It might seem strange reading a review of Led Zeppelin 1 fifty two years after the album was released, but what’s even more strange or perhaps really not that strange is that many of us who brought the album when it first came out are still listening to it even on a daily basis, or at least a few times a month. It’s just one of those albums that never gets old – just like the Blues. Of course that’s what Led Zeppelin was all about – the Blues. They did it their way and of course many times they were accused of stealing from blues artists when many of us fans knew that they weren’t stealing, they were reinterpreting the blues unlike like any other band had ever done before with the exception of maybe the Yardbirds. And of course we all know that Led Zeppelin pretty much grew out of The Yardbirds because of Jimmy Page. Led Zeppelin 1 was about the blues on many different levels.
Led Zeppelin 1 was recorded in a span of just 30 hours. Not many fans probably are aware of that. Just think about it, an album that we’ve been listening to for our entire lives and probably have played it thousands and thousands of times was recorded in less than 30 hours The band went into Olympic Studios in London and they recorded nine magical songs. In the studio, Robert Plant performed lead vocals and harmonica, Jimmy Page played acoustic, electric, and pedal steel guitars and added backing vocals, John Paul Jones performed on bass, organ and backing vocals and our favorite drummer of all time – John Bonham played drums, timpani and also recorded backing vocals. Led Zeppelin my friends, that’s how it began in the studio in 1969.
Led Zeppelin 1 opens with the song “Good Times Bad Times,” which also was the first single released from the album. It’s fitting that the opening measures of this legendary song featured John Bonham right away. No one has ever played like John Bonham. It’s almost hard to describe his feel. The man played heavy but there was always a swing feel that resonated through his grooves. One could hear it right away in the opening measures of “Good Times Bad Times.” Jimmy Page is spot-on on this track. His guitar riffs has been copied for generations. Pages guitar solo is almost perfect and quite telling. You could hear his excitement and his professionalism knowing that something special is brewing in the band as he laid out a guitar solo for the ages. Robert Plant is in full voice but he is holding back for the next track.
The second track on Led Zeppelin 1 was the emotional folk ballad “Babe I’m Going to Leave You.” The song was written by Anne Bredon. Jimmy Page had heard the Joan Baez version of the song. It was a recording that stayed with him for a long time. It was the perfect song to introduce Robert Plant’s incredible skills at singing the blues. It was a magical song for Robert Plant because as much as Robert Plant was inspired by the Blues he also is clearly connected to Celtic musical traditions. It’s what Led Zeppelin did so well. They merged traditional American Blues with the music they grew up to with in England. One could not grow up in England and not be influenced by English folk music and Celtic themes and melodies.
On Led Zeppelin’s version of Babe I’m Going to Leave You,” Robert Plant lets loose for the first time on vinyl and millions of young teenagers who were listening to that record for the first time almost passed out as to what they were hearing. No one had ever sounded like Robert Plant before, no one has ever sounded like him since. It’s also the first song and record that we hear Jimmy Page messing with echo and other sound effects. The studio was a wondrous place for Jimmy Page.
Led Zeppelin dived deeper into the blues on the next track entitled “You Shook Me.” This is where the listeners started to hear the connection between Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. The magical musical interplay between these two geniuses is heard on the song “You Shook Me,” for the first time in history. “You Shook Me,” is a history lesson of 1960s blues. The song was originally written by Willie Dixon and J. B. Lenoir in 1962 and recorded by Muddy Waters. The song was recorded by many artists in the 60s including the Jeff Beck Group. Robert Plant takes some lyrics from Robert Johnson’s “Stones In My Passway,” and incorporates them into the song. Led Zeppelin recorded the longest version of “You Shook Me,” than anybody had recorded at that point in time. It would become a standard in their concert repertoire during their early years.
Side one closes out with what would become the classic Led Zeppelin recording “Dazed and Confused.” It’s interesting, but when looking back it always seemed that the song “Dazed and Confused,” ran much longer than it actually did on Led Zeppelin I. “Dazed and Confused,” came in at 6 minutes and 28 seconds which was also the exact same track time as the recording of “You Shook Me.” The recording of “Babe I’m Gonna leave you is actually the second longest running track on the album at 6 minutes and 42 seconds. The albums closing song “How Many More Times,” is the longest running track at over 8 minutes.
Side two of Led Zeppelin one opens with the track “Your Time is Gonna Come.” Some fans called that the soul song of Led Zeppelin 1. Music fans would then be greeted with the first Led Zeppelin instrumental in the track “Black Mountain Side.” The instrumental recording was inspired in many ways by an Irish folk song called “Down by Blackwaterside.”
“Communication Breakdown,” is placed as the third song on side 2 of Led Zeppelin 1. So much of the early history of Led Zeppelin can be heard in this song. It’s one of the first tracks that the band worked on in finding their sound. “Communication Breakdown,” would become a concert staple in the early years and a true fan favorite. The song was also placed as the B-side to the “Good Times Bad Times” single. The versions of “Communication Breakdown,” that were released on the BBC Sessions CDs are astonishing and need to be heard by anyone who has not listened to those CDs “Communication Breakdown,” echoed the psychedelic styles of so many bands in 1969. It showed that the members of Led Zeppelin were listening to everybody and all music influenced these guys, just like it did to all of the rock and roll musicians trying to make it in the 1960s.
After the psychedelic rock and roll feel of “Communication Breakdown,” the album turns once again to the blues and another great song written by the legendary Willie Dixon entitled “I Can’t Quit You Baby.” It was the Otis Rush version of “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” that seem to inspire Led Zeppelin’s recording of the song. Once again, the BBC Session CDs contain some killer versions of “I Can’t Quit You Baby.” . The album closes out with the song “How Many More Times.” This is a song that was clearly inspired by Jimmy Page’s time in The Yardbirds. Robert Plant’s fascination with the blues come shining through on this one as he throws in lyrics and riffs from many of his blues heroes.
In 2014 Jimmy Page remastered Led Zeppelin 1 in a deluxe box set that also included a live Led Zeppelin concert. Let me tell you something man, there are not many live Led Zeppelin official releases. When I first discovered that Jimmy Page was releasing a live Led Zeppelin show as a bonus disc I kneeled down and gave thanks and praise to the rock and roll gods. Just like I did every time Led Zeppelin released a new album so many years ago. It all began with Led Zeppelin 1.
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Led Zeppelin I Review article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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