Tag Archives: Dave Grohl

Rocks In The Attic #688: Probot – ‘Probot’ (2004)

RITA#688.jpgAnybody who has written off Dave Grohl as a commercial sell-out really needs to listen to this, his metal side-project from 2004.

Alongside Lemmy, Max Cavalera, Kim Thayil, Jack Black and many others, Grohl plays almost all instrumentation on a record that is so heavy your neighbours will love it.

In fact, the record feels so right it makes you wonder where Grohl’s heart really lies – the doom and sheer oomph of this versus the mainstream watered-down Emo of his day job.

Hit: Centuries Of Sin

Hidden Gem: Dictatosaurus

Rocks In The Attic #684: Them Crooked Vultures – ‘Them Crooked Vultures’ (2009)

RITA#684In 2009, mainstream musical overachiever Dave Grohl teamed up with counterculture musical overachiever Josh Homme, and drafted in classic rock musical overachiever John Paul Jones for a new side-project called Them Crooked Vultures. Their sole output so far, was this, their debut record released in November 2009.

Musically, despite being written by all three principle members, it sounds more like a Josh Homme / Queens Of The Stone Age record than anything by the Foo Fighters or Led Zeppelin. It’s as heavy as anything by QOTSA, and almost gets to Kyuss levels of heaviness on the break in No One Loves Me & Neither Do I. Not surprisingly, it was that doom-laden groove that was used to promote the record when it came out.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that prior to Dave Grohl’s role as the beardy spokesperson of 21st century rock and roll, he was a drummer in a moderately successful Pacific North West punk band. In those days, despite being a gangly youth, he was still a heavy hitter on the drums. Twenty years, one beard and many check shirts later, he’s a much heavier hitter. When I saw the band promote this record in Auckland, Grohl broke a stick from hitting the snare too hard (and I didn’t see that feat happen again until last week, a decade later, by fellow heavy-hitter Ronnie Vannucci Jr. at the Killers’ Auckland show).

John Paul Jones really makes himself heard on a funky clavinet line on Scumbag Blues, and a delicate piano intro on Spinning In Daffodils, but apart from that it’s a pretty straightforward guitar-bass-drums, QOTSA-esque rock record. They’ve hinted at the fact that they might record again, and I really hope that if they do, they feature a bit more of a varied instrumentation and maybe Dave Grohl singing some lead vocals (or at least more prominent backing vocals).

Clocking in at an hour and six minutes, it’s a needlessly long record and I remember that I was quite bored by the end of their Auckland show. I could listen to that groove from No One Loves Me & Neither Do I for about two hours straight though…

Hit: New Fang

Hidden Gem: No One Loves Me & Neither Do I

Rocks In The Attic #560: Guns N’ Roses – ‘Appetite For Destruction’ (1987)

RITA#560.jpgI saw something last night I thought I’d never see – Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan on the same stage together. It’s been a long time coming, but for a large part of the twenty five years since I first heard Appetite For Destruction, it seemed unlikely that a reunion would ever happen. Slash kept himself busy, playing in Velvet Revolver (with Duff) before going on to record several decent solo albums. Axl retained the Guns N’ Roses name, touring the band in the 21st century with a host of stand-in musicians and finally releasing the long-threatened Chinese Democracy album in 2008. The new Axl was a portly fellow, rumoured to have an addiction to fried chicken and was described by one audience member in London as ‘a gold lamé blob up on stage.’ A reunion seemed as unlikely as all four Beatles playing together on stage.

Then the unthinkable happened. In 2016 Axl, Slash and Duff patched up their differences and announced a reunion tour. Who needs differences anyway when you’ve got millions of dollars to earn touring the world as a nostalgia act? Plus, that fried chicken won’t buy itself…

rita560b
The initial reaction was one of cynicism. Surely Axl would keep everybody waiting like he did in his prima donna days during the 1990s. Would it be worth buying a ticket if it meant waiting around for a few hours in the rain, waiting for Axl to finally take off his bathrobe and finish that last bucket of KFC? Of course it would!

Then the unthinkable part two happened. Axl landed the job as stand-in vocalist for AC/DC. It seems that Brian Johnson’s eardrums had enough of his own high-pitched screaming and put up a protest. He got a sick note from his doctor, ruling him out of that band due to the threat of permanent hearing loss. Step up, Mr. Rose.

It still hasn’t really sunk in that this actually happened – Axl Rose singing with AC/DC sounds like such an off-the-wall idea. Comparable to Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell singing in front of Rage Against The Machine. Oh wait, that actually happened too.

rita560c
What a great pairing – Axl DC – can it get any better? Brian Johnson’s vocals have never really fit the band if I have to be honest – there’s only so much shrieking I can handle, and after 1980’s Back In Black, there was a pretty consistent dip in quality. Other than Steven Tyler, Axl is the best choice to front Angus and company – he has the range to hit Brian Johnson’s high notes, and the ballsy tone to handle Bon Scott’s earlier material.

So the rock world waited with bated breath, and the unthinkable part three happened. Axl turned up on time and did his duty. No diva behaviour whatsoever – and best of all, his inclusion prompted the long-standing – and frankly, now quite boring – AC/DC set-list to change. They started playing songs they had rarely, if ever, played with Brian Johnson. Songs such as Riff Raff and Rock And Roll Damnation from 1978’s Powerage, If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) from 1979’s Highway To Hell, and 1975’s Live Wire (from the Australian T.N.T. album, or the international version of High Voltage). It was so refreshing to see these songs performed once again.

Then, one show into the GNR reunion tour, the unthinkable part four happened. Axl broke his foot. It’s still unclear how he did this – so one can only speculate that a bottle of Hot Sauce fell on his foot as he opened the fridge for a midnight feast of fried chicken. He ended up fulfilling the rest of GNR’s U.S. tour, and the remaining AC/DC dates sat on a throne of guitars borrowed from Dave Grohl.

Last night my wife took a bullet and stayed home to put the kids to bed so that I could go down early to catch the support band, Wolfmother. When I got to the stadium I spoke to a lovely lady named Lucy, who had endured a 9-hour bus trip from Gisborne to see the show. Crikey! She sat next to me as she rolled a joint, out of sight of the security staff, and in minutes we had bonded over our mutual dislike of Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers.

I was really looking forward to seeing Wolfmother after I caught them supporting Aerosmith in Dunedin back in 2013. At that concert, the sight of the band bouncing on to the stage like exuberant puppies made me smile. Four years later and they’ve reduced their ranks significantly. What was once a boisterous four- or five-piece back in 2013 has now distilled into a tight trio. I’m not sure if this was intentional, but it meant one member was pulling more than his fair share of the weight – bassist Ian Peres also played keyboards, incredibly both at the same time during some songs.

rita560a
Twenty minutes later and Guns N’ Fucking Roses emerged. My wife had made it with just minutes to spare, and thankfully she was there to see opener It’s So Easy. They followed this with Mr. Brownstone, and Western Springs went off like a firework.

Axl did that jaunty side-to-side dance with his microphone stand, looking like a menopausal Nicole Kidman, Slash took all his solos with his guitar propped up on one elevated thigh, and Duff kept up on the bass, sticking his neck out to sing backing vocals.

The set-list was really strong with songs from Appetite For Destruction, and while I like most of the singles from the Use Your Illusion records, the songs from the debut record are just in a different class. They’re truly magical, and the whole of that first record is like lightning in a bottle.

I could never really work out why I liked Appetite so much more than the Use Your Illusion albums, and it wasn’t until I read Slash’s autobiography that I figured it out. Drummer Steven Adler – the one missing component that didn’t survive into that second line-up of the band – really provides the groove of ­Appetite. His replacement Matt Sorum is a powerhouse drummer himself, but Adler had something else – a swing that you don’t get with most 4/4 rock drummers. I’d have loved to have seen a full reunion with Adler on board, alongside original rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, but I’m more than happy to have seen three out of the original five.

rita560d
Covers were well-represented, not surprisingly for a band with only four albums of original material to their name. As well as the likely contenders – Live And Let Die and Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door – they also played the Misfit’s Attitude, the Who’s The Seeker, and in one really touching moment, a cover of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here afforded Slash and rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus the opportunity for a lovely bit of guitar work. November Rain was prefaced with Axl playing the piano outro from Derek & The Domino’s Layla, and Slash played snippets of the Godfather theme, Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) and Zeppelin’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You before the night was through.

If I had one criticism, it was that the show could have easily been an hour shorter. After two hours when I told my wife that there was almost another hour left, she mimed shooting herself in the head (I noted that this was an odd thing to do in the presence of Duff McKagan, the last person to see Kurt Cobain alive; they found themselves sitting next to each other on a flight to Seattle where Cobain took his life a few days later).

At one point, the audience nearly chuckled themselves to death when Axl sang his big emotional number – This I Love, from the Chinese Democracy record. This was like bad wedding music; just awful and such a polar opposite to the youthful vibrance that is all over Appetite For Destruction.

Hit: Sweet Child O’Mine

Hidden Gem: Mr. Brownstone

Rocks In The Attic #458: Garbage – ‘Garbage’ (1995)

RITA#458Like most men (and probably most women) who saw Garbage on their first tour, promoting this debut album, I fell in love with Shirley Manson; totally unconditionally, head-over-heels in love. If she had clicked her fingers, I would have followed, asking questions. All despite reading that she once squatted over the kitchen table in her boyfriend’s apartment and took a dump in his bowl of cornflakes. She had caught him cheating apparently.

I’m always a little suspicious when rock bands enlist a hot lady to sing. Sex does sell, but so does talent and the other three quarters of Garbage already had that in spades. Drummer Butch Vig (the super-producer of Nevermind, Siamese Dream), guitarist Steve Marker (sound engineer on L7’s Bricks Are Heavy) and bassist Duke Erikson (guitarist with Spooner and Fire Town, both alongside Vig) started a new project in 1994 and decided on a female vocalist to distance themselves from the all-male bands they had prior experience with. The female angst thing was popular around the mid-‘90s, with Alanis Morissette and Meredith Brooks ploughing the same field, so Manson’s vocals fit right in.

I remember hearing Queer first, and thinking it sounded very different to everything else at the time. It was still rock, but with a dark, electronic pop edge. In fact, it sounds a lot like today’s stripper pop (as Dave Grohl calls it) but in 1995 it ticked enough boxes for my ears.

