Thursday, March 26, 2009

Death and Taxes...


So, I’m reading “Hammer of the Gods” for the first time. I know, I haven’t seen “Gone with the Wind”, or “It’s a Wonderful Life” either. That’s just how I roll. Anyway, it’s actually a pretty well done rock biography IMHO. I like the pace Stephen Davis has charted for his chronicle here. I’ve read quite a few of these books as you can imagine, and even if you’re a big fan of the featured band, most of the time authors wander WAY deep into the minutia weeds and adoration quick sand. There are spots of that here and there in “Hammer of the Gods”, but not enough of a distraction that it really bothers you. It’s a good read whether you’re a Zep fan or not. I’m not quite done with it yet, but I’m sold on it already.

Me, I consider myself a fan, but a very selective Zep fan. My main man Jackson has no love for Robert Plant, and has been know to take a swing at Jimmy Page now and again. I get that. Plant is so self indulgent on so many Zep songs that it’s quite frankly unbearable at times forcing the needle to be lifted and the J.R. Tolken lyrical allusions are just the beginning of it. But I’m comfortable being in the camp that recognizes their much deserved greatness by employing strict Zeppelin track selectivity. The entirety of the debut album is enough to give them a seat at the right hand, but the records that follow are where programming your iPod/CD player become a handy tool with the exception of two other LP’s: Zep’s 4th (the one with Stairway) and their by far and away best, “Presence”.

I might have written about this record before, but reading about the circumstances of it’s creation I was compelled to put the earbuds in last night while knocking out a few waning chapters. Apparently, the four fellows were in the throws of lives as ‘Tax Exiles’ like so many of their English rock and roll brethren before and after (It’s uncanny that so many English bands best work was created while they were tax exiles). Zep albums prior to “Presence” were becoming bigger and bigger productions so much so that extra time was needed to rehearse the subsequent tours in order to create playable arraignments of some of the tracks. John Paul Jones was becoming quite the multi-instrumentalist outside of the studio and on the stage due to the extravagance that multi-track tape machines were affording Jimmy’s production. The studio they settled on to record “Presence” was in Munich Germany (the city of my birth). The owners were barely able to accommodate them since the Rolling Stones were scheduled to take the place over in two short weeks. Given their status and short lead time, they were not able to import the entirety of their bloated collection of gear and thus the album is devoid of synths, sitars, mandolins, etc… and THIS, as Davis notes in his book, is what makes it such a great record. Singer, guitar, bass, and drums. Nothing more, nothing less.

The band completed everything including vocal overdubs in the two weeks they had, the only thing left to be done were lead guitar overdubs which, in normal circumstances, Jimmy would take several weeks to suss out on his own. Jimmy ended up calling Mick Jagger and asking if he could have two more days. Mick, the English gentlemen he is, was only happy to oblige (besides, Keith would inevitably turn up a week late anyway). Miraculously, Page ripped all his lead work to tape in that 48 hour period. I’m strongly of the opinion it’s his best work EVER. Jimmy was a very successful studio musician for many years before even joining The Yardbirds and I get the feeling reading about the Presence recording sessions that the one take world he must have been in for those 48 hours was both struggle and liberation from the usual practice of doing hundreds of takes and dissecting them later in the mixing process. His ‘let it fly’ work on “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “Achilles Last Stand” is top shelf. My favorite is “Tea For One”. Not only is Jimmy brilliant, but it’s just one instance of an impressive Plant vocal and great lyric a rare enough thing (see Plant comments above), but the band is tight as a drum.

