Tag Archives: Tom Jones

Rocks In The Attic #607: The George Baker Selection – ‘Love In The World’ (1971)

RITA#607K-BILLY’s “super sounds of the seventies” weekend just keeps on coming with this little ditty. They reached up to twenty one in May of 1970. The George Baker Selection: Little Green Bag.

How Quentin Tarantino found this song and picked it out of obscurity to be one of the coolest, era-defining songs of the 1990s is beyond me. Listening to the rest of this record – the second release by the George Baker Selection – there isn’t a great deal else to point to such a gem of a song.

If anything, the Dutch band seems to be a curiosity, lost between decades and difficult to classify. They’re half-late’60s pop rock (late-era Byrds, late-‘60s Kinks) and half-early ‘70s singer-songwriter rock, all jumbled up with a touch of pysch and a sprinkling of jazz. They make for an interesting listen, that’s for sure.

Little Green Bag was the first track of their 1970 debut (also titled Little Green Bag), and given that Wikipedia doesn’t even have pages for their albums beyond this, it looks like they peaked commercially right at the start of their career.

Even Little Green Bag is difficult to classify. After an extremely cool intro, the song devolves into a crooning cabaret song. The change in tone is startling – like a smoking Miles Davis groove taken over by a bravado Tom Jones vocal.

Hit: Little Green Bag

Hidden Gem: Suicide Daisy

Advertisements

Rocks In The Attic #400: Various Artists – ‘The Best Of James Bond – 30th Anniversary Collection’ (1992)

Bond 00A new Bond film – Spectre – is imminent, set to be released on the 6th of November 2015. To say that I’m looking forward to it is a major understatement. Hopefully it can restore my faith in the series, after the let-down of the appalling Skyfall – a Bond film for non-Bond film fans.

To celebrate the 400th Rocks In The Attic blog post, here are the twenty four* previous Bond themes, ranked from worst to best.

Bond 0(*Prior to Spectre, there are actually twenty three Bond films in the official series, but Dr. No doesn’t really have a theme song, other than Monty Norman’s original James Bond Theme, and that tune really belongs to all of the films. I’ve also included the themes to the two unofficial Bond films – the spoof Casino Royale from 1967, and 1983’s Never Say Never Again – because they’re well worth considering).

24. Die Another Day – Madonna (2002)

Bond 1Die Another Day is not only hands-down the worst Bond film, it also has the honour of having the worst theme song. If there’s one person who needs to stay away from films, it’s Madonna. The producers even gave her a part in the film! Her filmography reads like a criminal record. Body Of Evidence? Who’s That Girl? Swept Away? If you haven’t seen these films, keep it that way. Die Another Day was released in the midst of her attempt to reinvent herself as a British person, all flat caps and tweed jackets. Ugh. Pass the sick bucket.

23. For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton (1981)

Bond 2Carly Simon’s theme to The Spy Who Loved Me was such a hit in 1977 that the producers spent the early 1980s trying to replicate its success. This and the theme to the next film in the series, Octopussy, are some of the weakest Bond themes – all synths and dated atmospherics, about as far away as you can get from what a Bond theme should be. For Your Eyes loses more points for repurposing the title of the film into a cheesy double-entendre.

22. All Time High – Rita Coolidge (from Octopussy, 1983)

Bond 3I guess when you’re faced with a title like Octopussy, you’re going to need to change the name of the song. Nobody wants to hear somebody crowbar the words ‘hussy’ and ‘fussy’ just so that they can rhyme them with ‘Octopussy’. Or do they…? I’m not too sure what that song would be about, perhaps something along the lines of Bond not being particularly choosy about his women: With girls, he was never fussy / He’d take them all, any hussy / But the one that really took his eye / No word of a lie / Was Octopussy.

21. Tomorrow Never Dies – Sheryl Crow (1997)

Bond 4Just as the early-‘80s was a fallow period for good Bond themes, so was the late-‘90s. There’s nothing particularly offensive about Tomorrow Never Dies or The World Is Not Enough, but there’s nothing great about them either. They both sound like they’ve been written by a computer program designed to write Bond themes: Start. Open file. Insert menacing three-note ascending motif. Run.

