Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin

1975 Album of the Year

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Led Zeppelin in 1975

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

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

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

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Led Zeppelin III

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Led Zeppelin in 1970

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

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

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

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Manic Nirvana by Robert Plant

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Manic Nirvana by Robert PlantIf Led Zeppelin had attempted to make a pop-oriented album, it may have sounded like Manic Nirvana. This 1990 release by Robert Plant fuses some of the pop and dance-oriented elements of his earlier solo efforts released in the 1980s with a retro vocal and guitar approach reminiscent of the classic rock band that Plant fronted for a dozen years. This approach usually works, in some places spot on, in others less so. But, in total, it all makes for an interesting listen.

Around 1990, there was a resurgence of Led Zeppelin in the musical scene, and there is little doubt that this played a part in the approach of Manic Nirvana. In May 1988, Plant and former bandmates Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones joined Jason Bonham (son of original drummer John Bonham) for the first official Led Zeppelin show in nearly a decade. Page also showed up for a cameo at a few of Plant’s concerts and Plant provided vocals for one song on Page’s solo album, Outrider. Later in 1990, the 54-track Led Zeppelin Box Set was released as the first ever compilation of any kind by the group and it included several tracks which had never before been released.

Manic Nirvana was the second of a trio of albums that Plant worked on with keyboardist/guitarist Phil Johnstone, following the commercial success of Now and Zen, released in 1988. Johnstone also co-produced the album with Plant and Mark Stent, and the trio came up with sonic qualities on this record which were unlike those on other albums. The sessions for this album produced a few tracks which would not be released until Plant’s 2006 box set, Nine Lives, including the standout, “One Love”, which has fifties-like undertones with cool slide guitars and horn-like accents.


Manic Nirvana by Robert Plant
Released: March 19, 1990 (Es Paranza)
Produced by: Phil Johnstone, Mark Stent & Robert Plant
Recorded: 1989
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Hurting Kind
Big Love
S S S & Q
I Cried
She Said
Nirvana
Tie Dye On the Highway
Your Ma Said You Cried in Your Sleep Last Night
Anniversary
Liars Dance
Watching You
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Doug Boyle – Guitars
Phil Johnstone – Keyboards, Guitars
Charlie Jones – Bass
Chris Blackwell – Drums, Percussion

 
The opening track, “Hurting Kind (I’ve Got My Eyes on You)”, starts with a sweeping flange similar to that on “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” from Led Zeppelin’s Presence. This is soon interrupted by a steady thumping beat as Plant unleashes a few wails similar to (but less effective than) those of his heyday. Released as a single, this song reached #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. “Big Love” is driven by the steady, methodical groove of drummer Chris Blackwell and is carried by Plant’s excited vocals. The bridge section includes a raw guitar lead sandwiched betwwen sections with complex background vocal patterns. “S S S & Q” allegedly means ”soak, shake, splash, and quake” and has a long lead intro of the bluesiest rock guitars on the album. This gives way to more controlled riffing above sterile and modern rhythm, giving the heart of this song a dance-track feel, especially during the synth and quasi-rap bridge with just a touch of James Brown-like textures.

Johnstone’s picked acoustic fades in on “I Cried” accompanied by some rounded bass notes by Charlie Jones. Starting with the main chorus, Plant provides majestic vocals on this excellent song that eventually builds with electric textures and dynamic sections. The outro fades with subtle acoustic textures, closing this smooth and introspective song. Orchestral strings commence “She Said”, soon cut by strong rock riffs and beats. However, this song, which starts interesting, does get a bit long in the tooth through its five minute duration. “Nirvana” is co-written by Jones and starts with an almost punk riff before breaking in with a steady beat and bass. This track tries to reach for the mystical, especially with the droning guitar lead which has a slight tinge of Indian flavor and the twin pauses for Plant to deliberately recite the song’s title. the track ends with a weird effect, like a backwards-masked, out of tune piano.

