlier track. While Page is playing his bluesy best throughout and Plant tries his best to wail (but falls just short), Jones and Bonham are unfortunately relegated to basic rhythms on this track.

“How Many More Times” is the absolute climax of the album, tieing together the previous elements introduced on Zeppelin’s fine debut. The various sections of this complex tune are extraordinarily polished and performed perfectly for such a young band together for such a short amount of time, a really tribute to Page’s brilliant producing. The middle section of “How Many More Times” contains complex, almost ceremonial drum fills and another brilliant bowed guitar. The song keeps getting ever more intensive before building towards the marching section and the musical climax launched by Plant’s extended wail and then the final verse where Bonham goes absolutely nuts on the drums and Plant screams himself senseless. Any listener is left wanting more at the end of this brilliant debut.

And more they got later in 1969. Starting with the sexual-laced “Whole Lotta Love”, Led Zeppelin II makes an immediate impact due to the maturation of Plant’s voice (as well as the overall sound of the band). With a definite seventies sound, the song was born out of a live improvisation during one of the band’s many 1969 tours, with Plant accompanying Page’s riff with slightly improvised lyrics based on Muddy Waters “You Need Love”. The studio track also included a rather psychedelic mid section built on Bonham’s jazz drumming and Page’s use of a Theremin. Without the band’s consent, an edited version of “Whole Lotta Love” was released as a single in the US and it climbed to #4 on the pop charts in early 1970. This would be the group’s highest charting single, as they were hesitant to release many more singles throughout their long career.

Led Zeppelin IIThe sophisticated and excellent “What Is and What Should Never Be” alternates from soft sixties jazz verse to a rock hard seventies chorus and is a true showcase for all band member’s talents. Jones off on bass tangents while rest of the group is calm and direct, Bonham and Plant are majestic and dynamic, and Page provides a brilliant middle solo which perfectly mirroring the two vibes of this song, climaxing with a very bluesy second half of the solo. The coda part also adds an asymmetrical aspect to the song, making it totally original. Reportedly, The lyrics and song title for this song reflect a romance Plant had with the younger sister of his future wife.

“The Lemon Song” is an underrated classic, recorded live in the studio much like the material from Led Zeppelin I. This hodge-podge of many blues classics borrows from Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor”, Robert Johnson’s “Travelling Riverside Blues” and Albert King’s “Cross-Cut Saw”, and it surpasses the best blues efforts on the first album as this track is totally mesmerizing and awe inspiring. During a long mid section, Jones bass playing is at its absolute peak, adding a funky element unheard on previous Zeppelin tracks. “Thank You” is the original “power ballad”, and the song is pretty good until after the second verse when it gets a little bit tacky. Page lays down a great acoustic lead and Jones plays a sweet keyboard outro, but Zeppelin would wisely decide to leave love ballads for other bands after this.

The second side returns to raunchy rock with “Heartbreaker”, but also continues the trend of multi-section, complex rock songs. A song which would have sounded right at home on the future Led Zeppelin IV. With a memorable guitar riff by Page and a later true, unaccompanied solo, the track has been lauded as one of the best guitar songs of all time. “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)” is a fun little pop/rocker, written as an ode to an older groupie who amused the band in their early days of debauchery. Due to Page’s dislike of the song, it was never performed by the band in concert, although Plant did resurrect it for a solo tour decades later.

“Ramble On” is one of the best Led Zeppelin songs ever. A totally moody and chord-striking original tune, this is a song of youth and change, adventure and excitement. While the lyrics borrow heavily from J.R.R. Tolkien, they are used more as parables for travel and adventure, which naturally fit the mood of the constantly touring musicians in 1969. The intro acoustic, bass and percussion set the mood for the adventure, later enhanced by Page’s overdubbing magic. Every member of the group is at their absolute best on this track, even Bonham, who puts down the sticks during the verses but drives the rocking choruses. During the outro, Plant’s overdubbed improvised lines seem like they can go on forever but cease too quickly.