20. The World Is Not Enough – Garbage (1999)

Bond 5David Arnold might have hit his stride now, but back in the ‘90s he was really struggling. John Barry left a big pair of shoes to fill (size 007s probably), and subsequently Arnold’s first few soundtracks seem to crumble under the pressure. His choice of theme-tune artist is a little strange for this one too. Garbage were indie darlings back in 1995, but by 1999 they were an afterthought. A less than exciting second album didn’t help, and their Bond song was released long after the honeymoon was over.

19. Casino Royale – Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (from Casino Royale, 1967)

Bond 6Herb Alpert & The Marijuana Brass, more like. If you’ve never seen 1967’s Casino Royale, don’t bother. It’s a big, sloppy mess of a film. The music, however, is much better. Aside from Burt Bacharach’s The Look Of Love, performed by Dusty Springfield, you get this short, sharp slap of catchy ‘60s trumpet jazz. Although it’s one of the few highlights of the film, I’ve only rated it low down because it’s so far out of step with the rest of the theme songs.

18. You Know My Name – Chris Cornell (from Casino Royale, 2006)

Bond 7Getting the singer from Soundgarden to do a Bond song – for 2006’s Casino Royale – sounds like a fantastic move. Just listen to a song like Jesus Christ Pose from 1991’s Badmotorfinger – the guy can wail. So on paper, it sounds great. But the more memorable Bond themes have something – a certain je ne sais quoi, usually in the form of a hook or a riff, or a catchy chorus. This has nothing of the sort. In fact, it’s so forgettable it’s almost a black hole (sun) in my knowledge of Bond themes.

17. Goldeneye – Tina Turner (1995)

Bond 8Bono and the Edge wrote a fantastic film theme in 1995, just not for a Bond film. Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me was released as the theme to Joel Schumacher’s otherwise woeful Batman Forever. It’s everything a Bond theme should be – majestic, sweeping, cutting edge and quite simply, cool as fuck. Their other effort, for Goldeneye, performed by Tina Turner – no stranger to a film theme, herself – is the exact opposite. It’s cold, uninviting and the worst thing about a great film in the series.

16. The Living Daylights – A-Ha (1987)

Bond 9John Barry’s final entry in the Bond soundtrack canon is one of his weakest. Buoyed by the success of working with a successful pop band – Duran Duran on A View To A Kill – he tried a second time with A-Ha, the Norwegian darlings of the moment. The song sounds very over-produced, and this is evident when listening to A-Ha’s preferred ‘cut back’ version, found on their album Stay On These Roads. This actually sounds like the A-Ha of Take On Me and The Sun Always Shines On T.V. and is a far better fit for a Bond film.

15. The Man With The Golden Gun – Lulu (1974)

Bond 10If you think Lulu’s Bond theme is bad you should listen to Alice Cooper’s rejected song for the film. A different song entirely, it’s an oddity that thankfully never saw the silver screen (it would beat Lulu’s version by appearing on Alice’s 1973 album, Muscle Of Love). I actually like the Lulu song – it’s high camp entirely fitting for a Roger Moore film. There’s one famous detractor though – its composer John Barry would later go on record to say that the song, and the score for the film, was the weakest of his many contributions to the series. “It’s the one I hate most… it just never happened for me.”

14. Licence To Kill – Gladys Knight (1989)

Bond 11The most incestuous Bond theme (the producers of the song were sued over its familiarity to the Goldfinger theme), Licence To Kill is probably the last of the traditional Bond themes. From this point on, the themes went further down the pop route, shepherded by David Arnold. The baby boomers passing the baton to generation X, if you will. The studio where they recorded the theme to Licence To Kill was filled with bowls of seedless oranges – as the producers were confused by Gladys Knight’s ultimatum that she would only record the song without the pips.

13. Thunderball – Tom Jones (1965)

Bond 12Legend has it that Jones fainted at the end of the recording of this song, due to the long sustained note. Truth or myth, who knows? It is a beast of a note he holds, so it isn’t out of the realms of believability. In Thunderball, we have the very first example of the Bond theme trying to repeat a tried and tested formula. A year earlier, Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger – also with a long sustained note at the climax of the song – had pointed to the way forward. From now on, brass was key (a brass key?) in the sound of Bond themes. With Thunderball, John Barry tried to repeat what he had achieved with Goldfinger – it just isn’t as good a song, with a confused approach to the film’s title (Don Black’s lyric personifies Thunderball, and presents it as a character in the film – a la Goldfinger – when in the film, it was just a codename for Bond’s mission – ‘Operation Thunderball’).

12. Moonraker – Shirley Bassey (1979)

Bond 13Shirley Bassey’s third and final Bond theme may be her weakest, but it’s still a lovely slice of film music. It does lose points for sounding a bit like something you would expect to hear on The Love Boat – strange considering that this film is the series’ only departure into science-fiction. You’d think that they might have tried to do something a bit harder with the theme song, but maybe it was just the strings of John Williams’ Star Wars score they liked.

11. Skyfall – Adele (2012)

Bond 14At the time of writing, the artist for the theme to Spectre has not been announced, but it’s rumoured that Adele may be reprising her duties from Skyfall to sing her second theme. I couldn’t be happier about this. If there’s anybody who deserves a repeat performance, it’s Adele; she could be the Shirley Bassey of our times. She’s definitely got the lungs for it, and the classy, ballgown-wearing credentials.

10. You Only Live Twice – Nancy Sinatra (1967)

Bond 15That ominous orchestral sweep that opens this theme is one of the most threatening sounds committed to vinyl. It also sounds like the orchestra are walking backwards, into the main motif. It reminds the listener that despite the lush swings, this is still a Bond theme – even though when we hear this for the first time in the film, Bond has just been assassinated. OR HAS HE??? The theme is notable for being the first to be performed by a non-British artist, Nancy ‘daughter of Frank’ Sinatra. It’s also the little known fourth theme to be sung by Shirley Bassey, covered for her 2007 retrospective album, Get The Party Started (a full album of Bassey covering Bond themes had been earlier withdrawn from sale in the late ‘80s and again in the early ‘90s).

9. Never Say Never Again – Lani Hall (1983)

Bond 16Probably the most overlooked Bond theme, Lani Hall’s contribution to the ‘unofficial Bond film’ of 1983 will never be included on Bond theme compilations, or used in any of EON’s promotional materials. What a shame, because it’s pretty good. If they shot a porn parody of Bond – and I’m sure that one, if not many, must exist already – it would probably sound like this. The thing about porn parodies of Bond films is that you wouldn’t need to change the titles too much – Goldfinger speaks for itself, as does Thunderball and The Man With The Golden Gun. More specific, niche tastes would be covered by Moonraker, Dr. No and, ahem, Goldeneye.

8. Diamonds Are Forever – Shirley Bassey (1971)

Bond 17The theme to Diamonds Are Forever needed to be something special. It marked the first time a Bond singer had returned for a repeat performance – something nobody else has managed to do, except Bassey herself for a third and final time in 1979. Bassey’s second effort is everything a Bond theme should be – sexy, dangerous and with a universal appeal. Diamonds Are Forever also holds the title for being the funkiest Bond song, with a slinky bass line that Bootsy Collins would be proud of.

7. Another Way To Die – Jack White & Alicia Keys (2008)

Bond 18The first Bond theme for a long time that actually sounded like it was doing something different, this effort from 2008’s Quantum Of Solace sounds like a bad idea. Professional enigma and vintage enthusiast Jack White sharing vocals with Alicia Keys – the product of a performing arts education? This doesn’t bode well. Instead, it’s a delightful slice of alternative rock with Bondian overtones. Jack White is welcome back in the house of Bond anytime.

