Coverdale-Page

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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.

~

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.

Led Zeppelin in 1973

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.

 

Coda by Led Zeppelin

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Coda by Led ZeppelinCoda is a unique album for us to review. Although it is listed officially as the ninth and final studio album by Led Zeppelin, it could just as well be listed as a quasi-compilation of unreleased tracks in the tradition of The Who’s Odds and Sods or Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes. Like those, this is a fine and entertaining album, and a must-have for any serious fan of the artist. But we internally debated whether it was proper to include Coda with our reviews from 1982. After all, it had been a full two years since the death of drummer John Bonham and the subsequent disbandment of Led Zeppelin as a cohesive group. Also, the most recent recordings on Coda were made four years prior to its November 1982 release, with the earliest recording stretching back to the late 1960s. The truth is, we simply could not overlook this album. After all, this IS Led Zeppelin and this band is likely to be the only one which Classic Rock Review covers every single studio album (I mean, we’ve already done Presence, what can we possibly exclude?)

The album spans the band’s entire career, from live performances just after their debut album to unused songs from In Through the Out Door sessions. However, it focuses mainly on the bookends of very early material and very recent material with very little representation from the band’s most popular “middle” years. This is most likely due to the fact that 1975’s Physical Graffiti included many unreleased songs from that era.

With such a chasm between the early and recent material, producer and lead guitarist Jimmy Page did a great job making it all sound cohesive. This included extensive, yet not overwhelming, post-production treatment of each track. According to Page, the album was released because there was so much bootleg stuff out following the disbandment. However, Coda was not a comprehensive collection in its original form. The 1982 LP contained eight tracks and ran at a mere 33 minutes in length. Eleven years later, four more tracks were added to CD versions of the album, tracks which were mysteriously excluded originally. Some have suggested it was really only released to fulfill a contract obligation to Atlantic Records.
 


Coda by Led Zeppelin
Released: November 19, 1982 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Various Locations, June 1969-November 1978
Side One Side Two
We’re Gonna Groove
Poor Tom
I Can’t Quit You Baby
Walter’s Walk
Ozone Baby
Darlene
Bonzo’s Montreaux
Wearing and Tearing
Tracks Added to CD Edition in 1993
Baby Come On Home
Travelling Riverside Blues
White Summer/Black Mountain Side
Hey Hey What Can I Do
Band Musicians
Robert Plant – Vocals, Harmonica
Jimmy Page – Guitars
John Paul Jones – Bass, Piano, Keyboards
John Bonham – Drums, Percussion

 
“Walter’s Walk” is the oddest song in this collection, as it is the only that comes from the mid-era of the band, credited as a 1972 recording during the Houses Of the Holy sessions. However, both Page’s guitar style and especially Robert Plant‘s vocals are clues that a significant amount of overdubbing was likely done for the Coda album. As one who, recently reviewed Plant’s 1982 debut Pictures At Eleven, it is quite clear that his vocals on this track are a much greater match for 1982 than for 1972. Still there’s no doubt that this song existed in some form in the early 1970s as a portion of it was included in the extended jam version of “Dazed and Confused”.

Most of the original second side were tracks leftover from the 1978 Stockholm sessions for In Through the Out Door. These are all solid and well produced tracks which were only excluded due to time constraints and were slated to be released as an EP following the band’s 1980 North American tour, a tour which never took place due to Bonham’s death. From these particular tracks, you can hear that Zeppelin was experimenting with more modern genres during that era. “Ozone Baby” is the closest to new wave that the band ever came. It is riff-driven with some interesting changes and features harmonized vocal effects from Plant, a rarity for the band. “Wearing and Tearing” is the song most closely resembling the times, admittedly a response to the punk scene that swallowed up the U.K. while Led Zeppelin was on an extended hiatus in the late seventies. In this sense, it is probably the most interesting song on the album because it possesses the raw power of their early material and offers a glimpse to where they might have gone had they continued.

“Darlene” is a fantastic, oft-overlooked gem by Led Zeppelin with a perfect guitar riff and entertaining rock piano. John Paul Jones really stepped to the forefront on In Through the Out Door, writing much of the material and adding the extra dimensions of keyboards on a consistent basis. That approach is best demonstrated on this track, which incorporates a basic, rockabilly canvas with some interesting variations and song transitions. The side is rounded out by “Bonzo’s Montreux”, a live drum rehearsal caught on tape by one of the engineers before a 1976 show in Montreux, Switzerland. Page later added some electronic effects, and the band had a suitable tribute to their fallen comrade.
 

