Tag Archives: Jimmy Page

Rocks In The Attic #585: Genesis – ‘Nursery Cryme’ (1971)

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Thanks to a recommendation from comedian Josh Widdicombe, I’ve just finished watching Brian Pern – A Life In Rock, a BBC mock/rockumentary starring The Fast Show’s Simon Day. Over three three-episode series, the show tells the story of a Peter Gabriel-like character (Day) and his Genesis-like band, Thotch, all framed in the context of rock and roll history from the 1960s onwards.

As with This Is Spinal Tap, and every over mock/rockumentary since, the power of Brian Pern – A Life In Rock comes from affectionately poking fun at real people and real events. In a great scene-setting opening, Pern egotistically claims a number of ridiculous accomplishments: ‘I invented world music. I was the first musician to use plasticine in videos. The first musician to record with animals. My last album had the lowest bass line ever recorded. And long before Bob Geldof and Bono, I was staging charity concerts and writing songs to raise awareness for the helpless and hopeless.’ This then segues into one of the very well done pieces of “archive” footage, with Pern singing one of his hard-hitting message songs: ‘Why no black folk in Jersey? / Why no black folk in Sark? / Why no black folk in Guernsey? / Are they having a lark?’

One of my favourite recurring jokes in the show is the deliberating mislabelling of real-life musicians and entertainers who contribute in talking head clips. For example, in the first episode Queen’s Roger Taylor is labelled as ‘Roger Taylor – Duran Duran’ – a subtle joke on the fact that Duran Duran’s original drummer was also called Roger Taylor (alongside two other unrelated Taylors in the same band). It’s something that a young BBC researcher potentially could get wrong – and that’s where the humour lies. The joke is oft-repeated – Roger Moore is introduced as ‘George Lazenby’, Rick Parfitt as ‘Francis Rossi’, etc – but it never gets old.

It’s a credit to these celebrities that they obviously don’t mind being taken fun of. Even Peter Gabriel appears from time to time, as a villainous double of the titular character. ‘It made me laugh a lot…’ he has said of the show. ‘…even though it was at my expense. I love to laugh. Spike Milligan was a hero to me and I was a big Fast Show fan, but I’m not sure that part of me comes across when I bore people about politics and social stuff. People can’t always see who you really are.’

My other favourite moment of the show was the partly fabricated tale of Phil Collins drumming with Led Zeppelin at 1985’s Live Aid. In real life, Collins performed at the British leg of Live Aid before hopping onto Concorde and drumming with Zeppelin at the American leg. Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page blamed his band’s sluggish performance on Collins – claiming that the jet-lag suffered from his trans-Atlantic journey resulted in bad timekeeping during Stairway To Heaven (hmm, I’m not sure that Jimmy Page really understands jet-lag). In the Brian Pern version of events, an in-on-the-joke Phil Collins references Page’s allegation, before a clip of Collins drumming along to Stairway To Heaven in Philadelphia is tweaked to sound like he keeps bringing in the drum fill from In The Air Tonight at all the wrong moments.

Nursery Cryme is Genesis’ third studio album, and serves as another reminder to me that I’m just not a prog guy, particularly if the prog is rooted in English folk (Genesis, Jethro Tull, Yes) rather than the more electric, pysch/blues-inflected prog of a band like Pink Floyd.

Hit: Seven Stones

Hidden Gem: The Musical Box

Rocks In The Attic #467: The Kinks – ‘Kinks’ (1964)

RITA#467.jpgA couple of months ago, I got so sick of having no Kinks records in my collection I resolved to do something about it. But there was a problem – after nearly twenty years of collecting, I had never seen any Kinks records in the wild. They do exist, don’t they? I haven’t just made them up in my head?

So, what do you do when you can‘t find an animal in the wild? You employ the services of a poacher. Onto Discogs I went, and I found some very nice recent reissues of the first three albums – Kinks (1964), Kinda Kinks (1965) and The Kink Kontroversy (1965) – all on lovely red vinyl. I paid my money and very soon, just like the dentist-cum-hunter who shot and killed Cecil the lion, I had my prize. By the way, Cecil The Lion sounds so English, it could almost be the title of a Kinks song.

Of all the beat explosion bands that emerged in the wake of the Beatles, the Kinks might just be my favourite. Their run of ‘60s singles – from You Really Got Me in 1964, though to Lola in 1970 – is bloody strong, and of such a high quality they really should be seen as equals to the Beatles, the Stones and the Who. They’re quite often not though. They tend to be considered as poor cousins, one rung down on the ladder with the likes of the Hollies, Manfred Mann and the Animals.