“Tie Dye on the Highway” starts off with actual sound from Woodstock before breaking into a dance beat with droning instrumentation and a pleasant vocal melody by Plant, which reflects his style from some earlier solo albums. Plant even supplies a slight harmonica lead adding further variety to make this one of the standouts on the album. The only cover on the album, “Your Ma Said You Cried in Your Sleep Last Night”, contains an actual record scratch from the sampled kick drum of the 1961 original by Kenny Dino. The strong beat gives Plant’s vocals plenty of room to soar in this chanting rap with fine backing vocals as well. Released as the second single from the album, the song reached #8 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.

The cheesy synth intro of “Anniversary” disrupts the cool groove from the previous track. This song never really goes anywhere, just adding certain instrumentation such as the off-beat drums and cool bluesy guitar lead. Guitarist Doug Boyle co-wrote “Liars Dance”, a folksy acoustic with Boyle’s picked notes falling between, and sometimes mimicking, Plant’s vocal lines. The track stays purely between the blues acoustic and lead vocals, making it a quality track late in the album. “Watching You” employs one more shot at the frenzied production. However, the drums have more reverberation than is necessary for effect, causing the vocals and strumming acoustic to be a bit buried in the mix. Still, with a hypnotic effect, this song acts as a very potent closer as Plant’s excited vocals are excellent in the background.

Plant and Johnstone followed up Manic Nirvana with 1993’s Fate of Nations before Plant reunited with Page in 1994 to perform and compose new music.

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In Through the Out Door
by Led Zeppelin

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

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

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

In Through the Out Door album cover variations

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Comebacks and Reunions

Woodstock '94 stage

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

1994 Albums and Tours

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

Hell Freezes Over by The Eagles

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

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

Far From Home by Traffic

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

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

Voodoo Lounge by The Rolling Stones

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

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

No Quarter by Page and Plant

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

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

Woodstock ’94

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

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

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

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

21st Century Reunions

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

Led Zeppelin 2007 reunion concert

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

~

Ric Albano

Led Zeppelin’s 1969 Albums

Buy Led Zeppelin I
Buy Led Zeppelin II

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~

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Buy Led Zeppelin I
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1968 Images

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

 

Now and Zen by Robert Plant

Now and Zen by Robert PlantRobert Plant launched his post-Led Zeppelin solo career with two fine albums, Pictures at Eleven, in 1982 and, The Principle of Moments , in 1983. His career then got a little murky in the mid-1980s with the short-lived cover band The Honeydrippers and his bizzare third album Shaken and Stirred. His fourth album, 1988’s Now and Zen, was a career renaissance as the vocalist and songwriter once again found his groove in eighties pop. The album made the top 10 in both the U.S. and the U.K. and has been certified triple platinum. The album also featured Zeppelin band mate Jimmy Page who performed on a Plant solo album for the first time (a favor Plant would return later in the year on Page’s Outrider album).

Keyboardist Phil Johnstone co-produced and co-wrote most of the material with Plant. Johnstone was part of a whole new band that Plant employed for this album after pretty much using the same personnel on all of his first three albums. Plant discovered Johnstone and engineer Dave Barrett after hearing a demo tape by the pair.

The resulting sound is a stylistic fusion that seamlessly combines hard rock and guitar blues with the synth-driven pop of the eighties and the then-new computer synchronization techniques. Now and Zen is also a vocal masterpiece for Plant who strikes his “mature” voice better than on any other of his eighties material. Lyrically, Plant’s songs have substance, intelligence and taste, making this a solo career high point in that area as well.


