Do you love Led Zeppelin the way I love them?
I’ll teach you how to do it. Yes, you, Justin Bieber fans. And I’ll do it without even mentioning the you-know-what song.
Everything has been written and said about Led Zeppelin. I will not say anything new to the hard core fans of LZ that they don’t already know. The purpose of this article is to create a sort of an introduction or “reeducation LZ boot camp” for the young crowd that grew up listening to sanitized crap-pop of the late 2000s.
History changed its course the moment Jimmy Page tore into the first chords of “Good Times Bad Times” and Robert Plant declared with youthful certainty that “he was told what it means to be a man” and John Bonham (Bonzo) challenged Gods to a drum duel. The year was 1969.
Mysterious, pagan, touched by gods – what other band in the Universe can claim ownership of those words? Outerworldly, recalling old English ballads, Celtic mysticism, JRR Tolkien references, Southern blues and bluegrass. How can one draw from such different sources and in the end become known as the progenitor of heavy metal and hard rock bands of the 1980s. Surely, that would take some divine intervention. But even that would not be enough, otherwise we would go wild listening to gospel, but we don’t. I am absolutely positive someone in the band has made a pact with the devil. The pied piper received a subtle homage in many songs, including No Quarter (Devil), Achilles Last Stand (Devil), Houses of the Holy (Satan), Ramble On (The Evil One), Battle of Evermore (Dark Lord, The darkest of them all) and the you-know-what song (Piper). Led Zeppelin gives you goose bumps no matter how many times you listen to them and that is the evidence of Lucifer’s involvement. To know the force you have to know all of its sides, including the dark one. They do.
Led Zeppelin demonstrated that they were not just another British band during “The conversation” as I call it, the famous back and forth between agonizing Plant’s falsetto and Jimmy Page’s bowed guitar that began experimentally on bluesy “You shook me” and grew into sensational and often cited dialog, an exchange, that has irreversibly marked their arrival and cemented their status as rock Gods, on “Dazed and Confused”.
Here’s Jimmy Page ripping violin bow to shreds during “Dazed and Confused” rendition.
They also redefined the meaning of cool. If you think Lady Gaga is cool, you haven’t seen this: (starring Plant’s crotch):
Robert Plant is having virtual sex with the audience, Jimmy Page in sequined bell-bottoms performing pas de cheval to the sound of his guitar. If, while watching this, you won’t say “Ahh” or “Sweet Lord” at least once, regardless of your gender, you are a robot. I guess these days it would be banned, in our PG-rated, sterilized culture. Parents, cover your children’s eyes.
And one of my favorites, The Lemon Song. Watch and learn, Jonas Brothers! I’m not quoting from this song, lest I’ll be accused of pornography (it’s starts around minute 4). Just listen to it (maybe it’s a good thing there’s no video).
This song has all the trademarks of LZ: Plant lamenting “Baby, baby, baby” in high-pitch, heavy bass by John Paul Johns, exchange between Plants’ moaning and equally suffering Page’s guitar, and Bonzo attacking his drums and giving it all meaning.
Of course, that would be a disservice to LZ and to my students to focus entirely on the sexual aspect of their songs. Actually, the album that got me hooked on LZ was IV, that didn’t have the sex and lust themes of the earlier albums, but had a lot of Celtic and folk song influences. It had a different appeal. I think it was just this energy, this powerful guitar and drum sounds that I, immersed at the time in the grunge culture, found intriguing at the least. I mean I didn’t have it as bad as the kids these days, there were still some worthy music in the early 1990s.
It’s amazing how many genres of music they have mastered. British bands of the era have got some talent but can you imagine Beatles or Jethro Tull or Rolling Stones for Christ sake to take on the Southern blues? And here we have four middle class white British boys finding meaning in Southern blues and giving it a new and powerful delivery.
Yes, I decided to dedicate the whole separate chapter to John Bonham. Bonzo, who I suspect was the main pact maker with the Devil, showed what the meaning of force is when he violated the laws of physics in “Moby Dick”. Bonzo’s breathtaking assault on the drums, that would make multi-armed Shiva green with envy, is a must listen for any LZ scholar. It starts with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones briefly but powerfully leveling the playing field for the ensuing 5 minute heavy artillery onslaught (when played live it sometimes lasted for up to 30 minutes, often resulting in Bonzo breaking his sticks and, if continued on hands, drawing blood).
Check out Jimmy Page doing some little Scottish Highland dance with his feet, haha! Dance or no dance – THAT’s what heavy means.
But my most favorite Bonzo moments are his powerful entries on songs like Bring It On Home (at 1:40) right after Plant grieves over yet another baby for about a minute with bluesy vocals and harmonica, or Travelling Riverside Blues which makes me bludgeon the air with my imaginary drum sticks each time he comes in en-force after the brief vocal or guitar introduction.
For Led Zeppelin connoisseurs
It’s impossible to fit everything one has to say about Led Zeppelin in one post and that would be counterproductive. Just to explore one of their last albums, Presence, would take a good term paper. Maybe I’ll write a few words about it. I like the origins of the name Presence – they thought that there was some presence that surrounded the band during their years together, some powerful force that made them what they are. It’s their undeservedly least known but most mature album. Alas, it was also the last one. The introductory song is Achilles Last Stand – famous for John Bonham powerful drumming, complex melody, mature sound and dark mood. Plant was recovering after the accident and it was physically demanding.
Nobody’s Fault But Mine, another noteworthy song, is a masterpiece (although this can be said about a few dozen of LZ songs) and I like the combination of guitar riffs, Bonzo assaulting the drums, Plant’s wailing vocals and harmonica. It starts with wailing, almost dreamy, Page’s riffs and Plant’s mandatory grieving introduction, followed by customarily forceful and unrestrained Bonzo’s entrance, like someone smashing you over the head. Moments like this make me think of a bulldozer smashing everything on its path. Here they come!
Times will pass, bands will come and go, but we’ll always have Plant piercing the air with “Baby, baby, baby”, Page ripping his guitar to shreds and Bonzo hammering the drums with demonic power. And that’s that.
I can’t let you go without this: