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.
Along with King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King, this is probably the only debut album by any band I’m familiar with that far surpasses anything the band would put out since. I know that fans usually prefer III or IV, and some fans don’t even care much for this debut album at all, but they’re all nuts.
Unlike the Beatles, Led Zeppelin committed a revolution in rock only once. Since then, all they were doing was securing its results. But the beginning, and the major breakthrough, can only be found here. The heaviest album up to that point (although certainly inspired a lot by Jeff Beck’s Truth), it’s also hard-hitting and precise, if you know what I mean. All of the band’s good sides are there, and most of their bad sides haven’t even yet begun to show through.
Let’s see. Side one features the most fantastic, awesome sequence of three songs they ever managed to put together side by side. Although the album begins with the rather throwaway ‘Good Times Bad Times’, with a silly pop melody dressed in heavy chords, it’s followed by the magnificent acoustic ballad ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’, an original and improvisatory rendition of some traditional ballad, where for the first time we have Plant introducing the ‘human factor’ that plagued his work ever since. What I actually mean is the way Plant sings most of his parts: stuttering, wavering, inserting lots of (quite often pointless) interjections, ‘ah-ahs’, ‘oh-ohs’ and suchlike.
In just a couple of years this would become totally unbearable, with songs ruined and my personal patience abused, but here it works out just fine. The ballad might be their finest, with Robert finding the perfect compromise between hope and total despair of his personage. The gruff rhythm work in the middle only accentuates it, and the acoustic guitars throughout are just marvellous. Strange enough, people usually quote III as the beginning of Page’s passion for folk; in my opinion, ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ is much more effective than any of the ‘folk’ tunes on that album. And the coda, with Plant’s last wailing ‘I… said… that’s when… it’s calling me… baaack… hooooooooooooooooome…’, and the plaintive little chord at the end, is stunning. Nowhere, on no other Led Zep song will you find such passion and care.
Heigh-ho! Next comes ‘You Shook Me’, a dazzling, head-spinning version of some undistinguished classic blues tune. Jeff Beck did it on his Truth album (with Rod Stewart on lead vocal), but you can see where it’s most effective. The band sounds like an immaculate, totally perfected, stone-heavy (er, ‘lead-heavy’, to be exact) machine: Bonzo’s thumping drumming and Jones’s spooky, ‘prolongated’ bass lines set the pattern, while Plant demonstrates some of the most uncompromisedly raunchy singing (for 1968, at least), and Jimmy almost mocks him by imitating every single change in intonation on his guitar. The organ, harmonica and guitar solos are breath-taking just as well, and the song closes with well-constructed vocal/guitar battle that’s sure to get you going. Again – never again would they achieve such a fantastic, meticulous level of perfection!
Without any breaks at all we segue into the classic ‘Dazed And Confused’, with some more examples of the band’s early sharp, crystal clear and immaculate sound. I like it prolongated, like on live versions; but the original is brilliant as well, and, being the heaviest track on the album, it was probably the heaviest song of the Sixties. The lyrics are hogwash, but the melody is catchy, and the instrumentation is as good as can be. And, for those of you who like the hard groove, there’s a furious fast part with Bonzo throwing in elephantic drum lines and Jimmy going like a madman.
Moreover, it’s the first (and next to last) example of the bowed guitar on a Led Zep album. The sound of bowed guitar on live versions is often unbearable (that’s the only weak point with live versions), but here it’s just weird. It’s alright. Note, though, that all of the three mentioned compositions don’t really have much to do with Led Zeppelin: even ‘Dazed And Confused’, although credited to Jimmy Page, was an old Yardbirds tune ripped off from some old blues number. So their main strength is the arrangement and the atmosphere they insert into the songs. Not the melodies.
Anyway, these three songs alone make the record such a terrific razzle-dazzle that I give it a 10 without much afterthought. None of the other songs even come close to this glorious triumvirate, but none of them are nasty, either. Even the closing ‘How Many More Times’, a rather pedestrian blues shuffle, goes down well, with more bowed guitar, Plant’s wailings and a mad mid section. ‘Communication Breakdown’ is breaknecky, ‘Black Mountain Side’ is a gentle pretty acoustic easterny suite (more folk for you folks who rave about III), ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ is yet another fine blues number, although certainly not as polished as the far superior ‘You Shook Me’, and ‘Your Time Is Gonna Come’ is an okay throwaway despite some mighty fine church organ playing by Jones in the beginning. All of these numbers are listenable, but they really add little to the masterpieces. Ne’er mind, though. If you’re going for diversity (like me), this is not the band you’re aiming at. But if you dig the style heartily, you’re sure to rave and rant all over the LP/CD until you’re nearly breathless.
