The Movie Soundtrack

Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 1982The movie soundtrack has become a great source for discovering music. Many dramatic scenes are fully augmented by appropriate audio, which in turn drives sales of the songs themselves. It is a nice cross-marketing scheme, but as far as top quality works of new original music by various artists. there are surprisingly few of these albums that actually hold up well over time.

We’ve decided to this feature while our regular reviews look at the year 1982, because that was the year when, in our opinion, the best of these movie soundtracks was released, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The soundtrack features songs of many of the eras quintessential rock artists, most of which were not released elsewhere on conventional artist album. Both this movie and album soundtrack ushered in a heyday for such movie soundtracks (as well as copycat movies) through the early and mid 1980s. But before we delve into the merits of this particular soundtrack, let’s look at some other important soundtracks throughout the years.

Easy Rider soundtrack, 1969A significant early soundtrack is that for the 1969 cult film Easy Rider, a film often remembered for its late 1960’s rock music. The album was a surprise chart hit, peaking at #6 on the Billboard album charts, and is most associate with a sub-genre known as “biker music”. Steppenwolf is featured most prominently, as “Born To Be Wild” is played during the opening scene and another song, “The Pusher” leads off the soundtrack itself. Other songs featured on Easy Rider include The Byrd‘s “Wasn’t Born to Follow”, “Don’t Bogart Me” by Fraternity of Man and If 6 Was 9″ by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The producers of this soundtrack also utilized a practice which is prominent to this day. When they encountered problems in licensing the original recording of “The Weight” by The Band, they commissioned the artist Smith to record a cover version for the soundtrack. A couple more covers of Bob Dylan were recorded by Roger McGuinn for the album.

Heavy Metal soundtrack, 1981Heavy Metal was a 1981 rotoscoping-animated film, which employs various science fiction and fantasy stories adapted from Heavy Metal magazine. Due to many legal wranglings involving the copyrights of some of the music, the film and soundtrack were unavailable, except through underground, pirated copies. It was finally released on CD and videocassette (along with a simultaneous re-release in theaters) in 1996. Although the film is called “heavy metal”, the music itself includes original music from various rock genres. This includes songs by Sammy Hagar, Blue Öyster Cult, Cheap Trick, Devo, Donald Fagen, Journey, Grand Funk Railroad, Cheap Trick, Don Felder, and Stevie Nicks. Probably the only true “heavy metal” band represented is Black Sabbath, whose song “The Mob Rules” is featured.

Vision Quest soundtrack, 1985The 1985 soundtrack to the movie Vision Quest includes a nice mixture of pop and rock tunes and featured some high charting hits. These include the Madonna ballad “Crazy for You” and the song “Only the Young” by Journey, the last release by that band’s classic lineup. Other highlights from this soundtrack are “Change” by John Waite, “Hungry for Heaven” by Dio, “Lunatic Fringe” by Red Rider and “I’ll Fall in Love Again” by Sammy Hagar, one his last solo releases before joining up with Van Halen.

Pretty In Pink soundtrack, 1986The 1980s were, by far, the heyday for soundtracks, many more then we could possibly cover here. A series of teen-oriented movies by director John Hughes including The Breakfast Club, and Pretty In Pink. The music from these focused primarily on new wave artists such as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Simple Minds, The Psychedelic Furs, New Order, Echo & the Bunnymen, and The Smiths. Several other 1980s soundtracks includes the songs by Kenny Loggins, a seventies folk singer who basically made a career out of movie soundtrack songs in the 1980s. Loggins wrote and performed “I’m Alright” from Caddyshack, the title song from Footloose, and “Danger Zone” from Top Gun, all of which were the most prominent songs from those respective films.

We’ve decided to use a rather narrow definition of this category which we’re focusing on for this profile. Basically, the main criteria is original music, recently produced, by various artists. Since this excludes, many fine soundtracks, we’ll look at some of the better which fall outside our criteria.

Artist Centric Soundtracks

Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour promoMovies which were built around the music of a specific artist have been around almost as long as there have been movies and recorded music. During the classic rock era, this was made most prominent by The Beatles, who made four movies with accompanying soundtracks of their original music. Of these, Magical Mystery Tour is the most interesting, primarily because the music is so excellent while the film itself is so terrible (later this year, we will do a regular review of this album).

Following in the Beatles footsteps were scores of these types of soundtracks for films at all different levels of production from major Hollywood worldwide productions to documentaries. Some of the best of these include David Bowie‘s 1973 Ziggy Stardust movie, Led Zeppelin 1976 rendition of The Song Remains the Same (something we’ve touched on during a previous special feature on The Live Album), The Bee Gees-centric soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, Prince‘s 1984 blockbuster Purple Rain, and U2‘s 1988 Rattle and Hum, another one where the music is far superior to the film.

Of course, tribute movies to specific artists will also fall in this category (as well as the next), and there have been several standouts here, from Oliver Stone’s The Doors to the Johnny Cash bio Walk the Line to the bio on Ray Charles. There are hundreds more of these films, television series, and documentaries.