6. From Russia With Love – Matt Munro (1963)

Bond 19Those were the days, when a spy thriller at the movies just had to a have a syrupy love song on the soundtrack; something for the ladies to enjoy while the men pondered over the plot details and wondered if there was ever a chance for the popcorn trick (made famous in the 1982 film Diner) to actually work. From Russia With Love, by “England’s Sinatra”, Matt Munro, gets a free pass in my book. It’s the first Bond theme proper, and therefore has nothing to compete with. It could have been slush, but it’s magical.

5. Goldfinger – Shirley Bassey (1964)

Bond 20Waaap – waaaaaaap –waaap! If this isn’t the brassiest song in the world, I’m not sure what is. Everything about this song screams Bond, and it’s difficult to imagine the song being performed by anybody else other than Shirley Bassey. One of the inspirations was Mack The Knife, so it could have been a Sinatra-type crooner belting out something smoother than Bassey’s abrasive rasp. Jimmy Page played on the session, which gives the song an extra bit of credibility, and although it feels like everybody loves the song, the film’s co-producer Harry Saltzman tried to remove it from the film, saying ‘”That’s the worst f**king song I’ve ever heard in my f**king life”. Not a fan then.

4. A View To A Kill – Duran Duran (1985)

Bond 21Growing up in the 1980s, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Bond themes were the mainstay of middle of the road songstresses – all breathy vocals and atmospheric production. Then 1985 came along, and we suddenly got the most exciting Bond theme since Live And Let Die. Roger Moore might be close to claiming his pension in A View To A Kill, but the theme song more than makes up for it. It could have been far, far worse – let’s all feel thankful that Grace Jones didn’t sing the title song. Just don’t ask Simon Le Bon to sing A View To A Kill in front of a billion people – at Live Aid, he sounded almost prepubescent as he reached for a high note in the chorus (at 2:54 here).

3. Nobody Does It Better – Carly Simon (from The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977)

Bond 22Perhaps the quintessential Bond film of the 1970s – it was to that decade what Goldfinger was to the 1960s – Nobody Does It Better marks the first time that the name of the film wasn’t the name of the theme (although ‘The spy who loved me’ is crowbarred into the lyrics at one point). This is a beautiful song, with a lovely piano introduction by composer Marvin Hamlisch – and what a great way to segue into the credits sequence: Bond, looking like a plastic banana, skis off the end of a mountain and deploys a Union flag parachute. And then, as Alan Partridge would say, “Glang…glangalangalangalangalangalang…glangalang…”

2. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – John Barry (1969)

Bond 23Propose a Bond theme without a vocal these days, and I’d run a mile, but John Barry gets away with this purely because it’s such an awesome melody. This is the epitome of cool – George Lazenby skiing down a mountain in 1969, to this ominous instrumental. It even sounds a bit futuristic, with a Moog synth part laying down the driving bass line. The only reason this theme doesn’t top the list is that the first few seconds of synth do sound a bit like the beginning to The Teddy Bear’s Picnic. This is thankfully not as obvious in the Propellerheads’ balls-out awesome 1997 cover.

1. Live And Let Die – Paul McCartney & Wings (1973)

Bond 24When I saw Paul McCartney play Glastonbury in 2004, I momentarily forgot about the existence of the Live And Let Die theme song – a travesty, considering what a huge Bond fan I am, but excusable for the fact that I was in full Beatles mode, watching a Beatle performing Beatles songs. Then, mid-set, he launched into the piano intro to Live And Let Die and I nearly vomited from my ears in excitement. McCartney’s song tops the list because it has everything – it’s a ballad, it’s a rocker, it even has a reggae section to reflect the film’s West Indian setting. Produced by George Martin, it also has the added value of being linked to that Beatles universe that had only just come to an end a couple of years earlier. It’s a common phenomenon for musos to distance themselves from McCartney’s post-Beatles output, but no matter what you think of Ebony And Ivory or The Pipes Of Peace, you can’t take Live And Let Die from him – the best Bond theme there ever was.

