Tag Archives: Led Zeppelin

30 Bands

Today, I hit 30, and in honor of my birthday, I’ve been working on my favorite 30 bands list for almost a year. My blog is actually inspired by music I grew up listening to. I have shuffle countless times ranking of bands back and forth.  It was really tough to leave few bands out. My basis of ranking is upon influence and discography.

Here it goes…

1. Led Zeppelin
2. The Beatles
3. Nirvana
4. The Doors
5. Pink Floyd
6. Queen
7. Radiohead
8. The Rolling Stones
9. Black Sabbath
10. The White Stripes
11. Pixies
12. AC/DC
13. Soundgarden
14. Rush
15. Jane’s Addiction
16. Faith No More
17. Arcade Fire
18. The Smiths
19. Rage Against the Machine
20. Alice in Chains
21. R.E.M
22. Aerosmith
23. Guns N’ Roses
24. Queens of the Stone Age
25. Muse
26. Foo Fighters
27. The Black Keys
28. Red Hot chili Peppers
29. INXS
30. Green Day


Presence

Having a vocalist who had just suffered a car accident and was in the studio with his leg in plaster can’t have helped matters. Spending a year out of the UK for tax reasons can’t really have helped matters either – away from family and friends, getting on each other nerves? As it is, ‘Presence’ was recorded in a mere matter of weeks and sailed to number one on both sides of the atlantic based on the groups massive popularity alone. Presenting music fans with a mere seven songs after the double-album ‘Physical Graffiti’ seems a little measly, though. There’s no two ways about it, ‘Presence’ isn’t an album with any great structural cohesion behind it. Still, we do have at least one bona-fide all time Zeppelin classic here, the storming electrifying ten and a half minute long ‘Achilles Last Stand’. Strong rhythm section work and a wired, anxious sounding Jimmy Page. In fact, the work Jimmy Page does on ‘Achilles Last Stand’ combined with the usual immense Zep rhythm section – gives off the feeling that Led Zeppelin, under better circumstances, could have used this song as a starting point to create an entire album around of similar quality. As it is, ‘Achilles Last Stand’ almost is the entire album. This 10-minute track alone is worth the price of admission, led by its galloping grooves, a particularly haunting Plant vocal (who sounds less rough voiced here than elsewhere), and several show stopping give and take segments between Page and Bonham. During these thrilling exchanges, Bonham’s titanic drum fills interlock with Page’s wailing guitar parts, seizing several moments of tension that build to the bursting point. Alas, for reasons largely beyond their control (i.e. “the curse of Led Zeppelin”), the awe-inspiring “Achilles Last Stand” was to be Zep’s last truly monumental track.

Elsewhere, we have a riff in search of a song with ‘For Your Life’, the admittedly entertaining likes of ‘Royal Orleans’ and ‘Candy Store Rock’. These are decent supporting songs, but the suspicion remains, there simply isn’t any great point or purpose to this ‘Presence’ album. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is an excellent, hard rocking song on which the band (especially Bonham, who is in first-rate form throughout the album) is firing on all cylinders, while Plant gives a compelling, stuttered vocal performance and is even a standout on harmonica (as on previous songs such as “Bring It On Home,” “When The Levee Breaks,” and “In My Time Of Dying”). Unfortunately, since Blind Willie Johnson had recorded the song in the ’20s (though as per usual Zep’s significantly different), once again Zep were accused of plagiarism, which could’ve been avoided had they simply afforded Johnson a deserved co-writing credit.

Jimmy Page is consistently impressive, the rhythm section are solid as you would expect. ‘Hots On For Nowhere’ sounds like a band sleep-walking. ‘Tea For One’ doesn’t seem tight and running to nine minutes is rather over-long for the amount of musical and lyrical ideas it contains. One of the better pieces arrives with ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ – a song rising to a heavy section of loud drums and squealing guitar. Considering ‘Presence’ with the mighty ‘Achilles Last Stand’ combined with the likes of ‘Nobodys Fault But Mine’ or ‘Candy Store Rock’, it still remains a minor Zeppelin work, simply because there is so little else here that’s particularly impressive or memorable.


Physical Graffiti

Led Zeppelin had eight new songs or so – enough for a cool album, but too many minutes in running time to fit on a single vinyl album. They didn’t want to lose any of the songs they had, so took another solution. The initial idea was to include live material alongside the already recorded studio tracks. In the end Jimmy Page dug into the Zeppelin archives and took out songs left off the second, third, forth and fifth Leppelin albums – and put those on ‘Physical Graffiti’ as well. The result of this action is the feeling that ‘Physical Graffiti’ does absolutely everything, shows absolutely everything – that Led Zeppelin ever were. By the way, the album title comes partly from the effort the group took in piecing this album together.

