Classic Rock Review

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Led Zeppelin III (1970)

led-zeppelin-iiiFrom sfloman.com

This record came as quite a surprise in 1970, and though it confounded both critics and fans alike at the time it holds up immaculately well today.

After the success of Led Zeppelin II, Page and Plant took some time off, retreating to a remote cottage in the Wales countryside called Bron yr aur. Much of the album was written by the duo in that relaxed setting, and as a result the mellower music is less reliant on Page’s heavy riffing and is more eclectic as Plant’s hippie idealism flowered. Largely shedding their overblown reputation as blues copycats, many of these songs are acoustic-based, as the band displays a dazzling versatility and an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of various musical forms.

Not for the first time, “Immigrant Song” started the album off with a classic short rocker, one that’s highlighted by Plant’s memorable siren calls and Viking-inspired lyrics (Zep could transport you within their songs like few others). The exotic, atmospheric, string-flavored “Friends,” beautifully arranged by Jones and featuring impressive acoustic fingerpicking from Page, then showed the ever-increasing influence of Eastern music in Led Zeppelin’s songs, while “Celebration Day” and “Out On The Tiles” are simple but extremely effective straight ahead riff rockers that were more in line with what fans expected.

One thing that’s interesting to note is that Plant’s voice on these songs (and “Gallows Pole”) seems more shrill and high-pitched than in the past, which takes some getting used to, though it fits these songs. Anyway, this album’s centerpiece song comes in the form of “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” a slowly smoldering, at times explosive blues epic that’s highlighted by one of Page’s most expressive guitar solos, moody organ from Jones, and a wonderfully weary vocal from Plant. Actually, the whole band shines on what is arguably the band’s greatest slow blues, though again lyrical similarities between this song and Moby Grape’s “Never” led to more charges of thievery (though again I’d argue that the song’s greatness had very little to do with Moby Grape).

Elsewhere, “Gallows Pole” offers a brilliantly frenzied take on a traditional folk tune originally popularized by Leadbelly. This version is altogether different, as it is totally transformed by the alchemic magic of this superior foursome; the song features a wonderfully exciting buildup as various instruments (including banjo and mandolin) enter the fray for its exciting, jam-packed finish. Arguably even better are “Tangerine” and “That’s The Way,” a pair of lovely acoustic ballads which proved once and for all that Led Zeppelin were about far more than pure power.

The short former song had its genesis from back in Page’s Yardbirds days and is perhaps most notable for Plant’s multi-tracked vocals, while the long-ish latter track, the third in a row to feature pedal steel guitar, has no drums at all and features one of Plant’s finest lyrics. Next up is “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” (apparently the band forgot the “r” in “Yr”), a playful showcase for Page’s vigorous acoustic guitar strumming that’s representative of the album’s rural, homespun charm, even if it is a minor track in the grand scheme of things.

Still, that one’s a masterpiece compared to “Hats Off To Roy Harper,” which meekly ends the album with one of the band’s weakest efforts. Based on Bukka White’s “Shake ‘Em On Down” and named in tribute to the cult musician who they admired and befriended, the band should have instead closed the album with the great “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” which was released in the U.S. as a b-side to “Immigrant Song” at around the same time.

Oh well, it’s hard to complain too much about one duff track among ten, even though many did complain about the album at the time despite the fact that it was the band’s most consistent effort yet, though on the whole its peaks don’t rise quite as high as its predecessors. Still, time has only been kind to Led Zeppelin III, whose stature has steadily grown over the years.

In fact, many of these songs were featured prominently during the Page and Plant reunion tour of 1994, and this often-overlooked gem is especially enjoyable because these songs aren’t played constantly on classic rock radio.

May 25, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin III | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin III reviewed by Lester Bangs in Rolling Stone (1970)

led-zeppelin-iiiFrom Lester Bangs Rolling Stone

I keep nursing this love-hate attitude toward Led Zeppelin. Partly from genuine interest and mostly indefensible hopes, in part from the conviction that nobody that crass could be all that bad, I turn to each fresh album expecting — what? Certainly not subtle echoes of the monolithic Yardbirds, or authentic blues experiments, or even much variety. Maybe it’s just that they seem like the ultimate Seventies Calf of Gold.

The Zep, of all bands surviving, are today — their music is as ephemeral as Marvel comix, and as vivid as an old Technicolor cartoon. It doesn’t challenge anybody’s intelligence or sensibilities, relying instead on a pat visceral impact that will insure absolute stardom for many moons to come. Their albums refine the crude public tools of all dull white blues bands into something awesome in its very insensitive grossness, like a Cecil B. DeMille epic. If I rely so much on visual and filmic metaphors, it’s because they apply so exactly. I’ve never made a Zep show, but friends (most of them the type, admittedly, who will listen- to anything so long’s it’s loud and they’re destroyed) describe a thunderous, near-undifferentiated tidal wave of sound that doesn’t engross but envelops to snuff any possible distraction.

