Tag Archives: Led Zeppelin IV

Rocks In The Attic #800: Black Sabbath – ‘Paranoid’ (1970)

RITA#800Post number 800 of this humble blog finds us with one of the greatest albums in rock and metal, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid.

It’s one of those cornerstone records, like AC/DC’s Highway To Hell or Led Zeppelin IV, which just feels bigger than the sum of its parts. If the Beatles’ 1969 swansong Abbey Road served as the blueprint for rock albums for the 1970s, then Black Sabbath’s celebrated second album surely served as the heavy metal equivalent. The musical leap from Come Together to War Pigs feels like light years, but the two album openers were released only 12 months apart.

Released in the same year as their doom-laden debut album, Paranoid arrived in September 1970 on the Vertigo label in the UK (and Warner Bros. in the US market). The record company, satisfied with the band’s debut, asked for more of the same. Black Sabbath was recorded in one day, a marathon sprint of twelve hours, but for Paranoid the band were afforded the luxury of a whole six days to record.

Black Sabbath File Photos
Much has been written about hit-single Paranoid being written in five minutes, tossed off to make up one last song for the album. Bassist Geezer Butler claims it was done and dusted in two hours, from the moment Tony Iommi came up with the monster guitar riff, to the band laying down the track to finish off the album. But as good as the song is, its oversaturation on rock radio makes it one of the least interesting things about the record.

Things start off with War Pigs, the quintessential long-form metal song. A languorous opening and ominous sirens announce something big is on the horizon, before the song stops dead. Bill Ward’s hi-hat counts in Iommi’s stabbing power chords, as Ozzy Osbourne sings the opening verse. This leads to the main riff, before it breaks down again. Clocking in at almost eight minutes, the song doesn’t ever get boring.

Black Sabbath File Photos

After the comparatively throwaway title track, the band slips into neutral on the stoner favourite Planet Caravan, before picking up speed again on the album’s other big guitar centrepiece, Iron Man. Across those first four songs, Iommi provides some of the genre’s greatest guitar riffs – War Pigs alone has half a dozen different sections – and it makes for the best ‘side’ of metal until perhaps the second-side of AC/DC’s Back In Black or the first side of Def Leppard’s Hysteria (both of which would have been categorised as metal before history downgraded them to heavy rock).

RITA#800cSilverchair’s debut Frogstomp from 1995 is a good example of a Sabbath-influenced metal album that matches the riffs-per-song ratio of Paranoid. But for the rest of the band’s career, Iommi would be a little less generous with his riffs. Paranoid’s less celebrated second side is therefore more representative of the albums that followed: moderate-tempo doom-based rockers with screaming banshee vocals, usually based around one or two killer riffs per song.

Paranoid was the first Sabbath album I heard, and so it was my gateway into the band. After digesting everything I could from Aerosmith and AC/DC, I skipped the Allman Brothers and shifted to the ‘B’ section of the record shop. But like AC/DC’s albums, I was always a little let down by Sabbath’s mid-90s CD remasters. Aerosmith’s CD remasters had great little fold-out booklets with photos and artwork from the albums’ promotional campaigns. In comparison, AC/DC, Sabbath and Motörhead had nothing in their reissues – usually just a tracklisting. I’d have loved an essay, or some retrospective liner notes, but maybe record companies don’t think heavy metal fans can read?

Hit: Paranoid

Hidden Gem: Planet Caravan

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Rocks In The Attic #495: Neil Young – ‘Harvest’ (1972)

RITA#495If ever I could pick a perfect album, this is one of the ones I would pick. Yes, it might not be to everybody’s taste, but in terms of a record that has a consistent level of quality songwriting from start to finish, it’s up there with the likes of Revolver, Dark Side Of The Moon and Led Zeppelin IV.

I shouldn’t like it either. It’s got both feet firmly steeped in the country tradition, and I’m somewhat allergic to that most inbred of musical genres. It was recorded in Nashville too, so it’s the real deal. Young went down there and recorded the album with a pick-up band, writing out the charts for them using the Nashville number system they would have been very familiar with.

Of all the 33⅓ books I’ve read, the one on Harvest, by Sam Inglis has been my favourite so far. It’s one of the earliest ones in the series – the third one to be published – and is well recommended if you wish to know more about the recording of the record. Some of those 33⅓ books can be a bit hit and miss, but that one seems to stand out from that early bunch of titles.

I probably need a new copy of this record. I picked up a second-hand copy a few years ago that has definitely seen better days. The cover looks like it’s been under somebody’s pillow for 12 months, and there’s a fair bit of surface noise on the actual disc. Either that or Neil Young employed somebody to fry some eggs in the studio as they were recording.

Hit: Heart Of Gold

Hidden Gem: The Needle And The Damage Done

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 #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 #41: Aerosmith – ‘Done With Mirrors’ (1985)

Rocks In The Attic #41: Aerosmith - ‘Done With Mirrors’ (1985)This was supposedly Aerosmith’s comeback album – their first with Joe Perry and Brad Whitford back in the band, and their first on Geffen records – the glitzy record label that had suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the 1980s. Unfortunately for everybody involved, they would have to wait another two years to release their real comeback album – Permanent Vacation – an album that rightfully put them back at the top of the tree.

This isn’t a bad album, it’s just poorly produced (by Doobie Brothers and Van Halen producer Ted Templeman). It feels very flat – and while the sound is very clear, there’s nothing special to grab your attention. This would have been the first studio album that Aerosmith would have released on compact disc, and possibly they were so taken with the new technology that they forgot to actually make a decent album.

The other thing this album has to work against is the fact that some bright spark at the record label decided to get creative with the name of the album. On its release, all text on the sleeve including the name of the album – and even the name of the band – was printed in reverse, and could be read normally by holding up to a mirror. Now I like this, it’s something different, but I’m very aware that a large proportion of rock fans tend to be cerebrally challenged – so this surely would have been commercial suicide. It’s okay when you’re the biggest band in the world and you put out a record without your name on it (eg. Led Zeppelin IV), but if you’re on the comeback trail it might make a bit more sense to actually make it loud and clear who you are.

David Geffen really must have started rubbing his hands with glee during the 1980s. Not only did he have Aerosmith on his new record label by 1985 – but he’d very soon have Guns ‘N Roses joining them, and after that Nirvana. There used to be a time when I could quite happily pigeon-hole an Aerosmith album as good or questionable depending on which label the record was on. Records on their original label Columbia were mostly good, while the stuff on Geffen was always questionable. This no longer works however, as they went back to Columbia in 1997 and have released mainly rubbish ever since.

Hit: Let The Music Do The Talking

Hidden Gem: Shela