Led Zeppelin- Untitled (Led Zeppelin IV) (1971): 24 June 2019

Led Zeppelin – Untitled (1971)

We’ve made it through June and Led Zeppelin Month! We’re on the last album in the Led Zeppelin I-IV Anthology this week, and now is as good a time as any to bring up the fact that “Led Zeppelin IV” isn’t actually the name of the album we’ve been building towards. After poor reception to Led Zeppelin III, the band decided to release their fourth album without a title or any text on the outer record sleeve, effectively making this an untitled album. For ease of reference, we’re going to follow long-standing tradition here and call the untitled fourth album Led Zeppelin IV. No more beating around the bush, let’s talk about the album.

Led Zeppelin IV is what I would describe as a culmination of three years-worth of evolution, learning, and finding themselves as a band. Think back to Led Zeppelin I and the sound on that record. The album was brash, loud, and uncomplicated. It was also an announcement that these gents were here to rock. Led Zeppelin II took the sound of the first album and started to refine it, moving from a bluesier sound to a folksier sound. Led Zeppelin III expanded on the early folk influences of II and started to show more musical dynamism and thoughtful songwriting. Finally, Led Zeppelin IV pulls all of that together into an album for the ages. It’s dynamic, musical, thoughtful, complex but accessible, and is the culmination of a journey. This wasn’t the band’s last album, and they would go on to have more successful albums in the future, but this album is where all of those albums start. Enjoy the climax of our journey through Led Zeppelin’s early discography and one of the most important rock albums of all time.

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Black Dog: Every single Led Zeppelin album up to this point has opened with a really strong start, and “Black Dog” is no exception to that rule. Make it four in a row! “Black Dog” was released as one of the singles for the album and has gone on to be one of the songs most synonymous with Led Zeppelin.  Musically, the song sounds different to most rock songs of the early 1970s and stands out because of its odd time signature. It also features a call-and-response throughout the song that wasn’t a commonly employed musical technique in rock at the time. Lots of musical experimentation going on with this song, and that theme will carry us through the album. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Rock and Roll: “Rock and Roll” is a great rock track. It actually stands out among rock tracks for me. The energy in this song is contagious and helps it stand out from the crowded field of “simple rock songs” from the early 70s. That energy really is the most important part of this song. Sure, it relies on the Led Zeppelin-tested blues rock base with loud guitars and wailing vocals on top, but this sounds more refined than what we’ve heard on early albums. The blues aren’t quite so forward and the instrumentation has its dynamic moments. This shows that the band really has developed and incorporated different techniques into their music across the four albums we’ve covered. Dad’s Rating 7/10

The Battle of Evermore: There’s quite a lot going on with “The Battle of Evermore,” and I think the best way to look at it is by breaking it down into elements. The lyrics are great and based on high fantasy themes, particular the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. The stringed instrumentation (a guitar and mandolin in this case) provide the perfect mix of folk rock to, what could almost be considered, an adventure song found in a movie or the pub of a fantasy world. Plant’s vocals weave you through the story with exceptional attention paid to the highs and lows. This is probably the most progressive piece in the group’s catalog up to this point, and it is a really good song. If you’ve never had a listen, don’t skip this one. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Stairway to Heaven: Wow. I get goosebumps every time I listen to “Stairway,” and if it’s not the best rock song ever written, it’s in the top 5. There are NO words to describe the pure emotion behind the lyrics, nor the exquisite instrumentals. I honestly don’t want to write about this song because I will never do it the justice that it deserves; I would prefer to let it speak for itself. Take seven minutes, put headphones on, and immerse yourself in “Stairway.” That’s all I feel I can say without insulting this beautiful song. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Misty Mountain Hop: We’ve moved on to the B Side of Led Zeppelin IV, and it opens with “Misty Mountain Hop.” There’s a lot that I like about this song, from the heaviness compared to “Stairway” and “Evermore” and how refined it sounds compared to some of the earliest rockers from Zep. The heaviness on this song actually reminded me of Deep Purple songs from around this time. There is one unsettling part of this track for me, and that’s the vocal harmonies during the verses. I think they were meant to clash, but it was surprising to me from, particularly from Zeppelin. I appreciate the effort to try new musical techniques, so it gets points for that, but the execution was a little odd. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Four Sticks: “Four Sticks” was one of the songs that I had never listened to before I put the album on, and it’s a great track! It has a really interesting, drum-driven feel that makes the song like it’s consistently racing forward and Jones’ bass work is really solid on this song. There aren’t many places where these guys really get the chance to shine through on this album but they made the most of that opportunity here! Dad’s Rating 7/10

Going to California: “Going to California” is exactly the kind of song you don’t expect to come from Led Zeppelin unless you’ve been following the progression of their music. This is a beautifully performed ballad with a great folk rock influence. This acoustic track is simple and elegant all the way through. Plant’s vocals shine through on this song, and the modulation that they did to them on the chorus shows that they’re not done experimenting with new techniques to make their music sound better.  Dad’s Rating 7/10

When the Levee Breaks: This was the only cover on this album, taken from an old blues classic of the same name by Memphis Minnie. The blues are immediately apparent with the introduction of the harmonica, the slower pace, and blues chord structure, but this feels like a more refined way of incorporating it into rock music. Where they had previously just played blues tracks on rock and roll instruments, this feels like there was specific attention paid to the composition to give the original a rocking sound. Job well done. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Thanks for sticking with Led Zeppelin Month! Next week we move into July and back to regular programming with a different artist every week. Next week: Jefferson Airplane!

