Jimmy Page is 70

I just ODed on Stairway to Heaven, I’m afraid. Still leaving it off the list would be an injustice.

Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page

Noticed that, of the 18 folks inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame more than once, the list includes Crosby, Stills, Nash AND Young; three Beatles; and three guitarists for the Yardbirds: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page.

Since I never bought a Yardbirds album until after the group broke up, I wasn’t really familiar with Page until the group that evolved from the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, came out with its first album in 1969.

Here’s an interesting, and applicable, quote of Jimmy Page about what “he wanted Led Zeppelin to be, from the very beginning:
“‘I had a lot of ideas from my days with The Yardbirds. The Yardbirds allowed me to improvise a lot in live performance and I started building a textbook of ideas that I eventually used in Zeppelin. In addition to those ideas, I wanted to add acoustic textures. Ultimately, I wanted Zeppelin to be a marriage of blues, hard rock, and acoustic music topped with heavy choruses – a combination that had never been done before. Lots of light and shade in the music.”

And so it was.

I’ve already discussed my affection for, and irritation with, Zeppelin, especially Page and vocalist Robert Plant, so I guessed I’d list my 20 favorite songs by the group, not the best ones necessarily. Except…

Strange that my affection for songs by Led Zeppelin usually depends on what I’ve listened to most recently. Except for the #20 song, the ranking here is fairly arbitrary.

Links are to all songs, which WERE working at the time of compilation. Citations are to the albums I, II, III, IV, Physical Graffiti (PG), and Houses of the Holy (HotH)

20. Stairway to Heaven (IV) – yeah, I know that it has that building energy, a great Page guitar intro, it’s technically impressive. But I just ODed on it, I’m afraid. Still leaving it off the list would be an injustice. You would think it was released as a single, but oddly, only as a promo.

19. Houses of the Holy (PG). Strangely left off the Houses of the Holy album, it shows up on the next album. I find the beat seems to change on me. Something about the groove is infectious.

18. Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You (I) – starts off as a sweet song, actually, that reportedly is a paean to Joan Baez, who had recorded a version. Then moves to the more plaintive, driving sections. Back and forth – think I like the schizoid nature of the performance.

17. Celebration Day (III) – bluesy in an off-balanced manner.

16. Trampled Under Foot (PG) – lives on the funky bottom. This was released as a single and actually got to #38 in 1975.

15. Immigrant Song (III) – a slab of unrelenting metal that starts a generally more quiet and reflective album. Notably, it has no guitar solo, which allowed it to be released as a single and get up to #16 in early 1971.

14. Gallows Pole (III) – I knew this song first as performed by Leadbelly. Love the guitar, and the musical interlude.

13. Rock and Roll (IV) – actually a loud blues number, and often used as the band’s concert opener. Only got to #47 as a single in 1972.

12. The Ocean (HotH)- a great outlet for the bass/drum combo of John Paul Jones and John Bonham.

11. Black Dog (IV) – “Hey hey, mama, said the way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove.” Went to #15 in early 1972.

10. In My Time of Dying (PG) – rather like putting church through the heavy metal grinder. At 11 minutes, their longest song

9. Whole Lotta Love (II) – a great hook, great vocals. Nicked a Willie Dixon song, which wasn’t uncommon for them. Tom Skulan of FantaCo used to describe the pronunciation of his last name from the second line of this song, “I’m gonna send ya back to schoolin'”. Their biggest single, it went to #4 in the beginning of 1970.

8. Communications Breakdown (I) – there is a guy named Lefty Brown who used to organize a mixed CD exchange. I started one of the discs with this song – this feels so urgent – followed by Barabajagal by Donovan, featuring Jeff Beck. I think they go well together.

7. The Battle of Evermore (IV) – a softer side of the group, with a mandolin (I think), which would have fit on the third album.

6. How Many More Times (I) – it’s a fascinating pastiche of rocking blues, which segues into some psychedelic thing. I remember my copy of the original LP listed the running time as 3:30, reportedly so that radio DJs would play it before realizing it was five minutes longer.

