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Vol. 13, No. 1, 2014
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Robert J. Lewis
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Tariq Ali
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Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

and magic filled the air



Roberto Romei Rotondo, unregenerate music lover, is an out-of-practice rock guitarist, and an artist living and working in Montreal. The editor of this publication regards (bar none) Rotondo as Canada's most distinguished portrait painter.


I was just a kid back in ‘69, hanging out at Dany’s, a bar in the north end of Montreal, shooting pool with the juke box blasting out. The music was always loud and mostly good, but this was different. Like someone shot 50,000 volts up my spine.

The song was “Good Times, Bad Times.” It opened with two mega-potent chords repeated five times over. And these power chords, as they would later come to be known, were the first the world would hear of Led Zeppelin. With them the rock universe would forever be shaken from its three chord complacency to the one chord jolt. No build up. You heard the needle scratching the disc then bang, a sonic tsunami, over-the-top ear-arresting accents and phrasing propelled by the powerful, locomotive drumming of John Bonham; John Paul Jones’ “contrapuntal” bass, melodic and up front -- McCartneyish in a way -- and Robert Plant’s one-of-a-kind voice, wide ranging, raw and vanquishing, like the shrill of the eagle announcing his soaring return to his eyrie with prey in talons

Of course this was still a blues song. In fact two of the tracks on their eponymous debut album were Willie Dixon covers, but with a menacing eruptive attitude never quite before heard, remote yet engaging; bearing a Wagnerian Teutonic neutrality about it.

But explosive originality aside, already in this, their first LP, one could detect something compositionally unique about Zeppelin, as in “Black Mountain Side,” an instrumental ditty
played in open D A D G A D, a rhythmic throwback to Celtic Britannia, a harbinger of more to come; a sound evolving years later into “The Houses of the Holy,” “Kashmir” and more.

Jimmy Page had awakened Thor from a

millennium deep sleep to announce the end of the 60s, introducing a sound guitarists would emulate for decades to come.

However, no one could yet anticipate where this band was heading, but for Rolling Stone critic John Mendelsohn, in his initial appraisal of Led Zeppelin I, to refer to Jimmy Page as “weak and unimaginative" came off as a bit stupid. The band was voltaic, the music severe, the riffs gripping and contagious, effortlessly lofty, never pompous. Led Zeppelin weren’t a “mere blues” band, they were the best rock band to ever hit the stage assuming one had an ear for the genre, and if one didn’t, why pay the guy to write about it?

Zep II provided yet again another shocker jolter of an opener with “A Whole Lot of Love,” quite possibly the most iconic song of the 70s: an electrifying 3-note riff sustaining the song like a mantra, equally metallic and airy. As far as I’m concerned, the opening riff to “A Whole Lot Of Love” is equal to any classical motif. Of course not nearly as structurally complex as the simplest of Bach’s concertos, but as energetic as the imaginary black hole -- zero volume, maximum weight. That’s riff power. That’s rock. And no one riffed it better than Jimmy Page. And never twice quite the same. Zeppelin could come down kryptonite-hard then surprise you with the suave easy going rhythmic harmonic strumming of “Ramble On,” abruptly winding to full stop before the power hook zinger. Cut 3, Side 2, 4:35 of bliss. After Zep II there was no doubt – this was no gloss, these guys were for real.

. . . and from the “darkest depths of Mordor” in “Ramble On,” Zeppelin sang of the “Immigrant” odyssey from the cold lands of the north to far away western shores, on ships steered by the steel cold hammer of the gods driven on by the memorable opening inside the string F# octave plucked riff, just the one F# note picked between strings. Simple. As simple as “Open Ye Sesame.” If the listener was expecting more of Zep II on Zep III he would have been disappointed.

Their untitled fourth album featured “Stairway to Heaven,” one of rock’s greatest songs ever. A blend of acoustic and electric where the power chord relents to the moody A-minor arpeggio slowly building into an up tempo elaborate guitar solo. Dreamy yet never sentimental.

Zeppelin were not a band for the lonely hearts. Theirs was the chant of iron age druids in anticipation of mystical conflict, as “In The Battle of Evermore,” a musical journey back to the days of a long distant past, rekindling in the listener’s palpitating heart that primordial flame whose eternal light bears witness to all great music.

The Celtic dirge furthers on out in later songs like “No Quarter,” an iconic slow building tune, a whimsical blend of keyboards, vocals and strings, as wailing winds lifting before the storm heralding the joyful delirium of the riff. A classic. In my opinion Zep’s best. Possibly the most overlooked song in all of rock. If Pink Floyd ‘Set the Controls to the Heart of the Sun,’ Led Zeppelin led us before the ancient altars of the Houses Of the Holy, a mostly acoustic album set in the cool mood of Nordic heathers and shiny armours.

With the experimental Physical Graffiti, we’re in “Kashmir,” a tune reminiscent of “Black Mountain Side,” where perhaps better than anywhere in rock the “east west twain” does meet. Unlike the Jefferson Airplane, Doors, King Crimson, Deep Purple et al, Zeppelin didn’t merely superimpose the Arabic scale onto a western-bluesy structure, but fused the two into one.

The Zeppelin experience comes to completion with In Through The Out Door where “In The Evening” opens with a haunting howling hum fading lazily in the distance followed by a vintage Page drawn out lick punctuated by stop and go, in and out chord modulations as if the music lost its way in a tempest of sonic confusion only to rise out of the labyrinth into Chaucer’s world of a thousand and one nights. Rock drifts from the Mississippi delta across to the song of Stonehenge to eventually merge with its supposed oriental counterpart.

And so the fantasy ends.

But the enchantment will forever live on in their music.

To those of us raised on rock Led Zeppelin have no rivals. Not even close.

Note Bene: With the exception of the Beatles, no British band sold more albums than Led Zeppelin. As for John Mendelsohn of Rolling Stone magazine? – well who the fuck cares.


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Led Zeppelin was for innocent ears -- that is, those who never heard any of the music they were aping. But I'm glad you have happy memories!
Led Zeppelin was a very good Brit band but groups like Beatles, Moody Blues,Genesis put out better music, stuff you can still sing today.
You insult the Beatles....Led Zep are nothing compared to kids know every Beatle song and not interested in Led Zep cause Beatle music is plain better.
Led Zeppelin was a great band, good rockin' tunes; Jimmy Page did invent some cool riffs and he was a great influence on me as a teenager in spite of severe lackings in the rythm department. Also "Black Mountain Side" was a total rip off from Bert Jansch as is almost the entire first album, a fact partly acknowledged by the band itself.

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