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Album Review: Led Zeppelin 1 - Their debut album
Their time was bound to come...
I have just finished listening to Led Zeppelin's first album, simply titled Led Zeppelin and felt I would write up a review. It isn't the first time I've heard the album, in fact I imagine the CD lens in my laptop has a permanent imprint of the unique grooves of this particular disc, having played it so many times. Not only do I have the CD, I also have a copy of the tape and LP! It is however my very first review on any led Zeppelin album, in fact my first album review period. However, having heard the album so many times I felt I would have something to say worth listening to.
Led Zeppelin's debut album itself was released on the 12th of January, 1969 by Atlantic Records. Guitarist Jimmy Page, who also formed the band, has said that it took a mere 36 hours of studio time (including mixing) to create the entire album. But I'm sure these are all fascinating statistics. I wanted to go through the music itself and talk a little about the impact and inspiration behind the music on this album.
Led Zeppelin the album, originally received negative reviews and criticism from the press, which was unfortunately a recurring theme throughout the bands career. I can imagine music reviewers of the time sampling the album after it's release and attempting to write about it. The first thing they would have come across is the difficulty in describing what "type" of music it was. What "category" the band fits into. I believe this is one of the main reasons why Led Zeppelin constantly received negative reviews of their albums as it was almost impossible to pigeon-hole the music they created. Even today I find that when I walk into a music store, Led Zeppelin CD's are located in various categories that differ from store to store. But that is actually one of the main charms of the band. The broad spectrum of colour and style their music potrayed.
This was evident from the very beginning as I said. The album Led Zeppelin starts with a fairly heavy riff-based track called "Good Times Bad Times" which sets the scene. It immediately grabs the listeners' attention and if you listen closely, it is apparent that each instrument has it's own voice and unique identity, a theme that was to define Led Zeppelin. "Babe I'm gonna leave you" follows the opener, a reworked version of a traditional folk song originally written by folk singer Anne Bredon and later by Joan Baez. Led Zeppelin's version had both acoustic and electric interludes between verse and chorus and the song has a lot of space, creating plenty of tension and depth.
The third track on the album introduces the listener to what was one of the main influences of the band, the blues. "You shook me", originally recorded by blues legend Willie Dixon, showed the bands love of the blues as was the case for many British bands of the time including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Cream and The Who just to name a few. Drummer John Bonham brings a whole new level to the song and gives it that edge which makes it uniquely Led Zeppelin. Vocalist Robert Plant and Jimmy Page use the blues technique known as the "call and response" technique, almost as if they were having their own conversation using vocals and guitar. It was apparent from this early stage that there was a connection between the two, which would flourish later on throughout their time in Led Zeppelin.
"Dazed and Confused", arguably the albums main track starts off slow and smooth with a simple bassline by bassist John Paul Jones and carefully selected guitar harmonics used by Page. Robert Plant enters with the memorable intro lines:
"Been dazed and confused, for so long it's not true,
Wanted a woman, never bargained for you,
Lots of people talkin', few of them know,
Soul of a woman was created below..."
John Bonham's drums introduce themselves to the song with enourmous power and voice and the song really gets going with feel and groove, only to come to a point where the track takes a completely different route. After the second verse, Jimmy Page uses his famous violin bow technique, creating an eerie and unique sound, before leading on to a battering guitar solo with a fast paced drum and bass line as foundation, building to a climax of organised lead guitar, drums and bass chaos. Eventually, the mood of the song changes back to the familiar verse at the beginning of the song and ends in a unified vocal, power-chord, bass and drum section leaving its heavy mark behind as a lasting impression. The song itself was light years ahead of its time back in 1969.
Led Zeppelin Album Cover and Rear
The album takes a more mellow mood on the next track "Your Time is Gonna Come". John Paul Jones' organ abilities (using a pedal for the bass line) open the track and is the main theme of the song. Jimmy Page uses a 10-string steel guitar. The songs' lyrics speak of an unfaithful woman who will eventually pay the price. The end of the song is smoothly arranged to merge into the intro of the following track...
In "Black Mountain Side", Jimmy page has the opportunity to flaunt his acoutsic guitar skills. Using an alternate guitar tuning (DADGAD), he creates an eastern flavour to a track which was influenced by an English folk song called "Blackwaterside" recorded by Bert Jansch in 1966. The song was also played live at Led Zeppelin concerts and usually lasted 11 minutes with John Bonham adding some percussion toward the end of the song.
One of the most lasting and influential tracks of the album was to follow. "Communication Breakdown" showed again the strength the band had in creating memorable and timeless music. Just like "Good Times Bad Times", this track had a heavy opening guitar riff which would set the mood of the song. Plant's vocal range is used perfectly to compliment Page's guitar work and the bass and drum work (particularly bass drum use) of Jones and Bonham was the foundation and engine room of the track. Interestingly, it was the only track to be played live in every year the band toured, such was its popularity at live shows.
Another Willie Dixon influenced track, "I Can't Quit You Babe", was to re-instate the blues feel in the band and show the audience once again that the blues were a big part in influencing the band members, particularly Plant and Page.
Or buy one of these Led Zeppelin albums...
Led Zeppelin concert DVD and Blu-ray titles...
The final track on the bands debut album is the longest on the album. "How Many More Times" clocked in at 8:28 (although originally the album sleeve was labelled with a running time of 3:30 to trick radio shows in to playing the song) and covered many different themes throughout its duration. After starting with a memorable guitar riff, the song goes in to a Jimmy Page showcase of guitar solo's and impressive percussion work from Bonham. The drum fills would be a sign of things to come in later albums, where John Bonham would earn a reputation as one of (if not the) greatest rock drummers. Plant again brings his unique and impressive vocal talent and range to the party and a lot of the middle section of the song is said to have been improvised on the spot during recording. This is the only other track on the album (Dazed and Confused being the other) where Jimmy Page uses a violin bow on his electric guitar.
As I mentioned earlier, the album was not received well by the press and Rolling Stone magazine particularly crucified the album and the band with its reviews along with other reviewers from other sources. Commercially however, it was a huge success. More importantly it is an album that at the time changed the direction of rock music. It's influence on future generations of musicians is immeasureable and today it is still considered one of the greatest albums of all time, even by Rolling Stone magazine.
If you have not yet had the chance to hear this album, or Led Zeppelin at all for that matter, I would recommend you pick up a copy of this album as soon as possible and be inspired, on one condition... That you do not hold me accountable for becoming addicted to the music created by... Led Zeppelin.
Anyone else have something to add to or comment on the review? I would love to hear from other fans or casual listeners...