In Ray Davies, the Kinks had something that those premier bands could only dream of – a one-man Lennon & McCartney and  a remarkably consistent songwriting machine. Only Pete Townshend comes close in being the singular visionary for one of those top ‘60s band – and as far as I’m concerned, the strength of Davies’ songwriting blows him out of the water.

As a debut album, this record is very similar in tone and content to its contemporaries, being comprised mainly of R&B and rock n’ roll covers, together with a previous few examples of original material. The two standout songs on the album – You Really Got Me and Stop Your Sobbing – are exactly that though – standout songs. They’re absolutely fantastic. Stop Your Sobbing might be more famous for its cover by the Pretenders (it was never released as a single by the Kinks), but it’s still a great song.

The record is also notable for the non-Kink personnel who played on the sessions – namely Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin on guitar, and Jon Lord from Deep Purple on piano. Crikey!

Hit: You Really Got Me

Hidden Gem: Beautiful Delilah

Rocks In The Attic #448: AC/DC – ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ (2000)

RITA#448.jpgI saw the mighty ‘DC the other night in Auckland, my third time seeing the band. As you would expect, it was exactly the same as every other time I’ve seen them – but to be fair there was enough different this time round for it still to be interesting.

The biggest difference was the line-up – due to ill health sadly forcing his retirement, rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young has now been replaced by his nephew Stevie Young; and original drummer Phil Rudd, arrested recently for hiring a hitman to take out two men, was also out of the picture, replaced by the man he replaced back in the ‘90s, Chris Slade. The best joke I heard about Rudd’s arrest was that he was mistakenly overheard just saying that the band needed a couple of hits.

That was the thing I was most looking forward to with this concert – the return of Chris Slade, the drummer who drove the band through the Live At Donington concert film. As New Zealand music journalist Simon Sweetman has correctly pointed out, Phil Rudd could never play Thunderstruck correctly, there was always something missing. Slade played on the studio version of the song from the Razors Edge album, and his approach to the song takes it to another level, not least for those great side-bass drums he has positioned on either side of him.

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Seeing the band on stage without founding member Malcolm Young was heartbreaking. Malcolm has always been a rock on stage, standing in the shadows but always there holding the rhythm. The only positive outcome was that his position went to a family member (who looks so alike Malcolm that the casual onlooker probably wouldn’t even notice), and to complete the illusion Stevie even used Malcolm’s guitar – a Gretsch G6131 Jet Firebird with the neck and middle pickups removed.

The show wasn’t without its hitches – Brian Johnson missed his intro to Sin City (“Diamonds…”) and caught up with the second half of the line. The ego-ramp was really underused, with Angus and Brian only venturing out it in the final bunch of songs. There were a few sound issues early on, with Stevie’s guitar deadly quiet until they fixed it.  Angus’ guitar tone sounded a bit digitally enhanced – not something you want to hear from a guitarist so heavily associated with keeping it old-school. And the band didn’t play The Jack – the first song I learnt to play on the guitar – and as a result there was no slow blues played during the set.

But for all the cons, there was more than enough pros (a lot of the women in the audience looked like pros actually – lots of 40 year old faded blondes, with missing teeth, dressed as 20 year olds). They played two older songs, High Voltage and Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be (both from the Live At Donington set-list) which I was very happy to see. I’d never seen the band play Have A Drink On Me (from 1980’s Back In Black) lie before, and that was such a surprise and so unexpected, I initially thought Angus was playing the intro as some kind of blues throwaway snippet into another song. For the same reason, it was also great to see them play Shot Down In Flames – another deep cut off n album overshadowed by hit singles (in this case, 1979’s Highway To Hell).

Angus’ playing was still very fluid for a 60-year old, and there was no evidence of ‘locked-up fingers’ syndrome (that blighted Jimmy Page at Zeppelin’s O2 reunion show). And perhaps as a nod to his advancing age though, Angus didn’t do his momentum-stopping mid-set strip-tease, thankfully keeping his shirt on for the second half of the show. Rock N’ Roll Ain’t Eye Pollution and all that.

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The crowd was very interesting in fact. All ages were represented, the youngest child I saw couldn’t have been any older than six or seven, and while it wasn’t a completely 50/50 gender split, I’d estimate about 40% of the audience were chicks. There were some proper low-lifes there though. I expect if Auckland Police looked into it, there would have been a distinct drop in the number of burglaries reported on the night – all the no-mark bogans were wearing their best black t-shirts at the AC/DC show.

