Tag Archives: 1969

2nd Favorite Beatles Album: Abbey Road

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Abbey Road
1969, Parlophone. Producer: George Martin.
Purchased Cassette, 1986.

IN A NUTSHELL: Abbey Road fully encapsulates everything that is wonderful about The Beatles. It also recapitulates their entire career, from doo-wop (“Oh! Darling”) to psychedelia (“I Want You,” “Sun King”) to singer/songwriter balladry (“Here Comes the Sun”). As if to lay to rest any doubts about their talents, the album is chock full of amazing songwriting (from all four members!), incredible vocal harmonies, and even some knockout solos from the boys. It’s the most-perfect final album of any band ever.

NOTE: The setup – below the line ↓ – might be the best part … Or skip right to the album discussion.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Star Wars opened in American theaters in May 1977, a week before my tenth birthday, making me a prime member of the film’s target audience. The film had spaceships, lasers, robots, bigfoots, a swashbuckling cowboy and a princess (with no kissing!), plus a teen-ager who learns to fight with a lightsaber. It came at a time when I was young enough that I still played with GI Joes. All those Star Wars action figures were aimed directly at me, and my dad’s wallet.

But my family were targets the marketers could rarely hit. We weren’t destitute by any means, but we were definitely lower-middle class, a family of five living on a machinist’s hourly wages. We were fed and clothed, and had a few “nice things,” like bikes and church outfits and a handheld calculator that cost more than all three bikes together, and that was hidden in my mom’s desk, requiring special permission for my sisters and I to access it. But non-necessary expenditures were rare, and anything that could be found as a “hand-me-down” was. Those GI Joes that I still played with had come from my older cousins.

Also, my parents weren’t movie-people. It cost money to go see a movie. Additionally, they required leaving the house, and possible mingling with people, an experience my dad, in particular, found difficult. My parents never went out on “dates.” They were content to watch movies on TV with annoying commercial interruptions, years after they’d been released in the theaters. Throughout the 70s I only recall them going to three movies in the theater: The Sting, Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie, and one other.

My sisters and I periodically went to a kids movie – Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, Bambi, Snowball Express, – and once or twice we went as a family to the Drive-In theater. But as a whole, my family were not movie-goers. I’d never cared about that fact until I returned to school in the late summer of ’77.

That’s when Star Wars fever was boiling over.

Everyone in my fifth grade class had seen the film, and I mean everyone. John H. claimed to have seen it 30 times, probably an exaggeration, given his well-known penchant for stretching the truth, and, frankly, his family’s well-known limited financial means. However, he could, indeed, draw an astoundingly accurate version of R2-D2 in chalk on the blackboard. And this being decades before the internet, and years before DVDs and even household VHS machines, he’d had to have gone to the theater more than once to draw such a great picture.

I figured there was no way I’d get to see Star Wars until it appeared on TV. I even discussed with my buddy, Bruce F., my only ‘wealthy’ friend with HBO, whether I could come watch it at his house, without commercials, when it finally ran. I thought it was hopeless to ask my parents to take me to an actual movie theater to see it, but I decided to give it a shot.

My dad told me he’d take me. We went to see it one evening at a theater in downtown Lebanon, PA, and it was amazing. I will never forget the first time I saw Star Wars because 1) it meant so much that my near-hermit, movie-indifferent dad took me; and 2) it was such a cool movie!

I’ve thought a lot about it, and there’s only one other work that I so clearly recall experiencing for the first time, and that’s The Beatles’ Abbey Road. And I didn’t even have all the family baggage surrounding that experience!

It was a summer evening in 1986, and I stopped to shoot hoops in an elementary school playground with a guy named Jeff. He had a boombox in his nearby car and was blasting the tape. Some of the songs I knew, some of them I didn’t, but one trip through the entire album while we played HORSE and one-on-one, and it immediately became my favorite record. The sounds, the melodies, the guitar, the feeling, the ending … it made an impression. Of all the records I love, I can’t recall my first listen as clearly or as deeply as I recall that first Abbey Road.

