Friday, June 22, 2007

No. 29: Led Zeppelin

Band: Led Zeppelin
Album: Led Zeppelin
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: It's pretty much impossible to overestimate the influence of Led Zeppelin. Their sound -- evolving concurrently as Black Sabbath's, by the way -- was heavier than most of which came before them. Their blues-based riffs built on the Yardbirds-type rock and roll from the mid-'60s. Jimmy Page's bowing guitar technique was certainly unique, if not often-imitated.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Sabbath should probably be close to Zep on this list, but we all know that RS has an aversion to all things metal. Hell, Zep should be higher, but because they're a hard rock band, I'm sure the RS editors found them to be bad, somehow.
Best song: "Dazed and Confused" is a pretty wonderful song.
Worst song: I'm lukewarm on "How Many More Times."
Is it awesome?: I'm not a big Zep guy, but there are clearly great tracks on this record. Moreover, this album has been banging in teenagers' rooms since it came out and that means something.

I'm not the world's biggest Led Zeppelin fan, but they're clearly one of the five most important rock and roll bands ever. Their first record really announced the band with a vengeance and showed their heavy, blues-based sound.

Their self-titled record is not the band's most widely-known (that'd be the untitled fourth album, aka "Zoso"), but it's fitting that it's highest on the list. Zep's first record is really the template for the others. While the band branched out in a few ways (Indian sounds with "Kashmir," reggae with "D'yer Maker" and funk with "Trampled Under Foot"), the bread and butter of Zep was the hard riff and blues-based guitar work. Jimmy Page's fantastic layering -- he, at some points, used 16 (!) different guitar tracks on one song -- was evident in the hard rock of "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" and in the clear Kinks ripoff "Communication Breakdown." John Bonham's "hammer of God" drumming was the centerpiece of "Good Times, Bad Times" and John Paul Jones' bass carries the album's centerpiece "Dazed and Confused."

Robert Plant's voice (which I'll write about in future Zep reviews) is the thing that normally bugs me about Zeppelin (long story short: His voice sounds too much like an animal mating call), but I'm mostly OK with it on this record. Plant's vocals fit the songs, for the most part, as his screaming is mostly left to just the end of "Dazed and Confused."

All in all, the first Zeppelin record is fitting here on this list.


bob_vinyl said...

While the first five Zep albums all rate a perfect 10, there are better choices to be on here. As a matter of fact, LZI is actually the worst choice of the five. LZII was the prototypical hard rock album. LZIII might have backed off some of the harder stuff, but drew on a wide range of influences and still came out cohesive (and it's my fave). LZIV split the difference between the two before it without a loss of their amazing ability to manage their energy. Houses of the Holy was a huge step for rock music in terms of eclecticism, but never became overwrought. If it was my list, I'd take Houses of the Holy and put it in the top 10 (if not 5).

Sabbath is indeed underrepresented, but good as they were, they were a much more limited band than Zeppelin.

fft said...

Like your blog and the concept of questioning a lot of these "important" albums that might look nice in your record collection you'd never want to actually listen to.

As for Led Zep, you should know that Rolling Stone famously *hated* Led Zep, and it wasn't until their career was almost over that they grudgingly admitted they were "important" (even if they didnt think they were good). RS had to eat a lot of crow to even put this on the list (or more likely the old timers left the magazine)

For about $80 bucks on Amazon you can buy "Rolling Stone Cover to Cover" which has all of the orignal reviews of albums. Many of which do not at all resemble the reviews in their Top 500 list. Its expensive, but since you've spent a year on this project already I think you'd find it interesting. If only to more fully comprehend the pomposity that Rolling Stone sometimes exhibits (not that they don't get it right sometimes).