Led Zeppelin (Part 3) – A Couple of Shrieking Monkeys

Stop the presses – In the last post, I mentioned that Zep had done an early gig in Denmark. What I did not know is that it had been filmed for TV. So I went back and inserted it in that post. I’m inserting it here too so everyone can see it who already read the previous post. I’ll take it out of this one later but for now, enjoy:

Led Zeppelin is the eponymous debut album by English rock band Led Zeppelin. It was released on 12 January 1969 in the United States and on 31 March in the United Kingdom by Atlantic Records.

“They may be world-famous but a couple of shrieking monkeys are not going to use a privileged family name without permission.” – Countess Eva Von Zeppelin who threatened to sue the band. They tried to make nice with her but she wasn’t having it. So one time when they played Denmark they instead called themselves the Nobs. And then played their usual set anyway.

Wikipedia: “In November 1968, Zep manager Peter Grant secured a $143,000 ($1,000,000 in 2018 money) advance contract from Atlantic Records, which was then the biggest deal of its kind for a new band. Atlantic was a label with a catalog of mainly blues, soul, and jazz artists, but in the late 1960s, they began to take an interest in British progressive rock acts.

Record executives signed Led Zeppelin without having ever seen them. Under the terms of their contract, the band had autonomy in deciding when they would release albums and tour and had the final say over the contents and design of each album. They would also decide how to promote each release and which tracks to release as singles. They formed their own company, Superhype, to handle all publishing rights.”

The eagle-eyed among you will note that this post is being published on January 12, 2019, exactly 50 years to the day from the US release of this epochal work. (A few bloggers have advised me that Mr. James Page just turned 75. That doesn’t seem possible. Fake news!) Now some of you who weren’t around at the time might think this album somehow stood out from all the other albums and that everyone was clamoring to get it.

Well, yes and no. It might appear that way in hindsight. But there was so much quality stuff being released that it was just one more album to throw on the pile. For evidence, the following is a partial list of albums that were released between August of 1968 and June of 1969:

Wheels of Fire, Cream; Cheap Thrills, Big Brother; Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Byrds; Crown of Creation, Jefferson Airplane; Electric Ladyland, Jimi Hendrix; This Was, Jethro Tull; The Beatles (White Album); The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society; Astral Weeks, Van Morrison; Beggars Banquet, Rolling Stones; Bayou Country, CCR. Nashville Skyline, Bob Dylan; Uncle Meat, Frank Zappa; Chicago Transit Authority; Crosby Stills and Nash; Trout Mask Replica, Captain Beefheart; Aoxomoxoa, Grateful Dead; Beck-Ola, Jeff Beck Group, Soul ’69, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Winter; Tommy, The Who; Electric Mud, Muddy Waters.

So you see it wasn’t like anyone was waiting for an album from a band that frankly, no one had ever heard of. I suppose the blues aficionados knew who Page was and fanatic album cover readers might know who Jones was. But Led Zeppelin? With a picture of the Hindenburg disaster on the cover? (Page saw it as representing the explosive nature of the music inside.)

The first track “Good Times Bad Times”  – as it was meant to do – made a statement. Chris Welch of Melody Maker said on hearing an early pre-release, “(I) played it on the office stereo – and it just sort of leapt out at you! … I’d never – never! – heard anything so loud and overpowering coming off a record before. It really did feel like a great leap forward, in terms of the sound you could actually get on a record.”

“It’s got quite a complicated rhythm,” said Page. “which Jonesy came up with.” (JPJ is Zep’s underrated secret weapon – ME.) “But the most stunning thing about it musically is Bonzo’s amazing kick drum. He’s … playing with one kick drum and making it sound like two.” Bonham’s drum sound is legendary and in later years, Page and his engineers captured it even more brutally by sticking him in stairwells at Headley Grange and hanging microphones down. Bonham’s “When the Levee Breaks” sound is widely sampled by rappers:

Spotify link

FM radio stations here in the States started to pick up on this album and play it. Music lovers – especially the post-Woodstock-generation generation –  loved it. And the critics? They absolutely loved it. Not. Some then 21-year old guy named John Mendelsohn – doubtless an expert in all forms of music, blues and otherwise – blew this gem out of his ass for Rolling Stone:

The latest of the British blues groups so conceived offers little that its twin, the Jeff Beck Group, didn’t say as well or better three months ago, and the excesses of the Beck group’s Truth album (most notably its self-indulgence and restrictedness), are fully in evidence on Led Zeppelin’s debut album.”*

In response, WBCN Boston DJ Charles Laquidara famously wrote to RS and told them that if he listened to their advice he’d have the most fucked-up record collection in history.

Actually, Mendelsohn’s review was a pretty common response to the album and marked the beginning of Zep’s tenuous, prickly relationship with the rock press. And at least in part due to the fact that both Beck’s Truth and this album covered the old blues standard “You Shook Me,” Page especially caught a lot of heat for supposedly mimicking Beck’s style.

But truthfully if you listen to both albums back-to-back, the only similarity is a heavily blues-based guitar-drenched style. But that was what was in fashion in those days and did it occur to anybody that Beck and Page were friends? And that they’d both come out of the equally blues-based guitar-drenched Yardbirds?

I make no bones about the fact that to this day this is my favorite Zep album. No bad tracks, thunderous power, moody, mysterious, bluesy as all hell. To me, it’s the blueprint for everything they did thereafter. As much as I still loved them later, I always thought that Plant’s voice got whinier and that they drifted far from the blues.

Let’s talk here about the good news and the bad news. The good news is that “Dazed and Confused” is a great, epic song. Again, mysterious, kinda bluesy, great lyrics, exciting playing. To me Page always sounded like he was playing his solos on the edge, just barely keeping up with himself. Sloppy sometimes, but in a really good way. He is one of my favorite guitarists ever, even more so now that I can play some of his stuff.

The bad news? Well, there’s that whole plagiarism thing that has hovered over the band since Day One. (Which, if you weren’t paying attention, would be 50 years ago today, recording-wise.) When the first album was released, “Dazed and Confused” was attributed to Page.

But in fact, it was written by a singer/songwriter named Jake Holmes who released it on his debut album in June 1967, almost two years prior to the release of Zep 1. As it happens, the Yardbirds saw Holmes play this live and it had been incorporated as part of their set since August of 1967. (Zep and the Youngbloods were on the same bill as Holmes.)

You can hear it on an album called Yardbirds ’68 which was released in November of 2017. Here’s a live version from some French TV show, La Plume de Ma Tante, or something. (Page is here playing guitar with a bow, an idea he got from actor David McCallum’s violinist father who was also a session player.)

After hearing the song on the first Zep album Holmes said, “Stupidly, I never followed up on it. In the early 1980s, I did write them a letter and I said basically ‘I understand it’s a collaborative effort, but I think you should give me some credit at least and some (remuneration).’ But they never contacted me.” In 2010, the incredibly naive, laid-back Mr. Holmes filed suit. But Page settled out of court and now the credit says, “Page, inspired by Jake Holmes.” (Whereas it should quite simply say, Jake Holmes – ME.)

Spotify link

Continuing a time-honored tradition of gaining fans by doing live shows, Zep toured the US and the UK four times each in 1969.** A legendary concert at the now-defunct Boston Tea Party is detailed not only in the Zep book I consulted but also on their website. The audience went insane and would not let the band leave the stage. (A great early Fleetwood Mac was recorded there as well. Alas, the club was gone long before I moved here.)

John Paul Jones:  “As far as I’m concerned, the key Zeppelin gig, the one that put everything into focus, was one that we played on our first American tour at the Boston Tea Party. We’d played our usual one hour set, using all the material for the first album and Page’s “White Summer” guitar piece and by the end, the audience just wouldn’t let us offstage. It was in such a state that we had to start throwing ideas around, just thinking of songs that we might all know or that some of us knew a part of and work it out from there.

So we’d go back on and play things like “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Please Please Me,” old Beatles favorites. I mean, just anything that would come into our head and the response was quite amazing. There were kids actually bashing their heads against the stage – I’ve never seen that at a gig before or since, and when we finally left the stage, we’d played for four-plus hours.

Peter (Grant) was absolutely ecstatic. He was crying if you can imagine that, and hugging us all. You know with this grizzly bear hug. I suppose it was then that we realized just what Led Zeppelin was going to become.”

The guys were touring so much that they pretty much had to put Led Zeppelin II together on the road. Whereas maybe the first album was for the deep track crowd, the second album – another great blues-drenched one – put Zep firmly and forever on the map. It was their first album to reach number one in the US and UK and not only got all the kids jacked up but probably was the inspiration for about 8 million mostly lesser bands.

“Whole Lotta Love” has the world’s simplest riff – Page is a super riff-intensive player – but nobody had done exactly that before. “When I played the riff for the band,” says Page, “the excitement was immediate and collective. We felt the riff was addictive like a forbidden thing.”***

Spotify link

I could post just about any song here as there’s a lot of good stuff but I’ll go with “What Is and What Should Never Be.” It not only has all those light and shade elements it’s also one of the first where Plant received writing credit. Supposedly this is about an affair Plant had with his wife’s younger sister. (Nice guy, eh?)

Spotify link

Some say these first two albums were the beginnings of heavy metal. But clearly, bands like the Yardbirds, Beck, and Cream paved the way for that genre. And let us not forget that Black Sabbath and Deep Purple were performing and recording around this time. So it seems that in this blogger’s view it was a combination of events and no one album or performance from which heavy metal grew. (The expression ‘heavy metal’ was first used in the 1968 song “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf.)

Next up – The biggest, most excessive band in the world fills with hydrogen and soars.

*I read an interview with Mendelsohn not too long ago where this fuckwad still couldn’t admit that there was anything good at all about this album. In fairness to them, in an RS retrospective issue, they talked about their early reviews – even as I recall, reprinting Mendelsohn’s – and admitting their reappraisal.

**As if by Crowley magick (see next post), while researching this series I discovered a somewhat crappy sounding if historically important bootleg of the group (billed as Len Zefflin) playing at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington on Dec. 30, 1968.

***Page goes on to say that “some say that “Whole Lotta Love” was based on Willie Dixon’s ‘You Need Love’ and the Small Faces’ ‘You Need Loving.’ But my riff sounds like neither of them. Robert had referenced the Dixon lyrics but if you take out the vocal, there’s no musical reference to either song.” Methinks either Page doesn’t fully understand copyright law or is just being a douchebag. Because if you look at the song now, it is also credited to Dixon and again Zep settled out of court. And frankly I think it would have just made sense to change the band’s name to Settled Out of Court and be done with it.

I found this really cool 1970 TV interview with mates Plant and Bonham. As one commenter said, it’s surprising how charming Bonzo is given our later knowledge of him and his wild behavior.

Sources: When Giants Walked the Earth, Mick Wall. St. Martin’s Griffin Press; Wikipedia, Classic Rock Magazine, Led Zeppelin website. 

32 thoughts on “Led Zeppelin (Part 3) – A Couple of Shrieking Monkeys

      1. Just been pulling out a bunch of ’69 releases for a long road trip and can only agree with you. Amazing year for beginnings (Free, Humble Pie, etc etc) and developments. Really looking forward to sharing some of them at Vinyl Connection.

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  1. You’re definitely right, the caliber of albums in the 1968/1969 time frame is simply mind-boggling. I really hate to sound like Debby Downer here: I just don’t see any way a comparable period like this is ever going to come back in rock!

    I’m also with you about the plagiarism issues Zep self-inflicted on them, and, frankly, I don’t quite get it! Acknowledging the true sources of some of their music wouldn’t have taken much if anything away from Zep’s brilliance. I guess they were either pretty naive or it was an ill-guided ego thing, or perhaps a combination of the two!

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    1. That period from say, 1955 to 1975 or so was a golden age of rock, soul and blues. There was a perfect storm of elements (boomers, Elvis, Chuck, Dylan, creativity) that allowed all that to happen. Not only do you not have those elements today but back then it was all fresh and new and The Beatles were pushing the frontier.

      You don’t have all of those elements today. You do have a large cohort (millennials) which my kids are part of. But my son says that while music is important to them it isn’t as central to their lives as it was to us. And they have so many sources of information these days that it’s not all just one thing And even if all that were true, I just don’t know what more you can do with rock.

      Page is responsible for those decisions, near as I can tell. And I just think he has a character flaw, I really do.. This is a guy who at 29 or so was dating a 14-year-old. So he is Trump-like in his “whatever” stance. More on that in the next post.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You explanation about music no longer having the same role among young as it used to have certainly makes a lot of sense to me.

        And while ultimately it’s up to everybody how to use social media, these platforms undoubtedly play a key part in the equation. They’re causing information overflow, the need to have thousands of followers to be cool and short attention spans, among others. I think the expectation of instant gratification also discourages many young folks from learning an instrument. If they decide they want to make music, they can generate with a computer. No guitar skills needed!

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        1. Well,, both my kids are in the demographic of those where instruments might have fallen off. But my son has played guitar now for 10 or 11 years. He’s not a shredder as he calls it but more of an Edge-type sound painter. And my daughter plays sax and clarinet. And while that’s not a regular thing for her, she sometimes goes back to her alma mater (Boston University) and plays with the band there, usually when current students are away on school break.