Abbey Road turned out to be the final album the band ever recorded. After the studio experimentation of Sgt. Pepper’s, the fraught individuality of “The White Album,” the band’s indifference to Yellow Submarine, and the awkward discomfort of filming the recording of Let it Be, (which was recorded earlier, but released after Abbey Road), it was to be a return to the camaraderie, synergy and musical focus that marked their earlier albums. Named for the recording studio in which they worked, The Beatles’ Abbey Road is as good a final album as any band has ever recorded.

And John Lennon’s “Come Together” is as good an album opener as has ever been recorded.

The bass, the drums the whispered “Shoot me,” with the “me” obscured by echoing handclaps … it’s among the most identifiable 4 seconds in rock music history. The nonsense lyrics are fun to sing, and it’s actually John singing his own harmonies during the verses. The bass line throughout is one of the coolest ever. At 2:31 Paul plays a little curlicue at the end of a line, and you can hear a little bit of studio shouting, if you listen closely. Lennon plays the Billy Preston-like electric piano, and Harrison adds a terrific lead guitar. And the entire time Ringo proves he’s one of the most creative drummers in rock. At 3:13, a lengthy runout begins, and if you listen closely in the left side, you’ll hear Lennon’s great rhythm guitar. It’s a song that’s been played a million times that I never get tired of hearing.

“Come Together” is an obvious group effort, and teamwork is a feeling that permeates Abbey Road. Even on Harrison’s masterpiece “Something,” a certain Beatle-ness is evident that was missing on “The White Album.”

As with “Come Together,” the bass and drums are once again perfect and indelible. Paul’s widely ranging bass and Ringo’s slow tom rolls are perfection, and check out what Ringo does in the bridge (~1:14 on). Harrison’s guitar is also amazing, and his sound and slide work throughout, (on the solo, at 1:43, in particular) became a sort of template (perhaps unfortunately) for 70s lite-rock. As love songs go, the lyrics of “Something”, coupled with George’s voice, are among the best. And let’s not forget the wonderful harmonies throughout!

The collaboration among the band is even clear on songs on which part of the band is absent – for example “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” which John considered “Granny music,” and so didn’t play along.

It is a silly song, with goofy lyrics about a serial killer, but I do like the tuba-ish bass, which is played by Harrison. And it’s got that wonderful guitar throughout the choruses, pure Harrison in sound and style.

Of course, even while the boys sound like they’re playing nice together, there were still some hurt Beatle feelings. For example, John really thought Paul should’ve asked him to sing “Oh! Darling.”

But maybe those hurt feelings are why he played such amazing guitar on the song! It’s Lennon alone playing all those attacking slides in the verses and arpeggiated chords in the choruses. And it was revealed last year that Harrison actually played bass on the song! Just as Paul easily copped the “Harrison sound” in past guitar solos in, for example, “Taxman” and “Ticket to Ride,” Harrison plays a wonderfully McCartney-esque bass line throughout, changing things up every time through. (I particularly love the syncopated ascending run he throws in, about 2:28.) Paul sings the hell out of this doo-wop tune about a gal who left him, and the subtle backing vocals are perfect. Lennon finishes off the song with great harmonics.

With Harrison doing so much on the album – bass, songwriting, guitar – I find him to be the unsung hero of Abbey Road. He even helped Ringo write his second Beatles songwriting credit, “Octopus’s Garden.”

And of course, he played that super lead guitar! Lennon actually plays all the nice fingerpicking rhythm guitar. The bass is A+, of course, and I really love all the backing vocals, particularly during the great guitar solo (1:38), when they sound as though they’re under water! It’s a perfect Ringo song, his voice is great, and though the song is often criticized as just a glorified kids’ song, Harrison actually found the lyrics to be quite spiritual.

