Led Zeppelin - “Led Zeppelin”, 1969, Atlantic Records
Good Times Bad Times
Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
You Shook Me
Dazed and Confused
Your Time is Gonna Come
Black Mountain Side
I Can’t Quit You Baby
How Many More Times
Formed just a year before this album’s release, Led Zeppelin were guitarist Jimmy Page, vocalist Robert Plant, John Paul Jones on bass and keyboards and John Bonham on drums. They were phenomenally successful. Every one of their albums hit the top ten in the USA (In the UK eight of them went to Number 1) and in the later stages of their career they were famous for their record breaking concert tours. They were the first heavy metal band although their influences were folk and blues music. If you have ever wondered where the rock star archetype of smashing up hotel rooms comes from, look no further than Led Zeppelin whose reputation for touring excess began even before the release of their first album. In later years they would destroy, not just hotel rooms but entire hotels and be banned for life from hotel chains.
Despite this reputation the band were incredibly hard-working, during their first year they released two albums and toured both the US and UK four times each. Their long lasting success and especially the success of this album is extra impressive since Led Zeppelin did not like to release singles and indeed only ever released one in the UK.
Recorded at the end of 1968 at Olympic Studios in London, “Led Zeppelin” also often referred to as “Led Zeppelin 1” since the band had a habit of releasing unnamed albums, is a mix of covers and rearranged blues and folk songs as well as original tracks. They were yet to secure a record deal, so the album was self funded, but because they had already taken the songs on the road it could be recorded quickly despite Led Zeppelin having only actually been together for two months.
The album cover, which is a photo of the Hindenburg airship on fire taken in 1937 is a play on the band’s name which came from a joke Keith Moon of “The Who” had made about the band being as successful as a lead balloon.
The album starts exactly how I imagined it would, “Good Times Bad Times” rocks you straight out of the blocks, but the direction changes immediately with the second song; “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” is brooding, dark and slow. Willie Dixon blues cover “You Shook Me” surprised me, the tone of Robert Plant’s voice on it is beautiful. “Dazed and Confused” is the highlight of the album for me. The awesome drumming weaved in with the guitar makes it easy to understand why this is seen as a classic and why it was so popular live. “Black Mountain Side” reminds you that Led Zeppelin were not actually planning to start a heavy metal revolution - I was expecting much more hard rock on this album, but a mix of folk and twelve-bar blues is not unwelcome. In any case, “Communication Breakdown” is what I came for and it has been argued that this is the first ever heavy metal song.
The album was not well received by reviewers initially, Rolling Stone Magazine was particularly scathing, but it was a commercial success reaching number 6 in the UK album chart and has since been embraced by critics as being an album of great importance to British music. I really enjoyed it, although it was absolutely not what I thought it was going to be. Knowing Led Zeppelin’s influence on heavy metal I thought it was going to be hard rock all the way. I was wrong but I wasn’t disappointed, I felt like the mix of styles and influences actually made a really coherent whole and for me it felt like a nice way to bring this decade of my journey through British music to a close.
Led Zeppelin’s influence on music has been extremely wide ranging, from the obvious; Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Aerosmith to the Ramones, Joy Division, Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana to Madonna and Lady Gaga and even Shakira. Stadium rock and the way large rock concerts and concert tours are managed today owes a huge debt to Led Zeppelin. Fashion is another important area of influence because as well as big hair, Led Zeppelin pioneered the quintessential rock star look that any alternative band worth their salt is still likely to be photographed in today. It seems that, for music lovers at least, there is a little bit of Zepp in all of us.