Their third album deviates little from the track laid by the first two, even though they go acoustic on several numbers. Most of the acoustic stuff sounds like standard Zep graded down decibelwise, and the heavy blitzes could’ve been outtakes from Zeppelin II. In fact, when I first heard the album my main impression was the consistent anonymity of most of the songs — no one could mistake the band, but no gimmicks stand out with any special outrageousness, as did the great, gleefully absurd Orang utang Plant-cum-wheezing guitar freak-out that made “Whole Lotta Love” such a pulp classic. “Immigrant Song” comes closest, with its bulldozer rhythms and Bobby Plant’s double-tracked wordless vocal croonings echoing behind the main vocal like some cannibal chorus wailing in the infernal light of a savage fertility rite. What’s great about it, though, the Zep’s special genius, is that the whole effect is so utterly two-dimensional and unreal. You could play it, as I did, while watching a pagan priestess performing the ritual dance of Ka before the flaming sacrificial altar in Fire Maidens of Outer Space with the TV sound turned off. And believe me, the Zep made my blood throb to those jungle rhythms even more frenziedly.

Unfortunately, precious little of Z III’s remaining hysteria is as useful or as effectively melodramatic. “Friends” has a fine bitter acoustic lead, but gives itself over almost entirely to monotonously shrill Plant breast-beatings. Rob, give a listen to Iggy Stooge.

“Celebration Day” and “Out On the Tiles” are production-line Zep churners that no fan could fault and no one else could even hear without an effort. “Since I’ve Been Loving You” represents the obligatory slow and lethally dull seven-minute blues jam, and “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” dedicates a bottleneck-&-shimmering echo-chamber vocal salad to a British minstrel who, I am told, leans more towards the music-hall tradition.

Much of the rest, after a couple of listenings to distinguish between songs, is not bad at all, because the disc Zeppelin are at least creative enough to apply an occasional pleasing fillip to their uninspiring material, and professional enough to keep all their recorded work relatively clean and clear — you can hear all the parts, which is more than you can say for many of their peers.

Finally I must mention a song called “That’s the Way,” because it’s the first song they’ve ever done that has truly moved me. Son of a gun, it’s beautiful. Above a very simple and appropriately everyday acoustic riff, Plant sings a touching picture of two youngsters who can no longer be playmates because one’s parents and peers disapprove of the other because of long hair and being generally from “the dark side of town.” The vocal is restrained for once — in fact, Plant’s intonations are as plaintively gentle as some of the Rascals’ best ballad work — and a perfectly modulated electronic drone wails in the background like melancholy harbor scows as the words fall soft as sooty snow: “And yesterday I saw you standing by the river / I read those tears that filled your eyes / And all the fish that lay in dirty water dying / Had they got you hypnotized?” Beautiful, and strangely enough Zep. As sage Berry declared eons ago, it shore goes to show you never can tell.

May 9, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin III | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin III (1970)

ledzeppelin3From blogcritics.org

When Led Zeppelin III was released, I was the only person in my college dorm who liked it better than their second album. My feelings may have changed forty years later but by October 5, 1970, I was the program director of the college radio station, so my opinion really mattered. I still feel it is an excellent album and a unique release in the Led Zeppelin catalogue.

It seemed everyone was waiting for the second coming of “Whole Lotta Love,” but Jimmy Page went in a different direction. It was not as heavy, as it featured a number of acoustic pieces and even contained some folk elements. It had a slicker production than their first two albums and strayed from their established raw blues style. For many of the tracks, mellow and thoughtful were words of the day. While critical reviews were mixed, at the time it was a commercial success, as it topped the American album charts and has sold in excess of six million copies.

This is also an instance where the original vinyl cover adds some panache to the affair. It had a rotatable disc which added hours of additional entertainment pleasure while you listen to the music. Yes, I am over exaggerating but it was innovative.

“The Immigrant Song,” which opens the album, is a quick burst of energy. It contains folk lyrics hidden in some typical Led Zeppelin mind thumping music. Robert Plant’s voice hits some impossible notes.

“Since I’ve Been Loving You” is an enduring blues rock song and would have fit well on either of their first two albums. Written by Page, Plant, and John Paul Jones, it was recorded virtually live in the studio and thus has more of an improvisational feel. Jimmy Page’s guitar solos are some of the best of his career and the song became a staple of their live shows.

Side two of the original vinyl release is where Led Zeppelin really strikes out into new territory. “Gallows Pole” is an update of the old folk traditional song “Maid Freed From The Gallows,” but they used Fred Gerlach’s version as their inspiration. The track begins gently and builds throughout. The acoustic trio “Bron-Y-Aur-Stomp,” “Tangerine,” and “That’s The Way” are all acoustic-based, and when taken as a unit as the original album intended, it presents Led Zeppelin in a new light. “Tangerine,” in particular is a lost treat as it is one of the most intricate songs of the band’s career.

Led Zeppelin III is sometime overlooked, as it was released in between two of the best selling albums in rock history. It remains one of the more interesting stops in the Led Zeppelin journey.

February 26, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin III | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin III (1970)

led-zeppelin-iiiFrom Rolling Stone

I keep nursing this love-hate attitude toward Led Zeppelin. Partly from genuine interest and mostly indefensible hopes, in part from the conviction that nobody that crass could be all that bad, I turn to each fresh album expecting — what? Certainly not subtle echoes of the monolithic Yardbirds, or authentic blues experiments, or even much variety. Maybe it’s just that they seem like the ultimate Seventies Calf of Gold.

The Zep, of all bands surviving, are today — their music is as ephemeral as Marvel comix, and as vivid as an old Technicolor cartoon. It doesn’t challenge anybody’s intelligence or sensibilities, relying instead on a pat visceral impact that will insure absolute stardom for many moons to come. Their albums refine the crude public tools of all dull white blues bands into something awesome in its very insensitive grossness, like a Cecil B. DeMille epic. If I rely so much on visual and filmic metaphors, it’s because they apply so exactly. I’ve never made a Zep show, but friends (most of them the type, admittedly, who will listen- to anything so long’s it’s loud and they’re destroyed) describe a thunderous, near-undifferentiated tidal wave of sound that doesn’t engross but envelops to snuff any possible distraction.

Their third album deviates little from the track laid by the first two, even though they go acoustic on several numbers. Most of the acoustic stuff sounds like standard Zep graded down decibelwise, and the heavy blitzes could’ve been outtakes from Zeppelin II. In fact, when I first heard the album my main impression was the consistent anonymity of most of the songs — no one could mistake the band, but no gimmicks stand out with any special outrageousness, as did the great, gleefully absurd Orangutang Plant-cum-wheezing guitar freak-out that made “Whole Lotta Love” such a pulp classic. “Immigrant Song” comes closest, with its bulldozer rhythms and Bobby Plant’s double-tracked wordless vocal croonings echoing behind the main vocal like some cannibal chorus wailing in the infernal light of a savage fertility rite. What’s great about it, though, the Zep’s special genius, is that the whole effect is so utterly two-dimensional and unreal. You could play it, as I did, while watching a pagan priestess performing the ritual dance of Ka before the flaming sacrificial altar in Fire Maidens of Outer Space with the TV sound turned off. And believe me, the Zep made my blood throb to those jungle rhythms even more frenziedly.

Unfortunately, precious little of Z III’s remaining hysteria is as useful or as effectively melodramatic. “Friends” has a fine bitter acoustic lead, but gives itself over almost entirely to monotonously shrill Plant breast-beatings. Rob, give a listen to Iggy Stooge.

“Celebration Day” and “Out On the Tiles” are production-line Zep churners that no fan could fault and no one else could even hear without an effort. “Since I’ve Been Loving You” represents the obligatory slow and lethally dull seven-minute blues jam, and “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” dedicates a bottleneck-&-shimmering echo-chamber vocal salad to a British minstrel who, I am told, leans more towards the music-hall tradition.

Much of the rest, after a couple of listenings to distinguish between songs, is not bad at all, because the disc Zeppelin are at least creative enough to apply an occasional pleasing fillip to their uninspiring material, and professional enough to keep all their recorded work relatively clean and clear — you can hear all the parts, which is more than you can say for many of their peers.

Finally I must mention a song called “That’s the Way,” because it’s the first song they’ve ever done that has truly moved me. Son of a gun, it’s beautiful. Above a very simple and appropriately everyday acoustic riff, Plant sings a touching picture of two youngsters who can no longer be playmates because one’s parents and peers disapprove of the other because of long hair and being generally from “the dark side of town.” The vocal is restrained for once — in fact, Plant’s intonations are as plaintively gentle as some of the Rascals’ best ballad work — and a perfectly modulated electronic drone wails in the background like melancholy harbor scows as the words fall soft as sooty snow: “And yesterday I saw you standing by the river / I read those tears that filled your eyes / And all the fish that lay in dirty water dying / Had they got you hypnotized?” Beautiful, and strangely enough Zep. As sage Berry declared eons ago, it shore goes to show you never can tell.

February 24, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin III | | Leave a comment