Yo, this be Reuben. These past few months, I’ve largely been listening to Led Zeppelin, and I thought I would show my appreciation by explaining why — my ode to the band, if you like.
Some bands are just unique. Greta Van Fleet may sound a lot like Led Zeppelin, but they just aren’t the same, right? Zeppelin are terminally unique, and I’m gonna explain why.
Half from the Black Country of England, half from the London area, the famous band were a heady mix of Brummies and Cockneys, and although sometimes they may have sung about Going to California and about their desire to go to Chicago, they were very British at heart and that’s something that is, for me, part of their charm. You’ve got Robert Plant wailing like crazy or putting on one of those silly American accents in a song like that aforementioned Going to California, but then in between songs at shows he’d make it very clear that actually he’s from West Brom and liked a cuppa. Nonetheless, their ambitions drew wider spheres than their back garden.
Sure, there were huge venues in Britain. Wembley, Earl’s Court, yunno. But the world was Zeppelin’s oyster. America was bigger and more exciting, and it fit their music and image quite perfectly. Both are of a certain grandeur. This music was at home on the biggest stages in the world, to the audience of the most people, and the most crazy people — who, let’s face it, are the Americans (no offense). It initially surprised me how few shows the band actually played in Britain over the years, but in hindsight it makes sense. Led Zeppelin were global. They were huge. I think a part of what gives them such a unique appeal is their blend of British values with their intimate sets in London and their traditional folky, Bert Jansch influenced songs spread through their discography, and that huge American-ness, with their monstrous riffs and desire to be as big as they could possibly be.
And, despite traditionalist scoffing and devil-worship claims, Zeppelin rolled on and they rocked out for the whole world to see and hear. Indeed, an integral part of their success that they weren’t only something to hear, but also very much something to see in the same sense. Essentially, they got their branding just right. They brought the mysticism and magic (which was perfectly demonstrated in The Battle of Evermore) with their ancient Hebrew influenced sigil logos, which, derived from chaos magic, focused on the creation of new and unorthodox methods (thanks Wikipedia): symbolic of their new, unorthodox music for the time. With their album arts, too, the band just appears striking, exciting and mysterious. There is so much to each and every album art they put out, ranging from Storm Thorgeson designs to Led Zeppelin III‘s powerful and colourful design. This band was as exciting to look at as it was to listen to, and still is to this day.
Important, too, was their stage presence and their personal image. With Robert Plant on the microphone and Jimmy Page on the guitar, they invented the enigmatic frontman-mysterious guitarist dynamic, which has been used countless times to this day by imitators — whether consciously or subconsciously. The two were the masters of that dynamic and haven’t since been matched, I’d say. Chris Cornell and Kim Thayil in Soundgarden came close, I suppose. But, Robert Plant was such a huge character, with such charm and energy, and such precision and power in his vocals. When he sung for songs like Whole Lotta Love, the world was graced with one of the most effective rock and roll frontmen of all time, and in contrast, when he sung for songs like That’s the Way, they got to see a very mature, considered and intimate singer. He pretty much had it all.
And by his side, Jimmy Page was one of the greatest guitarists the world had ever seen and still has barely been matched. Maybe not quite Jimi Hendrix, maybe I love John Frusciante more, but he had it all in him. But what makes him special, and really contributes to his image, is that he was never a show off. He was just very good. Other than Stairway to Heaven, I can’t think of many insane guitar solos in the band’s discography. Page was (and is) masterful in his trade, either acoustic or electric. Not quite eclectic, not quite Slash style flashiness, he was relatively conserved and his guitar playing could be as beautiful as it was colossal.
Behind those two, you’ve got the rhythm section of John Bonham and John Paul Jones. John Bonham, a drummer renowned for a reason, really, just brought the rock and roll to the fore and the way he died really proves that — if ever a fan was to forget that Led Zeppelin were about the rock in moments of calm in their music, he reminded them. And John Paul Jones, just a normal bloke really, ironically helped build the band’s mysterious image as he constantly changed his look so people wouldn’t recognise him. Perhaps more importantly, his bass playing was magnificent. Not showy, not anything like Flea or Les Claypool, but it provided the perfect backbone for their music and his output really is admirable.
This was perhaps the perfect mixture, and why it’s easy to see why they remained the same lineup throughout their whole existence. And it’s that blend of mysteriousness and raucousness that I keep on going on about that is so special about Led Zeppelin. Yes, they are about the rock. People know them for their hits like The Immigrant Song, Whole Lotta Love and Black Dog. They’re what gave them their most success. But I think what gave them such a huge, lasting impression as they had, was their ability to blend genres, and play folk guitars in hand with wailing rock vocals. Just listen to Friends, and it about sums that up. On Led Zeppelin III, for example, it keeps everyone excited and entertained with blasts of energy in tracks like Celebration Day, but wets the appetite even moreso and is given such massive depth when it drifts into acoustic, light gems like That’s the Way. In this album particularly but throughout their whole discography, they weaved and flowed between rock, folk and prog, and there was just so much to the music they put out.
They essentially invented metal with Dazed and Confused in 1969, a year before Black Sabbath released their first song, carried the flag for rock and roll for an entire decade, and satisfied gentler ears at the same time. What they did, it’s just special, and unmatched.
What is so unique about Led Zeppelin, too, is that they are so entrenched in music culture. As mentioned before, imitation of their music and dynamic can be subconscious or conscious equally — because they are so entrenched in what we view as rock music, and their image is so famous, so uniquely huge, that it’s worshiped and imitated, it seems, more than anything else in the genre. Their music is timeless, it’s always gaining new fans across the world. Like crap, I don’t know how the hell their music is just by three musicians sometimes. Those guys were good. There’s not much music which is truly inspiring, but this is. I always used to dream of being a rock star, but as I grew up I thought it was just silly and nothing would ever happen. Listening to Led Zeppelin has rekindled that flame again and I love it.
It might just be rock perfection.
OTHER STUFF ON LED ZEPPELIN ON STUFF AND THAT:
MMM: Dazed and Confused
RRR: The Rain Song
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4 thoughts on “An Ode to Led Zeppelin”
Can’t beat a bit of Led Zeppelin.
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Perhaps the most succinctly accurate assessment of the band I’ve read in ages. WELL DONE!
I’d say Page’s understatement as a player goes back to his time as a session and studio man for everyone else, in his early days. He understands what a song needs and never often played past that on the records.
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Thanks man!! And yes, I agree for sure. Every now and then though, he did a guitsr solo or two — Stairway to Heaven is eargasmic.