The set-list didn’t feature any songs from 1995’s Ballbreaker or 2000’s Stiff Upper Lip, the record I’m supposed to be talking about here. Both albums are solid efforts and I’m surprised they didn’t play just one track from each. I guess they have to be vigilant with this though. Not every studio album can be represented – there are seventeen of them!

While I enjoyed Ballbreaker, leading me to see the band for the first time on that tour (supported by the Wildhearts no less), I prefer Stiff Upper Lip of the two. It’s a bluesier, low-key affair – but it didn’t do very well in terms of sales, selling half what Ballbreaker and its follow-up Black Ice did. I even skipped that tour, busy playing with my own band at the time.

I’m sure there’ll be another album though, in four or five years. And another tour hopefully. Here’s to the 2020 world tour!

Hit: Stiff Upper Lip

Hidden Gem: Hold Me Back

Rocks In The Attic’s buyer’s guide to….Led Zeppelin

  – 3 essential albums, an overlooked gem, a wildcard, one to avoid, and the best of the rest –

Led Zeppelin rose from the ashes of the Yardbirds in London’s ultra-hip late ‘60s Flash scene. In 1968, ex-session guitarist Jimmy Page recruited fellow colleague John Paul Jones on bass, and looked north to the Midlands for gigging vocalist Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham. Success came thick and fast, especially after they cracked the USA with the release of their second album. The flame burnt fast though. In 1980, the band screeched to a halt when Bonham was found dead, the victim of one (or twenty) too many double vodkas the day before.

27 Feb 1972, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia --- Led Zeppelin performing in Sydney, Australia (L-R) John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, John Bonham and Jimmy Page --- Image by © S.I.N./CORBIS

I once had a letter – a letter! – printed in the NME. It was in response to an article where they claimed that Radiohead were ‘setting a new global blueprint’ by not releasing any singles or doing any press to promote Kid A in 2000. “Ever heard of Led Zeppelin?” I asked in my letter.

No singles? No press? And for the duration of Zeppelin’s twelve year career? It just goes to show that you can sell a heap of records entirely on word of mouth and an exhaustive touring schedule. It helps that the albums are nearly all close to fantastic too.

This was a very hard buyer’s guide to put together. How do you choose between so any great records, when tasked with only choosing three essential albums? Which ones do you leave behind? They’re all essential (and there are at least fifty good reasons to listen to the band)! Remember, it’s a buyer’s guide, so the following choices are aimed at those who are not well versed in the band’s back catalogue (if any such people exist at all).

Start off with: Led Zeppelin II (1969, Atlantic Records)

LZ1If the band’s self-assured debut set the scene, their second effort nine months later is the sound of them hitting their stride. Mainstream rock radio has taken some of the charm out of this record – redefining it almost as a greatest hits record – but there are still some surprises to be found. The interplay between the musicians on The Lemon Song is a prime example of how confident they had become in such a short space of time – just one highlight on an album full of highlights. Recorded at a number of different studios across England and America, while the band was touring, it’s an album of contradictions. It sounds heavy and light all at the same time; tight but loose; joyous and melancholic. Like the glare of a full moon in the roasting midday sun.

Follow that with: Led Zeppelin IV (1971, Atlantic Records)

LZ2IV is undoubtedly their masterpiece and the band were so sure about it, they released it without an official title and without the words ‘Led Zeppelin’ appearing anywhere on the cover or the record itself. The glaring hit on the album is Stairway To Heaven, despite never being released as a single, but the first side starts with two of the band’s biggest songs – Black Dog, a time-shifting stop-start rock masterpiece; and Rock And Roll, the band’s ode to late ‘50s music with the little help of a Little Richard drum pattern (by this time the band were well known for their musical kleptomania). The real gem of what used to be my choice hangover record throughout my teens however is the final track, When The Levee Breaks – the band’s last full-on blues cover (of a Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie blues song about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927) and featuring quite possibly the finest drum intro ever committed to vinyl.

Then get: Led Zeppelin III (1970, Atlantic Records)

LZ3Imagine Metallica following their self-titled Black Album with a jazz record, or the Sex Pistols recording a country and western album after their sneering 1977 debut. That’s about the level of genre-flipping between Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin III. To write songs that would form the basis of the album, Plant and Page retreated to a cottage in the Welsh countryside without electricity or running water. You can almost smell the rustic setting as the band replaces heavy blues for eastern-tinged bluesy folk, on what is undoubtedly the album where Zeppelin proved they were more than just long-haired headbangers.