“Moby Dick” is an instrumental, bookended by riffs and containing a percussion and a Bonham drum solo in the middle. Although a little awkward in this studio form, this grew as a centrepiece for Bonham’s formidable percussive skills, methodically building from an established rhythmic foundation and employing his trademark bare-handed attack. “Bring It On Home” is not quite the powerful closing climax of “How Many More Times” on Led Zeppelin I, but a fine track nonetheless to finish Led Zeppelin II. Plant’s fine harmonica in the intro section and Page’s overdubs and Jones’s bass in the song proper continue the Zeppelin excellence in this song with a homage to the Sonny Boy Williamson to finish their second album.

Some estimates calculate that Led Zeppelin’s debut album has grossed about 2,000 times as much as originally invested. Led Zeppelin II was an even greater commercial success and reached number one in both the US and the UK. Although these albums were recorded under very different circumstances, they form a collective foundation which launched the career of one of rock’s greatest acts.

~

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1969 albums.

 

Outrider by Jimmy Page

Outrider by Jimmy PageAlthough Jimmy Page had a pretty rich post-Led Zeppelin career, he only released one solo studio album, Outrider, in 1988. Originally intended to be a double album, the project was pared back when Page’s demo tapes were stolen, leaving him with no pre-production material. As a result, the single LP finished product has a bit of a hurried and unpolished sound, which Page himself referred to as “demo quality”. However, there is a certain charm to many of the pieces on the album which are more sound-oriented than composition-oriented, as Page heavily returns to the rock-infused blues which launched Led Zeppelin nearly two decades earlier. The album was recorded at a time when Page had moved on from his mid-eighties “super group” The Firm but was yet to form the various hyphenated collaborations of the nineties, including a reunion with Zeppelin band mate Robert Plant.

Six years before that eventual reunion, at the time of this album’s release, there were several positive signs including Page, Plant, and Jones reuniting during Atlantic’s 40th reunion, Page showing up on stage a some of Plant’s solo concerts, and Plant co-writing and performing a song on this Outrider album for Page. In fact, “The Only One” featured three of the four Led Zeppelin members who would reunite on December 10, 2007, as the late John Bonham’s son, Jason Bonham, plays drums behind Plant and Page on the track. on the downside, even though this upbeat rocker reached the Top 20 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, the song itself seems a bit underdeveloped with a convoluted chorus, making it an opportunity lost for a great musical oasis.

Then 22 years old, Jason Bonham ended up playing on most of the album’s tracks. His former band, Virginia Wolf, had released two albums and toured the U.S. in support the of Page’s former band, The Firm. Listening to the album, there is no doubt that Bonzo’s son was a perfect match for this album.
 


Outrider by Jimmy Page
Released: June 19, 1988 (Geffen)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: The Sol, Berkshire, England, Early 1987
Side One Side Two
Wasting My Time
Wanna Make Love
Writes of Winter
The Only One
Liquid Mercury
Hummingbird
Emerald Eyes
Prison Blues
Blues Anthem
Primary Musicians
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Synthesizers
Felix Krish – Bass  |  Jason Bonham – Drums, Percussion

 
There is a definite divide between the two sides of the original album. The first side is dominated by blues/rock riffs, including two instrumentals along with the Page/Plant track and two songs Page composed and recorded with vocalist John Miles. The second side contains selections with a lighter touch and features vocalist Chris Farlowe on three of its four tracks.

“Wanna Make Love” is the real gem of the first side with well-defined guitar riffs and blended slide guitars along with a good rock vocal melody by Miles. Although there is a “lead” area, it is not really a proper guitar solo, just a way for Page to reiterate the great effects chorus of bottleneck sounds and growling wah-wah. “Wasting My Time” starts the album with Page’s band mate in The Firm Tony Franklin on bass guitar. The first of two composed by Page and Miles, the song seamlessly alternates between the quasi-riff chorus and verse sections, all held together only by the steady drumming of Bonham along with some slight bluesy riff overdubs and a pretty decent guitar lead.