I saw them play at the Apollo in Manchester, supported by Bis, in March ‘96. I remember seeing the roadies set up the stage for the headliners, and noticing the sheer amount of technology in Marker and Erikson’s flight racks. The LEDs from the various amps, processors and effects units was dizzying, and created a great backdrop.

Right from their opening number – Queer, no less – Manson owned the stage. As the band played through the opening bars, she walked out wearing knee-high leather boots, a corset and a pink feather boa. Boom. Like a thunderbolt.

I even liked their follow-up album, Version 2.0, but by the time I saw them again, at Glastonbury in 2005, I had moved on. As such, I quickly forgot about the band. Times change, and all that.

Twenty years on, the debut has been re-released in a beautiful 45rpm double pink vinyl package. It sounds great, and has definitely taken me back to those post-grunge days. I still love Queer, but it’s I’m Only Happy When It Rains which really impresses me. I’d go so far as saying that it’s one of my favourite songs from that entire decade. That’s a huge call, considering the amount of great music that the ‘90s gave us, but there’s something about the song’s ‘pour your misery down’ refrain that just speaks to me.

Postscript: Sex might very well sell, but without any discernible talent, it’s about as useful as a chocolate fireguard. In the mid-2000s, Shirley Manson appeared as an antagonist in The Sarah Connor Chonic…, The Sarah Cronner Chon…, The Sarah Connorcles…ah fuck it, that lame Terminator TV series that swiftly got cancelled. Manson might ooze talent and sex appeal on stage, but she most definitely cannot act, and her unconventional looks (upside-down eyes, pale skin and bright ginger hair), which looked great on stage, just made her look odd among the stereotypically beautiful people on TV. The show was bad enough before she appeared, but she just seemed to be the final nail in the coffin.

Hit: I’m Only Happy When It Rains

Hidden Gem: Supervixen

Rocks In The Attic #389: Foo Fighters – ‘Foo Fighters’ (1995)

RITA#389A big, big album for me, this came out in the summer of 1995 (which would have been in between my two years of sixth form / A-levels). It’s wrapped up in my head with a lot of good times, and a couple of regretful decisions. I might not be a big fan of the music they bring out these days (too middle of the road for my tastes), but I can proudly say that I was a Foo Fighters fan from day one.

I wasn’t that much of a Nirvana fan before Kurt Cobain killed himself. A lot of my friends liked them, and I was very aware of them, but the whole grunge thing didn’t really float my boat. Of the other bands around at the time, I probably preferred Stone Temple Pilots who seemed to be coming at everything from more of a classic rock approach. I did come to appreciate Nirvana though – endless viewings of their videos and the Unplugged show on MTV in the months after his death meant that you couldn’t really avoid them.

Of the stuff I had heard, I definitely leant more to the rawer sound on In Utero than the slickly produced Nevermind. I liked Heart Shaped Box so much I bought the single on CD, and ended up really digging one of the b-sides – Marigold – written and sung (in a bathtub?) by Dave Grohl.

Fast forward to the next summer, and I read – probably in Kerrang – that Dave Grohl had put together his own band. I hadn’t heard anything by them, but I bought their debut single – This Is A Call – purely on the strength of what I heard in Marigold. I loved every second of it, and the two what-ended-up-being non-album b-sides, Winnebago and Podunk, were great too.

A month later, I bought the debut album on the day of its release. Boom, I was definitely a Foo Fighters fan now, and to me they felt like the world’s best-kept secret. There was no hype – nothing – about the band at this point. Dave Grohl might be a household name now, but back then he really was just ‘the drummer from Nirvana’.

A couple of months later and we arrive at the first regret of this story. It’s actually one of my biggest musical regrets, and I’m still sore about it. The Foo Fighters were coming to Manchester – 5th September 1995 – to play a gig at Manchester University, supported by the Presidents Of The United States Of America (another band I would have killed to see at the time). I couldn’t go, for some reason, despite regularly attending gigs at the University, or the Academy next door, around those couple of years. I seem to remember it being something to do with having an exam the day after, but the date doesn’t stack up – why would I have had an exam at the start of the new school year?

Anyway, for whatever reason, I missed it. This annoys me so much – I don’t want to be one of those fans who ditches bands as soon as they become famous, but here was a band I was really into from their very early days, after hearing the promise of a b-side and reading about their formation in a couple of centimetres of newsprint. Grrr.

Their second album came out when I was in my first year at University, and almost immediately I started to lose interest. That second album – recorded by the full band, but with drums naughtily re-recorded by Grohl – was good, but it went down a different road than the personal feel of the debut album.

I did eventually get to see them – at a V festival in Stafford in 2001 – but by then I didn’t recognise them anymore. The line-up of that small group he had originally put together had already changed four times (in just six years). Drummer William Goldsmith had enough of his drum parts being re-recorded by Grohl and left in 1997, followed soon after by Grohl’s Nirvana bandmate, guitarist Pat Smear. By the time I saw them in 2001, even Smear’s replacement, Franz Stahl, had come and gone, replaced by Chris Shiflett. I don’t remember enjoying them. They didn’t belong to me anymore, they belonged to everybody else.

As a measure of how turbulent the band was at the time, on the day that I saw them in Stafford in 2001, drummer Taylor Hawkins – drafted in from, ugh, Alanis Morissette’s touring band – was hospitalised after a drug overdose following their set. Thankfully, these days they seem a little more settled.

I saw them again in 2006, at another festival (Manchester’s Old Trafford cricket ground). Again, meh. Music for panel-beaters and hairdressers.

My second regret came in 2011 when, now living in New Zealand, I missed the chance to see them play a small intimate charity gig at Auckland’s Town Hall. The reason this time – a work event I couldn’t get out of. I recently almost missed out on a repeat of this gig earlier this year, which they had to cancel at the last minute due to one of their equipment trucks crashing on their way up to the gig.

It looks like if I ever want to see the Foo Fighters play a small gig – which I feel I deserve – I’ll have to kidnap Dave Grohl. Now, where did I put that masking tape…

Hit: I’ll Stick Around

Hidden Gem: Good Grief

Rocks In The Attic #294: Nirvana – ‘Nevermind’ (1991)

RITA#294Like a lot of people my age, this was the first exposure I had to grunge music. At first, the very idea of grunge just didn’t appeal to me – a genre made up of scruffy guys with bad hair and lumberjack shirts. Then my friends kept playing Smells Like Teen Spirit, and the intro burrowed into my head like an earworm.

I have trouble listening to this record now. I can’t hear anything resembling punk or new wave anymore; all I can hear is the perfect production by Butch Vig – the fantastic separation of voice and instruments, and the rampant double-tracking on the vocals.

There’s a great episode of Classic Albums where Vig isolates the vocals on In Bloom and you can hear just how strong those vocal melodies are on the chorus – Cobain’s lead vocal double-tracked, and then supported by Dave Grohl’s backing vocals, also double-tracked. Vig convinced Cobain that this was a good idea because it’s something that John Lennon would have done. That in itself sounds like a million miles away from punk rock.

Of the two albums, I prefer In Utero as a piece of work, and always have done. The songwriting isn’t overshadowed by the production on that album; and despite that album being the soundtrack to Cobain’s suicide, there doesn’t seem to be as much hype and baggage to put up with. I do enjoy the second side of Nevermind though, when you get away from all the overplayed singles that are littered on the first side. The album just seems to breathe a little easier on that side.

Still, Nevermind holds a lot of memories for me, and always will. That crazy photo of the baby underwater is a beautiful image – and proof that classic album covers didn’t die out in the digital age. Even the blurry photo of the band (on the back of the record sleeve, but on the inlay of the CD if I remember correctly) brings a smile to my face. In fact, the whole production design of the album is pretty awesome – the album title written in a font to make it look like it’s floating on top of water, and the back cover made to look like shimmering sunlight refracted through the water of a swimming pool. I spent many an hour of my teens just looking at the album art, and at that age you read far too much into every little thing. It just seemed important.

Throughout my adolescence (in the UK) I encountered plenty of people who were anti-American. These people will eschew anything from that side of the Atlantic, while singing the praises of anything recorded by the British, just simply because it’s British. I’ve never really understood this musical racism, and some of my closest friends have been blighted by it.

I was asked once why would I want to listen to an American chap singing about killing himself, when I could listen to an Englishman sing about living forever?

The answer is simple – there’s more joy and energy in one line of a Kurt Cobain’s song than in a lifetime of Oasis records. I’ll take invention and imagination over mediocrity any day.

Hit: Smells Like Teen Spirit

Hidden Gem: Lounge Act

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin 0Many months ago, my good friend Moo charged me with writing a blog to explain why he should listen to Led Zeppelin – in response to a blog he wrote on why I should listen to Richard Thomson. I never got around to writing the blog, although I did give Mr. Thompson a good listen to.

He’s somebody that has already has a presence in my record collection – on Fairport Convention’s Liege & Lief, and as a guest musician on Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter. Given his back catalogue, and the number of artists he’s played with, I’m surprised I haven’t heard more of him. I’ve always been aware of the name, but like a lot of folk music, I prefer to keep a safe distance for fear I may be lured into a Wicker Man-style human sacrifice situation.

Thompson comes across as the folk version of Ry Cooder – ever the enigmatic touch, constantly moving around, and trying new things with an endless stream of great musicians. And Los Lobos.

So, in belated response, and in no particular order, here are 50 reasons why I love the mighty Zeppelin…

1. John Bonham

There’s not many a musician I can say this about – let alone a percussionist – but I could listen to Zeppelin’s back catalogue, isolating Bonzo’s drum tracks and removing all other instrumentation and vocals, and I’d be a very happy man. I can’t find an isolated drum track for Good Times Bad Times – probably the best example of his skill – but this version of Whole Lotta Love is pretty representative. It sounds like the bed-boards of a 1969 Vietnamese brothel come to life on the 4th of July.

2. Jimmy Page

There’s a story I remember from a Zeppelin biography which gives an insight into Jimmy Page’s sense of humour. Growing up near a hospital for adolescent girls with sexual disorders, young Jimmy and his friends would often drive past and shout random rude things to the girls over the wall.  The reason I mention this is that, aside from his status as a rock god / groundbreaking producer / human riff machine, he’s just a cheeky young chap at heart, filled with childish wonder about the guitar.

3. Robert Plant

The guy is a fucking air raid siren, set on ‘perpetual wail’. If he’d been a young man during WWII, his services could have been employed by the allied forces to warn of impending Japanese air strikes on the western seaboard of America. And he’s not lost it – each of the three times I’ve seen him play live over the last decade or so may have been relatively laidback compared to Zeppelin standards, but each time he’s done a fair bit of wailing. I thought we were being invaded at the time. Bloody Japs…

4. John Paul Jones

Jonesy looks like the most normal and least cool member of the band, or so he would have you believe. He’s probably the most alternative member of the band, and therefore the most interesting – whether it be joining up with Dave Grohl and Josh Homme on 2009’s Them Crooked Vultures or playing with the likes of Robyn Hitchcock, Seasick Steve, Sonic Youth or Ben Harper. For me though, my favourite Jonesy moment of the last 10 years was this guest spot with Lenny Kravitz at the MTV music awards in 1993, back when Lenny was writing decent tunes.

5. The Hindenberg disaster

You’ve got to love a band who use a photograph of the Hindenberg disaster on their debut album, and then try and curry favour with a von Zeppelin descendant so that they can continue to use the family name. When Frau Eva von Zeppelin – descendent of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, creator of the Zeppelin aircraft – met the band in 1970, she caught a glimpse of the infamous photo on the cover. ‘When she saw the cover she just exploded!’ Page explains. ‘I had to run and hide. She just blew her top.’

6. Curses!

Zeppelin are probably the most myth-ridden band next to the Beatles. If you believe everything you read, then Robert Plant’s five year old son died of a strange virus because of Jimmy Page’s dabbling with the occult. Page even went so far as to buy Aleister Crowley’s old residence, Boleskine House, which added fuel to the fire. I’m guessing the place needed the carpets washing when he bought it.

7. No singles

‘Singles? Fuck that. Let’s just release albums!’ As good as it may be to say this about Zeppelin, unfortunately it only applies to the UK, and even this was spoiled by some moron at Atlantic Records choosing to release Whole Lotta Love as a single in 1997. Still, which other bands / artists can make a similar claim? I would naturally say Pink Floyd but they released plenty of singles over the years.

8. Session musos

Probably one of the reasons why Zeppelin took off so quickly is because Page and Jones had both been around the block a few times already as session musicians. This pedigree is astounding, whether you like Zeppelin or not. For example, amongst other gems, Page played on The Who’s Can’t Explain, The Kinks’ You Really Got Me and All Day And All Of The Night, Tom Jones’ It’s Not Unusual, Them’s Baby Please Don’t Go and Gloria, Marianne Faithfull’s As Tears Go By, The Rolling Stones’ Heart Of Stone, Joe Cockers’ With A Little Help From My Friends, and Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man and Sunshine Superman. That alone is a fine body of work for a guitarist.

9. Jimmy Page, vinyl enthusiast

Jimmy Page appears to be a pretty normal bloke – if record collecting can be considered ‘normal’. He’s been spotted in record shops around London – including one appearance on Record Store Day a few years ago, looking for a hard-to-find 7” that was being released that day – and that makes me very happy. If I’m going to meet any of my musical heroes, I couldn’t think of a better place to bump into them than a record shop.

10. Cello Bows

As much as I find their 25 minute live renditions of Dazed And Confused a test of my endurance and willpower, you have to admit that scraping a cello bow across a guitar not only looks cool, but sounds as mean as hell. You can try it yourself – just make sure your violin is in tune.

11. The double-necked Gibson EDS-1275

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin 1

12. IV

How many bands have the balls to release an album at the height of their fame – and not bother putting the band’s name, or the title of the album, on it? Instead there are just four symbols. It’s just a massive middle-finger to the record company. I remember buying my first copy of the album on CD and the old guy in the record store had great fun in asking ”Ooo, this is Led Zeppelin, isn’t it?” Of course it is, you moron!

13. Tribute Bands

One of the best things about famous bands is that there are always a slew of tribute bands with amusing names. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the Oasis tribute band Definitely MightBe that I saw in Crewe’s Limelight club once, but some of Zeppelin’s imitators are hard to beat. There’s Whole Lotta Led (who I saw in the Witchwood in Ashton), the all-girl group Lez Zeppelin, Birminghams’s Fred Zeppelin, and possibly my favourite – Northern Ireland’s The Rubber Plants.

14. The cover of Led Zeppelin III – pop art at its very best

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin 2

15. The drum intro to When The Levee Breaks


I could listen to this all day. Fuck choosing eight songs for Desert Island Discs – just give me this on a loop.

16. John Bonham’s breakfast

Four quadruple vodkas and a ham roll, apparently. Who would have thought that would have ended badly?

17. Tunings

Part of the reason I’m such a fan of Zeppelin is that I’m a guitarist, and not only are they a treasure trove of riffs, they’re also a source of weird tunings. Retune your guitar to DADGAD and it instantly sounds like you’ve stepped into another century (or another part of the world, Kashmir perhaps).

18. Show me the money

Jimmy Page was so sure of the band that he paid for the recording of the first album himself. It cost £1,782 and took nine days from start to finish. Not only did Peter Grant then go and sell the album to Atlantic Records (securing an ‘advance’ of £143,000), but it is thought that the album went on to gross more than £3.5 million.