Honourable Mentions

I always wonder if the would-be suitors of Honor Blackman got mixed messages when her father told them to do the honourable thing. Bad jokes aside, there are plenty of musical honourable mentions in the Bond universe. In one of the series’ rare references to pop culture, Bond even mentions the Beatles at one point, just before he’s attacked by Oddjob in Jill Masterson’s hotel room in 1964’s Goldfinger. So, in no particular order (and in no way an exhaustive list):

The James Bond Theme – Monty Norman (1962)

Bond 25The series wouldn’t be what it is without this short piece of twangy guitar, written by Monty Norman and performed by session guitarist Vic Flick. It’s John Barry’s arrangement that makes it though – while Norman wrote the melody of the main guitar riff, it was Barry who supplied the countermelodies from the orchestra that really make it all work. To make an analogy, Norman’s Bond theme melody might be a fine pair of shoes, but Barry tailored the rest of the suit. Many years of court cases have contested who the true composer is – legally, it’s Monty Norman – but I see it as a collaboration in which John Barry’s contributions have been sorely overlooked.

Kingston Calypso – Eric Rodgers (1962)

Bond 26I wrote earlier that Dr. No doesn’t really have a theme tune – except the Bond theme itself – but that’s actually not entirely true. Halfway through the opening credits, we get a blast of Kingston Calypso by Eric Rodgers – a calypso version of Three Blind Mice, in reference to the murder we’ve just seen on screen. History has covered this up – but what a great quiz question: which nursery rhyme is used on the opening credits to the first James Bond film?

– Maurice Binder (1925-1991)

Bond 27The on-screen visuals are a major component to the opening credits of the James Bond films and serve as a fantastic accompaniment to the music. Maurice Binder designed these title sequences from the very start, with Dr. No in 1962, to Licence To Kill in 1989 (missing only From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, which were designed by Robert Brownjohn). Binder also designed the famous gun barrel sequence – probably the single-most iconic visual of the Bond series, and one of the most identifiable images in film history. To young boys eager for a glimpse of side-boob or the silhouetted nipple of a girl cart-wheeling off a gun barrel, Maurice Binder was the man. Legend.

007 – John Barry (1963)

Bond 28John Barry might have missed out on the credit for The James Bond Theme, but 007 (sometimes known as The 007 Theme) is undoubtedly his own composition. Written for the gypsy camp scene in From Russia With Love, the song has soundtracked many sequences in the Bond series – an underwater fight in Thunderball, the ‘Little Nellie’ helicopter chase in You Only Live Twice, the destruction of Blofeld’s oil-rig in Diamonds Are Forever, and the Amazon river chase in Moonraker.

Bond 29Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang BangShirley Bassey / Dionne Warwick (1965)

Originally the main title theme to Thunderball, the extremely Bondian Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was recorded first by Shirley Bassey, then Dionne Warwick, before the producers demanded a theme song with the film’s name in the title. John Barry and Don Black then rushed another composition under a tight deadline, hence the existence of the Tom Jones song. Johnny Cash also composed a song intended to be used as the film’s main theme, but let’s all be glad the Bond producers had better ideas.

Bond 30The Look Of Love – Dusty Springfield (1967)

The unwatchable Casino Royale from 1967 has the honour of two themes – Herb Alpert’s titular instrumental, and also this easy-listening gem from the piano of Burt Bacharach. Dusty’s voice is so stark, it sounds like it’s going to shatter at any second. It’s sometimes hard to believe that a film project that produced such a terrible piece of celluloid also resulted in such a strong soundtrack, with this as its centrepiece – a terrific single from the summer of love.

– We Have All The Time In The World – Louis Armstrong (1969)

Bond 31For On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the Bond producers, Cubby Broccoli and Albert Saltzman, decided to borrow an idea from the ‘unofficial’ Casino Royale, released two years earlier – both films have an instrumental main title theme, and then a syrupy ballad as a secondary main theme. Reportedly the last studio recording by Armstrong before his death in 1971 (he was too sick to play his noticeably absent trumpet), this is undoubtedly one of the loveliest songs in the Bond canon.

