Houses Of The Holy by Led Zeppelin

October 17, 2010

I really don’t play Houses Of The Holy enough. I tend to focus on the first four Led Zeppelin releases and ignore the rest most of the time, which is my loss as it is an excellent album.

It was their fifth studio album and continued their commercial success by reaching the number one position on The United States album charts and selling in excess of 11 million copies.

Jimmy Page provided a much smoother production, and it may also be the most melodic of their albums. Page layered many of his guitar parts, giving the music a fuller sound which presented problems playing some of the material live. Rolling Stone Magazine named it one of the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.

The cover is immediately recognizable and the album won a Grammy Award for Best Recording Packaging. The idea was taken from the Arthur C. Clarke science fiction story Childhood’s End.

Side one of the original vinyl release is the stronger of the two. “The Song Remains The Same” is an example of Page’s multi-track guitar production, which is both interesting and effective. It was originally intended as an instrumental track but vocals were added late. It would become more famous as a live track but this original studio version is solid. “The Rain Song” has grown on me over the years. It is a sprawling seven minute love song which twists and turns with a number of surprises along the way. “Over The Hills And Far Away” is one of those building acoustic to rock songs they were so good at producing. “The Crunge” is just a fun funk type jam.

The final four songs which comprised side two of the original release contain a number of good stand alone songs but really do not form a consistent unit. “Dancing Days” features some excellent, and by this time expected, riffing by Jimmy Page. “D’er Maker” was a surprise hit single. It has a reggae feel and is one of the more different songs in the Zeppelin catalogue. Great song but it would be a difficult fit on any of their studio albums. “No Quarter” has a jazzy/blues feel. John Paul Jones provides some of the best piano work of his career, and in many ways it is his signature performance. “The Ocean” and John Bonham bring the album to a satisfying if a little odd conclusion.

Houses Of The Holy was a creative outing from Led Zeppelin. The individual parts added up to a fifth superior album in a row.

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Led Zeppelin IV by Led Zeppelin

October 17, 2010

After releasing three albums Led Zeppelin was recognized as one of the superstar groups in rock music. Little did they realize at the time but it was only the beginning of their popularity.

Led Zeppelin IV was released November 8, 1971 and would become one of the best selling albums of all time. It has sold 23 million copies in the United States alone, ranking it third all time. The amazing thing is the album never reached Number One on the American album charts, having peaked at Number Two.

Anyone interested in rock music or its history is probably familiar with this album. It is recognized as one of the masterpieces in rock history and many of its tracks continue to receive extensive airplay today.

“Stairway To Heaven” remains its centerpiece. It begins gentle and acoustic, gradually morphing into a hard rock anthem. It has been estimated that the song has received well of three million radio airplays since its release. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame selected it as one of the 500 songs that have shaped rock ‘n’ roll. “Stairway To Heaven” is an essential rock listening experience.

Many times it is forgotten that “Black Dog” was released as a single and was the group’s second-biggest hit, reaching number 15 on the American charts. It is a complex song with a unique bass line, shifting tempos, and another superb guitar solo by Jimmy Page. Rolling Stone ranked it as one of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

“Rock and Roll” is another Zeppelin tune which The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame honored as one of the 500 songs that shaped rock ‘n’ roll. It is a classic rock/blues track with Robert Plant’s vocal wailing above the mix.

I have always been attracted to “The Battle Of Evermore,” and it’s the only Led Zeppelin song I can think of to use a guest vocalist. Sandy Denny, who gained fame as a member of Fairport Convention, duets with Robert Plant. She would pass away in 1978 at the age of 31. It is a folk song with acoustic guitar and mandolin. Plant has been performing the song live in recent years with Alison Krauss.

The other outstanding track is the mid-tempo “Misty Mountain Hop” on which John Paul Jones’ keyboards provide the foundation for Page’s guitar and Bonham’s drumming.

Led Zeppelin IV has received just about every honor a rock album can achieve. It has also been played over and over again yet remains fresh. It’s that good!

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Led Zeppelin III by Led Zeppelin

October 10, 2010

When Led Zeppelin III was released, I was the only person in my college dorm who liked it better than their second album. My feelings may have changed forty years later but by October 5, 1970, I was the program director of the college radio station, so my opinion really mattered. I still feel it is an excellent album and a unique release in the Led Zeppelin catalogue.

It seemed everyone was waiting for the second coming of “Whole Lotta Love,” but Jimmy Page went in a different direction. It was not as heavy, as it featured a number of acoustic pieces and even contained some folk elements. It had a slicker production than their first two albums and strayed from their established raw blues style. For many of the tracks, mellow and thoughtful were words of the day. While critical reviews were mixed, at the time it was a commercial success, as it topped the American album charts and has sold in excess of six million copies.

This is also an instance where the original vinyl cover adds some panache to the affair. It had a rotatable disc which added hours of additional entertainment pleasure while you listen to the music. Yes, I am over exaggerating but it was innovative.

“The Immigrant Song,” which opens the album, is a quick burst of energy. It contains folk lyrics hidden in some typical Led Zeppelin mind thumping music. Robert Plant’s voice hits some impossible notes.