 
Coda begins with a wild frenzy of a song, “We’re Gonna Groove”, written by soul artists Ben E. King and James Bethea with the original title “Groovin'”. A studio version was scheduled to appear on Led Zeppelin II, but due to the band’s hectic schedule that year, they never got around to recording it. Page took a live version of the song, recorded at Royal Albert Hall, and did a masterful job of overdubbing lead guitars and enhancing the vocals and drums for the Coda track. He did something similar for “I Can’t Quit You Baby”, which is taken from the same concert, the only song in the “studio album” collection to be repeated, which is unfortunate, although this version is superior to that on the band’s first album.

“Poor Tom” is the absolute gem from this album, a folk song from sessions for Led Zeppelin III, recorded in 1970. It is backed by a consistent and infectious drum shuffle by Bonham. The song contains dueling acoustic guitars and some fine harmonica by Plant, a great skill by the vocalist often overlooked. The unexplained lyric to this song is rumored to have deep roots in English folklore and/or contemporary philosophy. From those same sessions came “Hey, Hey What Can I Do?”, another acoustic folk song that was released as the B-side to “Immigrant Song”, but was long out of print when it was finally released on Zeppelin’s 1993 box set and subsequent versions of coda.

Led Zeppelin in 1979

Three more songs were also added to post-1993 versions of the album. “Baby Come On Home” is a straight-up soul ballad from sessions so early that the tape canister was actually labeled, “The Yardbirds” (Led Zeppelin was originally called the “New Yardbirds”). That master tape went missing for several decades and allegedly turned up in a refuse bin outside Olympic Studios in 1991. The track itself is an interesting listen with Page playing a Leslie guitar and Jones on piano and Hammond organ, not to mention the sheer novelty of hearing the band perform this genre straight up. “White Mountain/Black Mountainside” is a long, solo instrumental that Page performed often during the band’s early years until it morphed into music which would become “Stairway to Heaven”. “Traveling Riverside Blues” is a barrage of blues anthems that show the Zeppelin sound forged in the earliest days, especially the bluesy slide guitar by Page and the great bass by Jones. It is the finest of the four newly added tracks and it baffles fans like myself as to why it was originally excluded. Although this song got its title from a Robert Johnson classic, it is actually more like a (then) modern day tribute to the blues legend, with Plant incorporating lyrics from several of Johnson’s songs.

The term “coda” means a passage that ends a musical piece, following the main body. To the band’s credit, they kept their compact implicit in this title and did not continue any further without without Bonham. This gave Led Zeppelin a bit of career cohesion which all but guarantees that their tremendous legacy will never be stained.

~

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Presence by Led Zeppelin

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Presence by Led ZeppelinIn late 1975, Led Zeppelin had planned a world tour to capitalize of the phenomenal success of their latest album Physical Graffiti. The band was at the absolute zenith of their popularity with a string on top-selling albums going back to 1969. However, a serious car accident involving lead singer Robert Plant while he was vacationing on the island of Rhodes with his wife, made the tour impossible. Plant was confined to a wheelchair for nearly six months and this tilted the band towards writing and recording a new “unplanned” album. The result was Presence, the least successful album in the Zeppelin catalog commercially and one with very mixed reviews critically. However, Presence is the album that the band themselves consider to be their “most important”.

During his recovery period in Malibu, CA following the accident, Plant began to write some lyrics. He was soon joined by guitarist and producer Jimmy Page to further work on these compositions. When enough material had been written, bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham were summoned to rehearsals in California. The band then migrated to Munich, Germany for recording, all with Plant still in a wheelchair. The studio was small, in a basement, and very difficult for Plant to work in. Further, the band found out that they had just 18 days for the entire production as the Rolling Stones had the very same studio booked for their next album, Black and Blue. As producer, Page pretty much stayed awake for the entire 18 days in order to complete the album in Munich.

