Tag Archives: Jimmy Page

Dancing Days Are Here Again: Led Zeppelin Now on Spotify

This week one of the biggest bands in rock history was added to Spotify.  Yes, friends Led Zeppelin is available to stream!  I worry that I talk about Spotify a bit too much, but it’s been a godsend for me.  The ability to stream a wide swath of popular music has allowed me to dig deeper than I would if I had to go out and buy CD’s.  I never was a fan of illegally downloading music, though I did dabble with that in the past.

Spotify may not pay artists the way traditional album sales would, but I’d argue that the exposure the service gives band is worth it’s weight in gold.  I may have slowed down my consumption of records, but more importantly I’m a fan of more artists, from more genres than ever before.

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Led Zeppelin being on Spotify makes me happy for two reasons.  Firstly, I just moved and all my CD’s are packed away in boxes.  Meaning I’ve been living a horrible Zep-free life. Now I can hop on my computer, or smartphone, and instantly be in Led Zeppelin nirvana. Secondly, having the band’s entire catalogue available at my fingertips will finally allow me to explore the band’s last two albums.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve never heard 1976’s PRESENCE or 1979’s swan song (pun intended) IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR.  Sure, I’ve heard a few cuts of each album on the radio, but I’ve never heard them all the way through.  It’s basically like I’ve got new Led Zeppelin to listen to!

A few years back, my local Best Buy had a mega-sale on Led Zeppelin albums and I snapped up everything up to PHYSICAL GRAFFITI.  Why did I stop there?  Well, even though the CD’s were dirt cheap, Mrs. Defending Axl Rose isn’t the biggest fan of my expansive CD collection…so I stopped where everyone said the band stopped being good. But as I sit here, typing this listening to IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR, I can assuredly tell you that Led Zeppelin were good all the way to the bitter end.  Would I have had this epiphany without a streaming music service in my life?  Probably, though it would have taken me years to work my way back to Zeppelin.   If you’ve never fully explored the Led Zeppelin catalogue or if you’re an old-fan like me who haven’t listened to them in years, take some time and explore the band on Spotify.

My Top 10 Led Zeppelin Tracks (1969-1975)

1.  “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” off LED ZEPPELIN III.  This is my all-time favorite Zeppelin song.  I love the homespun feel of this song, it’s like a campfire song…Led Zeppelin-style.

2. “Living Loving Maid [She’s Just  A Woman]” off LED ZEPPELIN II.  Repeat after me: love the riff.  Killer, killer riff.

3. “The Ocean” off HOUSES OF THE HOLY.  Have Robert Plant’s super-high vocals ever been higher?  Every time I go to a concert and look back on the swell of faces I think of Plant singing to his “ocean.”

4.  “Going To California” off LED ZEPPELIN IV.  The entire fourth LED ZEPPELIN album is amazing (everyone knows that) but if I had to pick one song that I love the most from that record it would be “Going to California.”  While the rest of the album rages, this song is the quite eye of the hurricane.  The song gets bonus points for being about Joni Mitchell.

5. “Kashmir” off PHYSICAL GRAFFITI.  A wonderfully weird, and powerfully heavy track.  It’s a shame that most kids know it as “that Puff Daddy song.”  *Shudder*

6.  “Communication Breakdown” off LED ZEPPELIN.   The first Led Zeppelin album is more blues-oriented than most people discovering the band after that fact might expect. But while Zeppelin might have pioneered hard rock/heavy metal, they really were just bluesmen.  “Communication Breakdown” is a wonderful fusion of blues and hard rock the band would later use to dominate the world.

7.  “Immigrant Song” off LED ZEPPELIN III.  Elves and hobbits are nice, but it’s when Zeppelin sing about Vikings that my heart soars.  Truly this song is the hammer of the gods.  

8. “Hey Hey What Can I Do” B-Side to “Immigrant Song.”  This is probably the least-known song on this list (and not currently available on Spotify) but man, do I love it.

9.  “D’yer Mak’er” off HOUSES OF THE HOLY.  Funky.  This song is funky.  It also features a great vocal performance from Page.  Took me many years to learn that this song pokes fun of the way British people say “Jamaica.”  Which of course explains the reggae-ish vibe the song has.

10.   “Moby Dick” off LED ZEPPELIN II.  Come to Led Zeppelin for the killer Jimmy Page riffs and the stellar Robert Plant vocals…stay for John Bonham’s drumming.  Why on Earth don’t more drummers try to sound like Bonham?  He’s the greatest rock drummer of all time.  Period.  The song starts with some fun guitar licks and then devolves into an extended drum solo.  The genesis of the tune is that it began as something used during the live shows to give the rest of the band a break.  “Moby Dick” on record is over 4 minutes long, but Bonham would sometimes play a ten minute version live.

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The Legend of “You Really Got Me”

Perfection.  There are some who think perfection is only an idea, a theory that can never be truly realized.  And then there are people who have heard “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks.  I have nothing against complex, intricate music; I think there’s something to be said about an intricate symphony.  But when it comes to rock music, simpler is always better.  When Ray Davies wrote “You Really Got Me” in 1964, I’m confident that he wasn’t aware of the importance of what he was doing, he wasn’t trying to change the world, just write a tune.   But as one of the first successful songs built exclusively around a power chord, “You Really Got Me” proved hugely influential.

Simply put, heavy metal and punk rock could not exist without “You Really Got Me.”  That is not my opinion, it is a fact.

The riff that launched a 1,000 bands. It’s the rock music equivalent of E=MC2

But besides being built around a simple, repetitive power chord, “You Really Got Me” is notable for a unique distortion effect created by guitarist Dave Davies who cut the speaker cone of his amplifier with a razor blade.  The simple song with a unique sound was an instant hit, and saved The Kinks.  According to Ray Davies, the band’s record contract included a provision that The Kinks had ave a hit within three songs or their label would drop them.  The band’s first single, a cover of “Long Tall Sally” and follow-up single “You Still Want Me” proved to be dismal failures.  That put an incredible amount of pressure on the band, who literally had one shot to write a hit song or lose their deal with Pye Records, their record label.

“Fuck Off”

Interestingly, there are two legends surrounding the song, both involving the song’s guitar solo.  One of the rumors circulating is that Page played the guitar solo on “You Really Got Me,” but he didn’t.  During the 1960’s, Jimmy Page was the world’s most unfamous, famous guitar player.  Instead of being in a band, Page worked as a session man, or hired gun, playing on just about any and all tracks that paid.  He wasn’t well-known to the general public, but behind the scenes he was well regarded as a top-session guitarist.  Ironically, more people probably heard him play anonymously than when he was in  Zed Zeppelin.  He’s even on the theme-song for GOLDFINGER of all things.  And while The Kinks did use Page as a session player, he didn’t play on “You Really Got Me.”  The truth, it turns out, is stranger than fiction.

Ray Davies amazingly claims that not only did Kinks guitarist Dave Davies play the guitar solo, but that the word “fuck” is in original recording of the song.  The story goes that as the band was recording the song, Ray shouted to Dave Davies (in encouragement )as Dave started to play the solo.  Misinterpreting this gesture (imagine if you were about to record a solo and someone just randomly yelled at you) Dave, who was standing before a hot mic, allegedly told Ray to “Fuck off.”  Ray Davies claims that they kept the take, and that the band tried to cover it up with an “Oh No” but that it’s still there.  Davies says that with improved CD-quality sound technology the “fuck off” is quite audible.  After studying the song for several hours, I can tell you that there is without a doubt an “oh no!” just before the solo…beyond that…I just don’t hear it.

Regardless, “You Really Got Me” is an amazing song that launched the career of The Kinks and also changed rock music forever.

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“Reelin’ In The Years”

Like coffee, Steely Dan is a bit of an acquired taste.  I grew up in a household where, for a few years, there were only two CD’s in the house: The Beatles REVOLVER and A DECADE OF STEELY DAN.  That greatest hits compilation gathered quite a bit of dust.  The appeal of a band like The Beatles is instant and able to transcend age and experience.  The appeal of a band like Steely Dan is…a bit more complicated.

To be fair, I never gave Steely Dan more than a causal listen before casting them off as “lame.”  I must say, the band has a certain reputation among rock fans, many write them off as “dad rock”, self-indulgent, and worst of all: boring.  One of my all-time favorite comedians, George Carlin, even has a pretty funny joke that has the lameness of the band’s fans as part of it’s punchline.  Another factor at play in my inability to fully enjoy Steely Dan was my own ignorance of jazz.  Steely Dan, unlike most rock bands, are more jazz-influenced than they are blues-influenced. Jazz is a funny thing, and like coffee (and Steely Dan) a bit of an acquired taste.

“You been tellin’ me you’re a genius
Since you were seventeen
In all the time I’ve known you
I still don’t know what you mean”

And so, I remained ignorant of the greatness of Steely Dan until my second-to-last year of college.  I was driving home from school one autumn afternoon when I heard “Reelin’ In The Years” on the local classic rock radio station.  I’m sure I’d heard it before, but I must not have been ready because that afternoon I was struck-dumb by the song.

