Dec 292009

I think I can, I think I can…

You may recall a recent comment by E. Pluribus Gergely regarding his belief that the music and packaging of Led Zeppelin promise way more than the band can deliver lyrically:

…regarding Plant’s ramblings, one can always count on a “you don’t need to be a Dylan to make it work” defense. True, but the music behind the rambling is presented in such a majestic fashion that the listener is expecting some sort of wisdom, or at the very least something that makes some sort of sense period. All one ever gets is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

And that’s my real beef with Zeppelin. No one expects any insights from on high when electric piano keys are pounded on the “Louie, Louie” intro because nothing overly complicated is going on in the first place.

This isn’t a bad or untrue point, but the question this raised for me is, Has any band made anywhere near as majestic, bombastic music AND been able to support it with lyrics that aren’t pretty stupid? I asked Plurbs to compare the lyrics of Led Zeppelin to those of Yes, Rush, Black Sabbath, and other bands working this territory. In comparison, Plant’s lyrics don’t sound half as bad, do they? But that’s not my question – what I really want to know is, what band making majestic, bombastic, mountain-scaling music delivers lyrics that come close to delivering on the promise of the music? Is Pink Floyd the best rock can offer?


  7 Responses to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”

  1. misterioso

    The easy answer, and probably the correct one, is no, that Floyd is the best such music can offer is an indictment of such music as a whole.

    Robert Plant’s lyrics read like Lord Byron compared to the utter inanity that is Yes or Rush. Sabbath gets a pass because brain cells were obviously scarce.

    But, stretching the barriers a bit, The Who of ’69+ in many ways reach or exceed the majesty levels–esp. live–of these other more obviously bombastic groups without losing all intelligence in the lyrics.

    Roxy Music on Country Life reaches a high level of sweep and grandeur (The Thrill of It All, All I Want Is You, Out of the Blue) without sounding like dopes or writing about mythical beasts. I realize Roxy Music hardly belongs in a conversation with Rush or Black Sabbath in any sense, but maybe the point is that smart bands can sometimes reach majestic levels.

    Finally, and quite possible I will take a beating for this, but for me U2 has often managed to balance grandeur with intelligence.

  2. Mr. Moderator

    misterioso, EXCELLENT additions to what I feared would be an incredibly underwhelming list. You were right to stretch the boundaries. The Who delievered as well as anyone on grandiose musical settings. Although I wouldn’t say Roxy Music was as majestic, they do deliver lyrics to scale of their arrangements. Good one! I’ll even back you on U2, a band that tries mighty hard for majesty, grandeur, and bombast no matter how often it fails. At least the band’s successes and failures are evenly pitched in terms of music and lyrics.

  3. Interesting idea. Who are the wisest rockers?Lennon, possibly, but he has his fair share of clunkers too.

    Did you all see this review of a new book about Zep?

  4. I’d like to put a kibosh on the idea that the lyrics of Rush and Black Sabbath were inane. These are ideas that are so commonplace amongst us rock snobs that they’re never questioned for their merit (or lack thereof).

    As for Rush, everyone thinks they’re about mysticism, D&D, etc. and sometimes (though rarely) that’s true, but mostly Neal Peart’s lyrics deal with politics from a libertarian perspective. Sometimes, they can be really heavy-handed, like the militantly atheist, anti-religion lyrics in “Freewill” (still a great song), but sometimes they’re actually on point. I’m not saying that he’s a lyrical genius or anything, but just not as bad as people usually think.

    As for Sabbath, they weren’t just about satan, drugs, etc. A lot of Geezer Butler’s lyrics were about hippies, nuclear dread, the love generation, etc. Just see “Children of the Grave” and “Into the Void” for proof.

    To answer the question, though, I think Oats was onto something last night. Metallica might be the band that did the complex/grandiose music with pretty good lyrics combo the best, at least in their ’80s heyday. They weren’t lyrics about satan or something in that vein, but rather environmentalism (“Blackened”) capital punishment (“Ride the Lightning”), televengalists (“Leper Messiah”), war (“One”) and other topics as well.

  5. misterioso

    Metallica might have been the least dumb metal band, which is kind of like being known as “the cute one” in Bachmann Turner Overdrive.

  6. “Freewill” (still a great song)


  7. misterioso

    Kilroy, any song about Killer Whales is ok by me.

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