The result is, perhaps, the most unusual Led Zeppelin album (although each of their albums are quite distinct). Page developed a cleaner, “twang-ier” guitar sound in contrast to his signature “crunch” riffs of earlier days. Bonham’s drumming is furious and strong with a sound extended from that on Physical Graffiti, while Jones continued his migration from a dynamic blues to that of a more standard rock bass player. As Plant himself admits, his vocals dynamics suffered a bit due to his confinement. Further, he was a bit upset with the band’s management for keeping him from his wife, who was also seriously injured in the car wreck and recovering back in England, mainly due to tax reasons. Still, Robert Plant at 50% is superior to most rock singers and his performance on Presence is far from embarrassing.

The album was completed on November 26, 1975, the day before Thanksgiving, and that American holiday was considered as the title for the album. This title was rejected in favor of “Presence”, a representative force surrounding the band. The cover artwork features various images of random people interacting with a black obelisk-shaped “object”, a sort of play on the space object in the film 2001.

 


Presence by Led Zeppelin
Released: March 31, 1976 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, November 1975
Side One Side Two
Achilles Last Stand
For Your Life
Royal Orleans
Nobody’s Fault But Mine
Candy Store Rock
Hots On For Nowhere
Tea For One
Group Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Jimmy Page – Guitars
John Paul Jones – Bass
John Bonham – Drums & Percussion

 

Presence is the only Led Zeppelin album with neither acoustic or keyboard tracks, as the band made a concerted effort to forge and updated version of their earliest “raw” sound. This strategy succeeds well on the first side but is less successful on the second side as the three songs on the first side are far superior to the four on the second. Still, it is refreshing that the band never lost their capacity for experimentation even with this quickly rushed album.

Unlike most albums which tend to build towards an epic song late on either sides this album kicks off right away with “Achilles Last Stand”, the tour de force of Presence. The song starts with dreamy, flanged guitar intro by Page which gives way to a rapid trigger-like riff that gets variated throughout. It is a true journey of a song lead by Plant’s lyric and vocal telling of his misfortune in the land of the Greek heroes. One flaw with the song is that it lasts just a bit too long and becomes a little repetitive towards the end. It perhaps would have worked better as a 7-minute song than this 10½ minute goliath.

Led Zeppelin in 1976

This last point is magnified with the album’s closer “Tea For One”, another extended cut but with a lot less action. The truth is, the best part of this 9-plus-minute song is the first 21 seconds when the band does a riff completely out of context with the rest of the song, which is a slow and depressing diddy that wallows in misery and desperately cries for a kick into a higher gear at some point. Some have pointed to the shorter songs on the album as “filler”, but I believe the filler actually lies within the longer compositions themselves by virtue of repetitiveness. Which begs the question – if the band didn’t feel like they had enough material, why not add some older material like they had with Physical Graffiti? We know now that there were some fine, unreleased songs out there like “Traveling Riverside Blues”, “Poor Tom”, and “Hey, Hey What Can I Do?”

Royal Orleans by Led ZeppelinRounding out side one is a couple of unique Zeppelin gems. “For Your Life” is the quintessential Led Zeppelin song, filled with bluesy licks over a catchy riff and dynamic, much-improvised vocals by Plant belting out lyrics that are hard to decipher completely, but with a vibe “felt” to the bone. The song contains nice changes, an interesting bridge, and a precise, simple, and strong beat throughout by Bonham. “Royal Orleans” is a fun and funky tune allegedly retelling a story involving John Paul Jones and a transvestite.

Launching the second side, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”, Plant’s guilt-ridden song about bad things befalling him (presumably the car wreck) due to his own actions. The song contains an excellent blues harp solo, unlike anything he had done since “When the Levee Breaks” on Led Zeppelin IV, five years earlier. It is the first of two distinct leads, followed by Page’s own bluesy guitar lead, combined these make up the best part of the song. Much like “Achilles”, this composition would be better if more succinct and less repetitive, but it is still a fine track.
 

 
The heart of the second side contains two fine sounding throwback songs. “Candy Store Rock” is an Elvis tribute, which uses the candy store as an analogy for sex in the same fashion that “Trampled Underfoot” used the car on the previous album. It is not a terrible listen but just a little disappointing in the minimalist approach of Page and Jones. Bonham, on the other hand plays a very interesting beat with entertaining variations throughout. “Hots On for Nowhere” is one of the forgotten gems of the Zeppelin catalog, a stop-start rockabilly riff and beat with some nice changes. It is a song with a very upbeat vibe despite the mainly depressing lyrics.