By now Zeppelin were larger than life, being the biggest band in the world with their own record label (Swan Song) to boot. The band reveled in rock n’ roll excess to a dangerous degree, led by Bonzo’s gonzo antics and goaded along by their brilliant but bully-ish manager, the oversized Peter Grant. But even though a dark cloud always seemed to hover over the band (Jones came seriously close to leaving in ’73), they always got it together when it came down to producing the musical goods. Befitting the band’s big stature, Physical Graffiti was their most ambitious outing.

A double album (now a single cd) covering a vast amount of musical territory, Physical Graffiti contained an almost equal measure of new songs along with excellent songs left over from previous sessions. This was their White Album, their Electric Ladyland, so to speak, and as such no other Led Zeppelin album ranges as far or better showcases the depth of their talents. Only Led Zeppelin IV (or whatever you want to call it) can seriously rival Physical Graffiti for the title of “best Led Zeppelin album,” as the album features incredibly tight playing and offers up far more spontaneous, flat-out heavier music than Houses Of The Holy.

Featuring some of Zep’s best, most far out and expansive epics (“In My Time Of Dying,” “Kashmir,” “In The Light,” “Ten Years Gone”), this album offers something for everyone, really, the only minor negatives being that perhaps it is a couple of tracks too long (I could easily live without “Night Flight” and “Black Country Woman”) and there are times when Plant’s voice sounds ragged and weathered as a result of a throat operation. The band immediately delivered the goods on the muscular “Custard Pie,” a funky stomper with sledghammer riffs that borrows lyrics from Bukka White’s “Shake ‘Em On Down” far more effectively than “Hats Off To Roy Harper,” that’s for sure. “The Rover,” a churning, melodic riff rocker, is one of the band’s most underrated great songs, with great high-pitched vocals from Plant (a dead giveaway that this song preceded his throat operation), who also helps out on harmonica, and a classy guitar solo from Page. The band’s bruising, bluesy take on the traditional “In My Time Of Dying” (which had previously appeared on Bob Dylan’s first album) is an often-spectacular if perhaps slightly over-long 11-minute showcase for the band’s great group interplay and chemistry, as each member is in top form both collectively and individually. It’s cute how they left in Bonzo’s “that’s got to be the one, hasn’t it?” observation at the end of the song, too, and he must’ve known because this song is on the short list of his very best performances.

Continuing, “Houses Of The Holy” is a swinging, upbeat rocker that’s fittingly of a piece with the band’s previous album, whose recording sessions this song unsurprisingly orginated from. “Trampled Under Foot,” an explosively funky workout (led by Bonham) on which Plant’s vocals are noticeably ragged, is another undeniable classic, and is the most notable of several songs on which Jones plays an electric clavinet (that being a big instrument at the time courtesy of Stevie Wonder). Page’s wah wah guitar outbursts don’t hurt either, nor does Plant’s horny sex and cars lyrics; what’s not to like? Still, even this powerhouse song, which crushes “The Crunge” in its attempt at funk, pales in comparison to the towering Eastern epic, “Kashmir.” Led by Jones’ brilliantly brooding orchestration, this atmospheric track slowly builds beautifully and majestically to an almost overwhelmingly powerful climax (on which Plant shines and Bonham is awe-inspiring), and no less an authority than Plant felt that the song captured the essence of everything that Led Zeppelin was all about. And that’s just the first cd!

What used to be side 3 may very well be the albums best. “In The Light” is another criminally underrated Eastern epic, led by Jones’ eerie keyboard drones and its soaring “in the light” guitar/vocal climax. This track leads into the pretty acoustic instrumental “Bron-Yr-Aur” (which unsurprisingly originated from Led Zeppelin III), which segues perfectly into the beautifully relaxed melody, shimmering psychedelicized guitar textures, and catchy chorus of the poppy “Down By The Seaside.” The monumental “Ten Years Gone” then takes over with another incredibly powerful Eastern-tinged epic that majestically showcases the band’s light-to-shade dynamics, led by Page, whose multi-tracked guitar is all over the place, and Plant, who delivers a wonderfully weary, deeply affecting vocal. On to side four, the funky power riffing of the sexually charged “The Wanton Song,” the relaxed ’50-styled piano rocker “Boogie With Stu” (featuring The Rolling Stones crony/sideman Ian Stewart and a melody based on Richie Valens’ “Ooh! My Head”), and the pummeling, bluesy groupie “tribute” “Sick Again” are other highlights, though none scale as high as the previous major efforts and again I could live without a couple of tracks here.

Still, throughout Physical Graffiti, even when the band missteps on rare occasions they generally do so with giant strides, causing Plant to proudly proclaim to Mojo magazine: “if I’m going to blow my trumpet about anything I’ve been connected with, then it would have to be that album.”


