Death and Taxes...
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”.