Led Zeppelin History – Oct 14

This is actually post-Led Zeppelin history…

Today in 1994 Jimmy Page and Robert Plant released their first (since Led Zeppelin) collaborative album, No Quarter. The album is basically the live “soundtrack” to their October 12, 1994 appearance on MTV’s Unplugged series. Called “Unledded”, the 90-minute MTV project was recorded in Morocco, Wales and London.

The album debuted at #4 on Billboard’s Pop Albums chart. In addition to acoustic numbers, it features a reworking of Led Zeppelin classics, along with four Middle-Eastern and Moroccan-influenced songs: “City Don’t Cry”, “Yallah”, “Wonderful One”, and “Wah Wah”. The album was released in the U.S. with the following tracks (on international releases and on the 2004 re-issue, “Wah Wah” was included before “That’s the Way”):

  1. Nobody’s Fault but Mine
  2. Thank You
  3. No Quarter
  4. Friends
  5. Yallah
  6. City Don’t Cry
  7. Since I’ve Been Loving You
  8. The Battle of Evermore
  9. Wonderful One
  10. That’s the Way
  11. Gallows Pole
  12. Four Sticks
  13. Kashmir 

quarterIt was not a reunion of Led Zeppelin though, as former Zeppelin bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones was not present. In fact, Jones was not even told about the reunion by his former band mates; he only learned of the project through media reports. He later commented that he was unhappy about Plant and Page naming the album after “No Quarter”, a Led Zeppelin song which was largely his work. “I just thought I should have been informed about it,” Jones said. “To find out about it in the papers was a bit odd.” At the group’s 1995 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Jones offered a cutting retort: “Thank you, my friends, for finally remembering my phone number.”

Along the way, both Page and Plant indicated that one of the principal reasons they hadn’t invited Jones was because of the inescapable pressure (to reform Led Zeppelin) that having all three of them together would have engendered.

The 10th anniversary of the Unledded performance was commemorated by a DVD release which included a bonus interview, a montage of images from Morocco, and performances of “Black Dog” (from Dick Clark’s American Music Awards), “What Is and What Should Never Be” and “When the Levee Breaks”. To compensate for their voluntary absence from the 2004 Live Aid DVD release, Page and Plant donated a portion of their proceeds to the Band Aid Trust.

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Led Zeppelin History – Oct 13

Today in 1976, Jimmy Page produced an all-percussive track for drummer John Bonham, at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland. It showed up in 1982 on the Coda album as “Bonzo’s Montreux” (credited to “The John Bonham Drum Orchestra”). With Page’s added electronic treatments, including the use of an Eventide Clockworks Harmonizer (resulting in the steel drum sound on the track), this is Bonzo far removed from the tear-away stuff of “Moby Dick”. Divided into sections, the piece rumbles along, sounding like a steel band about to trip and fall. 

Although Bonham was a master drummer, he had a realistic attitude toward the role of a rock drummer. “Not everybody likes or understands a drum solo, so I like to bring in effects and sounds to keep their interest,” he explained. “I used to play a hand drum solo long before I joined Zeppelin. I played a solo on the Duke Ellington tune ‘Caravan’ when I was only 16. Sometimes I’d take a chunk out of my knuckles on the hi-hat, or catch my hand on the tension rods. With Zeppelin I tried to play something different every night in my solos. I’d play for 20 minutes sometimes, but the longest ever was 30 minutes. It’s a long time, but when I was playing it seemed to fly by. There were times when I blundered and got the dreaded look from the lads. But that was a good sign; it showed I’d attempted something I’d not tried before.”

Led Zeppelin History – Oct 10

Today in 1980 Zeppelin drummer John Bonham’s funeral was held at St. Michael Churchyard in Rushock, Worcestershire, and was attended by about 250 mourners that included family, friends, and his band mates. Tributes came from Paul McCartney, Carmine Appice, Phil Collins, Cozy Powell, and Carl Palmer. “I do very much remember that day, and I don’t think any of us have ever really dealt with his loss,” said sister Deborah Bonham. “I think we just live with it. We were a close family and when something like that happens, you try to make some sense of it but you just can’t. What else can you do other than just live with it? So that’s what we do.”

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Zed Zeppelin History – Oct 7

Today in 1999 Led Zeppelin’s 1971 song Stairway to Heaven was voted at #1 in Classic Rock magazine’s readers’ poll of the “Ten Best Songs Ever”. This wasn’t its first #1 ranking, and it continues to top music polls still today. The eight-minute song is considered a musical masterpiece and is one of the most-played rock tunes of all time. There are no official numbers available, but as of July 2008 it’s estimated “Stairway” had been played on the radio over 3 million times; equal to more than 45 years of uninterrupted airtime. It’s also thought to be the best-selling piece of sheet music in rock history.