In Your Honor

With his band getting increasingly formulaic, culminating with the quite adequate but somewhat disappointing One By One, Dave Grohl needed a break. Enter Probot, Grohl’s heavy metal side project whereupon he co-wrote and performed songs with metal icons like Lemmy, Max Cavalera, and King Diamond. With the self-titled Probot album out of his system, Grohl and his main band reconvened for In Your Honour, easily their most ambitious album to date, and arguably their best since The Colour And The Shape.

The album is chock full of loud, anthemic rockers and contains a bevy of well-crafted soft rock compositions (a la “Walking After You”), the album’s sequencing and conception are seriously flawless. This is a 2-cd set, with the first cd containing 10 loud songs and the second showcasing 10 more slices of Grohl’s softer side. But all songs seem to blend into one another with several high profile cameo appearances from the likes of Norah Jones, Led Zepplin’s John Paul Jones, Kyuss/Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme, and The Wallflowers’ keyboardist Rami Jaffee. Fortunately, like I said before, almost all of these songs are good so the album is largely enjoyable anyway, even if I can’t help but think that a shorter set list that intermingled loud and soft songs was the way to go. That said, rather than focus on the albums flaws, let’s talk about its considerable strengths, shall we?

On disc 1, all the classic Foo Fighters elements are in place: Grohl and and Chris Shiflett’s guitars are crisp and loud, Hawkins and Mendel ably add heft to the bottom end, and Grohl’s alternately smooth and screaming rough vocals inevitably lead into the payoff: catchy chorus after catchy chorus. Although I marked down “In Your Honour,” No Way Back,” “Best Of You,” “DOA,” and “The Last Song” as highlights, almost every song here is a potential hit or highlight, even if the band lacks distinctive characteristics and the chance taking acumen to be truly exciting anymore. No, this disc is merely clean, highly professional arena rock (remember, Grohl has never worried about silly things like “indie credibility”) that doesn’t offer anything different but which rocks harder and with more consistent quality than any Foo Fighters album since the first two. As for the mellower second disc, it’s impressive and can never get boring. It’s largely due to the sequencing, as the songs are of a surprisingly high quality given that the band is usually much better at rocking out than on ballads. Personally, I prefer songs such as “Miracle,” “Over and Out,” and “On The Mend,” which are a little more instrumentally fleshed out, but there’s nary a truly duff track, and fans of Cobain (who “Friend Of A Friend” is about), Norah Jones (who sings the bossa nova flavored “Virginia Moon” with Grohl), and Taylor Hawkins (the band’s popular resident party animal who sings the livelier “Cold Day In The Sun”) should take particular note of those tracks.

Some albums add up to more than the sum of their individual parts, some add up to less (which is why track-by-track album reviews don’t really work), and In Your Honor is the latter case, strong though many of its individual songs are.


Queens of the Stone Age

Remember Kyuss guys? I know little about them at the time of writing and not a huge amount about Queens Of The Stone Age compared to certain other bands I could be reviewing. I’ve never really paid them much attention and from listening to this debut set, I think I know why. Oh, they have their plus points, ‘No One Knows’ being just one of them. Plus points like? Well, without mentioning individual tunes for a little bit here, they sound great. They sound genuinely impressive, especially turned up loud. Question one, strip away the layers of magnificent fuzz and what are we left with? Second good point, they can play. Josh Homme does a few neat little guitar solos, although I always yearn for them to be longer. The band as whole have a great fuzzy thing going on and clearly are good enough players for us to assume they have ‘chops’. Although they do it in such a way they don’t go overboard. For all the 70s rock influences carefully hidden underneath, they aren’t about to blow it by releasing an album long composition for piano and orchestra. I find myself losing interest during the 2nd half of the album, not because it’s a huge amount worse than the 1st half, rather the lack of variety. For all that impresses, I have a nagging suspicion the songs came very easily to Josh Homme and co, too easily. A natural evolution from Kyuss and post Kyuss activities perhaps, but I’ve heard better rock debuts.

I’ll mention a few individual tunes now, ‘Regular John’ is awesome, a stupendous driving riff powers a tune that’s also got just enough vocals to please. Josh Homme isn’t a shouter, his voice sort of just sits in the middle of the overall sound, which is always how a good vocalist in a band should be. ‘Walkin On The Sidewalks’ contains a very dirty sounding guitar riff and sounds so good turned up loud it almost blows away my theory that hard rock albums should also sound reasonably decent listened to quietly. The slightly strange closing tune ‘I Was A Teenage Hand Model’ makes me yearn that Queens Of The Stone Age had thrown in a semi-acoustic ballad, or just something different, somewhere earlier in the albums tracklisting. ‘I Was A Teenage Hand Model’ is very throwaway yet works as one of the few different things here. Oh, the very beginning of ‘Hispanic Impressions’ always makes me think that a Deep Purple song is about to begin. Does anybody else get that? The six minute long ‘You Can’t Quit Me Baby’ is a nod to Led Zeppelin and also something a little more interesting in terms of song-arrangement. A solid debut album overall, rather than an astonishing one, although there is enough within the highlights to suggest that Queens Of The Stone Age can be very good indeed when everything falls in the correct places. Indeed, ‘Regular John’ is so good I could almost claim it’s one of the greatest hard-rock songs ever.