Just bear in mind: they never got any better than this, regardless of what all ’em critics say. They had songs which came close, but albums? All rip-offs of their first record. Let’s move on!
Led Zeppelin I (1969.), Led Zeppelin’s first studio album
Over the years there are bands which have completely revolutionised rock n’ roll. One of the most important of these bands is the mighty Led Zeppelin. The quartet of Robert Plant (vocals), Jimmy Page (lead guitar), John-Paul Jones (bass) and John Bonham (drums) have gone on to become one of the biggest selling album bands of all time; second only to the Beatles. This is even more phenomenal when you consider the band did this with just nine studio albums and a few extra releases. Led Zeppelin originally formed in early 1968 and released this album in amazingly quick time. The public’s response to this new band was ecstatic and this album was quickly hailed as a masterpiece, and still is for that matter. So is this a deserved tag to be given to Led Zeppelin’s mammoth debut?
Led Zeppelin’s debut is a capture of the band at their most rawest and blues based. However, this is part of why this album is so revolutionary (and the Led Zeppelin II follow up for that matter) because the sheer power and strong riffing to a bluesy sound was something pretty new at the time. Other bands such as Cream and the Who had developed a somewhat hard rocking sound but Led Zeppelin literally took the concept into unchartered territory with this album. Jimmy Page’s guitar playing is inspired throughout, Bonham’s drumming is thunderous, John Paul Jones’ bass play is assured and pronounced and Robert Plant’s powerful wails resonate with brilliance. Indeed Plant’s style has become a blueprint for many vocalists to follow him over the years. However, what makes the band playing even more awesome, from this album onwards, is how all four player’s miraculous ability all comes together to make mind a basis for some of the songs on their early albums but at the same time what is more important the actual sound which Led Zeppelin had; it was revolutionary … no dispute. You cannot deny the band’s importance. What makes Led Zeppelin I an even more phenomenal debut is in the fact that the band recorded the album in just 30 hours of studio play; over 9 days. For an album of such quality, it speaks volumes for the band’s ability as musicians and as a unit.
Led Zeppelin’s debut kicks off with the crunching, strong chords of ‘Good Times, Bad Times’. This song is a great opportunity for all the band members to shine and we see racing guitar solos from Page, catchy bass hooks, inspired drumming and striking vocals from Plant. The injection of heaviness in the first song gives the album the jump start it needs to belt out more Zeppelin style guitar based rock. However, there is a slight change of pace with ‘Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You’. This 6 minute song is a blend of passionate acoustic melodies with heavy crunchin verse. Plant’s vocals are at their most emotional on this song and he gives a chilling performance. ‘You Shook Me’ follows, another classic slow blues staple. Plant’s wails of ‘Babe!’ echoed by Page’s guitar are classic, as is the mouth organ sequence mid-way. Then for me, comes the best track of the album and a big fan favourite in ‘Dazed And Confused’. This is a Jimmy Page written piece which starts with a brooding riff from John Paul Jones’ bass then moves up a gear for the solo, in which Page takes his trademark violin bow to the guitar for the first time in a quite experimental sequence. The hard rocking sequence late on in the track is ear-crunching and Bonham’s pounding drumming is legendary.
Opening up the second half of the album is the clinical organ sequence played by John Paul Jones in ‘Your Time Is Gonna Come’. The song, after a minute develops into a ballad styled rocker which is a great listen. For acoustic mastery, we have ‘Black Mountainside’. Some of the sequences Page plays are awesome and it goes to how really how good a guitarist Page is. The background tabla drums give the song good effect. ‘Communcation Breakdown’ is next. If you really think Led Zeppelin couldn’t do heavy riffed songs, think again after listening to this gem. The fast paced and aggressive riffs of this short length track are amazing. This song rocks hard. Then we have more classic hard rock-blues with ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’. Classic slow riffs, coupled with an emotional vocal performance from Plant see this track home. Finally, we have the closing epic in the 8 minute ‘How Many More Times’. This is a lengthy, high energy exit and a classic finish. The spontaneous melody contains more violin bow solos from Page and more timeless riffs.
Led Zeppelin’s debut is a timeless classic. This album is revolutionary to say the least and was the launch pad for plenty of later and again influential classics from the great band that are Led Zeppelin. This debut for me is the band’s heaviest album and their rawest but its part of the work’s charm and gives it a great edge. Many would even go as far to call it the band’s best effort (I wouldn’t personally) but you can see why with the albums foreboding, passionate and inspired bluesy tunes. If you don’t own this album, you simply haven’t got a proper rock collection; it’s a must buy.
Whether you consider them the epitome of self-indulgent dinosaur rock, the greatest rock band ever or a boring bunch of self-obsessed wankers and blues recyclers who eventually turned to mysticism and folklore to hide the emptiness between their ears, it’s hard to deny Led Zeppelin was an immensely important, gifted and accomplished band, right from the start. Admittedly, Page was hardly a rookie, having played in the Yardbirds and already having made a name for himself as a session ace, while also bassist John Paul Jones wasn’t an unfamiliar face for those who were bad-ass and happenin’ at the time, but I’d say that if this were a consistent album (and it’s not), it would’ve been one of the all time greatest debut albums.
There have always been quite some accusations of plagiarism, and they did borrow heavily without acknowledging it, but I’m not going to spend too much time on that, the internet will provide you with everything you want to know and more. What I do know is that they borrowed, but rarely imitated slavishly, they always turned it – whatever it was: a riff, a catchphrase, a structure – into Led Zeppelin.
Even though they’d get more experimental later on (especially from the third album onwards), not always with successful results, you might argue that the essence of Zeppelin is already here, unless you consider the later excess essential as well. Robert Plant’s exalted wails and high-pitched shrieks (they didn’t call him ‘the banshee’ for nothing) are already present and the remnants of his improvisational style are hard to hide (the repetitive “baby, baby, baby” and other ways to fill the silence), but it’s all kept in check here. Sort of.
What’s extraordinary about Led Zeppelin is that they, much like The Who, were basically a band of equally fascinating musicians. Well, I don’t know if Jones was as technically versatile as Page, but he does combine heaviness with refinement once in a while, whereas Bonham is still one of the most recognizable drummers you can imagine. Seemingly not that gifted, because of his rudimentary sound that was obviously influenced by that other notorious hard-hitter, Ginger Baker, his thunderous and plodding technique sounds perfect for this kind of album. Finally, there’s of course Page, an extraordinarily gifted musician who could be both incredibly sloppy and mind-blowingly fantastic in one song and probably is one of the few who can rival AC/DC’s Young brothers’ knack for writing brick-solid riffs.
The forceful attack that characterises so many of his songs is already present in the album’s opener “Good Times Bad Times,” which is basically much more accessible and poppy than the sound might make you believe. What sets it apart – besides Page’s guitar antics – is the booming drum sound. Even if it’s probably not the first hard rock album (Jeff Beck’s Truth, released half a year earlier, is indeed a good candidate, and coincidentally, Jones also played on it), but I’d say this album is where mainstream hard rock got really heavy, as in ‘pounding, menacing, evil music.’ Or check out the fast “Communication Breakdown” and convince me they’re not pre-dating their own nemesis (punk?) with some 8 years or so. Crashing cymbals, loud guitars and a rhythm section that’ll make an entire building shiver, that’s what it’s all about, or am I wrong?
Anyway, those aren’t even the highlights, as I agree with the majority of people that tracks 2-4 basically define what the band was about. “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” is in a way already a precursor to the later folk/hard rock melting pot, an awesome marriage of acoustic parts and electrical power, as Plant moans and wails with passion (not theatre) and the band adds Spanish-sounding accents. These soft/loud-dynamics are something that not only they themselves would recycle, but the entire hard rock following during the next few decades.
It also features Page’s much criticised “rock scat” (“I know I’m nevahnevahnevahnevah gonna leave you baby … ooohhhh, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, ooohhh, … woman, woman, woman,” etc.) but it actually works here and goes to show his instinctive approach to singing could work very well. Similarly instinctive is also his attitude/ pose: Plant was a horny bastard, and he’d let you know all about it as well. Whereas Mick Jagger was already your mother’s nightmare, Plant became your father’s as well, certainly if you were a female between 15 and 30 or so.
“You Shook Me,” for instance, which was basically copped from Beck’s version (who was pissed off), presents the band at their sleaziest, churning out perverse, over-sexed blues with an unmatched arrogance. Beck’s version was already quite extraordinary – especially because you couldn’t decide whether that distorted guitar was actually a guitar or a recorded fart – and added the piano that only enters at a later stage here (well, it’s an organ, but OK), but Zeppelin made it more accessible, overtly sexual, and, well, better. Whereas the overall sound of the album in a way kick-started hard rock, it’s “Dazed and Confused” that arguably started heavy metal in the process as well. From that bass/guitar intro onwards, the songs sounds as creepy as they come, with those loud, crashing parts directly influencing Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.”
But that’s not nearly everything, as the song also introduced Page’s legendary bow-technique (giving the guitar that Satanic sound) and was a showcase for the powerful rhythm section. More than anything else, however, I’d say “Dazed and Confused” was already Plant’s peak as a vocalist, as he roars, moans and wails his way through the song with one of rock’s greatest vocal performances (ever). The remainder of the album isn’t as impressive (and that’s why I’ll never get people who claim it’s one of the greatest albums ever while admitting its flaws), but a lot better than the weakest stuff on their other albums.
“Your Time Is Gonna Come” is quite enjoyable once when it’s on its way (that organ intro should’ve been shorter), but no match for those previous three songs, whereas “Black Mountain Side” is an unspectacular Eastern-tinged instrumental that’s actually a nice interlude and a great way to prepare you for the onslaught of “Communication Breakdown” (ain’t it cool how these songs segue into each other?), which was the testosterone-driven highlight of the second half. Usually dismissed as a lazy blues rendition, but in my opinion a delightfully greasy slab of blues that sounds great (dig the reverb on the guitar!), their take on Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” is only slightly less impressive than “You Shook Me.”
Paving the way for other extended album closers, the pummelling “How Many More Times” is mainly a great showcase for Page’s guitar, which turns this boogie into something special with extracting howlin’, cajolin’ and slashing sounds from his six-stringed weapon. Man, that guy could play a mean & dirty guitar. Anyway, Led Zeppelin 1 has a second half that’s a bit too weak to justify a maximum score, but its highlights are among the best the band ever did, while the faults and excess that would mar later albums is largely absent.
So, what you get is a very generous dose of thunder, fire and bulging crotches, and who can say no to that?
After tinkering with a new version of The Yardbirds, legendary session ace and band leader Jimmy Page and another session veteran John Paul Jones teamed together with a couple of younger unknowns who knew each other from previous (unsuccessful) bands, Robert Plant and John (“Bonzo”) Bonham.
The band’s chemistry was immediately and spectacularly apparent, and the rest, as they say, is history, as the mighty Led Zeppelin (allegedly named because The Who drummer Keith Moon suggested that they would go over with audiences “like a lead zeppelin”) was born. And yeah, they did rip off old blues artists, sometimes without according the proper credit, but they did so brilliantly. Besides, that was just a small part of their recorded legacy, and I’ve yet to hear any of the old bluesmen sound half as majestic or as powerful as Led Zeppelin does on “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” or “Dazed And Confused,” to name but two of this album’s classic songs. Recorded over a sweat soaked 30 hours and featuring nine songs that basically comprised their set list at the time, Led Zeppelin I is the band’s rawest and most blues-based studio recording.
Page’s guitar is on fire throughout, Bonham’s drums thunder away in awe-inspiring fashion, Jones plays some terrific bass guitar and keyboards, and Plant’s high-pitched vocal wail, with many a “baby baby” lyric, became the template for all future hard rock singers (though it should be noted that some find his vocals to be an acquired taste and Plant himself has been critical of his somewhat hyper and over-the-top theatrics on this album; I can see where everybody is coming from but on the whole I still think he’s magnificent). Yet for all of their individual excellence, and they do all take spectacular solo turns here (particularly Page), it is the band’s ensemble playing that remains most mind-blowing all these years later. As for the songs, the album starts strongly with the short, catchy “Good Times Bad Times,” which is notable for Page’s savage soloing and Plant’s charismatic vocal as he uses his lower register.
“Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” a radical folk-blues-rock reworking of a Joan Baez cover (though unbeknownst to the band it was originally written by one Anne Bredon, who got belated credit and financial restitution for her efforts), is even more impressive. Years before the Pixies were given credit for creating the soft-to-loud dynamics that came to define alternative rock in the ’90s, Led Zeppelin were doing just that right here, and once again all band members shine, particularly Plant who is nothing short of spectacular. Even better is “Dazed and Confused,” the band’s first (of many) epic-scale tracks, which took hard rock to a whole new level of heaviness. The song, which was actually an uncredited cover (albeit with different lyrics) of a psychedelic folk song originally done by the largely unknown Jake Holmes, is almost unbelievably powerful at times, especially during its frenetic jam-packed mid-section and dramatic symphonic ending.
The song is also notable for being their first on which Page unleashed the eerie sonic possibilities of taking a violin bow to an electric guitar; though the Creation’s Eddie Phillips was the first to do so, Page is most synonymous with this technique, and this song is probably his signature piece with it. Showing the versatility and subtlety that so many of their subsequent followers would lack, “Your Time Is Gonna Come” is a beautiful sing along country-gospel-pop ballad led by Page’s acoustic guitar, Jones’ Hammond organ, and another inspired vocal from Plant (his phrasing is impeccable), while “Black Mountain Side” is a short Page-led acoustic instrumental that nods to Bert Jansch and shows the influence of Eastern music while offering a lighter respite from the draining intensity elsewhere. Another classic comes in the form of the short but ultra-adrenalized “Communication Breakdown,” which features yet another great Page guitar solo and flies along at a breakneck speed. Most future punk rockers would cower in the face of such a relentless assault, making their snobbish comments a decade hence about Zep being outdated “dinosaur rockers” all the more laughable.
But I digress; this album ends with another epic in the multi-sectioned “How Many More Times,” another exceptionally strong take on the blues, and one of several songs here (“Dazed and Confused,” “Black Mountain Side”) that had its roots from back in Page’s Yardbirds days. Loosely based on Howlin’ Wolf’s “How Many More Years” and featuring vocal ad-libs from Plant, who also “steals” from Albert King’s “The Hunter,” again the song may borrow too liberally from old blues sources, but again to reiterate it does so brilliantly, and the end result is 100% pure Led Zeppelin. For one thing, Plant’s vocal ad-libs, borrowed or not, are inspired, and the song’s pulverizing riffs, violin bow treatments, and wah wah effects are all Page, whose sparring with Bonham is breathtaking.
Ironically, the two Willie Dixon covers, “You Shook Me,” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” are arguably the album’s weakest songs (least great songs is more like it; these are fine performances but slow blues simply isn’t my favorite Zep style), proving that Led Zeppelin were at their best when unleashing a fury (or a beauty) all their own.
The popular formula in England in this, the aftermath era of such successful British bluesmen as Cream and John Mayall, seems to be: add, to an excellent guitarist who, since leaving the Yardbirds and/or Mayall, has become a minor musical deity, a competent rhythm section and pretty soul-belter who can do a good spade imitation. The latest of the British blues groups so conceived offers little that its twin, the Jeff Beck Group, didn’t say as well or better three months ago, and the excesses of the Beck group’s Truth album (most notably its self-indulgence and restrictedness), are fully in evidence on Led Zeppelin’s debut album.
Jimmy Page, around whom the Zeppelin revolves, is, admittedly, an extraordinarily proficient blues guitarist and explorer of his instrument’s electronic capabilities. Unfortunately, he is also a very limited producer and a writer of weak, unimaginative songs, and the Zeppelin album suffers from his having both produced it and written most of it (alone or in combination with his accomplices in the group).
The album opens with lots of guitarrhythm section exchanges (in the fashion of Beck’s “Shapes of Things” on “Good Times Bad Times,” which might have been ideal for a Yardbirds’ B-side. Here, as almost everywhere else on the album, it is Page’s guitar that provides most of the excitement. “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” alternates between prissy Robert Plant’s howled vocals fronting an acoustic guitar and driving choruses of the band running down a four-chord progression while John Bonham smashes his cymbals on every beat. The song is very dull in places (especially on the vocal passages), very redundant, and certainly not worth the six-and-a-half minutes the Zeppelin gives it.
Two much-overdone Willie Dixon blues standards fail to be revivified by being turned into showcases for Page and Plant. “You Shook Me” is the more interesting of the two — at the end of each line Plant’s echo-chambered voice drops into a small explosion of fuzz-tone guitar, with which it matches shrieks at the end.
The album’s most representative cut is “How Many More Times.” Here a jazzy introduction gives way to a driving (albeit monotonous) guitar-dominated background for Plant’s strained and unconvincing shouting (he may be as foppish as Rod Stewart, but he’s nowhere near so exciting, especially in the higher registers). A fine Page solo then leads the band into what sounds like a backwards version of the Page-composed “Beck’s Bolero,” hence to a little snatch of Albert King’s “The Hunter,” and finally to an avalanche of drums and shouting.
In their willingness to waste their considerable talent on unworthy material the Zeppelin has produced an album which is sadly reminiscent of Truth. Like the Beck group they are also perfectly willing to make themselves a two- (or, more accurately, one-a-half) man show. It would seem that, if they’re to help fill the void created by the demise of Cream, they will have to find a producer (and editor) and some material worthy of their collective attention.