A unique type of these are those films that feature fictional bands but still produce interesting music. Prominent among this category are Eddie and the Cruisers from the 1980s and Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do! from the 1990s, both of which focus on the early to mid 1960s era.

Soundtracks of Music from the Distant Past

Almost Famous, 2000Along with some of those mentioned above, there have also been some great movie soundtracks that include past music using various artists, usually due to the story itself being set sometime in the past. The best of these include Goodfellas, Forrest Gump, and Almost Famous. The latter is a film by Cameron Crowe and it profiles his own start as a rock journalist while he was still a teenager. In Crowe’s later life writing screenplays for films, music plays a strong role and the soundtracks are all all interesting. Other Crowe movies include 1989’s Say Anything, Singles, Jerry Maguire, and his 1982 debut film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which brings us back to the focus of this article.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack, 1982Several of the movie’s songs became hit singles, including Jackson Browne‘s “Somebody’s Baby”, which reached #7 on the Billboard chart. But the excellence of this album lies in the number of great songs by top-notch artists which (a the time) were not available anywhere else. Despite the comedic genre of the film and its suggestive title, many of these songs are great ballads such as “Love Rules” by Don Henley, “Love Is the Reason” by Graham Nash, and “Sleeping Angel” by Stevie Nicks. Other standouts were the title track by Sammy Hagar, “I Don’t Know (Spicoli’s Theme)” by Jimmy Buffett, “So Much in Love” by Timothy B. Schmit, “Never Surrender” by Don Felder, and “Waffle Stomp” by Joe Walsh (for those of you keeping score, that is four of the five members of The Eagles when they broke up a year earlier).

As this movie was oozing with rock n roll, several songs in the film itself, were not even included on the soundtrack. These include “We Got the Beat” by The Go Go’s, “Moving in Stereo” by The Cars, “American Girl” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”, which plays after dialogue about “the second side of Zeppelin 4” (which does not include “Kashmir”). There is further dialogue in the film that talked about Pat Benatar, Cheap Trick, Earth Wind & Fire, and Debbie Harry of Blondie and, during the school dance scene, the band plays covers of “Life in the Fast Lane” and “Wooly Bully”. There may never again be movie which is not primarily about music, that contains so much great music.

~
Ric Albano

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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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums

 

The Live Album

CRR Special on The Live AlbumWe pretty much cover studio albums exclusively at Classic Rock Review and will continue to do so with the exception of the few studio/live hybrids that we explore later in this article. The reason we do this is because of the generally ubiquitous nature of these live albums as well as the inconsistency in sound and the art of production. In short, we feel the only true way to hear a band live is to hear a band live and we’ll stick to that whole other entertainment art form, the studio album. However, this surely does not mean that the live album has now place in the world of classic rock. So today we will examine some of the more important live albums through time, with a special look at 1976, the current year we are reviewing with our regular features and one year that was especially rich with quality live albums.

The Classic Live Albums

Ever since Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 there have been live recordings, starting with the the first commercially available music recordings in the 1880s. All recordings were “live”, whether in a studio or concert hall for about 70 years until the 1950s when the first multi track recordings began. But it wasn’t really until 1960s when the true distinction of a live album was made. Although rock n’ roll would be the genre most strongly tied to the live album, two of the most influential recordings came from artists tied mainly to other styles, James Brown and Johnny Cash.

Live At the Apollo by James BrownLive At the Apollo was recorded on October 24, 1962 at the famed theatre in Harlem, New York and released the following year. It was produced at Brown’s expense when his record label opposed the concept of recording an album full of live versions of songs which had already been released. To everyone’s surprise, Live At the Apollo sold rapidly and spent more than a year on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. It was so popular that many radio DJs began playing the album in its entirety, only pausing for commercials during the side break.

Live at Folsom Prison by Johnny CashJohnny Cash met much of the same resistance from his own record label when he proposed recording an album live at the prison he made famous over a decade earlier with his song “Folsom Prison Blues”. The album was recorded at the state prison in California during two shows on the morning and afternoon of January 10, 1968 and released later that year. Cash was supported in this project by his future wife June Carter, his backing band The Tennessee Three, supporting act The Statler Brothers, as well as then-California Governor Ronald Reagan, but with little investment by Columbia records. Nonetheless, the album still rocketed to number one on the Country Charts and the top twenty on the mainstream charts. Further, the album revitalized Cash’s career and lead to his producing a second prison album, At San Quentin.

Woodstock Original SoundtrackA third mega-successful live album from the recordings in the 1960s was the Woodstock soundtrack, a 6-sided triple album released on May 11, 1970. The album was unique at the time not only because of the variety of performers (18 different artists performed on the original version), but also for its “feel” as just about each track contained stage announcements and conversations among the musicians, which acted as a narrator of the overall Woodstock story. The original LP was also laid out with side one backed with side six, side two backed with side five, and side three backed with side four, to accommodate the popular record changer turntables, something which would become standard for most multi-disk live albums.

