Presented with Comment - Best Rock and Roll Band Ever
It is time for our Sunday piece, Presented with Comment, where each week Michael and Nicholas La Torre take a turn engaging in a debate over alt topics of interest and gauging the audience's views on the issues at hand. To do this, the authors will present examples to support their opinions and not only get the audience's view on the two sides presented, but seek feedback from the audience on alternatives as well.
Finally, I gave in to his constant nagging to do this piece. The only reason I relented was the chance to talk about my all-time favorite band...Led Zeppelin. In my opinion, this group is the greatest group of four people to ever get together and create music. My initial hesitations with the topic stemmed from a few points I want to share. First, what can we say about these bands that haven't been said before. Also, when you're talking the absolute greatest of artists/bands, the degree of separation is so minute that every single point you could possibly articulate is ENTIRELY subjective. To that end, we must instead focus on aspects of the debate rather than attempting to compare factual data, which most certainly not be compared fairly. I think I may have come up with a few comparisons that might help. Michael suggested fellow UK artists The Rolling Stones as the greatest ever. Despite the difficulties in comparing the artists at a fair level, I still do not think the math adds up. Let's continue.
(Photo Credit: Hollywood Reporter)
It's not like I'm at all alone with my stance on Led Zeppelin's hold over Rock and Roll and music history as a whole. Led Zeppelin has certified record sales numbers of 111.5 million records with overall estimates in the 200-300 million realm. (Disclaimer: I'm not going to focus on the titles like "highest grossing band ever" or really focus on the commercial aspect of the band in order to define success). The record sales part is just here as a fact that represents that of all time, only four other bands have been more universally accepted as a band to enjoy. Both of these bands have achieved astronomical numbers in every single category in music history, but I don't think we should focus on commercial success to be a divisive characteristic because it's not what we care about. Also, despite doing well in all of those categories, Led Zeppelin consistently shunned the over commercialization of music, instead choosing to not use their music in mainstream media and famously refusing to have their music played in single format, which caused issues with radio play. Not to go overboard with my shade, but if we want to use commercial success to define a band's stance in musical history, I could throw KISS in the ring (which I would never do unless I was trolling) and have a pretty legitimate argument. Also, these kinds of data are unreliable. Michael quotes the Stones as being the fourth-best selling artist of all time, but when I research, I find certified statistics showing Zeppelin at #5 and the Stones tied for #13. It is too difficult to use these numbers when reporting of overall distribution is so unreliable. I have also found lists showing Zeppelin at #2 and The Rolling Stones at #6.
Origins and also The Blues
The band began in 1968 as a supergroup of sorts, cleaning up already committed Yardbirds gigs as the committed band had basically dissolved, who became one of the worlds biggest acts in the early 1970s. Their first shows together used the Yardbirds moniker while the foursome that we now know as Led Zeppelin started playing together. It is has been suggested by individuals close to Page and the band that Page chose the band name out of initial anxiety that their music may not translate from the UK to the US. Page told those close to him that he hoped the band didn't go over "like a lead balloon." In the time since, we can see how absurd his initial hesitations were. Similar to Michael's choice, the band members as individuals were heavily influenced by blues musicians and this is incredibly evident in their work. If you want to hear a great blue-driven song, check out "Since I've Been Loving You," which...fun fact, is one of my favorite songs. The heavy blues rhythm with the incredible guitar work by one of the best ever, Mr. Jimmy Page.
Their music eventually continued to evolve into areas of psychedelia and definitely heavy aspects of folk. Using these elements, they continued to evolve the sound of rock and roll and hard rock music. Their nine studio albums follow an incredible journey and evolution of the band's sound with no real slumps in terms of the quality of music. Despite the band's early demise due to the unexpected death of Drummer John Bonham. While the band has since played tribute shows featuring guest drummers, especially the late Bohnam's son, Jason. Various rumors have circulated about a reunion in years since; however, none of those have truly come to fruition. Most have ended in benefit appearances.
I'm so glad Michal chose to use these categories to compare the bands since one of the best ways to describe Led Zeppelin is as the most successful, innovative, and influential bands in the rock music history. Each of the members of Led Zeppelin have inspired the playing/singing styles of countless musicians since they first formed. Robert Plant's incredible range and initially underrated songwriting ability has made him one of the most influential frontmen of any band ever. His falsettos and shriek elements to accompany guitar solos and add new elements to the music have been imitated by many band today. One of the most recent comparison being the amazing likeness of Greta Van Fleet vocals and common Zeppelin elements in their music. While acknowledging being heavily influenced by Zeppelin, the band maintains any copycat work was the result of influence and not malicious or intentional.
Even stating Guitarist Jimmy Page was innovative is such an understatement, it's borderline offensive. Not only have Page's playing style, innovative instrumental inventions, and advancements on how we ALL record music made such an immense impact on the entire direction of music, he is one of the reasons I would say a majority of guitar players since decided to pick up the instrument to begin with. One fun innovative element Page employed was deciding to have John Paul Jones play his drums in an empty hallway to create early chorus effects that had not yet been developed synthetically. Beyond that, the man used a damn violin bow to play in some of the songs. Don't try to pass this off as a gimmick as Page created some amazing solo pieces while including that stupid bow.
(Photo credit: Billboard.com)
John Paul Jones was more of the silent member of the group, but was a multi-instrumentalist who had a large role in the overall sound for the band on stage. His primary instrument, the bass, gained him silent notoriety for his attention to technical detail and intricate playing abilities. JPJ did so much more than work with Bonham to hold the foundation of the sound. He was an innovator who was heavily involved in the writing.
