Led Zeppelin arrived with a crash landing, much like the Hindenburg zeppelin that inspired their name and features on the cover of their 1969 debut. One of the first supergroups, formed from the ashes of the Yardbirds and the burgeoning Band of Joy, they planted a massive kick up the arse of British blues-rock and practically invented heavy rock and heavy metal.
My favourites on this album, however, are not the radio-friendly rock-outs such as Communication Breakdown and Dazed and Confused, important as they are for heralding the holy heavy metal trinity of power chords, thumping drums and screaming vocals, but the classic blues numbers, or rather what they do with them. Willie Dixon covers feature twice on this album: You Shook Me and I Can’t Quit You Baby. They’d been covered several times before and were regular favourites amongst the late 60s bands of the ‘British Blues Invasion’, but never quite like this.
Robert Plant has a great rock voice and is not merely a screamer like many of his acolytes, any more than Jimmy Page is only a heavy power chord guitarist. Their skill as musicians and a foursome is well demonstrated on I Can’t Quit You Baby, the interplay between vocals and guitar and the touch sensitive strokes of the brush and bass is blues-rock perfection. A trick they were to demonstrate again with Since I’ve Been Loving You on LedZep III.
It’s not all heavy riffs and rhythms though, and that’s what I like about Led Zeppelin, and could easily be missed if you just listen to a band’s ‘greatest hits’; there’s a remarkable amount of variety on this debut, within a well-produced consistent palette of sound. The opening to Your Time is Gonna Come has this fantastic churchy organ, sounding like an inspiration/precursor for the intro to George Michael’s Faith.
We also have the instrumental Black Mountain Side, based on a traditional Irish folk song. Instrumentals, particularly those based on traditional English or Irish folk music were to become a regular feature on LedZep albums, they were still doing it 6 years and 5 albums later on Physical Graffiti. They were inventing their own tradition of English Blues. And think the Pixies invented that whole Quiet-Loud-Quiet thing? Think again. Listen to Babe I’m Gonna Leave You and it’s clear LZ got there 20 years earlier.
This particular copy is a recent addition to the family, bought secondhand a couple of years ago in the Netherlands. But I first had the album on cassette, copied from vinyl borrowed from Norwich City Library when I was about 15. I bought Led Zeppelin 2, 3, 4 and Houses of the Holy on new vinyl, one by one once I’d saved up enough money for them, but never bought their first. Not because I didn’t rate it as highly, but as spending money was limited if I had a decent copy on cassette, I wouldn’t ‘waste’ money buying my own ‘proper’ copy. Glad to have finally corrected that, and to hear this again in all its glory – riffs, rhythms and all.
Best Bits: Babe I’m Gonna Leave You – blues-rock perfection
Genre: Classic Blues Rock
Like This, Try This: George Michael’s Faith, it’s totally the same thing. Almost.