Criminally overlooked: Coda (1982, Swan Song)

LZ4It is what it is – a bunch of left-over songs from various stages in their career, released as a bookend to the band’s 12-year reign – and for that reason it usually gets the cold shoulder. But some of these tracks were simply left off albums due to the space limitations of a single-disc LP. So to fulfil some contractual obligations to Atlantic Records, we get a Led Zeppelin III outtake, a Houses Of The Holy outtake, three In Through The Out Door outtakes, a couple of live songs and a drum workout – Bonzo’s Montreaux – which for me is the thundering highlight of the album.

The long-shot: In Through The Out Door (1979, Swan Song)

LZ5A lot of people don’t like the band’s final studio record because Jimmy Page’s guitars take somewhat of a back seat compared to prior albums. In his place, the keyboards of John Paul Jones play a more prominent role on what is arguably the most challenging record to unlock. Like most, I wrote In Through The Out Door off when I first heard it, but it’s grown on me over the years and while some of the keyboards sound a little too carnival-y, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.

Avoid like the plague: The Song Remains The Same (1979, Swan Song)

LZ6There really aren’t any Zeppelin albums to put into this category but at a push I’d have to offer this, their first officially released live album – a soundtrack to the convert film of the same name. What’s not to like? Well, it was pompous, overblown music like this that resulted in the British punk explosion from the summer of 1977 onwards. Who wants to listen to a sleep-inducing  twenty seven minute rendition of Dazed And Confused? Not me, that’s for sure. Where prog bands such as Pink Floyd can easily fill one side of a record with one song, Zeppelin really struggle to keep interest levels up. It may have been a joy if you were there, stoned out of your mind, but you’d need a lot of drugs to find this song exciting at home. The concert film struggles to pique my interest too – so ponderous that they had to intersperse it with cinematic cut-scenes. There are great moments on this record – not least Bonham’s amazing drum work – but this is probably the Zeppelin record I play the least.

Best compilation: Remasters (1990, Atlantic Records)

LZ7My introduction to the band, Remasters was the first Zeppelin compilation; a greatest hits set from a band that didn’t release any singles in the UK (until Atlantic spoiled it with a 1997 release of Whole Lotta Love). What to include? What to leave out? The decision, as always, went to Jimmy Page – still very much the leader and figurehead for the band ten years after they split. The double-CD / triple-LP set was just a sampler for the full box set of recorded material that Page had digitally remastered, but is now universally seen as the definitive Zeppelin collection, no matter how many times they repackage it.

Best live album: How The West Was Won (2003, Atlantic Records)

LZ8Still to see the light of day on vinyl, How The West Was Won was released to very little fanfare in 2003 as a triple-CD; which is a shame as it’s by far their most exciting live album. The result of two West Coast shows on their 1972 American tour, the band sound very energetic and the atmosphere is electric. Page considered the band to be at their artistic peak during this period, and it shows. There’s definitely something to be found here that just isn’t evident on the Song Remains The Same soundtrack / snoozefest. By that time, Zeppelin were just going through the motions, showing the fatigue of another endless American tour. On How The West Was Won, they sound very much like what you’d expect from the band that had just released Led Zeppelin IV; the biggest band in the world.

I don’t tend to listen to much Led Zeppelin these days. I played their records so much through my teens that I know them like the back of my hands. When I do hear them though, blasting out of a car on a summer’s day or on the stereo as I’m flipping through the racks at a record store, it brings a massive smile to my face. I understand Led Zeppelin aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. I get that. Not everybody can have great taste in music.

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Rocks In The Attic #408: Jimmy Page & The Black Crowes – ‘Live At The Greek’ (2000)

RITA#408I downloaded a digital copy of this in the early 2000s, by accident really, as I was trying to put the Black Crowes’ discography on my iPod. Needless to say, it because a firm favourite, even though I knew nothing about the gig or the reasons why Page was playing a show of Zeppelin songs and blues standards with an American band some time after their early ‘90s heyday.