Perhaps they are. And maybe there’s something spiritual, in a mantra-way, in the minimalist lyrics of Lennon’s “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”

Much like the way I used to dislike “Within You Without You,” on Sgt. Pepper’s, but found myself growing to love it, this song is now officially one of my favorite Beatles’ songs. There’s so much happening, from an almost jazzy beginning through a slow-building musical fire that’s repeatedly tamped down, to a droning, repetitive, wild outro, it’s a song that simply requires repeated listens. “Fifth Beatle” Billy Preston plays a terrific Hammond organ, and I noted so many times in this song where I went back and re-listened (Paul’s bass, 1:00; Preston, 2:00; harmonies, 2:05; Guitar solo with organ, 2:26; drums everywhere; Guitar 3:37, 4:05, 4:14, 4:19; studio shouting at 4:33) that, really, it would be ridiculous to list them all. Okay, so I just did, but basically I think you should go listen to this song a bunch of times in a row, on headphones. You’ll be happy you did. Listen for the extra hi-hat at 7:16, after which there are two more times through the pattern before the song abruptly cuts out.

More evidence of Harrison’s status as Album Hero on Abbey Road comes in the next song, one of the band’s most popular ever, “Here Comes the Sun.”

First off, that’s a cool video produced for the song last year. From the first notes of Harrison’s acoustic guitar, this song is perfection. Once again, McCartney’s rolling bass provides a great countermelody, and the backing instruments – a whooshing Moog synthesizer, a harmonium, electric guitar – give the song an uplifting sound. The lyrics celebrate, well, being alive, when it gets down right to it. The backing harmonies (by George and Paul – John doesn’t appear at all on the track) are brilliant. Ringo’s drumming is pretty straightforward, even through the 3/4 “it’s all right” sections. Then, from 1:30 to 2:12, during the “sun, sun, sun, here it comes” section,” he goes nuts with some of the coolest tom fills ever. It’s a tremendous song – upbeat, positive, fun to sing along to, interesting musically … I love it.

The rest of the album is unique and wonderful, and – for some people – almost as frustrating as “The White Album.” That album left some folks wondering “what if they’d truly collaborated and then pared the record down to the strongest 15 songs?” The second half of Abbey Road is made up of a medley of songs, and leaves some folks wondering “what if they’d completed all those snippets?” As for me – it’s interesting to think about, but I’m happy with the record as it is. The record builds, and packs an emotional wallop that may not have occurred with 9 more complete songs.

The beautiful “Because” is probably not part of the medley, but it melds so seamlessly with the rest of the songs, I usually think of it as the first bit.

Musicologist Walter Everett, in comparing the song to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” notes that both songs “arpeggiate triads and seventh chords in C♯minor in the baritone range of a keyboard instrument at a slow tempo, move through the submediant to ♭II and approach vii dim7/IV via a common tone.” I think you should just listen to the beauty of the song, the voices, the sparse, hippy-ish lyrics, and not worry about all that. Then listen to this mix of vocals-only from the song, George, John and Paul (low register to high), each recorded three times to create 9 voices. Amazing.

Then comes the medley. NOTE: The Beatles(R) are very diligent in removing unofficial content from YouTube, etc. They only allow what they want floating around out there, which means … the version of The Medley that was on the original album, and the 2009 remix, is no longer available on YouTube as a single piece. The only full medley available is the version below, from 2019, when the band (i.e. McCartney) reshuffled things and put “Her Majesty” in between “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam,” where it had (apparently) originally been before a last-second change (made by McCartney!) before the album release. Also, the arrangements are different, with different vocal tracks, missing orchestral tracks, fewer guitar solos … SO – I’ll have a link to each song, below, but I like to hear the medley as a medley, so I’ll leave this here, too, even though it’s not the way I’ve always heard it. Ugh. Artists. Such prima donnas. (Love you, Paul!!)

Famous for being one of the first rock songs about being screwed by the music industry, “You Never Give Me Your Money” introduces a melody on piano that will return throughout the medley. The song’s various sections are held together by the genius of Ringo. The chiming guitars (1:34) in the “magic feeling” section give me chills every time. I think it’s might be Harrison playing it, and the chiming continues (1:50) when a great guitar solo enters, maybe played by John? Either way, the dueling guitar work is stellar, and when the pair doubles on the solo (along with Paul on bass near the end of the solo, 2:12 – 2:32), with Ringo’s fills, it’s some of the best Beatles stuff on record. Every time I listen, I hear something new. It’s actually a rather sad song, particularly for a Beatles fan, and considering it’s the last album. “Step on the gas and wipe that tear away …”

