This song needs no introduction. Have a great week.
With its mandolin that instantly reminds me of Led Zeppelin’s Four Symbols, I was always going to like ‘Hairshirt’. But it also had added credibility – there was no chorus and it was buried on the B-side of R.E.M.’s sixth studio album Green. Things changed of course, as the album became a multi-million selling breakthrough for the band. “It’s a beautiful life” and this was 1988.
Now for the real thing. The first song (‘Good Times Bad Times’) on Led Zeppelin’s self-titled debut may have introduced the band’s confident and unique sound, but what followed did something more. While it sounded like another evil-woman blues “ramble”, Jimmy Page and gang had in fact selected and transformed a Joan Baez record for the second track. ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ would draw on folk music and give them the confidence to do so again and again, however heavy their journey became. Zep… what a great way to mark my 1000th post.” And I know that one day, baby, it’s gonna really grow, yes it is.”
Another track that sticks out for its disquieting string arrangement is ‘Friends’ off Led Zeppelin III. By 1970 had no shortage of pomp. