Tag Archives: Led Zeppelin II

Rocks In The Attic #638: Metallica – ‘Metallica’ (1991)

RITA#638The top-selling album of the past 25 years, or so the hype sticker says, this takes me back. When I was fourteen, this sounding like nothing else: heavy, thunderous, massive. Plenty of the bands I was into at the time were loud and heavy, but Metallica’s Black Album (as this record became to be known) just sounded huge.

Now, of course, it seems quite tame. Strip away the bombast and what you’re left with is a well recorded, well engineered and well produced heavy rock album. After four records of long-form songs that straddled the fence between thrash-metal and prog-metal, the band took a chance by employing Bob Rock in the producer’s chair.

Rock had engineered Bob Jovi’s Slippery When Wet (1986) and Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation (1987), before winning acclaim for producing Mötley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood (1989). The big difference he brought to Metallica was in commercialising their sound, slowing them down in tempo, and shortening their songs. The Metallica of old would pack as many ideas as possible into one song, lasting anywhere between four and nine minutes, before running out of ideas. The Black Album’s songs are boiled down in their arrangements, to the extent that they become radio-friendly, almost…dare I say it…structured like pop songs.

As much as I loved it as a teenager, the record has definitely lost a lot of its appeal in the intervening years. Radio has done to this record as a metal album what it has done for Led Zeppelin II as a rock album: overplayed it to death. There’s no intrigue left. Hetfield, Hammett, Newsted and Ulrich used to be enigmatic (to a degree), but watching the band sit around with their analyst in Some Kind Of Monster (2004) showed that they’re very much real people, plagued by the kinds of insecurities and anxieties that stifle us all.

Hit: Enter Sandman

Hidden Gem: My Friend Of Misery

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.

LZ9

Rocks In The Attic #229: Led Zeppelin – ‘Presence’ (1976)

RITA#229I listened to Led Zeppelin so much in my teens that I overplayed their classic albums – II, III and IV – to the extent that I know them too well. Instead, when I want to listen to Zeppelin these days I tend to go for Physical Graffiti, or this, their seventh and penultimate studio album.

For me, despite a few great songs on the otherwise forgettable In Through The Out Door, this really is Zeppelin’s last great album.

By this time, the band’s fondness for long songs had descended into something else entirely. Opener Achilles Last Stand runs to 10:25, but even at that length it doesn’t outstay its welcome. I can’t say the same for closer Tea For One though, which at 9:27 does get a little tiresome. Jimmy Page has just admitted in Rolling Stone that this song was simply the band’s attempt at having another stab at an extended blues in the same vein as Since I’ve Been Loving You (from Led Zeppelin III).

Musical timing is also an issue on Presence. Zeppelin were always such great musicians, that playing in weird time structures always sounded so natural. Take a song like Black Dog (from Led Zeppelin IV). The way that the drumbeat slips in front of, then behind, the guitars sounds hypnotic, but most importantly it doesn’t take anything away from the song. On Presence, the otherwise excellent Nobody’s Fault But Mine is almost destroyed by a couple of moments of intended musical cleverness that just sounds wrong in execution.

Hit: Achilles Last Stand

Hidden Gem: Royal Orleans

Rocks In The Attic #201: Led Zeppelin – ‘Remasters’ (1990)

RITA#201I remember finding this – the triple-LP edition – in the racks at King Bee Records in Chorlton. I didn’t need it; I already had all the Zeppelin albums on vinyl (I had made this my first priority when I started buying vinyl). So why would I fork out for this, two hours and thirteen minutes of music I already owned?

Looking at my record collection as a whole, this compilation probably means more to me than any other compilation out there. When I first started listening to rock music, this set – the double-CD edition – was one of the first things I pilfered from my Dad’s collection. I only knew the odd Zeppelin song at that point, so it was a lot to take in at first listen. The CD version is slightly longer too, as it adds Misty Mountain Hop and The Rain Song, which are both absent from the vinyl version.

I remember being challenged listening to this compilation – as both a listener of music, and also an aspiring musician – trying to find a way in to a very dense, rich set of songs that were completely new on me. Zeppelin songs are thankfully absent from being used (and overused) in television and film, so it’s not like I had a frame of reference from hearing the songs elsewhere.

The collection encompasses their entire career too, so there are various genres of music covered. Up to now I had only listened to rock, and rock alone; but here was Zeppelin playing heavy blues, soul, R&B, reggae, and all shades of rock in-between. As a guitarist listening to this for the first time, Jimmy Page’s catalogue of guitar riffs are a wonderful thing to discover.

It’s also pretty unique in that, yes it’s a compilation, but Zeppelin never released any singles; so what is it exactly a compilation of? In 1990, Jimmy Page got together with George Marino and remastered their entire back catalogue, releasing them over two boxed sets. The Remasters album is a scaled-down “sampler” of those two sets. With no list of hit singles to choose a tracklisting from, Remasters is simply a collection of the songs Jimmy Page regards as the bands most popular songs.

This album led me onto buying each of their studio albums, one by one. I already had Led Zeppelin II on vinyl (again, stolen from my Dad’s record collection), but that was the first one I bought on CD because I loved it so much. I think I then bought each of the studio albums in chronological order.

Remasters served as a way in to each studio album; there were always a couple of songs at least on every album that I knew from Remasters. When I listen to the album now, it just washes over me because I know it so well – it’s part of my musical DNA. Sometimes it gets so bad that I have to really think hard about which song I’m listening to. I find that happens a lot when you know a compilation album so well. Without the flow that the songs were intended for on their original studio album, they take on a structure of their own.

Hit: Stairway To Heaven

Hidden Gem: Achilles Last Stand

Rocks In The Attic #114: Led Zeppelin – ‘Led Zeppelin II’ (1969)

Rocks In The Attic #114: Led Zeppelin - ‘Led Zeppelin II’ (1969)This album to me sounds like summer. I remember listening to this vinyl copy – one of my Dad’s – putting it onto tape, and then buying it on CD not long after. I always think Zeppelin’s brand of rock is quite rich – in that in most cases it’s a high level of musicianship and substance, over catchiness and pop hooks – but their second album is instantly listenable. I’d recommend it as a way-in to Zeppelin, over anything else they recorded, including their arguably superior fourth album.

I must have bought the record on CD during school holidays, as I have a really clear memory of walking up the hospital every day (I think to see my Dad who was in there for an operation), and I would listen to this on my Technics portable CD player all the way up to the hospital, and all the way back home. I think it sounds like summer to me because of this very association. That couple of weeks must have come in the middle of a hot spell – a rarity in an English summer.

It’s incredible that this record was released in 1969. It has 70s rock written all over it, but it comes from the tail end of that earlier decade. It’s also fantastic proof that a great album can be produced out of pressure, and on the road, with the band stealing studio time whenever and wherever they could to put this together.

Hit: Whole Lotta Love

Hidden Gem: The Lemon Song