Next comes “Sun King,” a kind of repeat of “Because,” vocal-wise, with awesome harmonies, this time on nonsense, faux Spanish lyrics. The guitar work of Harrison and Lennon is, once again, really sweet. And Paul plays a slightly distorted bass that sounds cool. And check out Ringo’s bongos! The song transitions quite suddenly with a nice Ringo fill into …

Mean Mr. Mustard.” For all of Lennon’s complaints about Paul’s “granny music,” this composition of his is not too far from that description! Paul plays a fuzz bass and sings harmonies. This song, though short and somewhat insignificant (anyway, it’s my least-favorite part of the medley), really showcases how the voices of John and Paul blend together. It’s about a miser, with a sister named Pam, who turns out to be …

Polythene Pam.” Those three acoustic chords that open the song are so simple and so grand next to McCartney’s swooping bass. Great harmony vocals, as usual, on a song about a particular woman (who seems much different than her brother). It’s one of Ringo’s most creative, terrific drum tracks, and George’s solo (0:49) adds so much, leading to (“Oh, Look out!) …

She Came In Through the Bathroom Window.” Actually, George’s guitar seems to continue right through into this song, with the same tone. He’s hero-George again, and his guitar work is my favorite part of this song. His guitar sound, coupled with the vocals is another place on the album where I always get chills. This is another awesome Ringo performance, too, with classic swingin’ Ringo hi-hat and Ringo-y fills, like 1:20 and 1:26. And don’t sleep on John’s 12-string acoustic, in the left channel! The song was written by Paul after an actual Beatle fan actually climbed into his house through his bathroom window.

The medley has about a 2 second break here, as the powerful “Golden Slumbers” is cued up. It’s one of Paul’s best vocal performances, fluctuating between sweet and powerful with ease on lyrics partially adapted from an old poem. It also has some fine orchestral work (WHICH IS REMOVED FROM THE MEDLEY VERSION, ABOVE!!), arranged by George Martin. His strings never seem overdone, like the ones Phil Spector added to Let It Be, and it’s nice to hear him go out with a bang on Abbey Road, as well.

Carry That Weight” is kind of the second half of “Golden Slumbers.” John was recuperating from a car crash, and doesn’t appear on either song (except vocals in the chorus), but hero George plays 6-string bass on both. It has a nice reprise of “You Never Give Me Your Money,” and some nice electric guitar from George. It transitions quite suddenly into …

The End,” is truly a bittersweet song – the final time the band played together, on the final song of the final album, and titled “The End.” And it really delivers a thrilling demonstration of the 4 lads’ musical abilities. It features (0:20) Ringo’s only recorded drum solo (unless you count those 8 bars in “Birthday,” which nobody does) and dueling guitar solos from the other three. The solos start about 0:54, and rotate, 2 bars each, in order – McCartney, Harrison and Lennon. They sound like they’re having so much fun!! I love listening to the distinctive styles of each, with Paul flashily ranging up and down the neck, George playing tricky bends and rockabilly-ish riffs, and Lennon mostly playing simple licks and dirty chords. When the solos end, about 1:30, and Paul’s piano remains, I once again feel the frisson, leading into the famous couplet from Paul: “And in the end the love you take/ Is equal to the love you make.” (I get a little misty typing it.) Somewhat lost in there is the fact that Harrison and Lennon play cool riffs behind the lyrics, and Ringo’s drums are orchestral and brilliant to close things out.

Perfection. And it wouldn’t be perfection without a little mistake: “Her Majesty.” As discussed above, this song was originally excised from the medley, then was mistakenly added to the end of the master tape, so it made it onto the record. It’s Paul on an acoustic, singing to the queen. And it’s really a song for our time, 2020: at 23 seconds long, it’s the perfect song to sing so I’m sure I wash my hands a sufficient length of time!

So long, boys! Thanks for everything!!

