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Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin CD (album) cover


Led Zeppelin


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4.03 | 872 ratings

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5 stars Wow. I may have my share of reservations on the band decades after their existence, but had I been in my early teens when this came out way back in 1969, I might have been sucked into lifelong fandom too. Plant never, ever sounded better than he did on this album, the production (especially regarding the guitar sound) is amazingly clear and powerful, the rhythm section is loud and bombastic without becoming overpowering ... in short, this is the album where Led Zeppelin actually sounds as great as they supposedly do through the majority of their career.

All of these positives are so overwhelming, in fact, that they can cause one to almost forget that the actual amount of songwriting is pretty low. Out of the nine tracks here, only three of them can be considered "true" Led Zeppelin originals, and it's little coincidence that none of them are among the biggest standouts of the album. "Good Times Bad Times," instrumental breaks aside, is a fun, but relatively throwaway pop song that just happens to have a better guitar tone and better singing than it would have from most bands. Of course, that's not to say that the song as a whole is a throwaway; the first "Hi, I'm Jimmy Page, I'm here to blow your minds away" psychedelia-meets-heavy-blues guitar solo of the song, and to a lesser extent the rest of the soloing under Plant's closing rambling does more than enough to justify its existence. "Communication Breakdown" also isn't exactly what I'd call songwriting genius, but I certainly don't mind this one either, if only because (a) it provides a chance for awesome super-speedy Page playing and (b) nobody in the band seems to be taking it very seriously, so the fun factor is way up there. The third one, though, is noticably weaker than the album's other tracks. "Your Time is Gonna Come" is a pleasant enough shuffle, but the melody isn't very impressive, and man does it seem like Plant's trying a bit too hard and like Bonham needs to stop beating his drums so hard if this is going to have any chance to work. That said, it's nice to have a softer touch to the album after the power of what comes immediately before it, so it's not like I ever skip it or anything.

The other six songs are all, um, "borrowed" from other sources, but I actually don't mind that, if only because these songs give the band the chance to amply show off its other strengths; arrangements, mood and solid production. "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" is an adaptation of a folk song by one Anne Bredon, and while the melody might not be Zep's, they proudly make it their own in every other way. In much of the group's later work, the singing approach Plant takes in this one would be overdone something fierce, but in this case, the way sadness and despair seeps out of Plant's being with every note, while underneath him Page alternates "soft" driving acoustic passages (meaning there's only one Page playing) with "hard" driving acoustic passages (meaning there's five Pages playing, with Bonham bashing along), is really something to behold. As fond as I am of several of the acoustic numbers on, say, III, I have to say that the band never really topped this, its first try at such a number.

Up next, the cover of "You Shook Me" (by Willie Dixon) is an utterly fantastic blues number, with a power and a raunchiness that was absolutely unheard of in 1968. Page is soloing all over the place, Plant is wailing up a storm (even better, they showed that they had an intuitive sense of how to play off each other and to do the whole point-counterpoint thing in their interactions), Bonzo is pounding the daylights out of his drum kit (and it actually sounds appropriate for him to be doing so), and JPJ is contributing some mighty fine organ playing. The only thing else to say about it is that once upon a time, in my wee immature days, I would skip this track when listening to the album; no more. It's probably the best song on the whole thing.

Oh wait, no it's not. Help me, but I love this original Zep version of "Dazed and Confused." I mean, Plant's voice only got worse from here, and the Song Remains the Same version is pushed towards intolerabilty because of his obnoxious singing (though the BBC versions are really nice). But here, it's just a powerful scream, and one of the main assets. And then comes the midsection, that first has Page scraping his violin bow across his guitar strings. Now, on live versions, this can sometimes be a bit bothersome (though not always), but here, it just sounds weird and cool and creepy and moody. And then he explodes into that demon speed solo. Wow. It's yet another example of a Page solo not being a cosmetic addition, but actually an element that takes the song to a whole other level. And on top of it all, it's an extremely trailblazing track too; name me a track, any track, that rocked this hard and was this heavy before this song (ESPECIALLY in the part that comes right at the end of the middle soloing section before going back into the main bass/guitar line). You can't, can you? I didn't think so.

Past the next three tracks ("Your Time is Gonna Come" and "Communication Breakdown," with a nice instrumental cover of a traditional folk tune called "Black Mountain Side" in between), we come to the last two tracks of the album, bringing us back into the realm of hardcore blues. "I Can't Quit You Baby" is the second Willie Dixon cover of the album, and while I enjoy it enough, it definitely falls short of the glory of "You Shook Me." I mean, it has more great singing, and Page sounds fine enough, but it's much more of a "pure" blues cover than was "You Shook Me," and as such it lacks somewhat in structure and wanks around in the kind of way that could cause many a blues hater to want to skip this. "How Many More Times," on the other hand, may steal from not one but two old blues songs (the first half is a Howlin' Wolf song of the same name, the second half is "The Hunter" by Albert King), but there are so many great production effects and so much great playing that I can forgive it. The first half rocks like mad (and has a neat little bolero section from Bonham, who exercises restraint in this song surprisingly well), but what I love most comes in the second half, after another great bowed-guitar passage (with chaotic "Eastern" drumming in the background to great effect) with Plant rambling on about now having eleven children. I swear, aside from the aforementioned stretch in "Dazed and Confused," I can't think of anywhere in Zeppelin's catalogue where they entered a groove quite this tight and hard- rocking as in their cover of "The Hunter" on this track (before going back into the "main" part of the song). Man, no wonder this track was their closer in their early days of touring (I have a bootleg where this track goes for 20 minutes, and it's completely awesome).

In short, this album is amazing, and as far as I'm concerned it's the best Led Zeppelin album ever. Furthermore, I'd also say that if you don't own it (or like it, for that matter), you don't really understand the group. The weaknesses are minimal, and the strengths are emphasized to an almost absurdly fantastic degree; what more do you need?

tarkus1980 | 5/5 |


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