Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin (1969)
Welcome to Led Zeppelin month! As promised, this month we’re going to be taking a listen to the first four Led Zeppelin albums, released from 1969-1971. Led Zeppelin is arguably the best act to come out of the early days of heavy rock and was influential in the crafting the sound of rock and roll in the 1970s. Featuring a constant lineup of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham, the band was formed in the wake of the breakup of the Yardbirds, of which Jimmy Page was a member. When he had tour dates that still needed to be filled, the other three gents stepped up to perform some shows with him and realized they had good musical chemistry. When they got back from touring, they changed their name to Led Zeppelin, went into the studio, and self-funded their first album to take to label executives. The rest was history.
Led Zeppelin received mixed reviews when it debuted. Critics believed that the band was going to be lost in the throng of rock bands that formed in the late 1960s, including the Jeff Beck Group and Cream. Some reviewers were more favorable, saying that while they were inspired by blues rock, that blues was rarely in your face and when it was, it was done tastefully. The album would go on to be certified multi-platinum and become the gold standard for how a debut album can set a band up for success. Sometimes after such a strong debut like this, bands can fizzle out and never reach the same heights again, but Zep did it. Again. And again. And again. And arguably a few more times after that on Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti.
Musically, Led Zeppelin is a band-defining album. It sets the stage for what you should expect over the next few weeks of reviews; big guitar riffs, big guitar solos, wailing vocals, and masterful musicianship. The experimentation that the band later became known for, with incorporating odd time signatures, playing out of phase, or some of their more epochal pieces, wasn’t quite there yet on this record, but they certainly established their sound! Led Zeppelin is the roughest cut of the quartet. I often found myself wondering if the band knew that they could play at a volume other than “loud,” even on the songs that could loosely be called “ballads.” That wasn’t part of how the band wanted to set themselves up though, and they were unapologetically loud on this album. Credit goes where credit is due, and they knew what they wanted to do. Enjoy this particularly big and loud album from some of the Gods of Rock.
Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown
Good Times Bad Times: This is as strong of a start to an album that you’re going to have. Bonham’s drumming is a particular highlight on this track, and the little rolls that he does during the verse add a new flavor to the song. Jones’ interludes on the bass between verses are a fun element and reflects well on how much the band enjoyed recording this album. I’m not even sure if mentioning guitar solos is worth it for the next three weeks since these records are full of them, but this is a wailer! Dad’s Rating 8/10
Babe I’m Gonna Leave You: This is the first “ballad” of Zep’s career and it starts out starkly different from “Good Times Bad Times.” I put quotation marks around ballad because, at this point, I’m not sure the band had figured out how to do a proper one. On this album, songs just slow down and feature the same high-energy guitar and stratospheric vocals, they never reach a fully calmed down level. This carries on throughout the band’s career though and goes to show how much they were innovating and sticking to their guns. Where most bands would have caved, Led Zeppelin knew that being dynamic in their slower songs was important to them and they stuck to that. There’s almost a Spanish guitar element that pops up during the choruses and some parts in verses that I haven’t heard on any other tracks on the album. The highlight on this song for me is the energy behind Plant’s vocals. I think this might be his best performance on the album as he wails through the chorus and takes us back down in the chorus. Dad’s Rating 8/10
You Shook Me: “You Shook Me” is one of the most obvious uses of a traditional blues structure on the album. While too much of a god thing can be boring, because it wasn’t overused, this plays out like any other influence, shaping the sound of the band. It’s really interesting to hear a typical Mississippi Delta Blues structure overlaid with electric guitars and the only keyboard and harmonica solos on the album. This one is worth listening to if only because it’s a clear indication of the band’s influences. Dad’s Rating 6/10
Dazed and Confused: “Dazed and Confused” is one of the big ones on the album. The song is immediately impactful, opening on that solo bass line before launching into Plant’s powerful vocals accompanied by a guitar that feels like it came out of nowhere. “Dazed and Confused” hits on some psychedelic elements in the interlude before Page rips one of the best solos on the album. He’s frenetic in his playing, and the technicality can’t be overlooked. The solo actually sounds like it came off of a Black Sabbath record from around the same time. Tommy Iommi and Jimmy Page had a very similar style around this time when they were let loose, exemplified here. Bonham’s drumming deserves a close listen on this track too. He really drives this song, shifting easily from a soft accompaniment to a heavy, driving roll during the chorus. This is a stellar track that has a little bit of everything and shows how skillful these musicians were at shifting between moods, tempos, and even genres. Dad’s Rating 9/10
Your Time Is Gonna Come: Opening with organs is a bold move on a rock album, but it works really well on this track. It sets the song up for a slower pace and gives the song an ethereal, almost religious atmosphere. I really like this song a lot, and there’s a lot of elements to keep you interested as you listen. There are slides on the guitar that hark back to the band’s blues influences, a great chorus with a beautiful harmony (particularly for a rock band!) that adds to that church atmosphere created by the synthesized organ. There’s really nothing to fault here, this is a great track. Dad’s Rating 9/10
Black Mountain Side: “Black Mountain Side” clearly starts with a much different influence than the rest of the album. There’s a very strong Indian influence on this album and the acoustic guitar is played almost like a sitar would be played. What’s most interesting to me is that Jimmy Page was taught this as an Irish folk song and decided to change the feeling of it completely! That’s a bold artistic decision but I think it payed off for a unique instrumental track. Dad’s Rating 8/10
Communication Breakdown: “Communication Breakdown” is my favorite song on the album. I really like that it’s a simple rock track with not a lot of frills, but when you take a closer look there’s more than meets the eye. The song builds towards the last verse and chorus after the solo, consistently adding new elements until the whole band is playing together. The song starts with only the recognizable guitar riff, adding drums, bass, and a rhythm guitar. On the topic of the solo, I really like how the song quiets before going into that heated solo a lot! There are some rock songs that don’t have a lot of frills, and that’s because they don’t need it. Superior musicianship and ability to write music well goes a long way. Dad’s Rating 9/10
I Can’t Quit You Baby: I wasn’t sure what to expect when the song opened only on Plant’s vocals, but then the big guitar chords hit and I knew exactly what we were dealing with; another strong blues inspired track. This one is better than “You Shook Me” in my opinion for two reasons. First, I think the musicianship is cleaner and nicer to listen to on this track. By comparison, the former sounds very busy. “I Can’t Quit You Baby” is more stripped back, and the band lets their instruments speak for them. Second, I like how it’s not quite as overtly a blues rock track. I like blues rock a lot, but it can be overwhelming when presented in a typical I-IV-V chord progression with little deviation like the earlier track is. Musically, John Paul Jones is fantastic on the bass on this track and really leads the way with Bonham taking a back seat on the driving duties. There’s even a bass solo to let him show what he’s got and he delivers! Dad’s Rating 7/10
How Many More Times: The last track is a return to what the band knows how to do best; play big chords and riffs really loudly! I’ll actually say that this is one of my least favorite songs on the album. I wasn’t able to get that droning riff out of my head until the interlude, but by the time that was over, the song moved on to a different movement that I enjoyed much more…before ending on that droning riff. The sound from around the 5:30-7:00 markers should have been more prevalent. I think that would have made for a more interesting song. Either that or adding some kind of dynamics to the track to keep the listener engaged. Dad’s Rating 5/10
The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.