19. Peter Grant

Speaking of Peter Grant, he really deserves a mention as the fifth member of Led Zeppelin – and as much an integral part of the band as Brian Epstein or George Martin were to The Beatles. My favourite story of Peter Grant involves him poking his giant belly into the gun of a would-be shooter. Note to self – never pull a gun on an obese person, they have far too much padding.

20. Heavy Metal? Really?

Zeppelin are generally written-off as a dumb heavy metal band – which is strange considering half of their material is acoustic. In that respect, not only are they a fantastic rock band, but they’re also a great folk band (and they manage to avoid the hi-diddly-dee pitfalls of a lot of English folk music of the ‘60s and ‘70s).

21. No More Led Zeppelin

After Bonham’s death in 1980, the band was no more. I’ve often thought that the press release explaining this at the time was poetic in itself:

We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend, and the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were – Led Zeppelin, 4th December 1980

22.
Chicks love Zeppelin

I once caught the train from Manchester to Leeds, and a lady gave me and my friends her table seat – just because I was wearing a Led Zeppelin t-shirt. Now that’s cool.

23. You can buy a Led Zeppelin bikini*…

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin 3

* hot chick not included.

24. This Beavis & Butthead clip changed my life

How’s this for fate / destiny / kismet / whatever… In the early ‘90s, as I was devouring everything Zeppelin-related, I chanced upon this clip from MTV’s Beavis & Butthead. This video for Over The Hills And Far Away (from 1973’s Houses Of The Holy) really gave me a passion for the song and it not only became my favourite Zeppelin song, but I also learnt to play the guitar parts, becoming somewhat of a party piece of mine in my first couple of years at University (well, they asked me to play over the hills and far away – maybe I misunderstood them). Five years later, just after I met the lady who became my wife, I had taken a brief hiatus from playing the guitar. I agreed to play the song to her – an important moment in our courtship – and not only did it become her favourite Zeppelin song, but we walked down the aisle to the tune when we married in 2011. I’m going to kill Mike Judge if I ever find him, he has a lot to answer for.

25. Stairway To Heaven

Often claimed to be the most requested song on radio – probably requested by DJs themselves as its eight minutes would give them ample time for a toilet break – Stairway To Heaven appears on IV and is very polarising. Half-hearted mysticism or the backing for a blistering guitar showcase? You decide – but I love it, especially the moment when Bonham’s drums come in.

26. Marketing Fail

The fourth album – and its centrepiece Stairway To Heaven – caught the band at their creative peak, elevating them to (arguably) the biggest band in the world. To celebrate, when Atlantic Records released its second repressing of the album, they placed a spoken-word message between a couple of the tracks, congratulating the listener and giving the phone number they could call to claim their prize.  The trouble was, the lady who ended up with the winning copy of the album only bought it for Stairway To Heaven (the final song on the first side of the record), and the competition message was hidden between two songs on the second side. She didn’t bother listening to the second side of the album and so the message went unheard. Years later when the message was finally heard, Atlantic Records followed through on their word and awarded the prize.

27. Marketing Win

One hidden message on IV that was heard was the backwards masking inserted into Stairway To Heaven. If you play the ‘If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow’ line backwards and strain your ears, you can almost hear Plant singing ‘Here’s to my sweet Satan’. I’m not sure how somebody first discovered this, but I’m guessing drugs were involved. As the late, great Bill Hicks would suggest, either the band put this into the song themselves in order to kill off their fanbase, or Satan himself put it on there: ‘Satan! Ruiner of stereos, destroyer of needles!’

28. Did I mention that you can buy a Led Zeppelin bikini?

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin 4

29. Protecting a legacy

Zeppelin, like other big name acts (eg. The Beatles and Pink Floyd) are seldom heard on a film soundtrack. This is a good thing, as there’s always the potential they could be used in High School Musical, or even worse, Glee. Recently, the band vetoed Ben Affleck’s use of the song When The Levee Breaks in the film Argo unless the filmmakers showed the needle dropping on the record in the correct position (the last song on side two, as opposed to the first song as it was shown in the original edit). But as good as this stance may be, you have to take the rough with the smooth. Richard Linklater’s great film Dazed And Confused would have been even better if he’d been allowed to use the Zeppelin song over the opening credits (Robert Plant vetoed the idea, forcing Linklater to use Aerosmith’s equally awesome Sweet Emotion in its place).

30. The drum fill in The Song Remains The Same

I marvel at how long Bonham stretches this fill out, every time I hear it (between 2:00 and 2:07 in this clip). You could almost get a beer from the concession stand and be back in your seat before it’s over. The band will all come back in when John Bonham is good and ready!

31. Who needs a stylist when you look this good?

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin 5

32.The producer’s chair

Part of the reason Zeppelin’s body of work is so dependable is that, aside from the same four players on every album, there’s also a consistent presence in the producer’s chair – Jimmy Page. Not even The Beatles can claim this, with the turgid Let It Be being reproduced by lady-killer Phil Spector. When people talk about producers, Page always – ALWAYS! – gets overlooked. He deserves a place in the top 5 rock producers of all time simply for his groundbreaking way of positioning microphones away from the drums to create natural reverb – ‘Right from the first album, I insisted that the drums were going to breathe, and that we were going to get a proper tone on them’.

