A few months ago I was lucky to spend five night on the Scottish island of Mull. Late enough for some warm sunshine and early enough to avoid the midges, me and my wife had rented a remote cottage with no TV, no radio no phone signal and no internet. For entertainment there was a proper record player and a small selection of vinyl. The musical selection reflected the tastes of the children of the original owners veering between 80’s pop and 70’s rock, I had opted to play the latter.
I started off light with Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, who doesn’t have some love for that record ? I moved into proggier waters with no complaint from Mrs Future. Close to the Edge by Yes (“not bad”) was followed by Viva by Roxy Music (“I’d forgotten how good they were”). With my fourth choice introduced to the turn table we watched the hills opposite the loch turn purple in the twilight. “What is this shit?” asked my wife.
The shit in question was Led Zeppelin’s third album, I listened for a couple of minutes then removed the offending disc and went in search of some early Genesis.
It had got me thinking though, Led Zeppelin had always been present in my life just like the Who or the Stones but was it possible they were just a bit shit?
Like most of my generation I was introduced to the Zep by the use of their ‘Whole Lotta Love’ on Top of the Pops. The adopted theme tune was actually a kind of big band version by a group called CCS but the riff was there, waiting until we could hear the real thing. The thing about the band though was they were rather elitist and weren’t prone to turning up on children’s TV so the chances of hearing them by accident was rather non-existent, they wouldn’t release singles so, ironically, they were never on TOTP, if you wanted a dose of Zeppelin you had to by an LP which was what they wanted all along of course.
The next time I can remember hearing the band was when ‘Trampled Underfoot’ was played on The Old Grey Whistle Test, because the band would never do anything as poorly paid as a live appearance we had a classic Whistle Test film of dancing girls from the 1920s to entertain us though what, for me, was one of the most tedious riffs ever which just went on and on and on.
Having just turned 18 I spent a week on a boat on the Norfolk Broads with just two cassette tapes, Monty Python and Led Zeppelins 4th. I learned to appreciate the riffage of Black Dog and the grandeur of Stairway to Heaven’ but still found ‘When the Levee Breaks’ tedious and the one where Plant sings with Sandy Denny a shapeless mess.
Sucho, the guitarist with my first rock band was a Zeppelin fan and occasionally we would tackle the proto punk of ‘Communication Breakdown’ or the basic rock and roll of ‘Rock and Roll’. I never actually listened to an LP by the band until I went to Polytechnic. One of my flat mates, Vince, was such a fan that he was on his second copy of the second LP and he gave me his initial, well scratched copy. I started to warm to the mix of rock and hippie bollocks. The band’s first record was, in retrospect amazing primitive featuring joys such as ‘Good Times Bad Times’ alongside overwrought and overplayed material such as ‘Dazed and Confused’. At that point they were still the New Yardbirds in their own heads but by their second record they were something more.
Leaving aside the possibly shit third record, Houses of the Holy (number 4) was a bit of sidestep and long regarded as their weakest. It is, of course my favourite Led Zeppelin record (apart from the remasters compilation) and the untypical ‘No Quarter’ my favourite Zeptrack.
By the time I got to relisten to Physical Graffiti ‘Trampled Underfoot’ had started to sound better and, of course there was ‘Kashmir’ which, as our tastes changed, had replaced Stairway as the classic Zep track. That wasn’t the end of course. Despite the fact that they had taken to dressing like farmers they were still making records that sounded as good to me as anything else they had done.
Then Bonham died and Plant grew a Mullet. Page continued to be entertaining if only for his ability to butcher the most basic solo whenever he turned up to guest with a band while completely off his face, for more evidence of what was wrong with the 80’s just take a look at their Live Aid performance (if you dare).
Zeppelin are now regarded as one of the best rock bands ever, no one apart from me wants to knock them but really are they that good (actually to be fair no one is that good if you look hard enough)
In the winter of 1977 a group of my college friends including the aforementioned Sucho of course, crammed ourselves into a college theatre to see a showing of the band’s film ‘The Song Remains the Same’. The film had been out a while and generally rubbished by the critics who pointed to the lack of stage dynamics, the lumpy playing and, most of all the pathetic fantasy sequences (although you needed something to distract you from Bonham playing ‘Moby Dick’). They were right for once, the film was a turkey, none of my friends were impressed. There followed a period where Led Zeppelin were falling out of favour, their last two LP’s were not acclaimed critically. There was a wide acceptance that the band were now a huge money-making machine and little else, Page, Bonham and manager Peter Grant were getting messed up, the band was a huge carcass rotting from the inside. When Bonham died I can’t remember any national mourning but then again Rock was still young, we probably thought something else great would come along.
What did come along, of course, was nostalgia and the Band’s reputation grew and grew (as long as they didn’t try any Live Aid reformations). But why do people love Zep? Clearly, it’s because their music makes people of a certain age feel young again, don’t knock it! If that was just the case however however we would all be clamouring for a Chicory Tip reunion, to be honest I would rather go and se that than the reunited Zep. The more I think about it their popularity may be a case of the parts being more than the sum of the whole. By which I mean the individual members are more reveared than the band itself.
Page is still the blueprint for the guitar genius. Someone who could play the blues and folk based Celtic music (ie he knows how to tune a guitar to DADGAD).Page is the third member of the Home Counties guitar heroes (see Beck and Clapton) and his reputation is cemented, despite the fact that there are 6 year olds who can play better today Page is the original. He certainly has a way with a riff and studio layering but how many solos has he done that are iconic? The only one I can get into is ‘Stairway to Heaven’ which is basic pentatonics (sounds great). The rest of the time it just sounds like he is burbling away over a backing track to me.
Robert Plant was the archetypical preening lead singer. He seems to be a great bloke, a human face of the band. But how many lyrics can you quote, at least ones that weren’t nicked off blues singers. He’s shouting something above that noise but I haven’t got a clue what most of it is. And there’s a limit to the number of times you can sing baybebaybebaybebaybebaybebaybe and get away with it.
John Bonham ‘Bonzo’ to his mates. Like Keith Moon and many others, a man lucky to dead before the advent of social media. Bonham is probably the greatest drummer of all time and every year he gets greater. Like Page what he does isn’t that tricky but he did it first and did it well. Despite his towering presence people would still love to see the band without him.
John Paul Jones was the bass player, he was bloody good but still the bass player.
While they had the talent Zeppelin didn’t really have the songs, some of their noise can sound great especially after 60’s production values had improved but are they a band that can move you to tears? I suspect not
Quite clearly Zeppelin are not shit, that’s just clickbait from a desperate man but I suspect they were never as good as we think they were now.
I read an interview with Plant a while back. He seems to be one of the few people in the music business, at least from the 70’s, who seems to have given any thought to what he wanted his musical life to be. As a consequence, he’s released a squillion records, some horribly reflective of the era they were created. He’s now settled on a rather appealing ethnic brew which, to my ears, is a lot more interesting that his old band’s catalogue. Wouldn’t you rather go and see Robert doing something he cares about in a small venue rather than trying to recreate music of his youth at Milton Keynes Bowl?
I thought not