Presence did initially rush to #1 on the Billboard charts (probably due to the band’s popularity alone) but quickly fell and tracks from this album have rarely received airplay. Also, because of it being completely built in the studio, few songs from the album were played live on subsequent tours. Still, despite this initial subdued reception, Presence is an excellent listen that has held up well over the decades and cannot be overlooked by any true fans of Led Zeppelin today.

~

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1976 albums.

 

“Roger the Engineer”
by The Yardbirds

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Roger the Engineer by The YardbirdsThe Yardbirds put out their strongest album ever in 1966 as well as their only album of all original material. It originally had an eponymous title but has come to be known as Roger the Engineer because of the sketch (drawn by guitarist Chris Dreja) on the album’s cover of Roger Cameron, the album’s engineer at Advision Studios in London. The album was co-produced by bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, who left the band shortly after and was replaced by Jimmy Page, who filled in on bass until Dreja mastered the instrument and Page returned to his primary instrument, the electric guitar. But the central influence that shaped the sound of this album was the innovation and experimentation of lead guitarist Jeff Beck. His heavy blues and guitar distortion is considered by many to be the earliest precursor to heavy metal.

Beck joined the Yardbirds in May 1965 after founding guitarist Eric Clapton decided to leave the band. With Beck, the group began to expand their heavy blues base into different sects of rock and roll including unexplored areas of psychedelia, middle-aged chants, and Indian-influenced music. Primarily a singles-oriented band, each 7-inch release by The Yardbirds added new dimensions to the band’s sound or expanded on the ideas of the previous single. With Beck’s first full album with the group and the band’s first attempt at an album of all-original material, the band brought this experimentation to a new level, while still holding on to the core of blues roots.
 


The Yardbirds by The Yardbirs
Released: July 15, 1966 (Atco Original)
Produced by: Paul Samwell-Smith & Simon Napier-Bell
Recorded: Advision Studios, London, Spring-Summer, 1966
Side One Side Two
Lost Woman
Over, Under, Sideways, Down
The Nazz Are Blue
I Can’t Make Your Way
Rack My Mind
Farewell
Hot House of Omagarashid
Jeff’s Boogie
He’s Always There
Turn into Earth
What Do You Want
Ever Since the World Began
Band Musicians
Keith Relf – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Jeff Beck – Lead Guitars, Vocals
Chris Dreja – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Paul Samwell-Smith – Bass, Vocals
Jim McCarty – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 
The album starts strong with “Lost Woman”, with a driving bass line and some fantastic dynamics from the guitar-free verse to guitar-intense chorus. The bridge contains a drum run with harmonica, guitar and bass spread out nicely, leading to a simmering guitar jam by Beck that ever intensifies towards the end.

“Over Under Sideways Down” may be the most popular song on the album due to its catchy, mid-eastern-inspired guitar riff over an upbeat, bluesy bass line, almost like two songs put together. The song was co-written by drummer Jim McCarty, who plays a classic rock beat throughout, holding the song together nicely while the fine lyrics paint a picture of the “upside-down” nature of fame.

Jeff Beck’s sole foray into lead vocals is on his pyschedelic blues song “The Nazz Are Blue”, a fine example of the better results of experimentation on this album. In the heart of the album are several more experimental and avant garde songs, such as “Hot House of Omagarashid” and “Turn Into Earth”, each driven by a steady, percussive beat an odd, sometimes haunting chants along with other sound effects. There are also a fair share of standard, upbeat blues songs like “Rack My Mind”, with a simple guitar riff and harmonica and the instrumentals “Farewell” and “Jeff’s Boogie”, where Beck shows off some fascinating speed technique for the day. “I Can’t Make Your Way” is almost folk, with multiple vocal harmonies and harmonica by Relf, and an edgy guitar interlude which sparks some life in the song. “He’s Always There” combines a Bossa-nova beat with a rock arrangement, something that would be expanded upon later by The Doors as well as directly sampled by The Pussycat Dolls.

The Yardbirds in 1966

Two songs which were not originally included on the album, but have been included on all modern day pressings of the album are “Psycho Daisies” and “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”. Recorded after the departure of Samwell-Smith, both tracks include the dualing lead guitars of Beck and Page, one of the few Yardbirds recordings to do so. “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” also includes Page’s future Led Zeppelin bandmate John Paul Jones as the session bass player and has become a classic song in its own right with its frantic guitars and erratic, psychopathic rhythm.

