Greatest hits – my one-essay summary of Led Zeppelin & their 2008 reunion


(In 2008, my friend Ken asked me what I thought about Led Zep. He wrote that several of their records were in his “can’t get any better” pile, which is a great way to put that thought. Nobody really needs another essay on Led Zeppelin, but I enjoyed writing it and perhaps someone will enjoy reading it. That’s all we can ever hope for. Enjoy!)

Led Zep “2” and “4”, or “II” and “IV”, completely blew me out of the water,
and the arrival of any Led Zeppelin record up through “Presence” was A
Major Event in the subculture I lived in. I like “can’t get any
better” as a review bin- I’ll use it and give you credit. I enjoyed
“I” but only really liked “Immigrant Song” on “III”. But I liked it a
whole lot! They were the soundtrack of my teenage years. Two icons in
the first four records, and one good, and one fair with touches of
brilliance.

But they started losing it at “Houses of the Holy”. The album wasn’t
bad, me and my friends loved “No Quarter”, but it was not another step
along the path blazed by “II” and “IV”. The end came very quickly. I could
have reduced “Physical Graffiti” AND “Presence” to the greatest high
density single, or perhaps EP, of all time. “Kashmir” and “Achilles
Last Stand” are as good as anything they ever did, but I can’t tell
you the name of, or whistle the tune of, any other song on either
album. Two good songs out of three vinyl records. I enjoy the “Fool
in the rain” song, when it comes on the radio, but its not something
I’d pay money for.

By 1980 it was pretty clear (in my weird mind anyway) that Robert
Plant had been the real musical heart and brains of the outfit. Page
wasn’t so much a guitar god as a matchless producer, songwriting
partner for Plant and a hard, hard, worker, at least in the off stage
sense. On-stage, he was apparently a wreck. I heard “The Song Remains
The Same” years before I saw it, and its simply not in the same
territory as “Live At Leeds”, “The Allman Brothers Live At the Filmore
East”, “Hendrix In The West”, “Jimi Hendrix and the Band of Gypsies”,
the live Stones record they did when Brian Jones was still in the
band, or any of the knockout rock performances (Then Years After,
Santana, The Who, Sly and the Family Stone, etc, etc, etc) showcased
in the Woodstock movie. Page’s playing is distinctive, better than
anything I’ll ever do, contains solid original music and acknowledges
its debut to antecedents like Da Blooze. In spite of that, it always
seems to be calculated, a product, rather than some communion with
whatever immortal muse animates Barry Manilow or the guys in Yes. :^)
Ya know what I mean? Its like David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar. Sammy’s
great at what he does, and gives it his all, but there’s a connection
that Dave makes and Sammy doesn’t. For me, anyway.

Some time after 1981 Lori and I saw “The Song Remains The Same” as a
midnight movie (remember those?) and we laughed ourselves silly. The
playing looked as spotty as it sounded (“Remember *laughter*?”), the
fantasy sequences are only worth it as setups for jokes – like one of
you guys made at Bridalveil Falls. Bonham’s thugish fat guys, shotguns
and motorcycles sequence is so completely repulsive that it took me
years to be able to appreciate how good he had been. And he was an
astounding, technical, musician, at least for the first 4 records.

Plant’s solo efforts were medium to good, I liked Big Log and Pledge
Pin at lot, Robbie Blunt was a neat guitar player, and I bought
several of his solo records. Page was playing occasional pearls with
people who lacked his talent and work ethic (Radioactive, other than
his guitar playing, is downright embarrassing, and overall, I LIKE Paul
Rodgers).

I was delighted when Page and Plant got back together, because Bonham
had seemed to be a liability, and Jones was adept, playing something
that fit and worked, without ever rising above ‘sideman’ quality. It
can’t have been easy to play bass with the other three, but there
wasn’t anything I heard from him that would cause me to listen to what
he did without them.

That Bonham’s kid turned out to be a good drummer (as did Ringo’s kid)
ought to tell us something, and I’d have gone to the re-union if I
could have had a ticket for $50 or so. I can’t believe it would have
been as good as Van Halen was, on some level, but at this point in
their lives, I bet it was the best Led Zeppelin concert they ever
played.

The New Yorker ran a terrifically positive review about the reunion, but
cautioned that this was making good on another reunion they’d done-
Live Aid?, which sucked swamp-water, big-time. Now they could leave on a
high note. Don’t be attached to the possibility of a tour, and if
there is one, it may not be as good as that one show.

The best point in the review was when the writer noted that “Whole Lot
Of Love” is “a song about f***ing, not about making love.” And no
asterisks either. 30 something year later, respectable magazines can
talk directly about the hard rock of the late 1960s. I can’t wait for
their career retrospective on AC/DC :^)

When “The Song Remains The Same” came out, one of my co-workers and I
had a running joke about winning a radio contest and having Led
Zeppelin come to your house… ie, your parents house. “Mom, this is
Bob. Bob, this is my mom…
…this just isn’t going to work, is it? Why don’t you guys wait in
the limo, I’ll be out in a minute.” Bwahahahahah!

I’d love for them to come around, since Page is presumably no longer
so drunk he can’t stand, and Plant has always seemed worth it. I’m
still up for that $50 ticket, and I’ll take my chances. But I bet the
studio records will always be better. The New Yorker’s review
suggested that Page being able to compose things he couldn’t quite
play live was “one of his charms”.

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