“Reelin’ In The Years” is  awesome for two reasons: the blazing guitar work and the incredible delivery of the lyrics.  The guitar work is exceptional, so much so that guitar god Jimmy Page has been quoted as saying that the guitar solo in “Reeling In The Years” is his all-time favorite solo.  That’s mighty praise.  Singer Donald Fagen has gone on to sort of roll his eyes when it comes to the song, calling it “Dumb but effective.”   And I guess it’s effective, like a shotgun’s effective when fired within a foot of it’s target.  To be fair, “Reelin’ In The Years” is a great blunderbuss of a song compared to the more nuanced work Steely Dan produced over their long run.  I guess the fact that it’s more of a straight-up rocker is part of the reason it’s the most-played Steely Dan song on classic radio today.

“Reelin’ In The Years” would be an noteworthy if all it consisted of was Elliott Randall’s out-of-this-world solo-but then there are the song’s lyrics, which perfectly match the quality of the guitar work.  Like all of Steely Dan’s best songs, “Reelin’ In The Years” is equal parts bitter and wistful.  “Reelin’ In The Years” is accusatory and at the same time filled with a sad-sort of desperation.  Steely Dan’s lyrics are famously opaque, but on “Reelin’ In The Years” the band is a bit more on-the-nose obvious than usual, without the usual literary flair or West Coast double-talk found in most of their songs.  I think that’s another reason why the song is so popular on classic rock radio: it doesn’t take a PhD in English to figure out what the hell the song is about.

Admittedly not the coolest dudes in rock.

All the best lyrics in the world don’t mean anything if the delivery is off, though.  The lyrics, though a bit dumbed-down as far as Steely Dan songs go, are delivered spectacularly.  They come come fast and furious.  There’s so much venom in Fagen’s voice as he spits the words out, his voice barely keeping up with the wailing guitar.  The amount of information, the sheer volume of emotion and narrative conveyed so perfectly and so quickly it’s downright Dylan-esque.

The song ended and I switched off the radio.  I went home and got online and started reading about the band, trying to figure out which album I was going to buy first.  A month later I went back home to visit my parents, before I left I found that dusty copy of A DECADE OF STEELY DAN.  Without asking, I slipped the album into my duffle bag and have never looked back.  I never thought I’d be a Steely Dan fan, but I am.

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Happy Birthday John Bonham

Today is John Bonham’s birthday! I don’t have very many traditions, but celebrating Bonham’s birthday is something I try to do every year.  Since I was a wee-lad I’ve been a Led Zeppelin fan, but I had kinda drifted away from the band until about 8 years ago when I was driving to work and I heard “Moby Dick” on the radio.  Being an instrumental, I had kinda overlooked “Moby Dick” in favor of the catchier, guitar-centric Zeppelin songs.  For some reason, hearing “Moby Dick” that night was like a revelation, and helped jumpstart my love of Led Zeppelin.  Like most people, I grew up thinking that Jimmy Page WAS Led Zeppelin, and while Zep certainly is Page’s band…it was Bonham and his drumming that made them truly special.  Over the years I’ve seen a lot of drummers, but nobody touches “Bonzo” (as Bonham was often called). It’s no secret that the way Bonham achieved his famous sound was by beating the ever-loving-shit out of his drums, but Bonham was more than just a burly oaf who wailed on the drums.  The man was a force of nature, he played with a massive amount of intensity yes, but he also had a raw/spontaneous nature about his drumming that can only be described as “organic.”  Every note seemed both thought-out and done entirely on instinct, and his ability to do that is the true secret of his genius.

John Bonham brought drumming into the rock ‘n roll spotlight.  Before hearing Bonham, I did not really consider drums.  Sure, w’d all miss them if they weren’t there….but drums were usually mixed way down prior to Zeppelin.  In fact, one of Zeppelin’s major contributions to rock music was how they recorded their drums.  Rather than record Bonham in a small, closed off little room (thus limiting the scale/scope of his thunderous sound), Zeppelin recorded Bonham’s drum parts in large, high-ceilinged rooms (even using a stairwell). Before I heard “Moby Dick” I the idea of a drum-solo (let alone an entire song that’s basically just the drums) seemed ridiculous. The only other famous drum-centric song that I could think of was “Wipeout,” which is more novelty than anything else.  “Moby Dick” is an epic masterpiece.  I’ve read accounts of Bonham playing this song for nearly 40 minutes during some of Zeppelin’s tours–the man had stamina (could you drum for 40 minutes straight?).