This was a long post – if you made it to the end, bless you. Leave a comment so I can thank you directly. But I love Abbey Road so much, I could have typed three times as many words. Long, long ago, on a playground far, far away, I had no idea it would still resonate with me as a 53 year old.

TRACK LISTING:
“Come Together”
“Something”
“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”
“Oh! Darling”
“Octopus’s Garden”
“I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”
“Here Comes the Sun”
“Because”
“You Never Give Me Your Money”
“Sun King”
“Mean Mr. Mustard”
“Polythene Pam”
“She Came In Through the Bathroom Window”
“Golden Slumbers”
“Carry That Weight”
“The End”
“Her Majesty”

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59th Favorite: Led Zeppelin, by Led Zeppelin

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Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin.
1969, Atlantic. Producer: Jimmy Page.
Home bootleg, 1988. Purchased 1997.

album led zeppelin

59 nutshellIN A NUTSHELL: Debut album from one of the most iconic bands of the rock era. It’s a record of heavy guitar blues, quite different stylistically from the sound that would come to define them later. The musicianship is incredible on both the slow, thick, oozing songs and the upbeat, hard-charging ones, and they all serve as a basis for laments about Robert Plant’s love-life. This record is one of the seeds of Heavy Metal.
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dalailamaOne would think there are very few “once in a lifetime” situations in life. The very name – Once In A Lifetime – seems to imply there would be very few. It seems unreasonable to expect that someone would, say, return from space on a Monday, catch and land a 350-pound tuna on Tuesday, stumble upon a new dinosaur species on Wednesday and finish off the week experiencing all that goes into the first few days of being identified as the 15th Dalai Lama. No, Once-In-A-Lifetime events are special and rare!

However, a different perspective reveals that you likely experience handshakeseveral Once-In-A-Lifetime situations each week, and possibly (depending what kind of job you have) dozens per day! Every time you meet another person for the first time, you have had a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You’ll never meet that person for the first time again.

As that old shampoo commercial used to say, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” anxietyThe value of a good first impression is understood by most everyone; the fear of making a bad first impression is part of what is reportedly the third most common psychological problem in the country, Social Anxiety Disorder. There are thousands of tips out there for overcoming fear of first meetings; for making good first impressions at work, during a job interview, and on your first day at a job; for making good first impressions on dates, both for women and for men; even for making good first impressions on a new pet!! It is clear, we as humans – social animals that we are – value first impressions.

First Impressions cut two ways. On the one hand, you want to make sure the other person thinks positively of you. But you also want to be sure you’re accurately assessing the other person. I’ve fumbled both of these objectives at various times. There were the innumerable times, for example, that others’ first experience with me included some kind of drunken, ridiculous, perhaps-borderline-illegal actions on my buffalopart, characteristics that are hard to forget. I’ve also completely discounted people upon meeting them, only to find out later that I was completely misguided.

It wasn’t just the booze that kept me from making a good first impression. I used to be really unsure of myself while sober, and lack of confidence is a real first-impression-killer. First dates were very difficult – but I had very few because it was even harder to ask women out! Typically, I’d ask someone out while I was inebriated – probably not wasted-drunk, as it’s unlikely a woman would’ve said yes to someone in that state. But I’d be a little tipsy, a little more charming than usual, and the invitee would usually also be a little tipsy, a little more amenable than usual, and somehow we’d agree to go somewhere together. Then I’d get to the restaurant, for example, and I’d … eat!

boo-radleyYou see, I was a nervous, quiet, shivering mess at first meetings. I often chose not to say anything. I’d just smile and nod in response to even the most innocuous direct questions. I barely asked others questions and I avoided eye-contact. Meeting me was like meeting Boo Radley: unless some “Scout” figure vouched for me, you were left rattled and bewildered and shooed me off your porch. Worst of all, I clung to those first-meeting symptoms for second, third, etc, meetings as well. Such were the depths of my affliction, the family of my good friend Dr. Dave thought I was a Selective Mute for the first three years I knew them!

I eventually overcame my problem by becoming a professional standup comic. ermSee, the booze had tricked me into thinking I had a certain … “something.” I didn’t, but that certain “something” would magically develop within me after just a few years of grimly trying to get the attention of strangers in the sad cafes and empty bars of entry-level comedy work. That “something” is this: a high baseline comfort level among people I don’t know. The excellent comedian Tim McIntire has spoken of the “Jedi mind-trick” that comedians develop to convince a room full of strangers that they should listen. And although I learned the trick, I can’t explain the trick; but it definitely has something to do with confidence. And it is probably the only real transferable skill from stand-up comedy to the real world.

wingmanAs a child of the 70s and a teen of the 80s, I can’t remember when I wasn’t aware of Led Zeppelin. Before I ever knew any of their songs, I saw their posters at carnivals as prizes for games of chance – typically featuring a flying man or a creepy old dude in a cape holding a lantern. When I reached middle school, I saw their t-shirts on the tough, scary 8th graders who looked like they’d beat me up. By my teen years, each school year began in Zep-tember, and they were one of my “most important bands.” The writer Chuck Klosterman, posterin his book Killing Yourself to Live, opines that “…every straight man born after the year 1958 has at least one transitory period in his life when he believes Led Zeppelin is the only good band that ever existed.” He then goes on to hilariously, and believably, make the case that they are the only band for which this is true. For me, it was as a high-schooler, when I listened to Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin III, Led Zeppelin “IV,” … Nearly all the Led Zeppelin. About the only Zep I didn’t pay attention to was the first one, which many of my like-minded friends had assured me was not rockin’ enough. I took them at their word – I never explored.

Sometime in 1988, my friend Dr. Dave sent me a cassette tape in the mail. I was learning to play bass, and was making plans to travel to Dr. Dave’s house to play music with him and his brother, the beginnings of the world-famous band JB and The So-Called Cells. On one side of cassettethe tape were a few songs that he, on guitar, and our drummer friend, Chris, had recorded in hopes I could learn the bass parts: Heart’s “Barracuda;” Tom Petty’s “The Waiting;” perhaps AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” He had recorded the songs on a cassette that was blank on Side 2. But the cassette case indicated, in Dr. Dave’s unmistakeable handwriting, that Side 1 contained “Led Zeppelin: Their First. (And their best.)” I ended up listening to Side 1 far more than Side 2. It immediately hooked me. The first song was like nothing I’d heard before.

I was explaining earlier that feigned confidence, the ability to “act like you know,” has been a valuable life lesson. When you are in a new situation, just act like it’s part of your regular routine, and you’ll place yourself ahead of the game. For example, if you’re a rock band and you’re going to release a debut rock record, you’d do well to start off with a song that assures every listener that, indeed, you are fully in command of the situation. Maybe a song like “Good Times, Bad Times.”

zep-poster“Good Times, Bad Times” is the first song off of the first album by Rock behemoths Led Zeppelin, and it is likely my favorite “Side 1, Track 1” from any debut album, and certainly Top-5 for all albums. It presents the type of First Impression that everyone strives for, announcing the band as confident, able and interesting – someone I’d definitely like to hear again soon. What makes it so special for me is the fact that the individual players – drummer John Bonham, bassist John Paul Jones, guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant – display such astounding gifts on the song, but their virtuosity doesn’t overshadow it. The song is a powerful statement, and it retains its direct, visceral feeling throughout: I noticed its power long before I considered the individual components. And the individual parts are stunning.

bonhamLet’s first consider John Bonham’s drums. Run the googles on “good times bad times drum lesson” and you’ll get pages of people trying to explain how he did what he did. The song begins with two simple notes repeated a few times, with musical tension built by his cymbals and cowbell. Then, at 15 seconds, Bonham throws in a really cool fill to herald Plant’s first verse, going directly into a pulverizing back beat, with an astonishing kick drum pattern. The drumming is solid and heavy and awesome throughout, and that kick drum pattern is so astonishing that there are several web videos devoted simply to it, and even the wikipedia page for the song mentions it. I defy you to name another bass drum part from a debut album first track with which Wikipedia concerns itself.

I believe it was Jean-Paul Sartre who said that to make a really great first impression in life, you need to have a terrific rhythm section.jpjones And he was absolutely correct. If you don’t want to be known as the new band with the drummer who’s too good for it, you need a bassist who’s just as sparkling. And John Paul Jones is that. He gets to show his cool, savvy playing in breaks after the chorus – such as 0:58 and 2:04. And if you focus your ears on his bouncing, fluid playing through the entire song, you’ll hear how he anchors Bonham’s playing to the guitar work of Jimmy Page while never sounding boring. As a bass player myself, this is the kind of playing I love – something that isn’t too flashy, but isn’t simple, either. It makes listening enjoyable, but holds the song together, as well.

pageJimmy Page is by most accounts the mastermind behind the band Led Zeppelin, having founded the band, written most of the music and produced all the albums. “Good Times, Bad Times” introduces everyone to Page’s main style: Riff Rock, in which he plays a melodic phrase (a “riff“) over and over while the singer sings. What’s cool about Page, is that he changes things up. There’s one riff for the first verse, beginning at 0:20. But for the second verse, at 1:00, he plays a completely different riff, keeping the song from getting boring, and also better supporting singer Robert Plant’s lower register. This change is the kind of subtlety you’ll find throughout Page’s songwriting and playing. Plus, his solos, at 1:29, atop the furious attack of Bonham and Jones, and after 2:06, answering each of Plant’s verses, are excellent and interesting and air-guitar-inducing.

plantRegarding singer Robert Plant, there’s little to be stated. If there’s ever been a better voice in rock, I’m unaware of it. His ability to both scream and purr effectively are top-notch, but equally impressive is the fact that he can carry a melody while doing either, AND do so expressively. He’s an emotional, interesting singer: his half-speaking, half-shouting, half-singing (which I’m aware is three halves, but Plant is that good!) through the last verse is excellent. His lyrics tend to lean heavily on the “my woman done left me” theme on this album, but he’s singing the blues so I guess it makes sense. It’s true he became the blueprint for every screeching, girly-haired, hyper-sexualized hard-rock belter for the next 20 years, but he did it first: it was HIS first impression. And I think he nailed it.

Plant gets his chance to really shine immediately after, on the quiet/loud heavy blues of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.”

The song opens with a sweet acoustic guitar – a frequent stylistic choice for Led Zeppelin’s entire 10-year recording career, and one that would be hijacked by every goofy hair-metal band throughout the 80s.page-acoustic The song is a showcase for Plant, whose indecisive lyrics explain that he has to leave, but that he’s never going to leave … The band shines as well. For example, I love that Bonham comes in strong at 1:02, and 2:02, but that he holds back a little bit, so that he has a little extra explosiveness remaining at 2:27 when the band comes in with full power. The ending of the song is nice, too. Page is not just a screamer on guitar, and songs like this one and – obviously – “Black Mountain Side” show off his subtle and moving acoustic work, as well. (By the way, that’s Viram Jasani playing tabla on “Black Mountain Side.”)

John Paul Jones’s versatility is on display alongside Page’s acoustic guitar on the terrific “Your Time Is Gonna Come.”

Jones plays the organ, along with bass pedals, and immediately creates a dark, chilling atmosphere. Page strums away on acoustic guitar, while Bonham kind of pounds away on the drums, almost like he’s playing a different song. However, it works fabulously, and Bonhamjpjones-organ knows when to ease back and allow Plant the space he needs to lament about one more woman who’s bringing him down. For a guy who supposedly got laid a bunch, Plant sure seems to have been predisposed to choose ladies who treat him badly. The sing-along chorus is great fun, especially during the outro, where Page wails away to the end.

Jones shows off his organ skills on the traditional blues cover of Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me,” too. Plant displays a talent for harmonica on it, as well, as the band trades solos between the verses about an unforgettable woman. The song ends concert1with Plant and Page mimicking each other after 5:37 in what was surely one of their most popular on-stage routines. The slow blues also carry the day on “I Can’t Quit You Baby.” Like all of the songs on this album, this one is perfectly suited to Plant’s vocal talents – even though, once again, he’s chosen a woman bound to break his heart. It’s also perfectly suited to Page’s soulful blues guitar. At 1:52 he begins a two-minute solo that must be one of the all-time greats in recorded rock music. It includes furious runs, long-held notes, wide-open spaces, and continues behind Plant on the final verse, in which he throws in great licks, such as the one at 4:19 that sounds like he’s laughing. Note also that during the solo, Bonham tosses in some more of those kick-drum triplets.

My friends told me back in the day that this album wasn’t rockin’, and that’s probably due to all the slow blues jams on it. concert2But the song “Communication Breakdown” is a crunching rocker, which totally stands up alongside the band’s Heavy Metal output in later years. By the way: Plant again is having problems with his lady. The band is on fire throughout, and even gets to contribute backing vocals en masse at the end. But what’s awesome about Led Zeppelin, and this album in particular, is that fact that they don’t have to play fast in order to sound metal and bad-ass. The song “Dazed and Confused,” probably my favorite track, is as slow as any they’ve cut, but the power of Bonham’s drums, Jones’s bass, Page’s guitar and Plant’s vocals create a sound that is the essence of Heavy. Just listen to the first minute.

I love the extended, controlled rolls that Bonham fills in throughout, for example at about 1:22. It must be pointed out that for most of his career, Bonham played mostly four- and five-piece drum kits, bonham1 meaning that he didn’t have scores of finely-tuned equipment encircling him, creating a fortress of batterie within which he sat. He limited himself, and this limitation elicited creativity and interesting performances. For example, listen carefully, and you’ll hear his toms repeating Jones’s bass line throughout the song. Plant sings about … what else, this time claiming it may be the devil’s fault for his women-problems. Page takes an extended solo, beginning with a spooky section at 2:09, in which he uses a violin bow to create his demon sounds, and then crashing into something else at 3:31. Bonham goes nuts, about 4:58, calling the band to transition back to the main riff, about 5:07, and that change is where I tend to get chills. This song is amazing.

The closing track on Led Zeppelin is a close second for favorite on the album. It starts with a simple, memorable exceedingly cool bass line from Jones – perhaps the coolest bass line in Classic Rock.

It’s a strange, multi-part song that starts off as a straightforward blues riff rocker, and Plant again lamenting yet ANOTHER woman who done him wrong. But then, about 2:09, Page plays a sort of fanfare solo that seems to end the song. But Plant has more to say about his problems … At 3:39, against another spooky violin bow section, Plant blames his women problems on his immaturity – although it’s hard to see how immaturity alone could lead to eleven children. zep-band-1He seems to state that all those kids give him a lot of joy, but then reveals, after another break in the song at 5:30, that his joy is actually due to a schoolgirl(!) named Rosie who he’s going off to see!! Bonham plays a shuffling beat, and at 6:09 the song shifts again as Plant proclaims that he is going to get Rosie because he is, after all, “the hunter,” and his wail at 6:57, celebrating his “gun,” is among the most fabulous screams in rock history. I think the fact that he views himself as hunter, implying these women are his prey, really sheds some light on his love-life problems: perhaps when these women find out he’s still out hunting, they’re prone to leave? Or to do a little hunting of their own? Just a thought. As the band returns to the main riff, I believe his final yearning for his woman to come home (I don’t think he means Rosie, by the way, I think it’s the woman he was singing to in the first verse) is likely to fall on deaf ears. But that could lead to another terrific song on Led Zeppelin II about her leaving him!

zep-band-2By the end of Led Zeppelin, the listener is fully comfortable with this new acquaintance and ready to deepen the relationship. It wasn’t weird or objectionable, there were no awkward silences or boorish actions. The new visitor just let you know that it knew what it was doing and that you could look forward to more interactions in the future. Sure, Robert Plant may have dwelled a bit too much on his problems with women, but he was charming enough that it wasn’t an issue. This was a perfectly executed First Impression.

Track Listing:
“Good Times, Bad Times”
“Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”
“You Shook Me”
“Dazed and Confused”
“Your Time Is Gonna Come”
“Black Mountain Side”
“Communication Breakdown”
“I Can’t Quit You Baby”
“How Many More Times”

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