Tag Archives: John Paul Jones

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’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’s buyer’s guide to…The Rolling Stones (Part 1 – The Decca Years)

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

A 1962 advertisement in Jazz News by a young guitarist named Brian Jones had consequences the blues purist could never have imagined. Jones’ ad, searching for similarly-minded musicians to play with, led to the formation of undoubtedly the world’s biggest rock band, and twenty two studio albums later they’re still going strong.

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Twenty two studio albums is quite a body of work – there’s a lot of gold amongst those records, but there’s a decent amount of average (and even sub-par) material too. Given there’s just so much to get through, I’ve split this buyer’s guide into two parts – firstly the years between 1964 and 1969, when the Stones’ albums were released on Decca Records (or London Records in the USA), and the second era from 1971 to present, where releases appeared first on their own label, Rolling Stones Records, and then much later on Virgin.

A handy marker to distinguish releases between the two eras is the famous tongue and lips logo, designed by John Pasche. This was introduced in 1971 and appears on the sleeve of Sticky Fingers, their first Rolling Stones Records release, and onwards.

But first, here’s a guide to the first decade of the band – one that started innocently with a group of like-minded individuals paying homage to their Chicago blues heroes, and ended in a double-dose of tragedy.

Start off with: Beggar’s Banquet (1968, Decca)

Stones2Beggar’s Banquet marks the band’s first confident steps away from their former leader, Brian Jones. Up to this point, it was very much Brian’s band. He put the band together, he named the band (after a Muddy Waters song), and he was the driving force behind a lot of their early covers. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had other ideas though. This album represents a return to what they do best, compared to Their Satanic Majesties Request a year earlier. On that departure of a record they were still very much Beatles copyists, but with Beggar’s Banquet they were setting up their own stall, becoming a rock group rather than a ‘60s beat group. If there’s one Stones album that sets the template for every Stones record to come, it’s this one.

Follow that with: Let It Bleed (1969, Decca)

Stones3It’s a major understatement to say that the ‘60s ended badly for the Stones. First, the ousted Brian Jones is found face-down, floating in his swimming pool. Then Jagger watches from the stage at the Altamont festival as a fan is stabbed and beaten to death by the Hells Angels. Let It Bleed was released in between those two events, and the smell of death hangs over the record like a black cloud. ‘Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away’ sings backing vocalist Merry Clayton on Gimme Shelter (the L.A. Times reported that after recording that track, Clayton suffered a miscarriage upon returning home – yet another bad event surrounding this record). Their last record of the ‘60s, the Stones end the decade with the seven and a half minute long You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Taken at face value, it feels like a song about the death of the ‘60s dream, but it’s covered in hope – ‘if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.’

Then get: Aftermath (1966, Decca)

Stones4To the Stones what A Hard Day’s Night was to the Beatles, Aftermath was the first studio album consisting solely of Jagger / Richards compositions. It’s not their best record, by a long shot, but it shows that they could write a body of work without needing to go digging in the well of Chicago blues songs. The important thing here is that its Mick Jagger and Keith Richards writing the material, not Brian Jones – the first nail in his coffin, perhaps? Amongst the stand-out tracks are Mother’s Little Helper, Lady Jane and Out Of Time (a UK #1 for Chris Farlowe) – but the centre-piece is Under My Thumb, the song that the band was playing when Meredith Hunter was killed at Altamont (the common misconception is that they were playing Sympathy For The Devil at the time).

Criminally overlooked: The Rolling Stones (1964, Decca)

Stones5Their debut record marks out their territory well – edgy, energetic and respectful to their R&B and blues heroes. A cover of Chuck Berry’s Route 66 kicks things off, with Mick spitting out the American towns in Bobby Troup’s lyrics. Thirty three (and a third!) minutes later, a cover of Rufus Thomas’ Walking The Dog closes the album by what the American release would call ‘England’s Newest Hitmakers’. They only managed one original composition – they’d work at this over subsequent releases – but the eleven covers they chose showed which road they were going down.

The long-shot: Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967, Decca)

Stones6Terrible cover. Supposedly the Stones’ worst album. A psychedelic cash-in. Believe what you will, but I don’t think it’s that bad. There are definitely worse Stones albums from this period (more on that in a minute). If you ignore the shameful lack of originality on the cover, and maybe sweep a few of the lengthier trying-too-hard-to-sound-psychedelic-and-out-there songs out of the way, it’s a decent listen. The obvious comparison – due to the cover – would be Sgt. Pepper’s but the Stones sound more like Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Plus you get She’s A Rainbow – a celebration of squirting girls everywhere, with a string arrangement by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones – and 2,000 Light Years From Home, driven by one of Bill Wyman’s best bass riffs. Thankfully they would leave the joss sticks and kaftans behind for their next release – Beggar’s Banquet.

Avoid like the plague: Between The Buttons (1967, Decca)

Stones7Between The Buttons is odd in that each and every Stones album up to this point was a little better than the one before it. Each subsequent Stones album would have more Jagger / Richards compositions on it, culminating on the fully self-written Aftermath in 1966. But with Between The Buttons, their second attempt at this feat, they overreached and produced a boring, snoozefest of an album. Connection is the album’s only glimmer of hope, and even that is just two short minutes of schoolyard rhymes. If anything, it sounds like it was ghost written by the Gimme Some Money-era David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel. Speaking of buttons and schoolyards, I once ingested a button up my nose when I was at infant school. It was a more enjoyable experience than listening to this record.