Earlier this month, I saw a symphonic tribute to Led Zeppelin put on by the St. Louis Symphony and a rock band led by singer Randy Jackson (of the band Zebra).  The show was pretty good, and the drummer did an admirable job covering “Moby Dick,” but even with an entire symphony, that tribute band couldn’t match Bonham’s volume and intensity.  Bonham was a notorious partier, who lived a larger-than-life existence and ultimately he paid the ultimate price.  And while he was a bit of a weirdo, he also loved his son and his friends.  And in the end, that’s enough for me.

Today is John Bonham day, celebrate by listening to some Led Zeppelin and have a pint for John.

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GIRL TALK & The Art of Sampling

So lately I’ve been listening to Girl Talk’s 2008 album FEED THE ANIMALS.  I know, I’m a little late to the party, but I’ve been busy.

For those unfamiliar, Girl Talk is really one a musician named musician Gregg Gillis who uses unauthorized samples.   Of course, that’s putting it lightly–Girl Talk’s music is damn-near 100% samples.  Now, I love a good mash-up as much as the next guy.  The thing is…there aren’t very many good mash-ups.  A mash-up seems like a really easy thing to create, song 1 + song 2 and you’re done.  But it’s more complicated than that, it takes a lot of time and effort to create a mash-up.  And it takes probably ten times longer than that just to come up with good/interesting song pairings. So understand, I’m not coming from a place where I think Girl Talk creating entire albums of mash-ups is easy or simple.  Gillis has talent, that much is apparent when you listen to FEED THE ANIMALS.  The songs swirls together, blending so seamlessly you literally need a scoresheet to keep track of what exactly you’re hearing.  Luckily there are people who have made such a scoresheet.

Why does Girl Talk hate that man’s lawn?

So if it sounds awesome and it’s not super-simple/requires some consideration what’s my problem? Why can’t I just let go and enjoy?

I don’t think it’s the fact that FEED THE ANIMALS is probably the most illegal record I’ve ever heard.  True, I think it sucks that he didn’t pay the respective copyright holders a dime in order to sample their music, I don’t really blame him.  I mean, for one thing, the number of samples is staggering.  A glance at one of the charts that detail the samples created by Girl Talk fans reveal a massive amount of samples–some of which are only a few notes others complete hooks or riffs.  But let’s pretend the guy had an unlimited supply of money and had asked for permission–many of the artists sampled on FEED THE ANIMALS probably would have said no. Do you think Ace of Base (or their copyright holders) want to be associated with DJ Assault’s song “Ass and Tities”? I don’t think so.  FEED THE ANIMALS features samples from several artists that don’t want to play in the digital age, like AC/DC, who don’t distribute their music in very many digital venues outside of iTunes (and they do that begrudgingly).  It also features Michael Jackson.  Do you think the Michael Jackson estate would let someone mash-up and mangle his music .  Rappers sample all the time, but what Girl Talk does is sampling taken to the next level. Artists that might not be unfavorable to a more traditional sampling (like Jimmy Page appearing on Puff Daddy’s “Come With Me”)  might not like Girl Talk’s 2% usage of a song.  There’s glory in having your stomping rock riff sampled or you chorus used, there is no glory in a few fleeting seconds.

I know that music is a business and that for the right price anyone will sell anything, but I can’t see FEED THE ANIMALS existing as a legal product.  But is it the illegality that’s holding me back from fully enjoying FEED THE ANIMALS?  I don’t think so.  I think ultimately Girl Talk is the harbinger of terrible things.  I recognize that what Gillis does is pretty awesome, but what he’s done is basically stand on the shoulders of giants.  As good as “Give Me A Beat” is, it’s nowhere near as creative as Tom Petty’s “American Girl” or Carole King’s “It’s Too Late,” hell it’s not even as creative as Brittany Spear’s “Gimme More” (all three of which are sampled in “Give Me A Beat”).  Taking something from nothing is infinitely greater than building on an existing  foundation (especially if that foundation includes Brittany Spears).  When a rapper samples he’s still written his verses if he hasn’t also created his beats.  What does Girl Talk create? It creates a julienne-cut jukebox.

FEED THE ANIMALS is a work of art and Gillis’ efforts is to be admired, but I can’t help but worry about the next step.  I can’t help but worry about a generation of kids that grow up listening to albums like FEED THE ANIMALS.  Will they bother to learn how to play instruments?  Will they bother with songwriting?  Or will they skip over a few dozen steps and create mash-ups of songs created by samples of other mash-ups.  I feel like Girl Talk is an evolutionary dead-end.  It’s like a platypus,  unique and interesting…so long as we still have other animals.

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