A bold and innovative album, “Roger the Engineer” has been described as a heavy blues oriented version of a Beatles album. Unfortunately, The Yardbirds would never again make an album like this. By October 1966, Beck was out of the group and Jimmy Page took the forefront as the band’s lead guitarist and producer. The next two years saw the original Yardbirds unravel as each member, save Page left to pursue other interests. Undaunted, Page went on to find replacements for the departed members in singer Robert Plant, drummer John Bonham, and Jones on bass to form “The New Yardbirds”, which eventually became Led Zeppelin.

~

1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of 1966 albums.

 

Mean Business by The Firm

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Mean Business by The Firm

After the big success of their eponymous 1985 debut, the super-group The Firm followed up with their sophmore release in early 1986 called Mean Business, which would end up being the short-lived super-group’s final album. At first listen, this album seems to be sub-par to the debut, or at least much more under-developed at best. But, upon each closer and subsequent listen, one discovers that this album is actually quite good and original in its own right.

Unfortunately, not many people have taken this closer listen and the album had a short ride to the proverbial dust bin. This was due, in part, to the actions taken by the band themselves as The Firm suddenly decided to call it quits just a few months after Mean Business was released, signifying their own apparent disapproval of this work.

Musically, the album is filled with spastic and rudimentary riff lines from Jimmy Page, odd but solid musical timings from the rhythm section of Tony Franklin and Chris Slade, and powerful, nearly strained vocal performance by Paul Rodgers. It is an uneven album, with heavy influence from Page here and heavy influence from Rodgers there, along with some experimental pieces by the band as a whole. There are a few songs that feel under-developed and a few that feel over-produced. But with every listen, they all seem to get better and better.
 


Mean Business by The Firm
Released: February 3, 1986 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Page, Paul Rodgers & Julian Mendelsohn
Recorded: 1985
Side One Side Two
Fortune Hunter
Cadillac
All the King’s Horses
Live in Peace
Tear Down the Walls
Dreaming
Free to Live
Spirit of Love
Musicians
Paul Rodgers – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jimmy Page – Guitars
Tony Franklin – Bass, Keyboards
Chris Slade – Drums, Backing Vocals

 
The album begins with the only survivor from the short-lived XYZ project. In 1981, following the death of drummer John Bonham and the disbandment of Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page decided to join forces with Chris Squire and Alan White, formally of Yes. The would-be super-group was to be called XYZ (for ex- Yes and Zeppelin), but fell apart within a year and yielded no recorded material. “Fortune Hunter” is a reworked song from that project, written by Page and Squire. Through the first three verses, the song displays many of the characteristics that will be found throughout this Firm album – a frenzied and frantic riff with strained vocals – but then it suddenly deviates sharply into a “quiet” middle section before quickly rebounding and building back to the fast pace.

To close the album, a near-opposite song “Spirit of Love” was chosen. Driven by Franklin’s piano riffs, this quasi-epic is probably the song that Page had the least influence on, as it is pure pop and even incorporates a full chorus towards the end, which makes one believe it was inspired by Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is”. The deviation between the opener and closer, while adding to the overall oddness of the album, also puts into context the diverse material in between.

“Cadillac”, with its slow, trance-like blues, fueled by the excessively long, droning guitars by Page, is one of the more interesting songs on the first side. The song is held together by the methodical rhythm of Franklin and Slade, and contains just enough skipping in time to make it quite interesting.
 

 
Paul Rodgers contributes the next two songs – the synth-driven pop song “All the King’s Horses”, which was ill-advisedly slated as the emphasis single from Mean Business, and the darker. message-driven “Live In Peace”. This latter song has a very Bad Company-ish vibe, with Page adding a nice guitar lead.

The second side contains, perhaps, the best three songs on the album. Tony Franklin contributes the jazzy “Dreaming”, a unique and off-beat, gem which contains some very surprising turns. The other, collaborations by Rodgers and Page, offer some insight of what could have been had this group stayed together a while longer. “Tear Down the Walls” is a good, catchy pop-rock song that could’ve (and should’ve) been a hit in 1986, while “Free to Live” contains another rudiment-driven riff, that is accented brilliantly by some excellent vocals.