John Bonham was an absolute beast at drums. He used different elements of his own personal style that many have imitated to this day, including abandoning his sticks for his hands, often beating his hands to a pulp. He also commanded his drum kit using unorthodox methods to create the heavy drum elements the band is famous for. Bonham is one of those guys who could play only a snare drum for 45 minutes and still make it sound like a team of drummers.
Another one of those areas where this comparison will be difficult. I hope you all didn't get me twisted. I am a huge fan of the Rolling Stones, especially Keith Richards. You can say whatever you want about Richards as a person, but throwing any shade at King Richards in terms of his playing ability would be sacrilege. Michael suggested the Stones are underrated in the area of talent. Honestly, I don't think that is accurate. I think most people who have ever heard more than just the band itself are aware of how talented the Stones are (I'm not saying were because they can still do it and they are each like 700 years old...mad respect). I think he's attempting to inflate this to suggest The Rolling Stones as the underdog, which is doing a disservice to them in the first place. If you think it was hard to get this debate going, imagine us trying to compare Jimmy Page versus Keith Richards. First of all, other than they both play guitars (not even going to specifically say 6-string for short), they couldn't be more different in terms of comparing their styles. The best you could do is acknowledge that they both are heavily influenced and influential in the Blues genre. Their equipment choices, physical abilities, tuning choices are completely different. If I had a gun to my head and had to pick, I'm going to pick Jimmy Page in terms of raw talent. I simply think he was more of an MVP for Zeppelin that I consider Richards to have been (but not by much). Richards can shred a guitar to pieces, even today, but Page took guitar soloing to an entirely new level in music. Page's soloing during the band's most famous track, "Stairway to Heaven," is oft-voted as "the greatest guitar solo of all time."In fact, he had to use the crazy ass guitar pictured above just to bring all of the element he wanted together in that song. That's doing the most.
If looking at Mick Jagger versus Robert Plant, they are also both incredible in very different ways. They are charismatic frontmen who can easily woo an artist. Jagger owns fans in sheer charisma while Plant carries a level of mystique that I believe begs the curiosity of fans. Jagger tends to out stage Plant when considering overall stage presence, I would say, due to Jagger's famous moves that he has perfected over a lifetime of performing. But when comparing the two at the mic, I do not think you can even put Jagger in the same room and Plant. He is an excellent entertainer and performer, but Robert Plant's vocal abilities will remain, at least for now, among the most revered voices ever to grace a stage.
If you want to find two members to pit against each other for separation, pick the two at drums. Charlie Watts has enjoyed many great accolades including being elected to Vanity Fair's International Best Dressed Hall of Fame. But I guess I never really felt the drums for the Stones were all that special. I almost feel like Watts is closer to Ringo Starr than to Bonham, which is not as great of a compliment as it sounds. While using the constant warning of how difficult a comparison it is, I choose to focus on how prominent folks in the business think. While the company has its haters, Rolling Stone Magazine is still a very reputable and successful source in music and in 2012, the magazine published a list of the 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time. Watts held a strong #12 spot as the incredibly successful drummer for one of the worlds biggest bands, but guess who took #1. To be clear, this is not one of those cases where you can make arguments that his untimely death boosted his fame beyond his talent like some people claim at others (here's looking at you Kurt. For the record, I disagree about that ascertain of your work as well). He was truly a once-in-a-lifetime talent that changed how future drummers will react after they pick up their first set of sticks.
Even if you somehow stumbled onto this article having never heard of Led Zeppelin (damn impossible if you ask me), you have heard their songs. Many of Led Zeppelin's works are considered to be almost akin to biblical for fans of music, especially the untitled fourth album, lovingly known as Led Zeppelin IV. Some of the most beloved hits of the band have had a significant impact on music history. "Stairway to Heaven," is widely considered the greatest song (not just rock and roll) of all time. For those who think they don't know Zep, merely listen to the first two seconds of the intros for "Kashmir" and "Immigrant Song" and then feel free to have the ah-ha moment. "When the Levee Breaks" features the heavy drum chorus elements previously stated in this article that changed music recording at the time. These are only a few of the 92 songs Led Zeppelin released throughout their careers. If you look at the full list, you'll see truly how many amazing songs they've had. Despite being a longtime fan, I even forget some of the incredible songs they have until I see their full body of work.
Michael chose "Timelessness" as a descriptor for the Stones to showcase the impact they have had on music. I prefer the word, "legacy." While I see he meant his descriptor more literally than I am giving it credit for, Led Zeppelin did not necessarily get the same fair shake at that category. While some of the band members, especially plant, have still been very active in the music industry, the band essentially ended when Bohnahm died. But as any "The Sandlot" fans know, "heroes get remembered, but legends never die." Any fan of music can attest to the legacy surrounding one of the world's greatest bands in Led Zeppelin. I would say the extent of the reach of this legacy will never be fully known or recorded. What I know is that many people who gather together to create music were influenced by this band and will continue to bring their elements into future generations. While those on social media choose to roast the younger generations for owning shirts by band such as Nirvana or Led Zeppelin, I applaud them. The shear influence of the band will continue to further their legacy long beyond the lives of the individual members themselves. Even youngsters listening to their favorite bands are being reached due to the influence the band had on their favorite singers today.
So Michael put the ball in my court. I hope he wished he hadn't. The Rolling Stones are one of the greatest bands of all time, that much is sure. But that's not the question here. We are talking about THE greatest rock and roll band of all time and I just do not think the Stones get it done. While I can appreciate their widespread appeal and universal acceptance as innovators, I still think some of their notoriety comes from being early innovators, which to me, does not necessarily add value in this circumstance as we are not talking about one band who was the main influence of the other. In fact, I believe there was a bit of tension between the groups, but not quite rivalry material. Richards has been quoted as saying he hated Plant's singing style. If anything, this only serves to prove that you can have amazing abilities and still have terrible taste, just like my brother (harmless sibling ribbing).