5. Kashmir (PG) – it has this exotic sound, peculiar meter, awash with strings and horns. I’ve seen this song on lists of the best LZ song, and it may well be.

4. What Is, and What Should Never Be (II) – like many of my favorite LZ songs, it changes moods, from contemplative to rocking.

3. Good Times, Bad Times (I) – the first song from the first album hooked me instantly. As a single in 1969, before the album was released, it got only to #80 on the charts.

2. Friends (III) – this is the second song on the album after Immigrant Song suggested that the group was going to have another album rather like the first two. Instead, they went into a more melodic direction which led to the album being their worst seller. But I always liked it a lot.

1. Four Sticks (IV) – the song drives about in hypnotic fashion, changing time signatures frequently, from 5/4 to 6/8 to who knows what. The lyrics are banal, but it’s the beat that hooked me.


Z is for (Led) Zeppelin 1969

The Dixon composition was so similar that Led Zeppelin reached a settlement with Dixon over the royalties for the song, and credited Dixon as the writer when this appeared on Led Zeppelin’s How The West Was Won live DVD

I have such mixed feelings about the band Led Zeppelin.

Their eponymous first album I loved. I recall quite clearly the day I first heard it. It was a sunny and warm day in late May or early June 1969, when I was 16.

I was riding a borrowed bicycle and was riding over from the First Ward to the South Side of Binghamton, NY, along with my very good friend Carol, to visit friends. The bike had hand breaks, which I had never had on any of my bikes; one “broke” by putting one’s foot back. Got down Front Street without having to slow down, but crossing the bridge, I was gaining on Carol, and couldn’t stop, so I put my foot to the ground to slow down, flipped the bike, and crashed to the ground. I got a nasty gash on my right forearm. Carol said, “Are you OK?” and I lied, “Sure.” And that’s when I learned about hand breaks.

We rode the rest of the way, talked with our friends, had some food, and someone played that LZ album. I was immediately entranced by the opening chords of Good Times, Bad Times.

Then my friend Lois noticed the gash on my right forearm, just above the elbow, and she, Carol and Karen started removing gravel from the abrasion. It hurt, a lot actually, and left a scar that remained until the vitiligo obliterated it only a couple years ago. But it didn’t matter, because I’m really enjoying this music. My first favorite song was Communications Breakdown.

When I bought the album shortly therafter, I noticed it had two songs by the blues legend Willie Dixon, You Shook Me and I Can’t Quit You Baby, and attributed as such. The biggest deception was the 3:30 running time for How Many More Times, which was more like 8:30, apparently a trick to try to get radio stations to play it.

Led Zeppelin II was even more entertaining, but ultimately it became problematic for me. The first song, Whole Lotta Love was attributed to the band, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham. But I discovered a few years later that it bore a distinct similarity to You Need Love as performed by Muddy Waters, which was a song written by Willie Dixon. As described here, the Small Faces had nicked the song even before Zeppelin.

“Another blues classic on Led Zeppelin II became famous as The Lemon Song. Derived directly from Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor”, there is also the infamous quote about squeezing lemons that comes from Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues.” Chester Burnett, a.k.a. Howlin’ Wolf, received no credit for The Lemon Song. In the early ’70s, Arc Music sued Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement. The suit was settled out of court.

But the most egregious theft, I thought, was Bring It On Home. As described here: This was influenced by a song of the same name recorded by Blues great Sonny Boy Williamson and written by Willie Dixon. The Dixon composition was so similar that Led Zeppelin reached a settlement with Dixon over the royalties for the song, and credited Dixon as the writer when this appeared on Led Zeppelin’s How The West Was Won live DVD. Plant’s beginning vocal even imitates Williamson’s.

I just don’t understand the need for misattribution. Yet, which album did I ultimately buy on CD? You guessed it: LZ II.

I have other Zeppelin albums, but that’s enough for now, except for this
Republican congressman quoting the group on the floor of Congress. Oy.

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