I attested in my previous post that Led Zeppelin was not top tier for me, not in the day. I liked them but never purchased their music. Like with the Jeff Beck Group, whose appearance on the scene drew excitement around the same time, the guitar god was almost overmuched by a vocalist I didn’t like.
The excitement was real for me when these two groups appeared because I liked The Yardbirds so much. They must be the first rock group in which guitar gods were central. I have no idea how much Clapton appeared in Yardbird recordings. Their heyday was with Beck as lead, till Page eventually pushed him out. Page tried to create the New Yardbirds, with ex-Yardbird members. Legal wrangles and whatever, he finally settled on the famous lineup, and thus LZ. All right.
Beck’s group interested me more at the time. I hated Rod Stewart, almost all the bluesy songs suck on that first lp. However, songs like “I Aint Superstious”, with some extraordinary use of wah wah, and some other cuts, made up for the vocals. And there was “Beck’s Bolero”. This was the cream. Unmentioned in the liner notes, the players with Beck on this cut were Page, John Paul Jones, Nicky Hopkins as ever, and Keith Moon. There might have been thought to turn this lineup into something more, but I don’t see Beck and Page co-existing creatively for long.
I remember going hopefully to the Boston Tea Party with my brothers to see Zep on their first Boston appearance. Hah! Crowds and crowds. Oh well. Never saw Beck.
I honestly didn’t quite get Zep. The radio and record players of the time weren’t necessarily of the best for sound quality. I never noticed then how good John Paul Jones is on bass. Start with that churn in “Whole Lotta Love”, but look anywhere. The combination of Bonham’s heavy hand and Page’s erratic skills on lead made me think Bonzo was off the beat. I mean his beat was so heavy it seemed to have an extra tick, meanwhile Page splayed notes. I now realize that Bonham is a metronome with interesting counts and a clever bass. Sometimes overly ambitious in his fills, and let’s just forget about long drum solos, however. Please. I survived two Ginger Baker solos when I saw Cream, but just barely.
Clapton and Beck are inarguably excellent soloists. Page’s genius lay in the layered textures of his guitar parts, and the fascinating sounds he captures and delivers.
Robert Plant’s vocals still irritate me much of the time. It was not till I heard one of his side projects, in which he sings classic 50s songs, that I realized that he had range. His patented squeal, much imitated, grates on me. Not to the extent that Rod Stewart’s gruff voice turns me off. I’m not much for vocalists anyway, certainly not when they are spotlighting themselves. John Lennon singing “Twist and Shout” is where I want to be.
The last few years I have worked where a classic rock station plays. I’m comfortable with it, even if David Bowie or Bruce Springsteen get heavy airplay. LZ gets the heaviest. Their output is so varied tho not to say always successful. I mean the grind of “The Immigrant Song” seems to have no release, and Plant shifts between hoky scream and muttering. “Kashmir” is almost impressive but its lugubrious march seems endless to me. I don’t know why it enjoys such popularity but whadda I know?
In school, this stuff, knowing this music, was important. I wanted to talk about the music. A classmate saw Zeppelin at the Boston Garden (not a place I ever wanted to see music), and all he could say was that it was awesome. Poets reporting on poetry readings nowadays say the same thing, for god’s sake. The highpoint for my classmate was that John Bonham performed his drum solo with his hands. My friend and I wanted to hear more of his epiphanies from the concert, because this guy was really excited, but the best he could do was exalt that Bonham eschewed sticks for a while.
I think art criticism often settles on that sort of bunk. Somewhere in Harold Bloom’s writing, he repeatedly uses the term Dantesque, as in Dantesque inferno. He’s telescoping a lot of adventure into that word, without much impact. Pretty much his trademark, you ask me.
With music, especially rock music, maybe just dancing there, drumming along, whooping, that’s enough. What’s captured is some beguiling sight of some paradise. It may not even be a happy paradise, not a real escape from this mortal coil, but it reveals, perhaps, a breathing place with an exercising memory.
That said, I always wanted to talk about a concert afterwards, to put the bits I could away in some storage of life. It’s an incomplete alchemy, like Coleridge’s Xanadu dream, but it is something.
A Zep song that only recently came to my ears is “When the Levee Breaks”. A real, and obviously Delta, blues. White blues, an extant term at least in the day, most often consisted of amps to 11 and 20 minutes till done. Cream’s version of “Crossroads” seems to me to parlay an exception. I think during the vocal, that Clapton’s guitar plays fair tribute to what Johnson did. The supersonic solos (which include the recently late Jack Bruce’s bass frolic) simply articulate a different era. They got electric instruments now, and big places to fill.
“Levee” does the same thing. It begins with a ferociously heavy drum that I understand was recorded at the bottom of a stairwell with Bonzo instructed not to spare the drums. The harmonica, Plant I assume, sounds valid, he’s not pretending to be better than time. Page pulls out the slide guitar and, without sounding showy, brings out an ecstatic depth with the sound. Plant sings like it could really be true, no fake orgasms.
At one time, “Stairway” was a revelation. What’s really the revelation, and it took me long to realize: “Stairway” just reworks “Matty Groves by Fairport Convention. The build up, the near apotheosis, the redeeming solo. “Stairway” scores second on all counts. Funny, tho, there was interaction between the two groups. Fairport’s second bassist, Dave Pegg, played in a group with I think Plant. Sandy Denny, who sang “Matty Groves” joined Plant on “Battle of Evermore”. With “Stairway”, what sounded at first so majestic now sounds fey. But who says music lasts?
You hear music, or witness any art, and it is there. You think your valid thoughts, peg it, and it remains. You may deny what remains in you but I think it still works on and in you. It is true enough that Page is a sloppy soloist, but one can unearth something larger than that. The need to think about these things executes a sort of pirouette that can take time to settle within you. That pirouette itself may be the articulation. In that is art’s being. I guess.