Now and Zen by Robert Plant
Released: February 29, 1988 (Es Paranza)
Produced by: Robert Plant, Phil Johnstone, and Tim Palmer
Recorded: Autumn 1987
Side One Side Two
Heaven Knows
Dance On My Own
Tall Cool One
The Way I Feel
Helen of Troy
Billy’s Revenge
Ship of Fools
Why
White, Clean, and Neat
Primary Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals  |  Phil Johnstone – Keyboards, Synths
Doug Boyle – Guitars  |  Phil Scragg – Bass  |  Chris Blackwell – Drums, Percussion

 

“Heaven Knows” rolls in like a fast moving storm and immediately establishes the underlying groove of Now and Zen. The song is synth heavy, but not to the point of being ludicrous like on Shaken n’ Stirred, but does contain the first appearance by Page with a dramatic guitar solo. The song topped mainstream rock charts. “Dance On My Own” starts with slight background whistling and breaks into a call-and return verse between Plant and guitarist Doug Boyle which is almost like a cheerleading chant. Overall, this song draws from good elements of all three of Plant’s previous solo albums; interesting modern guitar riffs, unique “Zeppelin-light” lead vocals, and a pleasant female backing vocal chorus.

A sterile piano guides the sound collage-ridden “Tall Cool One”, which became the top pop hit off the album. The song was Plant and Page’s response to the Beastie Boys’ unauthorized sampling of Led Zeppelin material, by sampling their own music from Zeppelin tracks “Whole Lotta Love”, “The Ocean”, “Black Dog”, “Custard Pie”, and “When the Levee Breaks”. Aside from the group’s short reunion at Live Aid in 1985, this was the first time in Plant’s solo career that he openly embraced his former band. Otherwise, “Tall Cool One” is a rather typical pop song with some really corny moments when Johnstone does the bridge rap. “The Way I Feel” completes side one as the moodiest song on the side with great atmosphere by Boyle and Johnstone beneath Plant’s soaring vocals and a fretless bass by Phil Scragg.

Early on the second side of Now and Zen is really where Plant has his musical renaissance. “Helen of Troy” comes in like a near heavy-metal tune with layered guitars above a strong bass before breaking into more pop elements during the rest of the song. A funky, syncopated rhythm persists throughout the song under all those great guitars, the first of two most guitar-centric songs on the album. “Billy’s Revenge” follows with a do-wop intro and pure rock song afterwards. Aside from a couple of short but great synth organ sections by Johnstone, this song is otherwise dominated by Boyle’s guitar while Plant’s vocals reach their highest register on the album. The frantic song comes to a crashing end, leading into the third of three great songs.
 

 
“Ship of Fools” is one of Plant’s all time classics and a true testament to his best eighties style. It is the high water mark of the album in mood, vocals, lyrics and Boyle’s guitars are at their finest, probably an all-time career highlight for him. A slight synth percussion works best on the mood of this song and the subtle instrumental outro is done with great taste, leaving the listener yearning for more.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the album does not come close to the quality of these past three songs. “Why” was co-written by engineer Robert Crash, who programmed a cheesy synth riff that prevents the song from be taken seriously. The closer “White, Clean and Neat” brings the album’s quality up slightly as an original with almost beat-like poetry with good, measured guitar lines. But the corny bridge section with spoken lines that eerily echoes the worst of Shakin’ and Stirred, leaving the overall album just shy of great.

With the critical and commercial success of Now and Zen, Robert Plant was at a high point of his solo career. Also, he further embraced his Zeppelin past by performing songs from the band on his 1988 and subsequent tours, bring his live career a balance which it had lacked for years.

~

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

1988 Images

 

The Principle of Moments by Robert Plant

The Principle of Moments by Robert PlantThe 1983 release of The Principle of Moments was the second solo album by Robert Plant, following the disbandment of Led Zeppelin in late 1980. The album follows close on the heels of Plant’s debut, Pictures At Eleven and employs the same musicians and production team. Recorded in Wales, the production was polished and clinical while maintaining enough rock edge to keep it original and interesting. Plant had declined to tour following his debut because he didn’t want to perform any Led Zeppelin songs live and didn’t yet have enough original solo material to justify a tour. With the release of this second album, Plant’s second life as a major recording artist took was fully spawned.

The Principle of Moments was the first release on Plant’s independent label Es Paranza Records, after the folding of Led Zeppelin’s label Swan Song, which was also the label from Plant’s debut. Swan Song ceased operations due to the failing health of Zeppelin manager Peter Grant. When Swan Song’s offices were cleared out in 1983, early demos from Iron Maiden, Heart and other popular bands were found.

The sound of The Principle of Moments fuses new wave rock with some elements of reggae and abstract motifs and is percussion heavy with sharp, high-pitched guitars, led by guitarist Robbie Blunt and drummer Phil Collins. While not as dynamic as in the heart of the Zeppelin years, Plant’s vocals are melodic and refined. The album’s title comes from the scientific Varignon’s Theorem, which states that the moment of any force is equal to the algebraic sum of the moments of the components of that force. With the experimental tracks on this album, Plant seems to be declaring his independence from the Zeppelin sound and celebrating his own “moment” in time.


The Principle of Moments by Robert Plant
Released: July 11, 1993 (Es Paranza)
Produced by: Robert Plant, Benji LeFevre, & Pat Moran
Recorded: Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, Wales, 1983
Side One Side Two
Other Arms
In the Mood
Messin’ With the Mekon
Wreckless Love
Thru With the Two Step
Horizontal Departure
Stranger Here…Than Over There
Big Log
Primary Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals  |  Robbie Blunt – Guitars
Paul Martinez – Bass, Vocals  |  Jezz Woodroffe – Keyboards
Phil Collins – Drums

Although not officially released as a single, the opener “Other Arms” reached number one on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Musically, the song continues the style of Pictures at Eleven, melodic and heavy on the chorus backing vocals, a long way from the improvised arrangements of Zeppelin’s early days. “In the Mood” (which was officially released as a single) follows and marks the point where the album starts to distinguish itself. Built on bassist Paul Martinez’s very simple yet infectious bass line, with Blunt’s simple, strummed chords on top and a strong percussion presence by Collins in contrast to laid back music and vocals. Plant’s melody rhythm is almost like blue-eyed rap and this translated into a Top 40 single on the pop charts.

Keyboardist Jezz Woodroffe shines brightest on the ballad “Through with the Two Step”, where Plant’s melodic verse vocals drip with melancholy sweetness to the waltz of Woodroffe’s wafty keyboards and in contrast to Blunt’s excellent lead later in the song. “Horizontal Departure” is a very upbeat and entertaining, sex-infused rock song, like a new wave version of Zeppelin;s “Whole Lotta Love”. Again Collins has a very strong and dynamic performances on drums, contrasting against the very measured riffs of Blunt and Martinez.

The album’s biggest hit is the closer “Big Log”. Reflective and somber, this is a mature song in every respect, musically, lyrically and production-wise. It employs some of the better synth-era techniques – the rubber kick effect, snappy top beat – along with well refined guitars, a swell of long synths, and vocal choruses by session singers John David and Ray Martinez. But this song is a true showcase for Robbie Blunt, one of rock’s forgotten great guitarists, whose cleaver latin phrasing leaves the most indellible mark in this truly unique composition.

The Principle of Moments includes a trio of experimental songs. “Messin’ With the Mekon” starts with an almost Jimmy Page-like riff before giving way to a moderate Caribbean groove with measured beats, although the arrangement does seems hollow when trying too hard to fit odd pieces together. “Wreckless Love” contains a mixture of electronic and Middle Eastern textures and other highly experimental arrangement that only gels due to Plant’s strong melody. The song features Barriemore Barlow, formally of Jethro Tull, on drums, as does “Stranger Here…Then Oven There”. Another experimental song with some brilliant verse vocals, this song also suffers from too many superfluous effects and arrangements, which do little more than interrupt the reggae beat and flow of the song’s core.

With two Top 10 albums under his belt, Plant launched a successful tour in late 1983, taking the stage for the first time since Zeppelin’s Knebworth concerts in 1979. In the following years Plant would work with his former bandmates sporadically, starting with the short-lived oldies project The Honeydrippers, while continuing to build his solo career.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.


1983 Images

 

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.

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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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