“Hammer of the Gods” is chock full of the now well worn tales of concert tour debauchery, but I think Led Zeppelin should hold a soft spot in all who fell head first into the late seventies/early eighties heavy metal scene whether we like Zep’s music or not. The Zeps were constantly dismissed by high and mighty critics and rock journalists of the day to the point of ridicule, especially by Rolling Stone Magazine. Of course, these are the same assholes who gave all the early Black Sabbath records one and two stars. These detestable snots just couldn’t get their arms around pure energy driven guitar rock. They wanted Dylan and ELP (yipes!). Looking back, it’s hard to believe that these alleged journalists couldn’t comprehend why America’s teenage boys were flocking to Zeppelin’s record breaking sold out shows and buying their LP’s by the metric ton, but I knew, WE knew, Black Sabbath knew (it’s a point of fact that “Presence” was the first LP ever to ship platinum). It’s fair to say that Black Sabbath owes their existence to Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin WERE the heavy metal pioneers that they’ve been lauded to be and for that I thank them, and especially for the album “Presence”.

7 Comments:

At 7:20 PM, March 26, 2009, Blogger Mathdude said...

It's scary how similar you and I are on our opinions of Led Zep. My fave 3 songs of theirs in no particular order because I can't give it one are Candy Store Rock, Baby I'm Leaving You, and When the Levee Breaks.

 
At 10:54 PM, March 26, 2009, Blogger smiley said...

Nice post. I will have to check out the book - never heard of it. Being that you, by yourself conjure up memories for me about our musical youth, I recall upon an early Zep memory where we "studied" Stairway to Heaven at WPES. Was it you that suggested this StH is about a prostitute? I remember how we all offered up our own interpretations. I think about that every time I hear the song. What was the name of our music teacher? I'm sure you'll remember.

I saw Jimmy Page on some solo tour in the late 80’s in New Orleans. Let me see if I can describe what my “take away” from that evening was:
This must have been before the ban on General Admission tickets, post The Who stampede incident because I was standing right up front. I don’t particularly recall anything other than the fact that this man sprays spit all over himself as he performs. I practically need a visual to explain but picture this – his whole shirt was not wet from sweat or water, it glistened with a shiny sheen of sputum. Blech!

 
At 7:24 AM, March 27, 2009, Blogger Jackson said...

I like III the best, whatever, cool, the Stones, Muncich, whatever, bloated, ego, sloppy, whatever.

 
At 10:32 AM, March 27, 2009, Blogger BeckEye said...

I love Zep also and I've never read the book. Just one more thing I have to get around to doing some day.

My favorite Zep song? "Night Flight." I told someone that once and they accused me of "trying to be obscure." What the fuck ever. It's an awesome song...from their best album, "Physical Graffiti." You might find the double album a little self-indulgent, though. :)

 
At 10:57 AM, March 27, 2009, Blogger Tony Alva said...

Mathdude: Yep, the other records are pick and choose, but the good ones are REALLY good.

Smiley: I do remember that conversation and was indeed the individual that proposed the whore theory. Our music teacher was Miss Costa. Very cool lady, HUGE boobs.

Jackson: "Sloppy"?! Really. We're not talking about Rush here, this post is about Zep. I'd also suggest you give Presence a listed and find a spot where the band is early or late. Hater.

Beckeye: You'll enjoy the book. Lot's of naughty bits in it. I'd think it would be hard to be "obscure" with a fav Zep track. Physical G. is the one I listen to least. I'll yank it out and give your tune a listen for sure.

BTW, did anybody catch Prince on Leno last night? He was fantastic. Played a heavy rock song and was absolutely wailing on guitar. When the number was over he walked up to the audiance and handed his strat to some lucky jackass (jackass 'cause I w3asn't who he handed the guitar to). I think I'll go get his new one...

 
At 1:38 PM, March 29, 2009, Blogger dhc said...

Zep defines obscure. Or just plain "huh?" on some albums. But I still like them.

TA, I have always loved Prince, and I've taken quite a beating over the years for it. He is one strrraaaaaange dude (I used to drive by his mansion on Lake Minnetonka in MN on occasion, it has a black wrought iron gate with all of his weird symbols worked into it ), but he's good. His best stuff is NOT the pop-ish stuff from the 1984 time frame.

 
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