“A great riff is something you know instinctively. It has energy and attitude and sex.” – Jimmy Page.
Within the past few months and days, I’ve had conversations with Christian and CB, (Zep albums) and Aphoristic (“Kashmir”) so I felt inspired to put together a six-pack of the mighty, mighty Zep. I’ve done stuff on them now and again and I’m going to do a long-planned, long overdue series on them, probably over the winter holidays.
Note that a Six-Pack doesn’t mean “these are the artists’ best songs of all time.” Just six I dig and it could be a different set next week. I will go with these versions until Page, bored one assumes, re-re-re-masters everything and adds one song he found under his bed so we all have to go out and buy the fucking thing.*
Anyway, enough bullshit. To quote Peter Wolf it is time to Blow. Your. Face. Out. (Full Spotify at post end.)
The first tune on our adventure down Hammer of the Gods Way is from the band’s fourth (1971) album, Led Zeppelin IV or ZOSO or whatever the hell it’s called. I won’t say this album put them on the map because by then they WERE the map. But with tunes like “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Stairway to Heaven,” they became permanent citizens of that endless Twilight Zone known as Classic Rock Radio.
In speaking about the song “Black Dog,” Wikipedia says this: “John Paul Jones, who is credited with writing the main riff, wanted to write a song with a winding riff and complex rhythm changes that people could not “groove” or dance to.” (Maybe he just wanted them to sit there and be bludgeoned – ME.)
“In an interview, he explained the difficulties experienced by the band in writing the song: ‘I wanted to try an electric blues with a rolling bass part. But it couldn’t be too simple. I wanted it to turn back on itself. I showed it to the guys, and we fell into it. We struggled with the turn-around, until [John] Bonham figured out that you just four-time as if there’s no turn-around. That was the secret.”” (I seem to remember reading somewhere that that sound in the beginning is Page’s amp turning on.)
The song is named for a particularly randy labrador the guys saw wandering around while recording:
The band recorded Robert Johnson’s “Travelling Riverside Blues” way back in 1969 during a visit to the BBC. But it wasn’t released until 1990, long after the band had broken up. It was part of a box CD set (when those were all the rage) called, what else, Led Zeppelin Boxed Set.** I think the long holdup was a rights issue in wrenching it back from the world’s worst rock station.
Love Page’s slide on this:
In 1975, our lads released the monumental double album Physical Graffiti. I used to drive around and listen to this back when you could cruise the highways without some asshole tailgating you and gas was cheap. Lotsa good stuff here but I love the insistent riff in “Ten Years Gone.” Page also gets off a nice, lyrical solo here. Something in his playing reminded me of Steely Dan and I thought, nah, they’d never listen to the Dan.
But then I remembered that Page said his favorite solo was in “Reelin’ in the Years.” So, maybe? The title refers to a Robert Plant girlfriend from a decade prior who made him choose between her and his fans. Rumor has it you can find her to this day at a fish and chip shop in Brixton-upon-Smithdale St. Castlegate:
While we’re doing that Physical Graffiti thing, let’s listen to another tune from it which is “mainly about sex, specifically, sex with a “wanton woman.” Yes, yes, I know pretty much all their songs are about that but let’s just go with it. But this one actually has the title “The Wanton Song.” Killer riff here which I’ve been playing lately. He’s playing octaves here in G if you’re playing along at home:
My first introduction to Led Zeppelin was their first album. A friend of mine loaned it to me and – on first listen – I did not care for it. I tried one more time – and fell in love. That album, Led Zeppelin, is hands down my favorite Zep album. It has all the urgency, mystery and passion and, to me, is the blueprint for their sound. It was closer to blues, every song is terrific and Plant’s voice never veered off to the whininess he sometimes gets to.
Can you fucking beat “Dazed and Confused?” You cannot. Yeah, I know they somewhat “borrowed” it. But it’s a hell of a song – weird, mysterious. I prefer the studio version because I don’t really dig hearing Page bow his guitar for 25 minutes on live cuts. It’s just long enough here.***
And the part (3:28 or so), where the band comes back in and they all get crazed is about as exciting as it gets. I’ve been studying and learning Page a lot lately and when he plays fast and excitedly it’s this insane, frenzied (but beautiful) mess. He plays like it’s his last day on earth and he has to get every fucking note out:
In 2006, Atlantic Records honcho Ahmet Ertegun was attending a Rolling Stones concert at the Beacon Theater when he fell. He died a few weeks later. (The band’s performance itself was filmed by Martin Scorsese for the Stones documentary Shine a Light.)
The following year, Zep reunited for the first time since 1988 at an Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Concert. Disappointed in that performance, they rehearsed intensely to revert themselves back into the fearsome four-headed monster that had once walked the earth. (Jason Bonham does his meaty-handed father proud here.)
I have a loaner car lately with a crappy radio and just yesterday on the way out the door, grabbed a pile of CD’s, one of which just so happened to be the album (and DVD) of this performance. It’s called Celebration Day even though that tune is not on the album.
The final song on the album is the great “Rock and Roll” and I can’t think of a better way to end this post. It came out of a spontaneous jam that Bonham started when he was frustrated playing another tune. Page picked up on it and Plant wrote lyrics proving that – after their largely acoustic Led Zeppelin III – and its being a lonely, lonely, lonely time, they could still rock out.
*I kid you not when I say they will soon be re-releasing the remastered Song Remains the Same album.
**Also on the 1997 BBC Sessions Zep compilation.
***Of the bow, Page said this: “It was proposed to me when I was doing studio work. One of the session violinists was the father of David McCallum, the actor in the TV show The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (And NCIS.) String players would keep to themselves, but this guy was quite friendly. He said to me one day – we’d just finished a session – “Have you ever tried bowing the guitar?” I said it wouldn’t work. The strings aren’t arched over the guitar, the way they are on a violin. He said, “Have a go.” He gave me a bow. I tried it and realized there was something in it.”