Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin

1975 Album of the Year

Buy Physical Graffiti

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.

~

Led Zeppelin online

Led Zeppelin on Twitter  Led Zeppelin on Facebook
Led Zeppelin official website
Buy Physical Graffiti

1975 Page

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

Led Zeppelin III

Buy Led Zeppelin III

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.

~

Led Zeppelin online

Led Zeppelin on Twitter  Led Zeppelin on Facebook
Led Zeppelin official website
Buy Led Zeppelin III

1970 Page ad

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

 

In Through the Out Door
by Led Zeppelin

Buy In Through the Out Door

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.

~

Led Zeppelin online

Led Zeppelin on Twitter  Led Zeppelin on Facebook
Led Zeppelin official website
Buy In Through the Out Door

1979 Images

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

 

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.

~

Led Zeppelin online

Led Zeppelin on Twitter  Led Zeppelin on Facebook
Led Zeppelin official website
Buy Led Zeppelin I
Buy Led Zeppelin II

1968 Images

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

 

Houses of the Holy by Led Zeppelin

Buy Houses of the Holy

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.

~

Led Zeppelin online

Led Zeppelin on Twitter  Led Zeppelin on Facebook
Led Zeppelin official website
Buy Houses of the Holy

1973 Images

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

 

Coda by Led Zeppelin

Buy Coda

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.

~

Led Zeppelin online

Led Zeppelin on Twitter  Led Zeppelin on Facebook
Led Zeppelin official website
Buy Coda

1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums

 

Presence by Led Zeppelin

Buy Presence

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.

~

Led Zeppelin online

Led Zeppelin on Twitter  Led Zeppelin on Facebook
Led Zeppelin official website
Buy Presence

1976 Images

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

 

Led Zeppelin (IV) by Led Zeppelin

Buy Led Zeppelin IV

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.

~

Led Zeppelin online

Led Zeppelin on Twitter  Led Zeppelin on Facebook
Led Zeppelin official website
Buy Led Zeppelin IV

1971 Images

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