– Adam & Joe’s Song Wars

Bond 32Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish are broadcasters in the UK, famous for their very funny, esoteric TV show for Channel Four, and later their radio show for the BBC. Cornish has gone on to bigger things in recent years, co-writing the script for Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, and directing his debut feature, Attack The Block (both in 2011). Before that though, one of the highlights of their radio show was the Song Wars segment. Every fortnight, they would set themselves a task whereby they would pick a theme, then compose and record a song related to that theme by the following week’s show. Their two alternative theme songs for Quantum Of Solace – both Adam’s version and Joe’s version – are essential listening for any Bond fan with a sense of humour.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Propellerheads & David Arnold (1997)

Bond 33Everything about this homage to John Barry is freakin’ awesome – from the rotating motif that opens the song, lifted off the From Russia With Love soundtrack, to the space march interlude from You Only Live Twice – and everything between. This couldn’t be any more ‘90s big-beat / break-beat if it tried, but it still sounds fresh. That bass line gets me every time – and the counterpoint this goes to in the second section of the main orchestral riff just takes the song somewhere else.

If there’s one thing that the Propellerheads’ cover proves, it’s that the musical future of the Bond franchise (I hate that word) is safe and well. We might get the occasional dodgy theme song – the series wouldn’t be the same without them – but there’ll always be artists who love the Bond films, ready and willing to take that ascending three note structure into uncharted territory.

To finish off, here’s a photograph that took me a very, very long time to put together. I have been collecting the Bond soundtracks on vinyl every since I started collecting vinyl in the late 1990s, and decided earlier this year to ramp up my search to find them all. These are all the Bond soundtracks that have been commercially released on vinyl – there’s a gap of six films, the four Brosnan films and the first two Craig films which didn’t see a vinyl release. The treasure of this collection is the soundtrack to 1983’s Never Say Never Again – only pressed on vinyl in Japan for some strange reason, and a welcome delivery from the Hyōgo Prefecture.
Bond 34

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin

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

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

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

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

1. John Bonham

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

2. Jimmy Page

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

3. Robert Plant

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

4. John Paul Jones

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

5. The Hindenberg disaster

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

6. Curses!

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

7. No singles

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

8. Session musos

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

9. Jimmy Page, vinyl enthusiast

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

10. Cello Bows

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

11. The double-necked Gibson EDS-1275

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin 1

12. IV

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

13. Tribute Bands

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

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

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin 2

15. The drum intro to When The Levee Breaks


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

16. John Bonham’s breakfast

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

17. Tunings

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

18. Show me the money

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

19. Peter Grant

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

20. Heavy Metal? Really?

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

21. No More Led Zeppelin

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

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

22.
Chicks love Zeppelin

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

23. You can buy a Led Zeppelin bikini*…

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin 3

* hot chick not included.

24. This Beavis & Butthead clip changed my life

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

25. Stairway To Heaven

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

26. Marketing Fail

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

27. Marketing Win

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

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

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin 4

29. Protecting a legacy

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

30. The drum fill in The Song Remains The Same

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

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

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin 5

32.The producer’s chair

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

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

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

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

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin 6

35.Physical Graffiti

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

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

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

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

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

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

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin 7

38. Valhalla, I am coming!

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

39. Jonesy’s bass lines on The Lemon Song

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

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

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin 8

41. Led Zeppelin II

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

42. Talk of reunions…

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

43. …but no actual reunions

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

44. Jimmy Page is incredibly polite

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

45. Why bother coming up with names for albums?

50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin 9

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

46. Led Zeppelin III

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

47. Almost Famous

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

48. Black Dog

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

49. Paging Dr. Page…

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

50. Whoops, nearly forgot this one…

The fucking music!

Postscript / Coda

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

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

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

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

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