At what point did critics decide it was time for Zep’s critical upgrade? During my high school years, me and my Costello-, Jam-, and Specials-loving buddies would have never ever owned up to having a taste for Zep. When asked, the pat response was, “I don’t listen to that crap.” And you know what? I still don’t listen to that crap, best summed up as talking loud and saying nothing. That said, I gotta give credit where credit is due. “Good Times, Bad Times” and “Communication Breakdown” never fail to please. And I’d probably put “Misty Mountain Hop” on my list of favorite rock songs of all time. Lady Gergely and others may disagree, but as far as the rest of their catalog is concerned, I wouldn’t bat an eye if someone dropped a bomb on the vault where the master tapes are currently being stored.
As I said up front, 17-year-old Mr Moderator gets it. So do Lefty, Kirk, Roberta, and Frankie. In fact, the same two songs you identify were the only two I’d be willing to admit were great. Like you, I stashed away a third, more contemplative song, “Hey, Hey, What Can I Say,” or whatever that song is called. But don’t tell anyone.
It was easy to dismiss Led Zeppelin, as easy as it was for the “cool” kids to dismiss us. They – and their fans – wore the coolest jeans. They – and their fans – had the longest hair. They – and their fans – got really wasted, man. They – and their fans – got the hottest girls. They – and their fans – didn’t have their Moms riding their ass over every lifestyle choice, from fashion to bedroom decorations to late-night snacks.
We got called “fags” for taping up pictures of Elvis Costello and The Jam inside our lockers. We get it, EPG, me and the Falcons.
When I got to college, however, and didn’t have my Mom riding my ass, well…We is stoned. Immaculate.
Yeah, I had to put up with those same high school burnouts trying to get me to think that Jim Morrison‘s spoken-word crap was that of the Oracle, but they’d also spin the Zeppelin records I’d been avoiding. On hi-fi systems I’d never experienced first hand, I got turned onto the aural wonders of songs like “Ramble On” and “Four Sticks.” I knew these songs existed, but in prior years, I was unwilling to accept them for what they were. Same thing with the “Heartbreaker”/”Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)” segue, which our rival high school band, Crymson Myst, composed of all those perfectly-aged jeans-wearing burnouts, covered note for not. And who was I kidding denying the majesty of “Whole Lotta Love”?
Then there’s the ending of “What Is and What Should Never Be,” when the hammered on guitar chords ping-pong back and forth across the speakers. THAT is the moment that convinced me and my Falcons of something we never would have considered just a year earlier: Led Zeppelin inherited the mantle of album making from The Beatles. There’s still a pain in my heart as I say this, but Jimmy Page knew how to make records that came alive.
Led Zeppelin brought their music to life not through animality or some kind-hearted love of authentic African American artists, but through sheer craft and power. Their arrangements maximize every ounce of aural fantasy available. The craft of those productions matches the craft of any Beatles album. Sure, on every Led Zeppelin album, you’ve got to lift the needle over a terrible 10-minute long blooz workout, which dispels all notions that Jimmy Page was good at improvising, but then you’re right back to ridiculous songs about Lord of the Rings characters, fair maidens, and misguided hootchie-kootchie-isms.
Are the lyrics of probably every Led Zeppelin song ridiculous on a variety of levels? Probably. Are they any less ridiculous on a variety of levels than the lyrics of almost any James Brown song? I think not. The Falcons and I suspect we know the reason why James Brown gets a pass for rattling off cock-strutting nonsense over killer riffs and majestic arrangements while Led Zeppelin does not.
Come on, EPG, for me, for Lefty, for Kirk, for Roberta, and especially for Frankie, tell us what’s your beef with Led Zeppelin.