Friday, October 18, 2013

OPINION: Led Zeppelin Top Five

English: Jimmy Page; Robert Plant; John Bonham...
Led Zeppelin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Eoghan M Lyng

This is, quite possibly, the hardest article that I have ever had to write.

Having been a hardcore Zeppelin fan since I was fourteen years old, it pains me to try and decide what their finest compositions were.

Having come up with several drafts, the finished result still feels incomplete.

If this article could have included more songs, "When the Levee Breaks", "Ten Years Gone", "Ramble On", "Trampled Under Foot" and "Dazed and Confused" would almost certainly have been included.

In fact, anything from "Led Zeppelin" (1969) to "Physical Graffiti" (1975) represent a consistently high prolific standard that no other band, not even the Beatles, could rival.

To compile a list that includes only five songs, therefore, is understandably heartbreaking, but the task has been achieved at a great expense. The chosen songs were chosen out of artistic merit, musical influence and technical brilliance. Led Zeppelin`s five finest songs, therefore, are:

#5 Black Dog (featured on their untitled fourth album - 1971): Written by Jones/Page/Plant

Inspired in part by "Oh Well (Parts 1 and 2)" by Fleetwood Mac, this rocker features vocalist Robert Plant singing almost operatically over a backlash of duelling guitars.

The riff originated with bassist John Paul Jones, who initially boasted that the timing was so irregular that only he could play along to it. Although it may be Jones`s riff, it is Jimmy Page who truly shines on this track.

Reverting from scratchy rhythm guitars to melodic lead parts in an effortless manner, the track sounds both psychedelic and bluesy. Plant truly plays the part of a hungry, sexual deviant when singing his a Capella leads.

One of Zeppelin`s highlights in concert, it is a rock song that has rarely been rivalled in the forty years since its initial release. Strangely enough, the only reference to a dog in the song is at the beginning when Page creates a barky reverberated sound effect.

#4 No Quarter (Houses of The Holy - 1973): Written by Jones/Page/Plant

The word multi-instrumentalist is over-used these days, but in the case of John Paul Jones, it is justifiable. Capable of playing bass guitar, guitar, piano, mellotron, flutes, recorders, mandolin and other keyboard instruments too numerous to mention, he could have created his own one man band.

This song would become one of his staple solo opportunities in concert. Containing an eerie keyboard sound and featuring lyrics that deal with medieval war craft, it features Zeppelin at their proggiest. It is truly a breathtaking piece of work.

The highlight of the song is the point in which Page`s distorted guitar arrives as an orchestration for Jones`s keyboard playing. An amazing song and a nice break from their usual guitar orientated work.

#3 Whole Lotta Love (Led Zeppelin 2 - 1969): Written by Bonham/Jones/Page/Plant/Dixon

If there was ever a song that defined the band, it was this song. Featuring a metallic hammer on from Page`s guitar playing and an exuberant vocal performance from Robert Plant, the song would become Zeppelin`s first true classic.

Utilising the DAGGAD tuning that would be used on successive songs such as the two underneath this column; the song is the type of anthem every band craves.

Unfortunately for the band, the aggression in which Page played the riff gave critics the long awaited opportunity to label a band as a heavy metal band.

This is an erroneous statement: John Bonham`s loose backbeat drumming and John Paul Jones`s bass playing display a dance groove that James Brown could have used. You would not find that on any Black Sabbath songs!

The song is also noted for its risque bridge. Commonly referred to as "The Orgasm Section", it features Plant moaning over a bunch of hammers being hit, plus a Theremin being used for windy effect.

Before this song, Jimmy Page was an adequate producer. This song showed that he was, in fact, a technical genius. For years, audiences would recognise this song as the opening theme for Top of The Pops, which was ironic considering that the band had no interest in the show!

#2 Kashmir (Physical Grafitti - 1975): Written by Bonham/Page/Plant

Mother of God! The sixth track on Zeppelin`s double LP Physical Graffiti is an orchestrated work of genius. A song with an eastern feel, the song has been noted by Robert Plant on many occasions as his personal favourite Zeppelin song.

And he has every reason to be proud of the song: Kashmir has the perfect ingredients of a great song. Featuring a drum beat that uses the loud dynamics that would befit a stringed orchestra, a multitude of colourful guitars, lyrics of a mystic nature and an Indian orchestra, the song is a grandiose epic.

The only member who does not receive a song writing credit is John Paul Jones, which is harsh considering that his keyboard playing has an awful lot to do with the oriental qualities of the song. Despite the multitude of instruments, each musician can be heard clearly.

John Bonham, in particular, is very impressive. His mighty crashes are the stuff of Gods. To date, no drummer has been able to replicate his sound since his death in 1980, making these fantastic drumming moments more precious to saviour.

#1 Stairway to Heaven (featured on their untitled fourth album - 1971): Written by Page/Plant

It is an awful shame that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are rarely praised as a song writing unit in the same way that John Lennon-Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger-Keith Richards, Burt Bacharach/Hal David and Johnny Marr/Morrissey are.

The fact of the matter is that these two complemented each other in many ways. Plant`s lyrical genius was the perfect counterpart to Page`s brilliant melody writing.

Over seven albums, they used their brilliant partnership to its greatest potential. But nowhere was it more successful than on Zeppelin`s magnum opus "Stairway to Heaven".

This is a work that procures the usage of a twelve string acoustic guitar, three recorders (performed by John Paul Jones), an electric piano and two electric guitars. Oh, and the greatest guitar solo ever recorded.

Jimmy Page must have sold his soul to the devil to come up with a solo that has the greatest tone, tempo and dynamic of any rock song. Then there are the lyrics.

On top of Page`s plaintive opening acoustic guitar, Plant sings about a lady who is so snobbish that she thinks all "that glitters is gold", who can "with a word, get what she came for".

Commencing as a criticism of snobbery (similar to Bob Dylan`s "Like A Rolling Stone"), it turns into an oratorio that talks about the mysteries of life.

Containing some fantastic images - "faces of those who stand lonely", "spirit crying", "voices of those who stand looking" - Plant rivals Roger Waters and Pete Townshend as rock`s finest lyricist.

Jones and Bonham shine also, creating rhythm parts that support, but do not overthrow, the songs melody. The four geniuses within the band (Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham) came up with what is possibly the greatest song of all time.

It is unlikely that Queen would have come up with Bohemian Rhapsody had it not been for Stairway, nor would Radiohead have released Paranoid Android either.

Stairway has been covered by artists as diverse as Frank Zappa and Rolf Harris. In 1971, Led Zeppelin unveiled a song that could only be described in one way: magical. Forty one years later, it still maintains that spell on its listeners.

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1 comment:

  1. Stairway melody ripped off from Randy California.