33. Led Zeppelin IV is more effective than alka-seltzer

I’m not sure why but there’s two albums that really help me get over a really bad hangover – Led Zeppelin’s fourth album and AC/DC’s Highway To Hell. I’m not alone in this – I’ve read and heard people saying the same thing about both albums. Maybe listening to them simply causes me to feel happy and the resulting endorphins attack my hangover, or could there be a deeper meaning? Perhaps the albums help me internalise the rights and wrongs I’ve committed during the previous night’s heavy drinking session – have I deserved the Stairway To Heaven or the Highway To Hell?

34. Always think of your neighbours before turning the Zeppelin up

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin 6

35.Physical Graffiti

Probably the greatest gift for a Zeppelin fan is the point when, working your way through their body of work, you finally discover Physical Graffiti. I’m not usually a fan of double albums – they can be long, drawn-out lengthy affairs – unless the material is diverse enough to warrant such a long running time. Zeppelin cover pretty much every musical style on Graffiti, making it the 1970s’ answer to the Beatles’ White Album. I’ll admit the album does outstay its welcome, but only by one song (closer Sick Again brings nothing new to the table). It’s probably the double-album I listen to the most, and one of my favourite Zeppelin albums.

36. Is that a mudshark in your orifice or are you just happy to see me?

I always like a bit of sensationalism when I’m reading a rock biog, and Stephen Davis’ 1985 biography Hammer Of The Gods is probably the most sensational of them all:

‘One girl, a pretty young groupie with red hair, was disrobed and tied to the bed. According to the legend of the Shark Episode, Led Zeppelin then proceeded to stuff pieces of shark into her vagina and rectum.’

Road Manager Richard Cole claims ‘It wasn’t Bonzo, it was me. It wasn’t shark parts anyway: It was the nose that got put in. We caught a lot of big sharks, at least two dozen, stuck coat hangers through the gills and left ’em in the closet… But the true shark story was that it wasn’t even a shark. It was a red snapper and the chick happened to be a fucking redheaded broad with a ginger pussy. And that is the truth. Bonzo was in the room, but I did it. Mark Stein filmed the whole thing. And she loved it. It was like, “You’d like a bit of fucking, eh? Let’s see how your red snapper likes this red snapper!” That was it. It was the nose of the fish, and that girl must have cum 20 times. But it was nothing malicious or harmful, no way! No one was ever hurt.’

37. The Zeppelin album covers offer perfect parallels with everyday life

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin 7

38. Valhalla, I am coming!

Whilst playing in bands over the years, I’ve found there’s nothing more satisfying than when a shared love of Zeppelin between yourself, your drummer and your bass player leads you to start jamming on Immigrant Song. There are hundreds of great songs to jam on – thousands probably – but for me, when a guitarist, a drummer and a bass player lock in on that groove, it sounds like something else.

39. Jonesy’s bass lines on The Lemon Song

Led Zeppelin II has a lot of treasures – it was the album that introduced me to Zeppelin – and one of my favourite bits on it is John Paul Jones’ slinky bass lines on The Lemon Song. “Borrowing” heavily from Howlin’ Wolf’s Killing Floor (to the extent that my vinyl copy actually lists the song as Killing Floor on the centre-label, despite it being listed as The Lemon Song on the sleeve), the song is essentially a jam in which Jones gets to shine with a funk-tinged bass solo mid-song. Sublime.

40. Zeppelin really knew how to make an awards ceremony something to remember…

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin 8

41. Led Zeppelin II

When bands record albums under pressure, the result can sometimes be a patchy affair (the best example being 1964’s rush-released-in-time-for-Christmas Beatles For Sale). Led Zeppelin’s second offering is a great example of pressure creating perfection. Cobbled together while the band was on tour throughout America – an overnight recording session here, a overdubbing session there – the album sounds far from rushed. In fact, it’s probably a testament to Page’s producing skills that he was able to put together something so polished from so many constituent parts.

42. Talk of reunions…

It always amuses me how cranky Robert Plant gets when talk turns to a full-on Zeppelin reunion. If I ever met, I’d like to think I’d ask him if there’s going to be one – but make it sound like I’m convinced I’m the first person to ever think to ask him about it. You can’t blame him though – there’s been enough talk about one over the years. The long-dead drummer problem is no longer an issue – Bonham’s son Jason is adequately skilled to take up his father’s duties (and has done so on several occasions) and Dave Grohl has put his hand up many times for the same opportunity (he’d drop the Foo Fighters mid-tour if it meant joining Zeppelin). But the most amusing story is how after the 2007 Ahmet Ertegün tribute concert in London, Page was so driven to bringing on a full on Zeppelin reunion tour, despite Plant’s firm stance, that they auditioned another singer for the role. Who? None other than Steven Tyler from Aerosmith. Tyler spent a couple of weeks rehearsing with Page, Jones and (I’m guessing) Jason Bonham before the whole thing was called off. As much as I love Aerosmith – and Zeppelin – I’m glad, very glad, that this didn’t eventuate.