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.

Yes- The Yes Album (1971): 4 February 2019

Yes – The Yes Album (1971)

We’re going back to 1971 this week on YDCS to take a look at one of the acts most responsible for the creation of progressive rock music, the English rock band Yes. For the thus far uninitiated, progressive rock was a subgenre of rock music that started developing in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was characterized by the use of unusual instruments, time signatures, fantastical, philosophical, or science fiction lyrics, and breaking the traditional moulds of song structure. Fortunately for the band, The Yes Album was a commercial breakthrough with songs like Yours is No Disgrace and I’ve Seen All Good People, especially considering that they were at risk of being dropped by their label if this album, their third, didn’t perform to expectation.

The Yes Album was the first Yes album to feature guitarist Steve Howe who would ultimately stay with the band through its most successful period through 1981 before the band broke up and reformed later in the year without him. This was also the last album to feature Tony Kaye on keyboard after he refused to branch out and play the mini-moog or synthesizer on their next album, Fragile. Kaye was quickly replaced by Rick Wakeman on Fragile leading to the band’s most successful lineup. If this is your first Yes album, don’t be off put by the runtimes on the songs. Yours is No Disgrace is the longest track on the album at around 9:40, but there are two other songs that give it a “runtime” for its money. Sit back and just enjoy letting the instruments weave between each other to create a stunning album.

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Yours is No Disgrace: This is a rockin’ start to the album! The song transitions between a few themes including some fantastic keyboard playing from Kaye and insanely catchy guitar riffs from Howe in the middle of the track. The guitar solo in the middle of the track is my favorite because of how it uses the wah to add some groove to the track before transitioning back to a more traditional picking technique. Around that midpoint in the song is when we start to see the bass come more into the forefront too and drive the song forward. I think you’ll like the vocal harmony from the band through the entire song and don’t find it to be a disgrace! Dad’s Rating 9/10

The Clap: The Clap is a great little folksy guitar solo written by Howe. This is one of my favorite songs on the album even though it doesn’t really fit with the sound of the album. As he describes it, it was the first solo that he felt comfortable performing. I particularly enjoy the quick changes between picking and strumming that give this song a unique sound. Howe’s technical ability really shines through on this song. I’m not a guitar player but I definitely appreciate the difficulty of the song. This song always brings a smile to my face, and it’s hard to not be happy and smiling with a calm little ditty like this playing. Try not to bop your head along to the song, I dare you! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Starship Trooper (A. Life Seeker; B. Disillusion; C. Wurm): Starship Trooper is the first of two songs on this album that’s split into three parts. This is fairly common amongst progressive rock bands, where songs would be split into multiple parts that would explore a different theme in each section or would try to evoke a different emotion in each section. Yes did this on multiple albums, but most notably on Close to the Edge and Tales From Topographic Oceans (stay tuned for album reviews on those later!). The song transitions between the different sections very nicely and it’s very clear where the transition from Life Seeker to Disillusion occurs, the same is true for Disillusion to Wurm. Disillusion is my favorite part of the song and sadly the shortest. It shows more technical guitar ability from Howe Dad’s Rating 7/10

I’ve Seen All Good People: a. Your Move, b. All Good People: This song is the second multi-part song on the album after Starship Trooper, and where Wurm was slightly lacking on the former, there’s not a bad part of this song. This song is classic Yes, classic prog rock, and is one of Yes’ best-known songs. Good People gives you a little bit of everything that makes Yes such a quirky band and so much fun to listen to: vocal harmony, accompaniment on a church organ, and a rocking up-tempo part after Your Move opens into All Good People.  Dad’s Rating 8/10

A Venture: A Venture is one of the more unique songs on the album, and like The Clap, it doesn’t seem to fit with the sound of the rest of the album. It’s much more restrained, features significantly less vocal harmony, and there’s not unusual instruments. A Venture gets credit for displaying Kaye’s skills on the piano with his solo at the end of this song. The solo feels fresh and, in my opinion, actually provides a breath of fresh air on the album. When every song on an album sounds the same, the album can become stale, but the different tone of this song actually refreshes the sound for the last song, Perpetual Change, which is more of a return to the more familiar “Yes sound” on this album. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Perpetual Change: Yes wanted to close this album out with a bang and a return to their signature sound. This song has philosophical lyrics, masterful instrumentation from the band members, and more time signature changes than you can count. That’s actually my favorite part of this song for two reasons: firstly, they keep you on your toes and make you actively listen to the song as opposed to passively listening to it and letting it wash over you, and secondly it fits the title of the song very appropriately! The song is titled perpetual change for a reason and the song does exactly that! One minute you’ll be listening to a soft ballad, then the song shifts to a ripping guitar solo, then it goes back to ballad, then you’ll be listening to something that sounds like it should be the song to lead in the evening news! (see if you can spot that part of the song) Yes was unapologetically themselves with this last song on their last ditch effort album, and it ended up paying off. Dad’s Rating 7/10

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.