Jimmy Page has himself commented on the song’s legacy:
“The wonderful thing about Stairway is the fact that just about everybody has got their own individual interpretation to it, and actually what it meant to them at their point of life. And that’s what’s so great about it. Over the passage of years people come to me with all manner of stories about what it meant to them at certain points of their lives. About how it’s got them through some really tragic circumstances… Because it’s an extremely positive song, it’s such a positive energy, and, you know, people have got married to [the song].”

Robert Plant however, has become less enamored with the song over the years, refusing to sing it anymore. “There’s only so many times you can sing it and mean it,” he has said. He even supposedly once gave a radio station in Portland $10,000 to never play the song again.

Led Zeppelin History – Oct 5

Today in 1970, Led Zeppelin III was released. Easily one of 1970’s most highly-anticipated albums, Led Zeppelin III shocked fans with acoustic songs like “Friends”, “Gallows Pole”, “That’s The Way” and “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”. The diverse content of the album, with its accent more on acoustic arrangements, confused both fans and critics alike. It was a move into new territory, and as usual, the band was ahead of the field. But hindsight would prove that this change in direction was a natural progression for the group. For those diehard fans, songs like “Immigrant Song”, “Celebration Day” and “Out On the Tiles” were a familiar sound. “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, a blues tune that was recorded live in the studio, is a masterpiece. This is definitely one of Led Zeppelin’s most underrated albums.

Sleeve Notes:
The elaborate gatefold sleeve (which held up the album’s release for two months) was basically Jimmy Page’s idea. It had a rotating wheel inside a die-cut cover with 10 holes in it. When the wheel was rotated, different images were revealed in the holes. According to Page, it was supposed to reflect the album’s bucolic ambiance by mimicking an annual crop rotation calendar. But the artist got carried away and splattered the jacket with an assortment of psychedelic images and objects, including targets, butterflies and stars. The only objects with a direct connection to the band are a zeppelin, a German bomber and a car with the initials JP on the side. Page was not happy with the final result, but it was delivered too late to change it. He thought it ended up too teeny-bopperish. “There are some silly bits – little chunks of corn and nonsense like that,” Page said in a 1996 interview.

Several of the songs on the album came out of a working holiday taken by Page and Robert Plant at Bron-yr-Aur, a small country cottage in Snowdonia, Wales. The words mean “golden breast” in Welsh, and refer to the way the morning suns fills the valley surrounding the cottage. It must have been quite an influence on the duo, as the inner gatefold sleeve states “Credit must be given to Bron-yr-Aur, a small derelict cottage in South Snowdonia, for painting a somewhat forgotten picture of true completeness which acted as an incentive to some of the musical statements”.

Album Notes:
All US and UK pressings (vinyl) have snippets from mystic Aleister Crowley’s book The Book Of The Law etched into the vinyl trail-off areas (Page was fascinated by Crowley). The inscriptions are either “So Mote Be It” (“So Mote It Be” on UK pressings) or “Do What Thou Wilt”, and the album side placement appears to vary by where the disc was pressed. On US pressings the text is neatly written in a script font, and on UK pressings it’s a larger block-style print. Other international pressings have no inscriptions at all, with the exception of the Lebanese pressing. In a similar vein, original first pressings of the “Immigrant Song” single have the inscription “Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law” etched into in the trail-off on side 1.

Tracks:

Immigrant Song – The lyrics reflected Plant’s continuing interest in things Celtic and mystical. The piece begins with an attention-grabbing hiss (an echo unit feedback) before kicking in to Page’s and John Bonham’s hammering intensity. The riff turned out to be one of Zeppelin’s most powerful.

Friends – After some interesting studio chatter, the band breaks into acoustic guitar over a conga drum rhythm, and a very compelling string arrangement develops. There’s a synthesizer added on the outtro, which provides a lead-in to the next track. The synth drone actually covers a production mistake, where the original intro to Celebration Day was damaged on the master tape.

Celebration Day – This advanced piece of atypical Zeppelin is one of their less-famous items, but has a modern, contemporary sound to it. The simple rough-hewn back beat and trance-like mood provide a vehicle for Plant’s happy tour of New York.

Since I’ve Been Loving You – This stands head and shoulders above everything else on the album; a landmark in rock recording. It’s very moving on several levels, from Bonham’s squeaking bass pedal to Page’s creative solo. The bluesy mood seems almost at odds with the rest of the album’s folksy feel. This is because it was originally intended to be included on Led Zeppelin II, but was left off in favor of “Whole Lotta Love”.

Out On The Tiles – Bonham was the inspiration for this song, whose title is British slang for “a night on the town” (something Bonham had a lot of experience with). It derived from a ditty he used to sing on the way to gigs; Page turned the tune into a riff. It’s Page that can be heard saying “stop!” in this song, reminding himself to stop playing.