Dave Grohl is God

I love this MAN..and I’m not ashamed to say it.

Dave dedicated his award to Kurt Cobain and gave a shout to the Pixies! A living LEGEND!


Houses of the Holy

Okay, so we’re past the famous first fab four albums now, aren’t we? Anyway, listening and listening to ‘Houses Of The Holy’ has made me wonder just what Led Zeppelin actually DID in the interim between ‘Led Zep IV’ and this? Did they drink and party a lot? I gather they’d reached the pinnacle, or at least, felt as if they had. Nothing left to prove to themselves or anybody else, either. At least, nobody else they thought mattered. So, off we go into the land of funk, into the land of the Caribbean, or some other such place. One song features vocal harmonies, another sounds very much like a string drenched ballad. Very few two songs sound the same, in fact. There is little of the trademark Led Zep sound here at all, and not only that, but Robert Plant indulges himself a little. Does a few pieces of vocal acting, not least all the way ‘The Crunge’. Ah, whilst I’ve mentioned it, let’s talk about that ‘The Crunge’. ‘The Crunge’? Okay, I don’t know what that means. And, please. Don’t mail me telling me what it means, either. I’m not sure I particular care what it means I just get off on the fact that this is obviously a piece of Led Zeppelin humor, a slight James Brown tribute or piss-take, whichever way you prefer to look at it. Some of the lyrical and vocal sections are truly daft and they do raise a smile. Well, Led Zeppelin trying to be funny doesn’t quite come off, but the music is just so damn hot and so damn funky – so very tight…. who cares? ‘The Crunge’ is a fine thing, quite unlike anything Led Zeppelin had done before, and that’s the key idea to quite a bit of the songs contained on this album. It’s Led Zeppelin trying to show everybody they could do anything, anything they wanted.

Of the more recognizable Led Zeppelin styled songs, we’ve got ‘The Song Remains The Same’, ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’, ‘No Quarter’ and the closing ‘The Ocean’. Starting with the last-named, first – ‘The Ocean’ relies on a strong rhythm section groove over and above any guitar prowess or roaring vocals, although both of those are present too, of course. It’s a riff thing, a song with a riff that carries everything else, a groove that carries everything else. It’s a fine thing. ‘No Quarter’ is seven minutes long. I’ve listened to it maybe twelve times just today. I was feeling rather low, couldn’t even be bothered to change the CD, had it on repeat play. Which does indeed also tell you i’ve listened to ‘Houses Of The Holy’ around twelve times today. I feel as if I live in those houses, you know? I feel as if I was one of the naked children featured crawling over stones on the album artwork. I was there, man….. How many times can I listen to this album in five hours anyway? Would it be twelve, or so? And please, I don’t want your answers on a postcard, not even to any address you care to think of, either. Still, where was I? Oh, yes? ‘No Quarter’! Well, it’s pretty much perfect, goes off into this lovely jazzy instrumental break that also sounds pure Rock N Roll. ‘No Quarter’ doesn’t scream and shout and run and come up to you with its tongue out, waggling provocatively – like some of the early Zep classics. No, it’s just a classic. ‘The Song Remains The Same’ and ‘Over The Hills’ both have lots of short, funky riffs and both are taken at a fast tempo. Robert Plant’s vocal on the latter is one of his very finest, for my money.

Of the remaining material, John Paul Jones contributes. Not just his usual bass, but also Mellotron, Synthesiser, Organ, Piano, etc, etc. In fact, the second song ‘The Rain Song’ which I described as sounding like a string drenched ballad? Well, that’s just him on the Mellotron, playing lines for a string section. He knows his stuff. It’s a lovely song, a genuinely affecting ballad, again, quite unlike anything Led Zep had done before. ‘Dancing Days’ is another funky, short guitar riff thing, I guess. It doesn’t particular stand out here, but it’s no worse than anything else if taken in isolation, if that makes any sense at all. ‘D’yer Maker’ is the one that contains the Caribbean reggae riffs. Robert Plant gets into the spirit of things, it shares a spirit of ‘daftness’ with ‘The Crunge’, but again, the together and damn near perfect playing, holds this and impresses you. Well, it should do. Why? Because I say so. The most diverse album Led Zeppelin ever made, most likely – whilst still retaining great performing and writing abilities, at any rate. It’s close to being a classic album, but the humor factor of the likes of ‘D’yer Maker’ in particular may begin to like after repeated listening. And, I’m really not just saying that because I listened to the album for nearly five hours straight today, honest I’m not. And, if that makes any sense to you, good luck.