“Since I’ve Been Loving You” is an enduring blues rock song and would have fit well on either of their first two albums. Written by Page, Plant, and John Paul Jones, it was recorded virtually live in the studio and thus has more of an improvisational feel. Jimmy Page’s guitar solos are some of the best of his career and the song became a staple of their live shows.

Side two of the original vinyl release is where Led Zeppelin really strikes out into new territory. “Gallows Pole” is an update of the old folk traditional song “Maid Freed From The Gallows,” but they used Fred Gerlach’s version as their inspiration. The track begins gently and builds throughout. The acoustic trio “Bron-Y-Aur-Stomp,” “Tangerine,” and “That’s The Way” are all acoustic-based, and when taken as a unit as the original album intended, it presents Led Zeppelin in a new light. “Tangerine,” in particular is a lost treat as it is one of the most intricate songs of the band’s career.

Led Zeppelin III is sometime overlooked, as it was released in between two of the best selling albums in rock history. It remains one of the more interesting stops in the Led Zeppelin journey.

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Led Zeppelin II by led Zeppelin

October 10, 2010

Led Zeppelin II has been honored as one of the most critically acclaimed, commercially successful, and influential albums in rock history. It cemented Led Zeppelin’s status as one of the top-ranked, most-famous bands of all time, reaching Number One on music charts around the world. The album has sold 12 million copies in the United States alone.

What was remarkable was the band was touring in support of their debut album so the writing and much of the initial recording was done piecemeal. In many ways this may have helped the process as Jimmy Page and the rest of the band learned more as they performed. What emerged was a tighter, heavier, and more-polished release than their first yet it remained true to (and expanded upon) Page’s musical vision.

An integral part of the album’s success was Page’s direction and production. The songs fit together like a puzzle and even over forty years later I have trouble listening to them out of their original context. Maybe the sound could have been a little clearer but that has only become noticeable as time has passed.

“Whole Lotta Love” has become an accepted part of the musical landscape but when it was released in 1969 it was groundbreaking. I was in college at the time and had never heard anything like it, and the song still mesmerizes me today. It just explodes out of the speakers and those guitar bursts are some of the most memorable ever played. The song also became the band’s only Top Ten single in the United States, reaching number four on the charts.

I almost wore out “The Lemon Song” on my original vinyl copy of the album. I would continually lift the tone arm and move it back to play the song over and over again. The sexual innuendo, Robert Plant’s seemingly improvisational singing, and Page’s guitar make it one of the heaviest blues/rock tunes ever recorded.

There are really no weak tracks on this one. “Heartbreaker” has Page’s rapid-fire guitar runs. It is rare to describe a Led Zeppelin song as beautiful but “Thank You,” with John Paul Jones’ keyboards and Plant’s soulful voice, comes close to meeting that description. “Moby Dick” features a two-minute John Bonham drum solo that will leave you exhausted. “Living Loving Maid” even manages to be melodic in the midst of the guitar mayhem.

Led Zeppelin II is 42 minutes of rock history, an essential listening experience that should not be missed.

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Led Zeppelin by Led Zeppelin

October 6, 2010

Jimmy Page didn’t know it at the time, but when he joined The Yardbirds during 1966, it was the first step on the road to rock ‘n’ roll immortality.

By July of 1968, Page and bass player Chris Dreja found themselves the only remaining Yardbirds members. The problem was the group was committed to a series of concerts in Scandinavia. Page recruited singer Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham to fill out the band and they performed the gigs as The New Yardbirds. Chris Dreja then made one of the worst decisions in rock history as he withdrew from the band to become a photographer. His replacement was John Paul Jones, and so Led Zeppelin was born.

Their self-titled first album was released January 12, 1969 to mixed reviews. It would climb to number 10 on the American album charts but would continue to sell for years and would eventually pass the 8 million mark. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it at number 29 on their list of The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.

The fusion of blues and a heavy rock sound would set the tone for their career and would influence bands to the present day.

I had just started working for my college radio station when this album was released and it just passed me by at the time. I, as well as millions of other fans, did not climb on the Led Zeppelin bandwagon until their second release. Still, this album has grown on me over the years and I still give it a spin now and then.

The short guitar bursts by Jimmy Page on the opening track, “Good Times Bad Times” set the tone for the rest of the album. “Babe, I’m Gonna Love You” moves from acoustic guitar to power riffs as Plant’s vocal wails above the mix. “Dazed and Confused” is a complete group performance. Jones’s bass and Bonham’s drumming combine with Page’s guitar and Plant’s vocal to show that the individual members are excellent artists not only on their own, but that the whole is actually better than the sum of the brilliant parts.

The two Willie Dixon numbers give a glimpse of the band’s roots. “You Shook Me” and “I Can Quit You Baby” are slow blues jams that are twisted into unique Led Zeppelin interpretations. They were innovative at the time and remain fascinating today.

The album contains no real weak tracks. “Communication Breakdown” has an interesting bass line and another wonderful guitar solo. “Your Time Is Gonna Come” features a unique organ introduction from John Paul Jones. “Black Mountain Side” is solid evidence of just how good a guitarist Page was at the time.

Led Zeppelin was a revolutionary album at the time of its release. Today it is a part of rock history and essential to any collection.

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