 
“Writes of Winter” is the first, riff-driven instrumental with a driving rhythm which echoes Joe Perry from Aerosmith who ironically cut his teeth by mimicking Page’s version of “Train Kept a Rolling”, the first song Zeppelin ever performed together. “Liquid Mercury” is another heavy, riff-driven piece which sounds like it should be the foundation for a proper rock song. Barriemore Barlow plays drums on this one as well as the final instrumental “Emerald Eyes”, a gently strummed acoustic piece with interesting overdubbed tremolo effects.

The rest of the album features Farlowe on vocals. Leon Russell’s “Hummingbird” is a moderate blues song which differs vastly from anything on the first side, both musically and vocally. “Prison Blues” contains sexual innuendo lyrically, shredding guitar by Page, and a solid bass by Felix Krish. “Blues Anthem (If I Cannot Have Your Love…)” wraps up the album with a true ballad which sounds like it provided inspiration for the Black Crowes (another group which Page would team up with in the future) a few years down the line. It is short and sweet acoustic lament to end a short and frantic album.

Outrider fared moderately on the charts, reaching the Top 40 in several countries. Unfortunately, the album hasn’t sustained much popularity through the years and Jimmy Page hasn’t attempted any kind of similar follow-up in the past 25 years.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

1988 Images

 

Coverdale-Page

Buy Coverdale-Page

Coverdale-PageCoverdale/Page was a collaboration featuring former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and former Whitesnake and former Deep Purple lead vocalist David Coverdale. The union of these two seemed like an odd one when it started in 1991, as Page was considered a top-notch guitarist for all time and Coverdale had been criticized as being a knock-off (even rip-off) of Zeppelin’s vocalist Robert Plant. However, Coverdale’s commercial currency was riding high at the beginning of the nineties, due mainly to the recent commercial heights of Whitesnake while Page’s post-Zeppelin success had been sluggish in the 1980s, save for a brief run with The Firm.

Since Led Zeppelin disbanded after the death of John Bonham in 1980, rumors of a reunion were always present. By the early 1990s, these rumors had reached a fevered pitch and it appeared as though a reunion may finally come to fruition. However, Plant reportedly began to have reservations which ultimately nixed the plan. Because of this, many have suggested that Page collaborated with Coverdale in order to somewhat “irk” Plant, by collaborating with this “newer model” of the singer. It may have worked, as Plant expressed some derision at the guitarist’s collaboration with Coverdale in interviews at the time.

The project officially began with some low grade recordings by the Coverdale-Page duo in 1991. The album tracks for the eponymous album were then recorded in several studios on both sides of the Atlantic over the winter of 1991/92. However, the album itself was delayed in post production for over a year until it was finally released in March 1993.


Coverdale-Page by Coverdale-Page
Released: March 15, 1993 (EMI)
Produced by: Jimmy Page, David Coverdale, & Mike Fraser
Recorded: Little Mountain Studios, Vancouver, Criteria Studios, Miami, Highbrow Productions, Hook City, NV & Abbey Road Studios, London, Late 1991 to early 1992
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Shake My Tree
Waiting On You
Take Me for a Little While
Pride and Joy
Over Now
Feeling Hot
Easy Does It
Take a Look at Yourself
Don’t Leave Me This Way
Absolution Blues
Whisper a Prayer for the Dying
David Coverdale – Lead vocals, Guitar
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Bass, Dulcimer, “Electric Dog”, Harmonica
Lester Mendez – Keyboards
Denny Carmassi – Drums, Percussion

Coverdale-Page

“Shake My Tree” starts things off as a very Zeppelin-esque, super-charged blues rock anthem. The song builds tension through the first two verses as Page’s guitar and Coverdale’s voice carry the day until a the rest of the band come in with a “fire one” approach, making this a very formidable opener. The key riff for the song had actually been developed by Page during the sessions for Zeppelin’s final album In Through The Out Door, recorded in 1978. It was discarded then and even passed up by Page’s mid eighties group, The Firm. The Zeppelin-esque riffing of “Waiting on You” follows with some interesting stop/start rudiments, while the drumming and bass is definitely more Whitesnake than Led Zeppelin.