It doesn’t matter why though –  I don’t want to know. All I know is that I love this album. Of the two, I think it has the edge over Celebration Day, the recording of the 2007 Led Zeppelin reunion show at the O2. Recorded only seven years after Live At The Greek, there are a few moments on Celebration Day where Page seems to suffer from locked-up old-man fingers. I don’t know whether this is from age, or simply a lack of enough rehearsals, but the same problem isn’t audible on Live At The Greek. His playing here is fluid – maybe not to the same level of his mid-‘70s peak, but good enough – and obviously he’s got two guitarists to fall back on (Rich Robinson and Audley Freed), whereas he was flying solo at the O2.

It’s also a more energetic album – probably as a result of Page playing alongside a much younger band – and the choice of material is also much more fun, taking the time to play some deeper cuts and some well chosen blues covers. Zeppelin wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do this at the O2, in front of a crowd essentially wanting to hear the hits. They could have done, but it would have meant playing another night. Or two. Shit, they could have played a 100-night residence at the O2, and every night would have been full.

Hit: Whole Lotta Love

Hidden Gem: Woke Up This Morning

Rocks In The Attic #352: Van Morrison – ‘Astral Weeks’ (1968)

RITA#352I was driving around once, looked in my rear view mirror and saw Van Morrison sat on my back seat. I then remembered that mirrors reverse everything, and it was just a Morrisons Van following me.

I’m starting to appreciate this album as I get older. It’s the same with things like Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue – when you listen to albums like these as a young man, they don’t resonate as much. Maybe you just have to listen to a certain quantity of music – maybe a certain quantity of inferior or mediocre music – for your brain to reach a valid comparison.

One of my heroes is the late comedian Bill Hicks, and I read once that Astral Weeks was the album he would listen to, over and over again, in the final stages of his battle against pancreatic cancer. It’s an album that’s designed to be played repeatedly – a cycle of songs that makes more and more sense together the more you listen to it.

Aside from his tenure in Them (and their superlative version of Baby Please Don’t Go – with a little help from Jimmy Page), this is my favourite era of Van Morrison. I’m not really a fan of the forced jazz of Moondance, and I think I might tear my own eyeballs out if I ever hear Brown Eyed Girl one more time. Most importantly though, I’m not a fan of what Van Morrison has become.

Whenever I see him these days, such as in the Red, White & Blues episode of Martin Scorsese: The Blues, he’s almost unrecognisable. He’s a big bear of a man, usually dressed in clothes that wouldn’t go amiss on a 1970s black pimp called Big Daddy, with a face so bloated that you can’t actually make out any of his features anymore. He looks like somebody’s driver.

Van Morrison, Joe Cocker and Rod Stewart should form a vocal supergroup called ‘WTF Happened?’

But which musicians should join them?

Hit: The Way Young Lovers Do

Hidden Gem: Beside You

Rocks In The Attic #323: Led Zeppelin – ‘Houses Of The Holy’ (1973)

RITA#323I don’t know what it is exactly, but of all the Zeppelin albums, this one seems to be the most pompous. This is their first one entirely self-composed, which for most bands would mean a move away from recording covers. For Zeppelin it means they stopped stealing old blues songs, hoping nobody would notice.

The pomposity reaches unbearable heights on The Rain Song – all seven and a half minutes of it. I read somewhere that they wrote this song on the advice of George Harrison, who told Jimmy Page that Zeppelin should really write some more melodic material. To that I simply say NO, JIMMY PAGE – STICK TO RIPPING OFF OLD BLUES SONGS LIKE WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS. IT’S WHAT YOU DO BEST!

Oh well. They may not be as steeped in the blues as on the first four albums, but they can still put together a decent rock album. I could just do without the ‘heavy pastoral’ direction that seems to be creeping in. I’m not too keen on The Crunge (a misplaced James Brown pastiche) or D’yer Mak’er (cod-reggae) either. But apart from these confused attempts at a different sound, the rest of the album is superb.

Dancing Days is a great little bit of Middle-Eastern groove (and nicely covered by Stone Temple Pilots back in the ‘90s); Over The Hills And Far Away means a great deal to me – it’s the song I first wooed my wife with (on the guitar) and it’s the song we walked down the aisle to, seven years later; The Song Remains The Same is just pure madness – a guitarist’s dream; I still get the shivers when I listen to John Paul Jones’ keyboards in No Quarter – especially if I’m in a darkened room; and finally The Ocean has to be one of the most overlooked Zeppelin riffs – all the more remarkable for coming out of John Bonham’s mind, not Jimmy Page’s.

And if I’m having a bad day, that last doo-wop minute of The Ocean always cheers me up.

Hit: No Quarter

Hidden Gem: Over The Hills And Far Away