While this may not quite rise to the level of The Firm’s 1985 debut (although a strong case may be made that it does), Mean Business is well worth the listen.

~

1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1986 albums.

Led Zeppelin (IV) by Led Zeppelin

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Led Zeppelin IVLed Zeppelin‘s fourth studio album, which has no proper title but is commonly referred to as Led Zeppelin IV, may well be the pinnacle of the band’s early sound. Over time it has become their most popular album by far but, ironically, it is the only album in a string of six consecutive (from Led Zeppelin II in 1969 to In Through the Out Door in 1979) that did not reach #1 on the charts, as it peaked at #2. The album itself was also a bit of a philosophical statement, as the band and manager Peter Grant had decided to avoid the rock press and mainstream promotional channels and go “directly to the fans” with an almost-secret-society-type product which contained no official title or other descriptive language save for the four original symbols located on the inner sleeve and vinyl label.

This new, fourth album is where it would all came together for the band, with the confluence of the different themes and styles that Zeppelin had explored through their first three years and first three albums as well as with many, many happy accidents. The result is an album which contains moments that will forever be etched in rock history.

Their previous album, Led Zeppelin III released in 1970, was a critical and commercial disappointment at the time (although it would gain much appreciation and esteem years later). This was due mainly to confusion by fans and critics alike, due to the high content of acoustic folk songs, which vastly deviated from the band’s heavier, blues-based approach of their first two albums. In retrospect, this attempt by the band to branch out to other styles and genres was rather ingenious as it became rather popular throughout the seventies. With the continued diversity of styles on this fourth album, Led Zeppelin assured ever-growing success for generations to come.
 


Led Zeppelin (IV) by Led Zeppelin
Released: November 8, 1971 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Island Studios, London & Headley Grange, East Hampshire
December, 1970 – February, 1971
Side One Side Two
Black Dog
Rock and Roll
The Battle of Evermore
Stairway to Heaven
Misty Mountain Hop
Four Sticks
Going to California
When the Levee Breaks
Band Musicians
Robert Plant – Vocals, Harmonica
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Mandolin
John Paul Jones – Bass, Recorders, Piano, Synths, Guitar
John Bonham – Drums, Percussion

 
In time, Zeppelin would become one of the most diverse rock bands ever, incorporating elements from blues, jazz, folk, country, funk, reggae, as well as developing their own distinct styles that would be echoed in heavy metal, arena rock, and jam bands for decades to come. But in late 1970, Jimmy Page, the band’s lead guitarist and sole producer, was especially stung by the harsh critique and weak sales of their latest album and wanted to get a new album out as soon as possible, as he was brimming with ideas. He got together with Robert Plant, Zeppelin’s dynamic vocalist and chief lyricist, to work on some these new concepts, the first of which was an extended piece that was intended to be a replacement for the band’s live showcase “Dazed and Confused”, which dates back to the band’s first album.

Put together from a couple of instrumental pieces, written on several 6 and 12 string guitars, the song “Stairway to Heaven” would go on to not only be the band’s most famous song, but the most requested song ever on FM radio. The song draws lyrical influence from Welsh folklore, and musical influence from multiple areas, depending on the part of the song, of which there are three distinct, set back to back in sequence. It starts with Page’s finger-picked, folk acoustic accompanied by recorders played by bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones. After a few poetic verses, the song enters the pivital second part, a madrigal played on an electric 12-string, with ever intensive verses and refrains. One of the absolute best moments in rock history is when drummer John Bonham makes his entrance at about 4 ½ minutes into the song’s duration, adding the rhythmic element that finally breaks the tension and reminds us that, although massively overplayed through the years, this IS the definitive Led Zeppelin signature. The song’s finale is a heavy, electric jam with overdubbed guitars and high-majestic vocals, bringing the song to the heights before concluding with a calm refrain with an a capella vocal.
 

 
Recording for the fourth album started at Island Studios in London in December, 1970. Jethro Tull was in the studio at the same time recording Aqualung, and Led Zeppelin wanted a little more space to be creative. So they found an old estate in the English countryside called Headley Grange and moved there for better atmosphere. Here they could hunt in the forest by day, drink tea at the proper hour, and gather around the campfire at night, with moments of inspiration for recording in between. This was possible due to the latest technical innovation, the Rolling Stones mobile studio, a portable, professional recording unit, that was used for some of the classic albums of the early seventies. It was brought to Headley Grange by that band’s road manager, Ian Stewart, who was also a piano virtuoso and would ultimately contribute to the songs “Rock and Roll” and “Boogie With Stu” during these sessions.

