Genre: Blues Rock, Hard Rock
Preceded by: –
Followed by: Led Zeppelin II (1969)
It’s January 1969 and The Beatles are digging their way through the Get Back-sessions. During a little break they are talking about a new album that Jimmy Page has produced. ‘Wasn’t he the one who was in the Yardbirds?’, asks George Harrison. The Yardbirds was the favorite band of Jimi Hendrix when he brought together blues rock, psychedelic rock and hard rock on his 1967 debut with the Experience. Two years later, Page has his own band, releasing their own album. ‘With a kid called John Bonham on drums. He is unbelievable.’, according to the rattling Fab Four.
Later that year, this new band called Led Zeppelin would release their classic hard rock album Led Zeppelin II, which would knock The Beatles’ Abbey Road from #1. But what about their bluesy debut album? And what about this band in general?
The Yardbirds were falling apart in 1968 with Jeff Beck forming his own band (The Jeff Beck Group) and bass player Chris Dreja becoming a photographer. However, they still had some contractual obligations for a tour in Scandinavia. So remaining member Jimmy Page decided to bring in singer Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham, two members from Band of Joy, and complete the tour as The New Yardbirds. Some guy called John Paul Jones contacted the band himself to become the new bass player. They performed in Denmark for the first time together and completed the tour successfully.
Shortly after the tour, the band began to record their first album, consisting of songs they had played during their live gigs. It was recorded in a very short time period, with Page covering all the costs. But Dreja forced the new band to change its name, as they were only allowed to use ‘The New Yardbirds’ for their final tour. This is how Led Zeppelin was born, choosing an image of the famous burning Hindenburg (the former pride of nazi Germany), a ‘lead zeppelin’, for the album cover. The album would contain a heavy blues rock sound (including some covers of traditional American blues songs), combined with some extreme guitar-driven and riff-based hard rock sound, just like Hendrix did two years earlier.
Sure thing is that the traditional blues is better represented on this album, most notably with the Willie Dixon covers ‘You Shook Me’ and ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’. The first one has a typical slowly lingering blues beat, with a very cool instrumental part in the middle of the song where a screaming Plant is continually echoing Page’s guitar sounds. The song caused a dispute with Page’s former buddy Jeff Beck, as he had recorded the same song some months before. The other Dixon song is also a typical blues rock song, with a jazzy drum and bass combo, filled up by a plonking Page. A little less bluesy is the ballad ‘Your Time Is Gonna Come’ (about an unfaithful girl), which is instead characterized by a beautiful organ intro by Jones and a sing-along chorus.
The hard rock songs on the album are easily to distinguish by their higher pace. One of them is the fantastic opener ‘Good Times Bad Times’. I still consider this one of the best opening songs ever: the intro with the guitar and cymbals combo, the bass loop in the bridge, the guitar solo, the rocking kick-drum: from the very start of this debut you can hear what kind of geniuses those instrumentalists actually are. This is even taken one level higher on my favorite Zep track and one of my all-time rock favorites overall: ‘Dazed and Confused’. There’s the thrilling bass intro, the absolute superb drumming from Bonzo, the haunting middle part where Plant’s voice serves as a fourth instrument, and then… a huge instrumental explosion with Bonzo’s drumming seeming to chase Page’s solo like a mad dog, an absolute rock masterpiece. Especially those kind of songs show that Led Zeppelin probably was the best group of rock instrumentalists ever having played together. A last song of this kind is ‘Communication Breakdown’, a very uptempo song with again a fast drum and bass section, it even reminds you of a punk song.
The three other songs can not really be placed in one or another category. Sure, closing song ‘How Many More Times’ kinda sounds like a blues song, but it’s best known for the fantastic bolero rhythm, which pushes the song along in a very bombastic way, another favorite. ‘Black Mountain Side’ to the contrary is a kind of strange song on a Zep record. It’s an instrumental, with Page on a steel-string guitar and a guest appearance on tabla to give the song its eastern character. Those sounds will return in several songs on later albums. The same goes for ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’, which is as mystic as some famous songs on for example Zep’s fourth album. It’s basically a duet between Plant’s voice and Page’s acoustic guitar, but the strange balance between calmness and anger makes this song a real gem.
After Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin would continue to make high quality and very successful albums, incorporating folk en Celtic music influences, becoming the absolute number one rock act of the seventies. The band disbanded in 1980 following the death of Bonham and was described by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as being ‘as influential in the seventies as The Beatles were in the prior decade’. So if you still haven’t heard a song of those guys, start with one of those first two albums because they will kick you in the face like an angry gnu.
Genre: Folk Rock, Soft Rock
Preceded by: Mona Bone Jakon (1970)
Followed by: Teaser and the Firecat (1971)
Related to: not available yet
Another album from 1970, as it might have become clear that the period between 1967 and 1972 is my favorite era in pop history. Back then, singer-songwriters still made music you didn’t just smoothly fell asleep to. One of the greatest of his generation was Steven Demetre Georgiou, inspired by John Lennon and Paul Simon (who had just broke up with their respective groups) and with an exceptional talent for great melodies.
Because he realized no American would buy music from some guy called Georgiou, he adopted the stage name Cat Stevens. Stevens was an English art student who liked playing piano and guitar. In the early seventies he would suddenly claim world fame after releasing three very successful albums: Mona Bone Jakon, Tea for the Tillerman (both 1970) and Teaser and the Firecat (1971). Of all three albums (on which Stevens created the artwork himself), Tea for the Tillerman would become most famous.
Stevens already released some singles in 1966 (featuring John-Paul Jones on bass before he joined Led Zeppelin), with the first album following in 1967. But in 1969 he suddenly ended up in the hospital after contracting tuberculosis, fighting against death. During his recovery, his perspective on life and spirituality changed. He started to meditate, to read about other religions and became a vegetarian. And also: he wrote like forty songs which would appear on his following albums. First on Mona Bone Jakon, with the hit single ‘Lady D’Arbanville’. Next was Tea for the Tillerman, mixing lyrics of ordinary life situations and spiritual questions with great folk rock melodies.
Songs that were heavily influenced by Stevens’ stay in the hospital are ‘But I Might Die Tonight’ (obviously), ‘On the Road to Find Out’ (find one’s self through personal experiences and religion, with really awesome vocals) and ‘Sad Lisa’ (about a girl nearing the point of depression). The opening song of the album, ‘Where Do the Children Play?’, has a broader perspective, contemplating the challenges mankind has to cope with during the beginning of the seventies: war, poverty, ecological trouble,… . While coping with these challenges we tend to forget primary needs.
The only single of the album was ‘Wild World’, which was kind of a sequel to ‘Lady D’Arbanville’, as it describes Cat’s goodbye words to his departing lover, Patty D’Arbanville. The combination of Stevens’ voice and guitar beautifully awakes the sad feeling of leaving. A song a little more mysterious is ‘Into White’, which I still don’t really get. It’s about some organically built house with plants and animals inside, but it also says you have to be aware of violence, and in the end everything is ’emptied into white’. Find out for yourself where this is all about.
However, my absolute favorite of this album is ‘Father and Son’. The song tells a dialogue between a father and his son (surprise), with the son explaining that he wants to leave to seek his own destiny. The father (echoed by Stevens with a lower voice) doesn’t understand this desire. The American band Flaming Lips released a song very similar (musically as well as lyrically) to it in 2002, ‘Fight Test’, and were therefore charged with a lawsuit. Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne expressed he had no intentions to steal the song, he just liked it very much, and he granted Stevens half of the royalties for the song.
The album is closed actually by the title track, a very short song which was used for the closing credits by the creators of the hilarious British sitcom Extras. Stevens himself made some more albums in the seventies before converting to Islam in 1977, adopting his new name ‘Yusuf Islam’ from then on. He left the music scene two years later and only returned in 2006. However, he never reached the same heights again as on Tea for the Tillerman, telling us with it’s ethical lyrics and smooth melodies that you better enjoy life now, before it’s too late.
Welcome to this brand new blog. This summer I finally went to Poland, and after that I realized there’s only one more thing I want to do in my life: start to write my own album blog. You can read all about it in the about section. The first album will follow quickly on this historical tuesday.