In 1969, Led Zeppelin arguably changed the course of rock music with their eponymous debut album, Led Zeppelin. This is significant as there are three, one third of the album, covers on it in “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”, “You Shook Me” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby”. Their propensity for invention, and making songs their own, however, almost negates how heavily they relied upon old blues standards.
What’s more, the joint single of “Good Times Bad Times” and “Communication Breakdown” probably weighed the scales in their favour. These two tracks span a good portion of the album, offering nuanced dips into the world of rock music. Definitely a medley to get the, at the time, prototype head bangers sweating and impassioned.
It didn’t achieve much critical acclaim when first released yet, however, was commercially successful. Many in the press have viewed it favourably in retrospection, though. In 2003, Led Zeppelin was ranked at #29 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, keeping that same place when the list was updated in 2012. In 2004, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame.
It will be forty eight years old as of Thursday, January 12, and it’s aged better than many. The album cover apparently originates from when Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Keith Moon and John Entwistle were exploring the idea of forming a band. Moon was quoted as saying that it “…would probably go over like a lead balloon”, with Entwistle adding, “a lead zeppelin!” Hence band name and the album cover.
The band appear measured for the opener, considering “Good Times Bad Times”. However, it opens with a flurry, the drums gradually building in ambience before the riff proper begins. The fills are so creative. Indeed, of the bass variety, too. The latter, however, drops out expertly to maximise the shock of that face melting, gun slinging guitar solo. The vocals getting dogs barking, and he’s not even anywhere near the top of his range.
Plant then implores “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” (an Anne Bredon cover), which opens with sedate, perfectly plucked acoustic. This changes suddenly, a flourish of acoustic adjoined with electric. Plant hollers at the top of his voice, before climax towards pounding volume. All electric, stomping. A real progeny of heavy metal. The midpoint strips back, again, acoustic.
The imploring vocals of Plant raise their head before another, however brief, crushing moment comes. “We’re gonna go, walking through the park, everyday” a curious line to adjoin to an extended outing for that almighty riff. Light and shade, mellow and loud, a basic sense of dynamics yet works so expertly well. The toll of a bell seems to end the track.
There’s an AC/DC reference somewhere in “You Shook Me” (a Muddy Waters cover), one of their signature songs maybe thanks to this one. It’s a rocker perhaps more faithful to the original blues of which the whole band were so dedicated to and immersed in. It plods, though tasteful lead guitar stops you getting into a rhythmic rut. Organ also, definitely, plays a part in catching the ear.
A clatter of drums then announce themselves, Bonham straining at the leash to break out, however brief. Another lead, majestic and bluesy in its roots, wails away. That descending “You shook me all night long” follows the descending guitar expertly. Call and response between vocal and guitar that they would become famous for.
Then the listener is left “Dazed And Confused” (inspired by Jake Holmes) with the ensuing sonic assault. It cuts in seamlessly from the previous, this time descending bass. Sedate and unsuspecting. Then wham, the guitar cry of a tortured soul wails away. Then immediate guitar kicks in, surely where, perhaps, Black Sabbath got the idea for the “Paranoid” riff.
Again, expert dynamics, calm and rounded bass, with drum, create vibes amidst noodling and adlibbing on the guitar. It’s not long before the latter heralds its fast immediacy. That busy, quick, moody riff really broods, tight and locked in. Then only bass holds the riff in order for some, for the time, wild soloing.
Still a thrill to the day, definitely. Things strip back, momentarily, before hammering back in. To and fro a good way of putting those light and shade dynamics.
Are the band calling out the listener in “Your Time Is Gonna Come”, or someone else? It’s resplendent in what sounds like church organ. It soars with joy, before calming and, perhaps, becoming more wistful.
Cue the rest of the band to kick in. “Messing around every guy in town/Putting me down for thinking of someone new” and “Always the same/Playing your game/Driving me insane, trouble’s gonna come to you” suiting the mood of the backdrop. The song title, come the chorus, appears to point to Karma, the result of messing around with other people’s lives.
“Black Mountain Side” is a short one, though by no means necessary a throwaway one. It starts with the previous track fading out on top of it. Then the acoustic guitar can be heard for all its intricacy. The percussion, Bonham at the helm, is very world music in its sound. Tribal, even. Then things get yet more urgent, a flurry of notes before gradually slowing down for the song’s end. Just over two minutes.
Rocker, “Communication Breakdown”, has that muted immediacy, tempo upbeat and’s a tad wild. Maybe one all the bikers wanted as the soundtrack to their travel back in the day. It’s quite short, too, though that chugging riff gives it real energy that counters the overall brevity. The vocals, really exploring Plant’s range up until now, are excellent.
Plant passionately proclaims “I Can’t Quit You Baby” (a Willie Dixon cover), and’s like the band catching their breath, slow, bluesy and expressive. “My love for you, I could never hide” a good snippet of Plant’s lyrics. Apt. The rough midpoint has Page really exploring the boundaries of the song with his expressive soloing.
Things almost come to a halt, the drums really hammering as Bonham seems to want to blow out his own cobwebs. Then Plant urges calm with “When you hear me moaning and groaning, baby/You know it hurts me deep down inside”. There’s a loud flourish before the next track.
The band appear guns blazing for the closer, “How Many More Times”. It has, again, a seamless transition from previous to current. The bass laces a groove with the drums, before the guitar pairs up on the riff for extra, mighty power. The crashing of the drums, as seemingly all elements syncopate in tandem, is incredibly satisfying, no matter how many more times you’ve heard it before.
Things get sedate before building in cacophony, then ringing out sparse. Again, bar atmospheric histrionics on the guitar, the bass and drums are the primary focus. Plant’s, “I’ve got another child on the way, that makes eleven/But I’m in constant heaven” conveying a real sense of drama before chugging guitar and bass motion towards volume. Crashes of drum syncopating with guitar and bass is then followed.
“They call me the hunter/That’s how I got my fame…ain’t no need to hide, ain’t no need to run/’cos I’ve got you in the sights of my gun”. Then the riff the song opened with makes an epic comeback, grooving, emphatic and loud! The closing moments clatter to a frenetic halt.
There’s not much to fault on this eponymous debut, like “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”, “Dazed And Confused”, “Communication Breakdown” and “How Many More Times”. Even among the rest of the tracks, there isn’t much to quibble about. All tracks are towards an ensemble performance. Pop albums these days are, if good, consist of overproduced heavy hitting singles that don’t mesh well.
They really hit the music scene really hard with this one, and the tracks are sequenced quite well, too. You have second track, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”; rough midway track, “Dazed And Confused”; and closing tracks, “Communication Breakdown” and “How Many More Times”, upon first cursory glance through the tracklist.
Look, again, and you notice there are never more than two songs between the album’s most excellent highlights. There’s a one song gap between “Babe I’m Going Leave You” and “Dazed And Confused”. There’s a two song gap between the latter and “Communication Breakdown”. Only one track between that and “How Many More Times”, too. Maybe weighted towards second half, albeit.
One way conveying the legacy of this Led Zeppelin album would be to simply state it’s, arguably, the origin of some significant songs within the armoury of subsequent bands like Black Sabbath and AC/DC. These aren’t even mere derivative aping outfits, neither, they carved their own history into the annals of rock music. Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin can be bought from iTunes here.
Words by Andrew Watson