Speaking of Whitesnake, “Take Me for a Little While” could have fit well on any of their 1980s albums. A very moody power ballad, with just enough arrangement pizazz to keep it from the caricature realm of groups like Poison. “Pride and Joy” is a bit more original. Conceived by Coverdale as a Dr. John-style blues tune before Page brought it to a whole new level with layered guitars and a dulcimer added on top (an instrument Page hadn’t recorded since “That’s the Way” on Led Zeppelin III). During the second part of the song, Page plays a much stronger electric riff, which nicely counter-balances the song’s feel. “Shake My Tree” earned considerable radio airplay at the time.

Slower rock tracks also are prevalent on the album, such as the “Kashmir”-like “Over Now”, which sounds like some of the tracks from Page’s brief solo career. Former Montrose drummer Denny Carmassi leads a fast rock shuffle behind “Feeling Hot”, while bassist Jorge Casas adds some melodic and bouncy bass to “Easy Does It”. But there is no doubt that this album is dominated by the two men who give its name. “Take a Look at Yourself” is almost a love song, with measured, strummed guitars by Page, a very melodic vocal hook, and some fine wailing by Coverdale towards the end.

The album ends strong with two quality tracks. “Absolution Blues” is almost a hybrid between Pink Floyd and Deep Purple, with Page providing the fine yet vastly different guitar parts for both sides of the equation. “Whisper a Prayer for the Dying” closes with more strong acoustic guitars and bass before it rips into frenzied part with strong riffs and wailing vocals.

Despite alt-rock dominating the charts and radio at the time, Coverdale/Page initially sold strongly, peaking at #4 in the UK and #5 in the US and eventually going platinum. But the album did soon fade from view, a proposed tour was axed, and the partnership quickly dissolved after this one album. In the end, Coverdale re-formed Whitesnake and Page finally joined up Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant in 1994 for a couple of new albums in the mid 1990s.

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1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1993 albums.

 

Houses of the Holy by Led Zeppelin

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Houses of the Holy by Led ZeppelinLed Zeppelin took stock of their phenomenal fame with Houses of the Holy, with deep contributions from each member of the rock quartet. This fifth album was released in 1973, nearly a full year after it was recorded in the Spring of 1972 at Stargroves, an English country estate owned by Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones. The major reason for the album’s delay was trouble with designing and printing the unique album cover by the artistic company Hipgnosis, with the band completely rejecting the initial artwork and the first prints of the final artwork accidentally coming out with a strong purple tint. When they finally got the artwork correct, the album was banned from sale in many locations because of the naked children on the cover who pay homage to the Arthur C. Clarke novel Childhood’s End.

Produced by guitarist Jimmy Page (like all Zeppelin albums), the album featured sophisticated layered guitars, the addition of obscure instrumentation, and other rich production techniques. Beyond the Stargroves recordings, the album contains recordings from Headley Grange (site of recordings of their previous album Led Zeppelin IV) with the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, along with Olympic Studios in London and Electric Lady Studios in New York. There were also several recorded songs not included on Houses of the Holy but released on later albums such as Physical Graffiti and Coda.

The album featured styles and sub-genres not heard on previous Led Zeppelin albums, such as funk, reggae, and doo-wop. The album is an indirect tribute to their fan base, who were showing up in record numbers to their live shows.  It perfectly straddles the band’s early, more blues-based period from their later work, which consisted of more richly produced studio albums that tilted more towards pop and modern rock. Bass player and keyboardist  John Paul Jones temporarily left the band for a few days during this album’s recording but soon returned and stayed with the band until the end.


Houses of the Holy by Led Zeppelin
Released: March 28, 1973 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Various Locations, January-August 1972
Side One Side Two
The Song Remains the Same
The Rain Song
Over the Hills and Far Away
The Crunge
Dancing Days
D’Yer Ma’ker
No Quarter
The Ocean
Band Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Theramin
John Paul Jones – Bass, Keyboards
John Bonham – Drums, Percussion

The fact that this album features different sounds is evident right from the top with “The Song Remains the Same”. This song is odd on several fronts, from the pitch-effect vocals of Robert Plant to the extremely bright multi-tracked guitars of Page. Still, the song is great and is set up as a sort of journey, not a rotation. The song is a jam that feels loose yet does not get lost for one second, due mainly to the steady and strong drumming of John Bonham. The song was originally an instrumental which was given the working title “The Overture”, before Plant added lyrics and the title to it. It was originally going to be an intro for “The Rain Song”, and these songs were often coupled together in concert. “The Rain Song” Is an extended piece with eloquent acoustic and electric guitars weaved together. The song also features a long mellotron section (some would say too long) played by Jones, adding a surreal orchestral effect above Page’s guitar before returned to the climatic final verses and soft and excellent guitar outtro.

Parts of “Over the Hills and Far Away” written by Page and Plant during the 1970 sessions at the Welsh cottage Bron-Yr-Aur for the album Led Zeppelin III. The song is mostly acoustic throughout but works into a harder rock section during the middle, making it one of the most dynamic Led Zeppelin songs ever. Jones and Bonham add a tight rhythm to Page and Plant’s etheral dynamics. The song was released as a US single, but failed to reach the “Top 40”, faring much better on classic rock radio through the decades. Over the Hills and Far Away single“The Crunge” is a funk tribute to Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and James Brown and evolved out of a jam session built around Bonham’s off-beat drums and a bass riff by Jones. This song features an overdubbed VCS3 synthesizer to replicated the funk “horn” section, which gives it a totally unique sound of its own. During the jam Plant calls for a “bridge” (imitating Brown’s habit of shouting instructions to his band during live recordings). When no such section materializes, the song (and first side) uniquely ends with the spoken “Where’s that Confounded Bridge?”

The closest Led Zeppelin ever came to writing a pure pop song, “Dancing Days” was actually inspired by an Indian tune that Page and Plant heard while traveling in Mumbai. The guitar overdubs are simply masterful in this upbeat song about summer nights and young love. It was played live as early as November 1971 and, although not officially released as a single, it received heavy radio play in the UK. “D’Yer Ma’ker” was released as a single and became the band’s final Top 40 hit (although they didn’t have many of those). The song has a unique sound with Bonham’s exaggerated drum pounding backing a reggae-inspired riff by Page and Jones and Plant’s bubblegum pop vocals. The distinctive drum sound was created by placing three microphones a good distance away from Bonham’s drums, giving him much natural reverb to make the banging sound more majestic. The name of the song is derived from an old joke about Jamaica, and was often mispronounced as “Dire Maker” by those not privvy to the joke.

John Paul Jones centerpiece “No Quarter” provides a great contrast with a much darker piece about viking conquest, with the title derived from the military practice of showing no mercy to a vanquished opponent. The song features a distinct, heavily treated electric piano throughout with an acoustic piano solo by Jones in the long mid-section. Page doubles up with electric guitars and a theremin for effect, while Plant’s voice is deep and distorted. The album concludes with the upbeat rocker “The Ocean”, which refers to the “sea of fans” at the band’s concerts. Launching from a voice intro by Bonham, the song returns to the heavy riff-driven anthems that were popular on their earlier albums. But this song does contain its own unique parts, including an overdubbed vocal chorus, performed a Capella, by Plant in the middle and a doo-wop outro section that contains a boogie bass with strong guitar overdubs, bringing the album to a climatic end.

Houses of the Holy has been certified eleven times platinum and is often included on “greatest albums” lists. It is an odd but brilliant album by Led Zeppelin which finds a balance uncommon by hard rock bands of any era.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1973 albums.