Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Led Zeppelin I (1969)

led-zeppelin-12From adriandenning.co.uk

Jeff Beck leaves Jimmy Page as sole guitarist in The Yardbirds, a group that had also numbered Eric Clapton among their ranks prior to Jeff and Jimmy. Keith Relf, the singer with The Yardbirds, winds up leaving along with the groups drummer and bass player. Jimmy Page along with manager Peter Grant find themselves with concert dates to fulfil, so set about forming a new Yardbirds line-up. Enter Robert Plant, session bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham.

Jimmy Page had worked extensively as an in-demand session guitarist all through the Sixties, playing on countless pop and rock recordings, learning about studio techniques and record making as he went along. Early shows saw the soon to be christened Led Zeppelin billed as The Yardbirds but certain supporters were apparently disappointed that it wasn’t really The Yardbirds. The name Led Zeppelin was based on something Who drummer Keith Moon said about a proposed off-shoot group ( to feature himself along with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck ) “Going down like a lead balloon, or a lead zeppelin”. Remove the ‘a’ from ‘lead’, and hey presto! For this new enterprise, Jimmy Page wanted to explore dynamics….. he more than succeeded.

Add in a rhythm section with an almost telepathic understanding, add in Robert Plant with his furious, all out, sexual roar of a voice…. Ah, reservations! Led Zeppelin achieved a distinctive sound right from the off. That doesn’t mean that the material was so original or distinctive, however. ‘Black Mountain Side’ was based upon a Bert Jansch tune, but credited here to Jimmy Page all the same. Singer Robert Plant had a habit of improvising and unwittingly including fragments of blues songs in the lyrics as he went along. The closing eight minute plus epic ‘How Many More Times’ has a clear precedent in the Howlin Wolf song ‘How Many More Years’, and so it goes on. There are more references here if you care to unearth them. Two ‘correct’ writing credits arrive on the album sleeve courtesy of Willie Dixon, as Led Zeppelin produce versions of his ‘You Shook Me’ and ‘I Can’t Quit You Babe’.

There’s something about Led Zeppelin and this album in particular I really love and it’s something I see as an ideal for hard rock or ( heaven forbid! ) heavy metal groups. This ‘ideal’ is perfectly demonstrated in the two minute forty six second long opening number, ‘Good Times Bad Times’. You can hear each and every instrument clearly and separately from each other instrument. You can clearly make out every drum roll of John Bonham, every nuance of the bass parts of John Paul Jones – obviously make out Jimmy Page with his solo and his riffing.

A tight ensemble, powerful with spaces left by the rhythm section to allow Jimmy to fully express himself. On top of all of this we have Robert Plant of course, a singer plucked out of relative obscurity and almost instantly managing to present himself as one of the greatest rock singers on the planet at the time. The bass and drums support each other of course, but both can clearly also be heard as separate entities, if that makes sense.

There is a cleanness, a separation. There’s also damn heavy sounding parts as Led Zeppelin receive the credit for inventing heavy metal in the process. Most clearly with ‘Dazed And Confused’, a six minute long scary sounding epic full of astonishing playing and sounds, not least the ‘walking bass’ sound that introduces it. Robert Plant fully does ‘the business’ and sets a template for vocalists that followed. ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ is another six minute plus composition, an arrangement Jimmy had been working on back in the final days of The Yardbirds. Perhaps no better single example of the sheer glorious dynamics, the quiet to loud, of Led Zeppelin exists.

The more out and out blues tunes here, ‘You Shook Me’ and ‘I Can’t Quit You Babe’ are the weaker moments of the set, along with Jimmy Page ‘interpreting’ folk guitarist Bert Jansch with the instrumental filler ‘Black Mountain Side’. Having said that, ‘I Can’t Quit You Babe’ in particular is utterly convincing. Robert Plant sings, the rhythm section constantly threaten to explode. Jimmy Page does plenty of twiddly and interesting guitar things. Sat between ‘Black Mountain Side’ and ‘I Can’t Quit You Babe’ is the two and a half minute riff monster ‘Communication Breakdown’.

Heavy as fuck, catchy as hell – i’ll see you on the other side. As for the closing ‘How Many More Times’, well, Jimmy does interesting guitar parts and sounds, the rhythm section are supremely powerful, hypnotic and heavy and Robert Plant excels himself throughout. Led Zeppelin succeeded from the off with this debut set. They toured America extensively and the initially reluctant UK market followed amid reports of amazing concerts in America. ‘Led Zeppelin I’ works as a template for the groups entire career, nearly everything is here.

The core of the album is formed by ‘Dazed And Confused’, ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’, ‘Communication Breakdown’, ‘Good Times Bad Times’ and the closing ‘How Many More Times’. For those songs alone, this is an amazing record.

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January 4, 2014 - Posted by | Led Zeppelin I |

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