I have been asked by several people why I have not covered Led Zeppelin yet. To be honest, I held back thinking everything about Led Zeppelin has probably been said and another video would get lost in all the noise. However, with your encouragement, I thought if I talk about Led Zeppelin from my perspective then it might work.
The focus of this video is the Led Zeppelin album that I play the most, It does not mean I think it is the best, but given the choice, this is the one that ends up on the turntable the most.
Like many people from my generation, I view the holy trinity of British rock as Deep Purple Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. I cannot deny that everything came from Led Zeppelin, it was Jimmy Page who lit the blue touch paper all those years ago and changed everything.
When I got into Led Zeppelin, I was still at school and was listening to Slade. Sweet and T Rex. A school friend said you really need to listen to some progressive rock not just the singles chart. Now progressive rock in the 1970s didn’t necessarily mean YES or King Crimson etc. It meant anything that was album orientated. So even Rory Gallagher classed as progressive rock back then, and obviously Led Zeppelin because they didn’t release any singles in the UK at all. So my friend said you want to start with Led Zeppelin and so he played me Led Zeppelin 2 and 4. These were the two albums back then which were seen as their best. These two had some of their most popular tracks on them from Whole Lotta Love, Heartbreaker, Black Dog and Stairway To Heaven.
Led Zeppelin 3 was seen as their acoustic album and Houses of The Holy the more eclectic album. When I was finishing my school exams in 1975 Physical Graffiti became the soundtrack to that summer, but I digress this video is all about the first album Led Zeppelin 1.
While at school the only time I really got albums was at Christmas or birthdays so as my interest in Led Zeppelin grew I asked for Led Zeppelin 1. I only knew of the track Communication Breakdown and I like this because it matched the heavier riff based tracks on the later albums. However when the needle went down for the first time I could tell this was something very different.
It was not just the music, it was the sound of the album, the separation of the instruments, the stereo affects, basically it was Jimmy Page’s production. This album was released at a time when stereo was a brand new, shiny toy. In 2021 with many people playing music through their phones, blue tooth speakers the need for stereo separation seems lost, many albums almost seem mono in comparison to these early stereo albums. If you imagine a clock face most stereo sits between 10am and 2pm, on Led Zeppelin one it goes from 7am to 5pm with guitars and vocals moving dramatically from one speaker to another. On headphones, this was like nothing I had heard before.
When I listen now it still amazes me that Jimmy Page must have imagined and heard this all in his head, he uses the recording studio almost like an additional member of the band. At this point Page was the leader of the band, Robert Plant was just pleased to be in a professional gig, he was not the rock god yet but the way he uses his voice shows even here that he was the perfect choice for Page’s vision.
One of my favourite tracks in How Many More Times and I love the multi-layering of the guitars, Distant vocals and other effects. It feels like visual theatre for your ears.
To this day I still feel when I put this album on it is special. I do try and imagine what it must have been like in 1969 to hear this in context with what else was happening. When this arrived it changed the musical world and sowed seeds for many bands and musical styles yet to come. In just a few months bands like Sabbath, Purple and others mining the blues boom would start to pivot in a heavier direction.
The other thing about this album is the different sounds and songs it includes, from the riffage of Communication Breakdown to the acoustic but powerfully driven ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’. This is itself is full of passion and angst, at the start, Robert Plant is determined to leave this young lady and by the end of the song, he has completely changed his mind!
Then there are the blues numbers You Shook Me and I Can’t Quit You Baby. I have always felt that Jimmy Page had been listening to Truth by Jeff Beck and saw the opportunity and ran with it before Beck realised what he had. I have to mention Dazed and Confused as well with its fast guitar workout and wailing vocals towards the end, just incredible and the almost psychedelic Your Time is Gonna Come.
When you listen to this first album by Led Zeppelin you realise why they had to stop when John Bonham died. Each member was responsible for the sound that Zeppelin made. Page might have had the vision but I doubt any other musicians could have interpreted what he heard as they did.
Each member created the sound of Led Zeppelin, no other voice apart from Robert Plant could have made the songs sound like they do. Add John Bonham’s drumming, John Paul Jones is bass playing and of course the orchestra the conductor. Jimmy Page and the legend was born. Zeppelin had the mystique and managed to maintain this even after they were gone.
Every so often I do give my vinyl copy a spin but the 2CD Deluxe edition is the one I play the most. This also contains a live concert from The Olympia in Paris France from October 1969 and although not perfect sound quality it still gives you an idea of the greatness that was to come.
Phil Aston | Now Spinning Magazine