Gallows Pole – This is a traditional folk tune based on work by American blues singer Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter). Page plays banjo (his first ever attempt), 6 and 12 acoustic and electric Gibson; Jones adds mandolin and bass. An advance copy of the single was released to radio stations prior to the release of the album, and clocked in with an additional 11-second outtro from the final album version.

Tangerine – Page plays pedal steel guitar on this composition left over from his Yardbirds days. Plant duets with himself on the double-tracked vocal. Jones reveals his arranger’s craft and skill at sustaining interest, as the pieces doesn’t stop changing tack for more than a few bars at a time. A sweet and way too brief song.

That’s the Way – With fine melodies and lofty sentiments, this carried the working title of The Boy Next Door. The lyrics were influenced in part by the unrest Plant witnessed on their spring 1970 US travels. Steeped in poetry, it unfolds against a ruch of acoustic guitar and a horn-like electric solo from Page.

Bron-Y-Aur-Stomp – This was written in honor of Plant’s pet dog Strider (Aragorn’s alter-ego in Lord of the Rings). It has its origins in an electric arrangement, titled Jennings Farm Blues, tried out at the beginning of the album recording sessions. Bonham played spoons and castanets on the recording, Jones played an acoustic five-string fretless bass, and Page’s 1971 Martin D-28 was tuned to open F.

Hats Off To (Roy) Harper – A Page/Plant jam loosely based on Bukka White’s Shake ‘Em On Down, this features some of Page’s finest bottleneck guitar work. It’s a tribute to Roy Harper, an English folk musician who toured with (but didn’t perform with) Zeppelin, and with whom Page and other Zeppelin members have worked, recorded, and toured. He is probably best known for his lead vocal on Pink Floyd’s Have A Cigar. A rather low-key way to end such a crucial album…

Unreleased Material:

Jimmy Page revealed at the time of Led Zeppelin III’s release that they had 17 tracks recorded for the album. Of the outstanding seven out-takes, four are fairly easy to identify: “Hey Hey What Can I Do” was officially issued as the B-side to “Immigrant Song”; “Down By The Seaside” and the instrumental “Bron-Yr-Aur”, both written at Bron-yr-Aur cottage, would eventually appear on 1975’s Physical Graffiti; and “Poor Tom” would later surface on 1982’s Coda.

Of the remaining out-takes, Page talked about an all-piano piece by Jones being left over. This may have been an early version of “No Quarter”.

A back­ing track known as “Jennings Farm Blues” was also laid down – the tune of which formed the basis of “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”. Jennings Farm was the name of Plant’s farmhouse home at the time. Jimmy also revealed that “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper” had been taken from “a whole tape of us bashing out different blues things”. This was a six-minute performance with a similar backing track to “Hats Off”, and featured snippets of “Feel So Bad”, “Fixing to Die” and “That’s Alright Mama”.

Lastly, an alternative take of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” also exists from these sessions.

Notable album variations:
Japanese 3rd pressing (1973) came with a poster and lyric insert.
Yugoslavian pressing (1975) has Celebration Day and Hats Off erroneously switched on the vinyl; mispressing.
Spanish 2007 re-issue on picture-disc vinyl, with no outer sleeve (unofficial release).

Certified Gold October 8, 1970
Certified Platinum (x6) May 3, 1999

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Led Zeppelin History – Oct 2

Today (and tomorrow) in 1972 Led Zeppelin again played the Budokan in Tokyo. This was the opening night of their second and final Japanese tour; the first was in Sept 1971.

Setlist:
Rock and Roll, Over the Hills and Far Away, Black Dog, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Dancing Days, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, The Song Remains the Same, Rain Song, Dazed and Confused, Stairway to Heaven, Whole Lotta Love medley (incl. Let That Boy Boogie, My Baby Left Me, Lemon Song, I Can’t Quit You Baby), Heartbreaker, Immigrant Song, Communication Breakdown.

Press Conf – Tokyo, 10-1-72: “We don’t feel that our music can really be categorized or labeled because it encompasses a number of styles and types of music,” said the members of Led Zeppelin. “Music falls into a certain category because people judge it the wrong way,” explained the group. “There’s as great a variety in the music we play as there is in what we each like. As a group we have to draw influences from everywhere in the music field to get a well-rounded idea of what areas there are to explore and expand on,” said Jimmy Page, guitarist and group leader. “We’ve received platinum discs for each of the four albums we’ve recorded since 1968,” he said.

“When you start recording, you find that what it is you want your song to say takes time and a variety of styles to actually put it into music. I think that is the main reason we’ve only had album releases,” explained Robert Plant, vocalist for the group. “We think alike and our tastes are all basically the same. We enjoy putting our music together and are generally pleased with the results,” Page explained. While speaking out on controversial issues of the day seems to comprise a majority of the songs on the record charts today, Zeppelin is satisfied to express simply what they feel, “we’re musicians not politicians,” said Page.