Best compilation: Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2) (1969, Decca)

Stones8At the last count, there are about three hundred and nineteen Rolling Stones compilations commercially available, all of varying quality. The band’s second hits collection, with a great octagonal cover, is arguably the better of the two released during the ‘60s. Dedicated to the recently departed Brian Jones, the album contains four white hot Stones singles – Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Let’s Spend The Night Together, Ruby Tuesday and Honky Tonk Women – all available only on 7” up to that point. In fact, it doesn’t matter what the meat of the sandwich is, the very fact that the record opens with Jumpin’ Jack Flash and closes with Honky Tonk Women makes it one of the greatest records ever.

Best live album: Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert (1970, Decca)

Stones9Great between-song banter – “I think I bust a button on me trousers, hope they don’t fall down…you don’t want my trousers to fall down now, do you?” – and audience chatter – “Paint It Black, you devil!” – make this a great listen. Those moments are so good, you could almost forgive them for sounding like the sloppiest live band ever to grace a stage. Because that’s the truth of the situation – they might produce the occasional lightning bolt in the studio, but on stage they sound resolutely awful. The very fact that most people don’t notice this is a testament to how good some of their classic material is. Who cares what they sound like, as long as they’re playing Jumpin’ Jack Flash?

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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

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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

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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*…

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* 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?

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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?

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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

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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

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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…

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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?

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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?

Rocks In The Attic #84: Led Zeppelin – ‘Led Zeppelin’ (1969)

Rocks In The Attic #84: Led Zeppelin - ‘Led Zeppelin’ (1969)Although this is only (only!) the 84th entry in the Rocks In The Attic blog, this is actually the 100th disc I’ve reviewed, taking into account all the double- and triple-albums that I’ve wrote about so far.

A few weeks ago I covered the Truth album by Jeff Beck – released prior to this debut by Led Zeppelin, and an album Jimmy Page must have had at the front of his mind when planning and arranging this.

This was a very cheap album to make. Zeppelin’s manager Peter Grant paid for the 36 hours of studio time himself, and then sold the tapes to Atlantic Records. A studio cost of just £1,782 led to the record grossing more than £3.5 million. Not a bad return for a record company.

If I had to choose one album over the other, I’d go with Zeppelin’s debut, only because the songs fit together that little bit better. Led Zeppelin and Truth are very similar though. They even share a cover – You Shook Me – but the majority of the songs could be interchangeable. Both albums have soulful vocals, by Robert Plant and Rod Stewart respectively. The guitar work on each album (both players are ex-Yardbirds) is of a higher quality than most players at the time (and more in line with the likes of Hendrix and Clapton); and the bass is top-notch (by John Paul Jones on Led Zeppelin, and future Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood on Truth).

The real point of differentiation is the percussion. There’s nothing wrong with the drums, by Mick Waller, on Jeff Beck’s album. They keep time, as they should. But they’re not a patch on Bonzo’s debut. The opening track on Led ZeppelinGood Times Bad Times – could almost be renamed How To Play Drums by John Henry Bonham. You can ignore everything else about that song and just concentrate on the drums – they are the very definition of a perfect drum track.

Hit: Dazed And Confused

Hidden Gem: Black Mountain Side

Rocks In The Attic #61: The Jeff Beck Group – ‘Truth’ (1968)

Rocks In The Attic #61: Jeff Beck - ‘Truth’ (1968)It took me a long time to track this down on vinyl. If Led Zeppelin albums are numbered, this could almost be titled Led Zeppelin 0.

Released a couple of months before Led Zeppelin (I) was recorded, this also features heavy blues arrangements by an ex-Yardbird (Jeff Beck), and a soulful white singer (Rod Stewart) providing vocals. It also features a reworking of the Willie Dixon song You Shook Me, which would also grace the first Zeppelin album.

Apparently Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page fell out over that one – with Beck claiming that Page stole his idea to do a heavy blues version of You Shook Me. You can understand this – even if Jimmy Page did come up with that idea first, Beck beat him to the punch and Page simply shouldn’t have put it on the first Zeppelin album.

Rounding out Beck’s  band are Ronnie Wood on bass, and noted blues explosion drummer Mick Waller.

You can’t help but compare the two albums – they’re very similar – but for me the first Zeppelin album is slightly more cohesive, but only just. Page even features on the Truth album, credited as the writer of Beck’s Bolero – an instrumental with Beck and Page on guitar, John Paul Jones on bass, Keith Moon on drums and Nicky Hopkins on piano.

At the end of the day, I’m not a huge fan of either album. There’s something very dirge-like about both albums, as though both architects are trying to outdo each other with a (very) heavy blues album, and without the adequate quantity of light (to balance out the shade), they can both be very hard to listen to.

Hit: Shapes Of Things

Hidden Gem: Beck’s Bolero