METAL BLOG, Vol. 7 - by Steff Chirazi
Saturday night - My neighbor Rich is a great guy. He works in cancer research and is the first to step up and offer any help a needy friend or family might have in this area, and he’s also a fun guy to be around when it comes to music. Oh, he also likes beer and sport. Before any of you ask, he’s married hahahahahaha! ANYWAY, I digress. Rich likes to have friends over to hang out, listen to tunes, eat food and drink beer. Tonight will be a special event, in so much as it is a gathering of the local Books, Bands & Brews club he and our buddy Todd have going, and the focus tonight is Led Zeppelin. We will discuss two books written about the band, the infamous Stephen Davis epic Hammer of The Gods and UK writer Mick Wall’s warty and occasionally fictionalized hike through the myriad of myths and truths around the Zep-entity (sharks, groupies, jets, drugs, devil worship and dark arts oh and a few large-ish gigs to throw out just a few things from Led Zeppelin’s life).
I have enjoyed the great pleasure of being on the road with Robert Plant (who was an absolute gentleman and character), met Jimmy Page a couple of times very briefly and spent a couple of days with the unflappable John Paul Johns when he was in Northern California producing a Butthole Surfers album about 20+ years ago. I even spent time with Jason Bonham back in London as a young cub reporter, both of us out on the town most nights drinking too much and being overwhelmingly guilty of being ‘young’ except I did not have the added weight and pressure of a legacy bearing down on me everyday who also happened to be my father; a unique and incredible burden for such young shoulders to handle.
The bit I’ve left out is that I am not an acolyte.
I never prayed at the altar of Zeppelin and I never swore fealty (light or dark) to the band or it’s assembled cast.
I enjoyed the stories, Crowley mansions, The Starship, Peter Grant and Bill Graham’s fights, and like anyone of my age, weed had been smoked in the arms of girlfriends with whom I made out to Led Zep 4 and Physical Graffiti.
But the truth is, I loved Black Sabbath. I also loved Motörhead, but back in the day it was always about ‘which of these do you like the most’? Was it Judas Priest, Iron Maiden or Saxon? Pink Floyd or Syd Barrett? And in this case, it was ’Sabbath or Zeppelin?’
I loved Black Sabbath.
Every single riff was mighty even when delicate, and their aesthetic suited my vibe (scruffy bastards the lot of them).
I liked Zeppelin, I listened to Zeppelin but I loved Sabbath.
Now these guys tonight, to a man, are enormous fanatics, the sort of folks I would warmly term ‘trainspotters’ such is their fierce engagement with everything about the band (trainspotters, for those who don’t know, are a sub-culture in the UK who spend time at major stations checking off the various engines as they come through). They will know all the titles on all the albums, all the lyrics of all the songs, all the ideas behind all the words and they will be ready to debate an ‘ohhh’ over an ‘ahhhhh’ a ‘baby’ over a ‘woman’, whereas I am the Zeppelin guy who can hum a bunch of riffs, tell you about Page’s interest in the occult and wax about how cool Hipgnosis (the art company who did their sleeves) were. In short, despite my interactions with various members, despite my decades of exposure to their music, I am going to be way out of my league. But I’ve had my moments with them, deep, meaningful moments too, ones which resonated in my youth, and what’s funny is, when I sit and think about it, Led Zeppelin have always been knocking around my ears somewhere, somehow.
As I remember, one of the things we were asked to do was bring a Zeppelin playlist along later. So I thought I’d share this task with you, right here, right now, and see what you thought of my choices. Too safe? Not ‘worm-holey’ enough? Or on the money? Let’s see eh…
Communication Breakdown - addictive riff? Check. Soaring crotch-pinch vox? Check. Crisp, tight, taut, jaunty and unforgettable, an unintended jingle to and them all? Check. Blistering solo which doesn’t go on forever? Check.
How Many More Times? - oh that main riff is just loopingly delicious, a kaleidoscope, trippy wander down a psychedelic corridor that is one of the finest things they ever wrote. Is it big and baggy? Yes. Does every wandering minute make total sense? Oh yes, oh yes oh yes oh yes. It is truly the sound of men enjoying themselves like perhaps they never quite would again.
The Battle of Evermore - Simply because it is beautiful. Every nuance and sensibility of this song drips of a sad celtic lullaby, and the vocal harmonies are sensational, When Plant cries ’bring it back’ is there anyone who didn’t, as a young teenager, scream this in their mind or bedroom at a lost-lover (even though the lyrics are rooted in heavily forested medieval mysticism)? Or have I just told you a little more about my childhood? Anyway, it is simply epic.