Rock and Roll single

Aside from “Stairway to Heaven”, the band did not have any fully developed songs coming into these recording sessions, which left open the opportunity for the many “creative accidents” that would make up this fouth album, several of which involved Bonham. The drummer was having trouble with the odd timings involved with the song that would become “Four Sticks” (in fact, the song got its title when Bonham, in frustration, actually did a take with four sticks in his hands), and took a break from trying by kicking into the straight-forward, 4/4 beat of “Good Golly, Miss Molly”. Page joined in with an improvised riff, and the song “Rock and Roll” was born. That signature, opening beat that Bonham played would become one of the most recognizable intros in rock history.

Another unplanned composition is “The Battle of Evermore”, which was the result of Page picking up a mandolin brought in by Jones and composing a distinct piece, that was originally intended to be a short instrumental, but built into a Medieval folk song when Jones added an acoustic and Plant added vocals and lyrics and even wrote a separate vocal part for a “town crier”, which was later performed by folk singer Sandy Denny, the only guest singer to ever appear in a Led Zeppelin song.

Led Zeppelin 1971

While at Headley Grange, the band wrote and recorded the bulk of the rest of the album, including the heavier songs like “Misty Mountain Hop”, “When the Levee Breaks”, and “Black Dog”, which was actually named for a stray black lab that kept coming around the place. Also, the band recorded many songs that would left off the album, like “Down By the Seaside”, “Night Flight”, “Black Country Woman” and the afore mentioned “Boogie With Stu”. Page toyed with the idea of releasing a double album, but didn’t want the necessary delay in release that would be required for such an undertaking. Unfortunately, the album would be delayed anyway for several months because of mixing problems and the abrupt departure of an audio engineer. Even though all recording was wrapped up by late February, 1971, Led Zeppelin’s fourth album would not be released until November 8th of that year.

Beyond, the production issues, Page also got some heavy static from Atlantic Records on several fronts. The executives not only had concerns with the album’s cover art, but had a very big problem with Page’s plan to not include the band’s name on the exterior jacket nor give the album a proper title. The executives and marketing “specialists” at the record company called this strategy an act of “career suicide”, but Page was adamant in his quest to “let the music do the talking”. This strategy also included avoiding any of the normal publicity associated with releasing a new album, especially press releases and access.

Four Symbols

The only definitive markings with this album were the personal symbols that each member constructed of their own design. The exact meaning of these “four symbols” has never been revealed much by the band members, especially Page, who came up with the concept and whose own symbol, an odd script that appears to spell out the word “Zoso”, is the most mysterious of all. After reluctantly agreeing to this peculiar concept, Atlantic distributed graphics of the four symbols to the trade magazines.

The final fight with the record company, involved the song “Stairway to Heaven”, which Atlantic desperately wanted to release as a single, but Page refused because doing so what mean that it would have to be edited from its running time of 7:50, and this was completely unacceptable. As it turns out, this refusal along with the album’s unplanned, delayed release built up so much anticipation among fans that it contributed to thousands upon thousands of sales over an extended period of time.

The real genius of Led Zeppelin IV is just how unique, unconventional, and unaware this album’s creation was. There is virtually nothing fabricated, it is pure rock n roll. John Bonham displays amazing efficiency, playing on only about 5 1/2 of the album’s 8 tracks, but making an indelible impression while he is there, with some of the most memorable drum beats in history. John Paul Jones, a virtuoso bass player, contributes piano, synths, recorders, acoustic guitar, and even some vocals. Robert Plant, a vocalist at the height of his fame due to his signature, high-pitched wails, tones it back where appropriate, especially on the lighter, folk-influenced songs like “Going to California”. Jimmy Page, perhaps the greatest producer since George Martin, is still ambitious enough to make something truly unique, while still unafraid to “borrow” from some of the great genres of the past.

It’s so refreshing that a band at this stage, going into their fourth album with a lot success already in the bag, would make an album that reaches the fringes of rock without a self-aware agenda to do so.

~

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1971 albums