          I’m less about whether kids will play instruments and more about whether they’ll ever rediscover soul and blues. A lot of the so-called indie stuff leaves me cold. It seems to come from a place called quirky and not much else.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. That clip is fantastic. Raw and striped down. No over production there just 4 guys making the noise I like. I would probably have to agree with you on the first album. It’s still the one I reach for the most. Along with the second album and a lot of those other albums you mentioned from that time, they really did shape CB’s fragile eggshell head (sounds like a lyric).

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    1. I literally discovered that clip yesterday when Rolling Stone surfaced it. Yeah it’s great stuff. CB’s Fragile Eggshell Head is the name of our new band. Don’t give me any of that “I have no musical talent” crap. Everybody does. Pick an instrument (although I bet CB would be great on the harp.)

      It’s so obvious to me that the first album is “it” that I can’t understand those who don’t see it. Some guy I’ve been working with lately just sorta blurted out one day that he was still blown away by Zep 1.

      You should visit Vinyl Connection’s crib. There’s a lively “all things Zep” conversation over there, especially in regards to Zep 1 vs. others. Some have no time for it at all, others love it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Give CB a guitar cranked up to 11 and a fork for a slide and I’ll go to town. All I need is a drummer like that guy off the muppets.
        I tried being a music know it all at one time (boring). The first Zep album went into my soul and head. I couldn’t resist. It’s like when folks talk about artists (that I don’t get) that have done the same to them. I relate to the personal connection. Tastes! I guess because of all my early listening I never leaned towards pop. Liked some of it but always came back to this stuff.
        Funny I was just going to pop over to VC’s. I was over there a while ago and seen a bit he did on Blind Faith (Another one of those bands from that time that got me in the guts) and wanted to drop a comment.
        I might read some of the comments. CB knows he loves that first Zep album. I won’t change my mind unless someone gives me $10 (American)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. “In the days of my youth, I was told what it means to be a man..” what an opening, what a fucking awesome song and what an immense first album. One of the greatest first albums ever if you ask me. I’m not as keen on II – I should probably spend some more time with it, but ‘Ramble On’ is one of my favourite Zep tunes

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    1. It is a great album, a great first line and a grand beginning. I have been, of course, listening to a lot of Zep lately and so have traversed that album more than once. It’ll go back on the shelf as I endeavor to listen to other stuff. But I think I pretty much have the whole thing memorized anyway. Sonny Boy and I are going to see a tribute band named Kashmir Friday night. Should be interesting.

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      1. I once saw a tribute band called Led by Zep. ‘Jimmy’s’ hair fell off during Kashmir as he was giving it a bit too much physicality but it wasn’t a bad way of hearing those tunes played live (Jeff Beck nabbed my ticket to the reunion show at a BBQ while I was sleeping off the cider)

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        1. He’s all flash until someone takes away his backing track that guy. Someone took a piss in my bamboo plant last time we had a BBQ and I’m sure it was him. I wouldn’t mind so much but it’s an indoor plant and the carpets never been the same since. Still, I changed my doorbell to play ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ and that really fucks him off

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        2. Right. Hey, listen, I’ve been reading the headlines. This may be a good time for you and your family to escape. We’ll put you up for a while till the Brexit clusterfuck ends.

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        3. Thanks for the offer, sir, but today is a good day: Brexit and May were dealt a massive punch to the pills.
          If you need to escape the corpulent orange toad – or take high tea – the offer is always extended back

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        4. Ah, glad to see I misread it. I may join you (and Beck) for high tea. Not too worried about Twitler. He’ll resign before year’s end or my name isn’t Jimmy Page wannabe Jr.

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        5. Ok, maybe I’m just stupid but from what I read on CNN, you lot are leaving the EU at the end of March deal or no deal. So apart from a crushing defeat for May, Brexit is going to happen with no resolution of, e.g., the Irish border backstop. I fail to see how any of this is good. Feel free to append an article or something that explains the good part of this.

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        6. CNN is missing a lot then.
          End of March is A date but only if all approved.
          No Deal Brexit has been rejected by vast majority of parliaments and assemblies (Wales and NI)
          May will have opportunity to go and get a different deal which she must do
          Likelihood (hinted at by many in the government and the EU) is that Brexit deadline will be extended (perhaps July) as not a single concerned party wants a No Deal scenario.
          It could actually still be halted completely

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  4. That bloody Page guy… what’s he like. I’m one of those that has never dug the first album. Truth be told, I’ve never truly loved most of the catalogue, but that first album is one that just doesn’t get pulled from the shelf often. Can’t even remember the last time I played it. Some great songs… I know.

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