Whole Lotta Love - the sound of childhoods, if not because it was the front-end song for UK char show Top Of The Pops for, well, my entire childhood and a few others I should imagine. A stone-cold classic, complete with one foot still in psychedelia as a theremin solo and lots of other weird and wonderful interjections are kept ticking over by Bonham’s tick tick tick. And let’s face it, ever one who likes music tried to play this on guitar at least once.
Immigrant Song - Lipsmackingly addictive riff, glorious proclamations of the ‘ice and snow’, it is one of the most perfect album openers you will ever hear.
The Ocean - Whey whey widdelum. It’s another bit of sticky Page’s masterpiece guitar theater and boy does it stick! I sometimes find myself blurting out a ‘whey whey widdelum’ on the loo for no reason whatsoever, and then spending the next ten minutes trying to remember what song it’s from, before walking the dog at the beach, looking at the water and having that BINGO moment. It’s also a great example of Bonham’s ability to hang out in the pocket with presence and power, not overwhelming the song but serving it with a good slice of thick and tasty meter.
Black Dog - my favorite Zeppelin song bar none. It comes in off the back of that Bonham sling, and Page’s riff meanders with the form and function of a weight-lifting, MMA champion ballet dancer, it’s perceived looseness nothing of the sort, and the whole tempo, structure and composition of the song, off-kilter yet on-point, JPJ pinning down the canvas, Bonham always an anchor and the experimentation subtle within a tough, meaty framework, makes it the Zep song I can love to get lost in. And when Page doubles up on his riffs in the last third, you sense they might be about to go bananas, yet even the ending solo is beautifully structured. Yeah, for me it’s the best.
Rock’n’Roll - the second punch off the back of “…Dog” it is no nonsense fist-pumping, simple down and dirty rock’n’roll, like Coca-Cola, like hamburgers, like long-haired men in denim shaking their fists as toussel-headed babes swing their sylph-like halter-topped vessels dreaming of Robert Plant and his lemon-squeezing lovin’. It’s a straight-forward damn good time, and it also makes me wonder if I should just put all of …IV down because pretty much every song is superb!
Misty Mountain Hop - I suppose when you put your mind to it, you realize just how many of their riffs are embedded in your thick greasy skull, whether through attrition or public demand, but this is another of those riffs I randomly yell out on the street or in cafes or perhaps parking garages when I’m winding the window up (’tis a wonder I haven’t been referred for help!) and then I cannot picture which bloody song it is. Well it’s this one. And again, Page does with the riff what few guitarists I’ve ever heard seem able to do (excuse my layman’s terminology in a minute) and that is bend the riff like it’s a piece of flexible, PVC tubing! I’ve heard it in Jerry Cantrell’s playing too, but ’tis one of Page’s trademarks.
The Rover - It gets as close as I ever heard to a Sabbath-meets-Zeppelin amalgamation, both obviously rooted in blues, one heading more for the southern delta whilst the others took it as a launching point to express all sorts of thick, dark escapism. It’s also got that Joe Walsh “Rocky Mountain Way’”-like break right around 2.37…check it out and see if you disagree. I mean look it doesn’t matter, everyone borrowed from everyone and the actual part is more rooted in classic blues than any single entity after it, but that bit always made me think of that song. Regardless, it’s really really good.
Sunday night - It was a fine evening. Speciality beers were abundant, for the red meat eaters there was pulled pork and ribs, for the rest of us expertly smoked salmon, there was a different Zeppelin video playing on every screen downstairs in my friend’s house, and we would be treated to Zep-blasts from his stereo too. The discussion was interesting, as it showed how utterly divisive this band could be when it came to the details. A couple of the guys swore up and down that In Through The Out Door was one of their favorites, ditto Presence (both albums which hold little for me I must say, I like 1,2 and Physical Grafitti), but more than anything (and remember, this was an American gang) it was the sheer bloody strength, fortitude, colour and passion of their memories which blew me away and re-confirmed Led Zeppelin’s deep generational vitality. The books? Yeah, both went over well but simply because they were vehicles for tales, tidbits and reminders about both Zeppelin and times in people’s lives when Led Zeppelin had marked it’s territory indelibly. And just in case I ever doubted it, what was clear was just how huge a figure Led Zeppelin still are in so many people’s lives (especially Americans for whom the band appear to still retain a magic spell), and how utterly ‘present’ Zeppelin they still are in the daily thoughts of many.
…until next time, enjoy those holidays and crank that volume!