43. …but no actual reunions

Aside from a couple of one-off concerts here and there (1985’s Live Aid , 1988’s Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary concert, 1995’s Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction and 2007’s Ahmet Ertegün tribute concert), Zeppelin have never actually reformed. And when I mean ‘reform’, I mean get back together full-time, record some new material and go back out on tour. This is a huge plus in Zeppelin’s favour as there’s nothing to dilute their former glories. Wouldn’t it have been nice if the surviving Beatles hadn’t messed with those John Lennon tracks on the first two Anthology albums, or if Pink Floyd had ended the day that Roger Waters walked out the door? Most projects that Page and Plant have done in the spirit of Zeppelin over the years – specifically their Zeppelin-infused UnLedded MTV performance and their subsequent Walking Into Clarksdale album – have actually been interesting on their own merit without the weight of the Zeppelin name behind them.

44. Jimmy Page is incredibly polite

Especially when faced with two shirtless idiots wearing ear-plugs backstage at Donington.

45. Why bother coming up with names for albums?

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin 9

If Peter Gabriel had followed this rule, then perhaps he wouldn’t have released four albums all called Peter Gabriel between ’77 and ’82. Idiot.

46. Led Zeppelin III

The most interesting album of the classic run of II – III – IV, the third album sees the band change direction completely and go down the folk path. I always see it as a true stepping-stone between their heavy blues / heavy rock direction of the first and second albums, and the world conquering tone of IV and Houses Of The Holy (album number five). I don’t even think you can classify the fourth and fifth albums as any specific musical genre – they’re so much a little bit of everything that the only way you can describe it is ‘Led Zeppelin’ – and I don’t think they would have been able to own this space so comfortably if they hadn’t taken such a huge left turn on the third album.

47. Almost Famous

Any Led Zeppelin fan who knows his beans will spot the overarching influence of the band in Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical film Almost Famous. Although the band in the film is named Stillwater – and seems to be based on a number of bands that Cameron toured with in his early days as a Rolling Stone journalist, Zeppelin included – it is Zeppelin who infuse every moment of the film. Hollywood doesn’t tend to get films about the music scene right very often – straightforward biopics of recently deceased artists tend to be the winning formula – but Almost Famous is right on the money, coming across as a truly entertaining love letter to the rock n’ roll scene of the 1970s.

48. Black Dog

Zeppelin’s progressive approach to time signatures really hit the nail on the head on IV’s opener Black Dog, which straddles three time signatures. I can hardly hear the changes these days, just because I know the song so well, but I remember my wife saying it sounded so wrong when she started listening to Zeppelin – it just sounds so right to me. (By the time they recorded 1976’s Presence though, Zeppelin were doing such weird things with time-signatures that, for me at least, they were starting to detract from the enjoyment of the song. The otherwise excellent Nobody’s Fault But Mine is partly spoilt for me by later sections where the Bonham and Jones purposefully play off-beat.)

49. Paging Dr. Page…

In a parallel universe somewere, there’s a Jimmy Page who’s made his name in the field of biological research.

50. Whoops, nearly forgot this one…

The fucking music!

Postscript / Coda

Despite each and every one of the fifty reasons above, I fully concede that Led Zeppelin aren’t for everybody. If you don’t have good taste in music, you can pretty much write yourself off as a lost cause. Go listen to Bieber instead.

It might sound strange, but I’m actually glad I’ve never seen Zeppelin play live, given their predilection for improvisation and playing 4-hour sets (only Rock And Roll used to be played with the exact same number of bars in each performance, the rest of the set was a free for all). When I see bands play live, I much prefer a short sharp jab to the face rather than a protracted torture session.

When I started listening to Zeppelin in the early ‘90s, they were very unfashionable – unlike now where they seem to be on the cover of every rock magazine and constantly rereleasing material. If Zeppelin reformed now, their shows would be just as much attended by the sort of people who only listen to music when they’re hosting a barbeque, as they would be by true Zeppelin fans. At Robert Plant’s recent show in Auckland, I saw a couple of people I work with in attendance. These weren’t people I knew as fans of rock music or regular concert-goers. Where were these people when I saw Black Sabbath, or AC/DC, or any of the countless number of smaller bands I’ve seen in Auckland over the years? The answer: Led Zeppelin – and by extension Robert Plant on his solo tour – are just as much a household name as The Rolling Stones or The Beatles. I remember the good old days when it wasn’t like this, when it used to be hard to find a Led Zeppelin t-shirt to buy. Now, Twilight’s Kristen Stewart is photographed by the paparazzi wearing a Zeppelin t-shirt…

The other bad thing about Zeppelin is that they are blatant thieves. Much of their bluesier material from the first and second albums was “appropriated” from old blues songs, without giving the original writers their credit. The reason this is so damning is that in most cases the band was stealing material from musicians who didn’t have the means to defend their claims – namely poor, black musicians from the mid-20th century. They didn’t just steal from the past either – the first album’s Dazed And Confused is a rewrite of Jake Holmes’ 1967 song of the same name without any due credit, while Black Mountain Side from the same album is far too similar to Bert Jansch’s Black Water Side to be accidental. This kleptomania caught up with the band, from lawsuits by Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf and Ritchie Valens. In each of these cases, the suits were settled for undisclosed sums – so I guess being the biggest rock band in the world is handy when you need to buy your way out of trouble.

Still, did I mention you can buy a Led Zeppelin bikini?