Although the age of “when giants walked the earth” is over, a retrospective look at possibly the greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll band ever serves as a reminder…
Led Zeppelin represent most if not all of what Rock ‘n’ Roll stand for: charismatic stage presence, distinctive characters, talented musicians, an enigmatic and sexual aura, and of course the music to put it all into drive.
Although a large sum of Zeppelin’s music is acoustic and folk orientated, they have essentially remained as a prototype for later genres such as Metal, Progressive rock and Hard rock. Guitarist Jimmy Page is often identified as the man who wrote the greatest guitar solo of all time on “Stairway to Heaven”; which is also recognised as one of the greatest Rock songs of all time.
Front man Robert Plant, known for his macho-centred, tight jeans, bare chested stage presence is the man responsible for Zeppelin’s atmospheric vocal melodies and the powerful tone which accompanied his look later referred to as “Rock God”. The fact that one of the first things a Zeppelin audience noticed about the front man was the bulge in his jeans helped create the future conception of Hard rock and Metal as mainly male-dominated genres.
Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten that Zeppelin’s music attracted large followings of fans from both sexes due to their diverse musical style. They also represented the cultural surroundings of their era as Jim Miller, editor of Rolling Stone argues “On one level, Led Zeppelin represents the final flowering of the sixties’ psychedelic ethic, which casts rock as passive sensory involvement.”
Many later musicians have drawn endless inspiration from Zeppelin’s musical style and ability. Not only in terms of Jimmy Page’s outstanding, masterly guitar playing which influenced generations of countless guitarists…but also from drummer John Bonham who laid the foundation of future Hard Rock and Metal drumming with his accurate, aggressive, fast style of drumming and complex time signatures.
Zeppelin’s mysterious aspects gained them more commercial fame and recognition through their use of mystic rune symbols each band member was represented by on their fourth album. It also gave each member an illustrative l identity and helped create the band’s phenomenon.
Not to mention the stereotypical lifestyle which the band members each led through years of drug and alcohol abuse which eventually took John Bonham’s life goes hand in hand to create ‘the absolute Rock ‘n’ Roll band’.
In The Beginning
It’s 1969. Led Zeppelin have released their debut album simply entitled “Led Zeppelin”. The album upon its release achieved mainly negative reviews from critics on both sides of the Atlantic. It did however, grant the band commercial success and an already large, international following. Its contents are a perfect blend of blues-driven Rock which lent the band its heavy sound.
Outstanding songs such as “Communication Breakdown” are a perfect example of how Plant’s screaming vocal’s along with Page’s racy, almost Chuck Berry style, Rock ‘n’ Roll guitar playing gave the band its early sound which was eventually developed upon into more riff-based songs.
However, the acoustic interest and skill of Page on the album and the band’s following material is what drive Zeppelin’s sound to a more folk-based persuasion. It also highlights Page’s technical ability and diverse playing style; such as on the “Led Zeppelin IV” album, where the atmospheric song “The Battle of Evermore” sees Page’s use of a mandolin.
It is with the band’s release of their second album: “Led Zeppelin II”, (also released in ’69) that the sound evolves into a heavier, more Metal-based direction with riff-centred Rock ‘n’ Roll on songs such as “Whole Lotta Love”, “Moby Dick” and “Heartbreaker”. It is also with the mentioned instrumental track “Moby Dick” which John Bonham’s drumming abilities become prevalent with the renowned lengthy drum solo during the mid-section of the song.
“Led Zeppelin III” is what sees the milestone of the band’s sound in terms of acoustic, folk-rock. This came as a surprise to many fans and added a wider audience and following to Zeppelin’s music. On the other hand, the opening track “Immigrant Song” is what creates the foundation for future Metal bands both in terms of sound and lyrics.
Lyrics And Meaning
As mentioned above, the lyrics of “Immigrant Song” had a significant impact on the direction of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Plant’s descriptive use of ancient Norse and Viking invasions, war and mythology backed up by the beginnings of what was a galloping guitar- and the distinctive opening screams in the song all contribute to the fundamentals of the Metal genre. It’s bold, dangerous and hair-rising.
The cryptic lyrics to “Stairway To Heaven” led the band to be further admired and noticed by their audience. What resulted from a long-haired Hippie sat in front of a fire with a pen and paper and an obsession for mysticism came to be one of the greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll songs of all time. The lyrics have been left open for interpretation by the listener; but what can be drawn from them is Page’s apparent interest in mythology, spirituality and mystic conceptions of the world.
Many of Plant’s lyrics make direct reference to (as already mentioned) Norse and Scandinavian mythology and the occult. A strong interest for writer J.R.R Tolkien is also present within a number of songs such as “The Battle of Evermore”, “Misty Mountain Top” and “No Quarter”. However, the predominant sexual image of Plant on stage led to more traditional Rock lyrics relating to promiscuity, sex, drugs and love also being used.
The Greatest Band In The World
Part of what makes Zeppelin or any decent Rock ‘n’ Roll band great is the essential reality that its dumb. Its dumb to the extent that it becomes great. They are pioneers of music because they can make gibberish, non-sensible lyrics comprehensible to each individual who hears them; they can pass off pretension through skill and musical innovation; they can sing about sex, promiscuity and psychedelics and make them seem liberating.
Zeppelin is made up of talented individuals who reflected their time to a larger degree than any other band… and have managed to make themselves a part of that time, ethos and culture. Their music carried with it a sense of mysterious ridiculing with the lyrics backing it up and masking their true intention.
Their persona’s became part of what they created and their musical abilities surpassed to the degree of it belonging only to them and their music. What makes Zeppelin great and the reason for them fuelling and influencing future genres and musicians can be filtered down to two factors: originality and individuality.