::Literate Blather::
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Get the Led Out

The 9 Best Songs by Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin is the greatest rock n’ roll band of all time. They may not be as influential as the namby-pamby Beatles or as popular as the dinosaurs still stalking the stage and calling themselves the Rolling Stones, but make no bones about it.

Led Zeppelin sits on top of the rock altar.

They had it all – a coolness factor that exceeds both Jim Morrison and Pink Floyd, a heavy-metal, blues-infused sound that has yet to be duplicated, and a rock influence that touches nearly every modern band (from Filter to Pearl Jam). Jimmy Page was one of the best guitarists in rock and who could ever mimic the yowls and vocal range of Robert Plant? And no one could bang drums better than John Bonham or pluck a base like John Paul Jones.

The band has some impressive statistics as well. They’ve sold more than 300 million albums (including more than 110 million in the United States). VH1 ranks them as the best heavy metal band of all time (we’d argue that calling their bluesy, often folksy and funk-induced music “heavy metal” is outrageous). They are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

They also have a damn cool web site. Make sure you have your volume cracked up when you click on the link.

The only sin the band has committed is its stubborn refusal to allow its music catalog to be available online. So you can’t purchase their albums on iTunes or any other music store on the Web. Hopefully, that will change.

Choosing the 9 best songs by Led Zeppelin is a difficult challenge – since you could argue that their 9 worst songs are better than anything topping the charts these days. But we went ahead and tried anyway. Why the number 9? Because they released 8 albums in 10 years – from the self titled debut in 1969 "Through The Out Door" in 1979, but we’re going to include Coda – a collection of B sides and rarities released in 1982 after the death of Bonham in 1980.

That makes 9 albums.

So without further ado – our picks for the 9 Best Songs by Led Zeppelin:

Ramble On (1969)

“Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair.
But Gollum, and the
evil one crept up and slipped away with her.”

Yeah, geek alert. The lyrics are inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” Is it any wonder that Plant once admitted he was embarrassed by the Tolkien references? Little did he know that that would be damn cool nearly 30 years later.

The song is actually one of four that reference Tolkien (“Bron-Y-Aur Stomp,” “Misty Mountain Hop” and “The Battle of Evermore” are the others). The unique drumming on the song is actually Bonham banging on a plastic bucket.

Dazed and Confused (1968)

This is a cover song originally performed by folk artist Jake Holmes. Many people think it’s about an acid trip gone haywire (probably because Zeppelin’s version sounds like it should be), but, in fact, the song is about a girl. The lyrics are mediocre with the first stanza going like this:

“Been Dazed and Confused for so long it's not true.
Wanted a woman, never bargained for you.
Lots of people talk and few of them know,
soul of a woman was created below.”

Zeppelin never credits Holmes (and Page takes writing credit for the song on Zeppelin’s first album). What makes Zeppelin’s interpretation of the song so good is that Page uses a violin bow on his electric guitar. The result is an eerie, nightmarish sound that makes the song creepy and rocking at the same time. When Zeppelin played the song in concert the middle of it became a monster jam that could last up to 45 minutes.

Nobody’s Fault But Mine (1976)

What is this song about? There are two popular theories:

  1. It’s about Plant’s addiction to drugs
  2. It’s about Led Zeppelin’s deal with the devil

I prefer the latter explanation – because it just adds to the Zeppelin mystique. Regardless, the song rocks (even though it was stolen from American Bluesman Blind Willie Johnson who died in 1945 and wasn’t around to complain about the theft).

The song was a staple of Zeppelin concerts and featured some amazing blues rifts from Page (the original recording is done with a triple-tracked guitar introduction). We also get a dazzling harmonica solo by Plant.

When the Levee Breaks (1970)

This is the best song from the band’s famous Zofo album. In other words it kicks the ass of “Stairway to Heaven.” And (surprise, surprise) it’s another song stolen from long dead bluesmen – this time from duo Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie.

But to Zeppelin’s credit they rework the song considerably and make it their own. It’s about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and the beginning of the song features a booming, thunderous drum beat by Bonham. It was recorded by placing Bonham at the bottom of an empty stairwell.

Plant also has some incredible screeches and screams in this baby.

In My Time of Dying (1974)

Another song ripped-off from Blind Willie Johnson. Poor bastard. It is found on the band’s double album “Physical Graffiti” and holds the distinction of being the longest studio song recorded by Zeppelin (11:06).

Hold on to your ball caps. “In My Time of Dying” is a guitar aficionados dream. Page lets his guitar weep and wail on this one.

Not knowing how to end the song, Plant is heard mumbling “dyin’… dyin’… dyin’” and then someone coughs and Plant ad libs “Cough.” Then you can hear Bonham say: “That’s gonna be the one, hasn’t it?”

The end.

No Quarter (1972)

This song is as lonely and forlorn as a cold wind on a rainy night. For some reason, the song conjures up images from the very spooky short story “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs.

The lyrics drive home the feel:

“Close the door, put out the light.
You know they won't be home tonight.
The snow falls hard and don't you know?
The winds of Thor are blowing cold.”

This song also feels like it could also have been influenced by Tolkien and “Lord of the Rings.” It became the centerpiece of most Zeppelin concerts often accompanied by flashing lights and a fog machine.

In the Light (1975)

Zeppelin never played “In the Light” in concert because the eerie synthesizer introduction played by John Paul Jones could not be replicated in concert. It’s also one of the few songs where Page uses a violin bow on his guitar (this time an acoustic guitar).

To say that “In the Light” is creepy – doesn’t do justice to creepy. If Edgar Allen Poe had been a rock n’ roller – this is the song he would have written. However, many people interpret the song as Zeppelin’s redemption song – that they embrace God and Christianity. Mainly due to lyrics like this:

“And if you feel that you can't go on. And your will's sinkin' low
Just believe and you can't go wrong.
In the light you will find the road. You will find the road.”

But we reject this interpretation because as soon as the song lightens – it then rapidly descends again into gloom and mysticism. “In the Light” feels more like a drug trip than a religious indoctrination.

Kashmir (1975)

In the movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” the character Mike Damon tells his buddy Rat that the best way to score with a chick is to play the second side of Zeppelin IV on a date. The movie cuts to Rat and his date in the car with “Kashmir” cracking.

Kashmir” is on the album Physical Graffiti.

The song has a Middle Eastern flair to it and, in fact, Plant wrote the lyrics while driving through the Sahara Desert (why it’s called Kashmir – a mountainous region in India is unknown). But Plant has cited the song as his favorite.

The song was also played at every Zeppelin concert.

In the Evening (1979)

Zeppelin’s last studio album while Bonham was alive, “In Through the Out Door” is the most disjointed and lighter than the typical Zeppelin album. The one exception is “In the Evening,” which was written by Jones.

The ghostly introduction was originally written for the film “Lucifer Rising,” but Zeppelin had a falling out with the movie’s director. “In the Evening” is a straight rocker and the best song on “In Through the Out Door.”

It’s also another song where Page used a violin bow on his guitar.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...
Wow! We must have been separated at birth... That could have been my list.

Blogger GFS3 said...
You, my friend, understand the magic of Led Zeppelin.

Thanks for reading!

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