Early 1970s Live Albums
Some of the better Live Albums of the early 1970s

Starting in 1970, a prolific period of several top-notch live recordings began. That year featured many great live albums such as Live At Leeds by The Who, Absolutely Live by The Doors, Band of Gypsys by Jimi Hendrix, and Mad Dogs and Englishmen by Joe Cocker, which had sales fueled by his impressive performance on the the a fore-mentioned Woodstock soundtrack. Subsequent years saw more classic live recordings such as At Filmore East by the Allman Brothers in 1971, Made In Japan by Deep Purple in 1972, Yessongs by Yes in 1973, Alive by Kiss in 1975, along with a couple of original live recordings by the Grateful Dead.

As the golden age of live albums started to wane in the late seventies and early eighties, the quality live albums were fewer and further between. In 1978 Aerosmith released the fine Live Bootleg while the newcomers Cheap Trick released At Budokan. The Eagles finished off their remarkable career with Eagles Live in 1980 while another band with a long career capitalized on their new found fame with Showtime! in 1982. The following year, U2 displayed their talents on Under a Blood Red Sky.

The great live album that never was should have been released following the plethora of great performances at Live Aid in 1985. No tradition “album” was released from these performances with a four DVD set finally coming out in 2004.

Top Live Albums from the Later Classic Rock Period
Top Live Albums from the Later Classic Rock Period

Live Albums in 1976

At this articles date of publication, the year the Classic Rock Review is examining is 1976, which also happened to be a very strong year for live recordings. In fact, the deliberation on whether to cover some these live albums with regular reviews is what initially sparked the idea for this special feature. So we’ll give a little bit of special attention to some of the great live albums from the bicentennial year.

Frampton Comes Alive by Peter FramptonFrampton Comes Alive! by Peter Frampton
Released January 6, 1976 (Double LP)

Perhaps one of the most successful commercial live albums ever, Frampton Comes Alive! was a double live that sold at a price comparable to “single” albums of the day. This marketing scheme may have incentivized fans to check out this artist whose previous four solo albums had little commercial success, but it was the quality of the material and performance that created the snowball effect making this a true breakthrough for Frampton.

Robin Trower LiveRobin Tower Live by Robin Tower
Released March 3, 1976 (Single LP)

Recorded in Sweden over a year before its release, this album by a true power trio lead by the former axeman of Procol Harum captures the group extremely loose and freewheeling. This is because the shows were recorded by the Swedish Broadcasting Company while the band was completely unaware that the show was being taped.

Live Bullet by Bob SegerLive Bullet by Bob Segar
Released April 12, 1976 (Double LP)

Live Bullet forecast the popular rise of Bob Seger by first becoming a staple on Detroit rock radio and later reaching a much further audience due to some of the timeless classics on the album. Although Seger’s success was still mainly regional, this album played a large role in him headlining before 78,000 at the Pontiac Silverdome in June 1976.

One More From the Road by Lynard SkynardOne More From the Road by Lynard Skynard
Released September 13, 1976 (Double LP)

This was Lynard Skynard’s first, and sadly last live album during the “classic” era of the band, which ended with a plane crash in 1977 that killed several members. The version of “Freebird” propelled that then-five-year-old song into FM radio super status for decades to come.

The Song Remains the Same by Led ZeppelinThe Song Remains the Same by Led Zeppelin
Released September 28, 1976 (Double LP)

Led Zeppelin was a fantastic live act, as we later found out from the various bootlegs and eventual collections released in the 1990s and 2000s. Unfortunately, the band’s only concerted effort at capturing the live magic was done during a couple of sub-par shows at the end of their 1973 tour. Producer Jimmy Page and the band spent three years overdubbing and patching in both audio and video for the dual film and soundtrack. It was great because it was Zeppelin live and it was all we had for decades. But it could have been so much greater.

All the World's a Stage by RushAll the World’s a Stage by Rush
Released September 29, 1976 (Double LP)

All the World’s a Stage was the first live album by Rush, marking the conclusion of the first four studio, one live album “phase” of the band. They would repeat this pattern several more times through their long career. The performances were recorded in June 1976 in the trio’s home city of Toronto.

Wings Over America by WingsWings Over America by Wings
Released December 10, 1976 (Triple LP)

A decade after the Beatles stopped playing live gigs, fans finally got a chance to hear Paul McCartney perform live with his new band, Wings. Although the triple album was made up mostly of songs from McCartney’s post-Beatles career, Wings Over America did offer five Beatles songs becoming the most modern recordings to date of these compositions.

Hybrid Albums

Through the years there were a select number of albums which contained a hybrid of live and recorded material. These include Cream‘s Wheels Of Fire from 1968, Pink Floyd‘s Ummagumma from 1969, Eat a Peach by the Allman Brothers and Everybody’s In Showbiz by The Kinks from 1972, and Rust Never Sleeps by Neil Young & Crazy Horse in 1979. Classic Rock Review may review these as regular albums when the time comes.

Hybrid Albums

Ironically, as more and more live albums proliferated through the 1990s their prestige seemed to wane and fewer and fewer were considered “classic” recordings. This is likely due to the relative simplicity of digital recordings and hence the less capturing of “lightning in a bottle” with live performances. Still, we’ve only just scratched the surface of all the fine live albums through the decades, so please feel free to comment on some of these omissions.

~
Ric Albano

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.

~

Led Zeppelin online

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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.

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