Monday, October 14, 2013

"Led Zeppelin" by Led Zeppelin (January, 1969)

Brad's Take:

Led Zeppelin is a band I've become very familiar with in the last few years. So when I saw that this album was next on our list, I was really excited to dive into it. Led Zeppelin (or as some refer to it: I) contains some of my favorite tracks by the band.

This album was recorded in only about 36 hours, over the course of a few weeks.

The album kicks off with guitarist Jimmy Page and drummer John Bonham having a conversation with each other on their respective instruments on the classic tune "Good Times Bad Times." The song's intro must be one of the most instantly familiar rock intros of all time.

Next up is another great song, and my personal favorite Led Zeppelin jam, "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You." To me, this song encompasses everything that Led Zeppelin is. It starts with beautiful classic-styled acoustic guitar playing by Page with vocalist Robert Plant crooning about (you guessed it) leaving his babe. Then, the song busts into a hard hitting rockin' riff that you can't help but headbang to. The song is almost 7 minutes long, but it could play all day, and I wouldn't even mind.

The fact that this album was Led Zeppelin's debut is very impressive. Right from the beginning of their professional career, these guys were already destined to become a classic household name. It was recorded and mixed in only 36 hours over the span of just a few weeks. A very impressive feat. It contains a whole slew of recognizable hits. The ones I mentioned above as well as "Dazed and Confused" and "Communication Breakdown." Listening to this record feels like a vacation for me. It's pretty much all gold.

Part of what makes this album so great is Jimmy Page's production. There are no points on here that feel sloppy at all. Everything was very well organized and pre-calculated before they even hit the record button. Page knew exactly what he wanted this album to sound like, and he nailed it.

I really only have good things to say about Led Zeppelin's debut. There are songs I like better than others, but there isn't a single note on here that is bad. This is a perfect album to start with if you're wanting to get into the band.

Dad's Take:

It's hard now to think of a time when Led Zeppelin was new, when their first album came out and nobody knew who they were. The members of the band were not complete unknowns. Jimmy Page had kicked around British recording studios for quite some time appearing on several well-known records as a session guitarist, and had joined the Yardbirds not long before Zeppelin's debut. The other members were also busy studio musicians or had been in other local bands of decent reputation.

But there had been no Led Zeppelin.

Then, in April, 1969, that iconic intro to "Good Times, Bad Times," introduced the new band to the world, and the music changed.

On their debut record, Zeppelin moved into the heavy blues rock world of Hendrix, Mayall, Butterfield, the Yardbirds, Cream, and others who had come before, but it's sometimes hard to recognize today that they came in with a fresh, new take on what was by then a common genre. It wasn't a new style of music, but the interpretation and presentation and reimagining of what had come before them resulted in something that was, and remains, absolutely unique.

Songs like "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" fit perfectly with the psychedelic-infused blues of those other bands. If you were a fan of other heavy blues rock bands of the day, much of this album would have felt comfortable and familiar. But then songs like "Communication Breakdown" would have made you sit up and realize that this was something fresh, and these guys were something special. Critics weren't crazy about the album, but rock fans ate it up, and it became even bigger as people discovered their subsequent albums and looked back to the band's beginnings.

This is a difficult album to write about, because so much has been said about it. But an album with the songs I've mentioned already, plus "Dazed and Confused" and "Communication Breakdown" couldn't become anything but an instant classic.

Every song, thanks to Page, Plant, Bonham, and Jones' impeccable playing and singing (and, no doubt, thanks to almost 45 years of frequent play) is now familiar and classic. You might not be as familiar with"You Shook Me" or "Your Time Is Gonna Come,"  but you'll immediately recognize them.

What I like best about this album is how firmly blues-based it is. Everything that Led Zeppelin added to the blues to create their unique sound is here, but it's wrapped tightly around the blues. For example, the album's closer, "How Many More Times," is at its root a basic blues tune, but by the time Led Zeppelin is done with it, it's something much more, something unusual that transcends the blues and psychedelia and anything that had been heard before. Sure, you could hear the influence of bands like Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, but this was no copy-cat band.

I don't want to write any more. I just want to listen. Many records are called great, but this one truly deserves that over-used adjective. It builds on what had come before, but there had never been anything like it, and all imitators since then have fallen short. This is an iconic, classic album.

No comments: