Led Zeppelin

TrackAlbum
Good Times Bad TimesLed Zeppelin
Whole Lotta LoveLed Zeppelin II
Immigrant SongLed Zeppelin III
Gallows PoleLed Zeppelin III
Misty Mountain HopLed Zeppelin IV
The Battle Of EvermoreLed Zeppelin IV
The Song Remains The SameThe Song Remains The Same
Rock And RollLed Zeppelin IV
Bron-Y-Aur StompLed Zeppelin III
KashmirPhysical Graffiti

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Contributor: David Lewis

To its detractors, Led Zeppelin is a terrible act, and with some reason. Seemingly having stolen the ideas of the Jeff Beck Group, they were also sued for a substantial sum by Willie Dixon, who accused them of plagiarism. Stairway To Heaven was a direct lift from an old Spirit song. Those with perfect pitch find them unlistenable as guitars and basses get stretched out of tune. A thundering powerhouse of a band, detractors point to a lack of subtlety and nuance. And yet …

Zeppelin is a powerful and subtle band. Robert Plant is a fine lyricist (only Freddie Mercury came close to surpassing him in Tolkien-based lyrics). Jimmy Page is probably the third or fourth most influential guitarist of all time (Ace Frehley, George Harrison, Hank Marvin, Eddie Van Halen and Eric Clapton being the others). John Paul Jones is a master multiple instrumentalist. And Bonzo. John Bonham. Probably unsurpassed as a rock drummer.

At their best, Zeppelin is a joyous noise of all that is right with rock and roll. Arrogant, but with the chops to back it up, Zeppelin was very nearly an English folk band. While they can do that, few rocked harder. Let the haters hate. They know not what they’re missing.

Good times Bad Times. That opening. Simple, yet clever. Imitated many times, never bettered. Hooks the size of Mack Trucks. One of the all time great album openers. A marvellous statement of intent and the blueprint for many later bands.

The riff. Whole Lotta Love. The middle section. The amazing guitar solo. While air guitar existed before, it was never as cool (even allowing for Townshend).

And Robert has read and absorbed Tolkien. Immigrant Song. Another great riff, and perhaps my favourite Plant vocal from Zeppelin. Aaaaa-AAA-aaaaa-AAA. It demonstrates the voice as musical instrument. Lyrics straight from “Lord Of The Rings”, and if only the recent films could have licensed this stuff.

Gallows Pole is one of those tracks which has much more interest than even its terrific arrangement would suggest. Page and Plant leaned it from Leadbelly, who’d picked it up from his travels in the US. Where it had come across from England, completing the circle. It’s Jones who shines here; bass, mandolin and banjo.

The keyboard in Misty Mountain Hop is an outstanding example of how to use a keyboard in a hard rock song. Another Tolkien song, it also suggests an adventure Plant had with some hippies.

The Battle Of Evermore features Page on mandolin and the only time another vocalist outside the band shared lead. Sandy Denny gives one of her finest performances. Plant’s lyrics are among his most evocative and insightful. A real gem.

The opening pentatonic riffs of The Song Remains The Same are pure country music but with a majesty rarely found in country. It’s a great song and deserves entry on any Top Ten Zeppelin list.

Another great opening, perhaps the most iconic drum opening of the rock era, heralds Rock And Roll. The lyrics say nothing of consequence, but that’s the point. It’s been a long time, indeed.

Back to Led Zeppelin III for my penultimate choice. Bron-Y-Aur Stomp powers along like a train. An homage to country. I originally thought Plant felt there was no companion like a blue eyed girl, but it’s a Merle.

Finally the splendour of Kashmir. Page’s guitar is bowed, not plucked or strummed, and Bonham again rises to the occasion. Later joined by an orchestra, Kashmir is, I think, Zeppelin’s finest moment.

So many more. It’s interesting that Zeppelin won the ‘Greatest Rock Band Ever’ in a year that included a 50 year celebration of The Rolling Stones. For all its faults, both real and perceived, Zeppelin provides a blueprint followed by nearly every rock band since.

Led Zeppelin official website

The official website of Jimmy Page

Robert Plant’s official website

John Paul Jones official website

John Bonham website

Achilles Last Stand: informative and complete Led Zeppelin Website

Led Zeppelin biography (iTunes)

Led Zeppelin solo and side project toppermosts are naturally very welcome on this site.

TopperPost #159

16 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Jan 6, 2014

    I know, where’s Tangerine? Mental lapse. Also, I tried not to have ‘reinterpretations’, but Whole Lotta Love, despite its obvious allusion to Willie Dixon’s ‘You need love’ was just … I just couldn’t leave it off.

  2. Rob Millis
    Jan 6, 2014

    Good work David. It is amazing how Zep divide opinion wider than Marmite. I poured all over their stuff in my late teens, that irresistible formula of “Cream plus Fairport plus JRR Tolkein” was just the thing. And though my own tastes prefer something a lot mellowed than Zep these days, that mix of styles is something that for me would escalate them over the Purples and Sabs; only the sheer soulfulness of Free would have me in a quandary of allegiance.

    Would also agree on the post Zep 4-era only meriting one or two tracks – yes, probably Kashmir, with Trampled Underfoot a close second – with only 10 slots to fill. And you MUST have Good Times, Bad Times as it was the first thing we all heard; fitting that they opened O2 with it, I thought.

    All my Zep mates love Immigrant Song, for all the reasons you cite in the vocals. None of them can get it that I hate the song with passion! I remember getting the Remasters box and of Zep 4 there is a quote “people stopped comparing us to Black Sabbath after that record…” or similar. I always had it in my mind that Immigrant Song was to blame for such previous comparisons in the first place. But there – pick holes in Immigrant Song with a Zep diehard and you’ll get nowhere.

    I have often said that Zep 3 with We’re Gonna Groove opening and Hey Hey What Can I Do closing would be my “fantasy football” Zep LP…

  3. Simon Sadler
    Jan 6, 2014

    This list doesn’t include Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, which is the BEST SONG BY ANYONE EVER. Apart from that it’s not bad, although I never cared for Misty Mountain Hop, and the omission of Ten Years Gone is unfortunate.

    What is more baffling is the list of most influential guitarists. The inclusion of Frehley at the expense of Hendrix is bizarre.

  4. Keith Shackleton
    Jan 6, 2014

    Simon beat me to it: I also take immediate issue with your ‘all time guitarists’ list but that argument is for another day, and probably another blog. Or maybe you’re just checking we’re awake? 🙂

    I wouldn’t have much from II or IV. I am 53, and although there are great songs on those albums, and I’ve played them a lot, I’d be perfectly fine with not hearing them again (OK, maybe as live versions). So my ten would come from I, III and post-IV, and definitely include Over The Hills and Far Away from How The West Was Won (a much groovier and tighter live album than Song Remains.. ).

    • Rob Millis
      Jan 7, 2014

      Keith may have something here, with his I and III bias. I think I could fill ten songs from those and not miss anything else that much.

  5. Kasper Nijsen
    Jan 6, 2014

    I like your list, and III and IV are also my favourite albums, but I’m not at all sure the lyrics of Immigrant Song are straight from Tolkien. In fact, the mention of ‘Valhalla’ suggests a very different background. As for Misty Mountain Hop, apart from the reference to the Misty Mountains there’s no Tolkien in there either.

    The Battle of Evermore is a different story of course (and Sandy Denny deserves a Toppermost too). For what it’s worth though, in terms of Tolkien-inspired lyrics a rather unexpected song by Townes van Zandt (Silver Ships of Andilar ) has always topped my list.

  6. David lewis
    Jan 6, 2014

    All valid points, of course. The one I will respond to is Hendrix: the gremlins (at my end) must have removed him from my list. I could have sworn he was on it. I’d also make the point that ‘most influential’ does not equate ‘best’. Mr Frehley inspired a whole army of 8-12 year olds to pick up the guitar. The fact that this was more because of the visual effect than any musical innovation is irrelevant in this case. But, yes, Hendrix as well

  7. Peter Viney
    Jan 7, 2014

    The Rolling Stones really should have won that poll, but I have noticed at record fairs that Led Zep boots come easily third in quantity, though way behind The Beatles and Dylan. At the last big record fair, I apparently missed Mr Page who is a keen early browser, perhaps trying vainly to complete his collection of all the sessions he played on before Led Zep.

    My worry on Tolkienesque lyrics is that the ones Tolkien wrote himself within Lord of The Rings are dreadful. I’m not sure that anyone else has done any better!

    • Rob Millis
      Jan 7, 2014

      Agreed, and it is credit to Peter Jackson that he largely ignored pages and pages of the stuff when other dramatisers didn’t have the nerve to.

      The Troll Song I always liked though. Think of a Ry Cooder Money Honey or Cripple Creek beat, Peter and envisage: “for a couple of pins says Troll and grins, I’d eat thee too and gnaw thy shins”…

  8. Mr Community
    Jan 7, 2014

    A great top ten, as close to right as you can get. Levee Breaks, Houses of the Holy? Who cares. If I went to the Led Zep desert island I’d be happy with these while I waited out my days. Sadly any 21st century appraisal has to be viewed through the plagiarism prism. 30 years ago there would have been the murmurings around Willie Dixon, but in the YouTube age we now know that Jimmy, er, dipped into a lot other people’s work. For mine the Jake Holmes rip off takes the cake, a complete lift and to this day the only (litigation directed) credit they give him is to say that Dazed is “inspired” by Jake, naughty naughty boys.

  9. Peter Viney
    Jan 7, 2014

    I’ll say straight out that I’m in the “detractors” camp because I can’t get past the early plagiarism issue though I do listen with fascination to Jimmy Page session work on 45s to pick him out. Both Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones had a massive studio background. Immediate bands, where Jimmy Page was a producer, have moaned about getting records to find Page co-write credits. Les Fleurs du Lys were excited at having their own composition, Wait For Me, on the B-side of their first single. When the single appeared they were shocked to find Wait For Me was credited to Jimmy Page who’d produced their session. They put the record on and found it wasn’t their song, but an easy 12-bar instrumental that Page had cobbled together. At least he hadn’t stolen their credits. Only their song title. He was “partial to a credit” but then again he’d spent far more time in the session world in the old days.

    Haven’t they said in their defence (truthfully too) that there was no chance of any money actually getting to an old blues artist? But Willie Dixon was a mistake because he was current, not a 1930 sharecropper, and he’d earned enough money to sue, due to The Rolling Stones and others giving honest credits on early albums.

    I think David is right on influential guitarists … particularly the ones kids wanted to imitate so bought their first guitar, where Ace is obviously important. I’d add two essential: Chuck Berry (whoever didn’t pick out a Chuck Berry intro run or solo?) and Bert Weedon, the avuncular author of “Play In A Day” which every British guitarist owned in the early 60s.

  10. David Lewis
    Jan 7, 2014

    It’s a complex tale. Plant has said that thanks to the court, everything was happily paid for.

    Willie Dixon, of course, had to sue the record company, who took the cheque.

  11. Rob Millis
    Jan 7, 2014

    Does anybody remember aright the music weeklies bitch fight between Percy Plant and Ian Anderson? A mate told me about it, remembering it started off with Anderson criticising the Led Zep “we’ve got our own aeroplane” ethos, whereas in Tull there was no such excess, with Anderson “paying himself no higher a wage or annual dividend than the owner of a building company” to which Plant responded that he wrote songs like a builder too, or similar fare.

  12. Carl Burnett
    Jan 8, 2014

    I remember that ‘spat’ Rob, between Percy and Ian Anderson, I think it was reported in NME, possibly MM. Very funny!:)

    Interesting original piece and discussions. Don’t really understand the detractors’ views though, the magic of Zeps music has always shone through. The greatness of the band is partly the ability to meld different influences and genres together to come up with their own sound. Anyway my alternative 10 is :

    Your Time is Gonna Come (Zep 1)
    Thank You (Zep 11)
    That’s The Way (Zep 111)
    Tangerine (Zep 111)
    When The Levee Breaks (Zep 1V)
    Song Remains The Same (Houses Of The Holy)
    Over The Hills and Far Away (Houses Of The Holy)
    In The Light (Physical Graffiti)
    Nobody’s Fault But Mine (Presence)
    Fool In The Rain (In Through The Out Door)

    Personal faves at the moment. Ask me next week and I might pick 10 different tracks.

  13. David Lewis
    May 16, 2014

    Further to the Stairway controversy … “The Song Remains Pretty Similar”.

  14. Sam McNally
    Dec 4, 2017

    Tremendous, David. Regarding the “plagiarism” thing, I sorta kinda “so don’t care… it’s Zeppelin!” Ha ha.

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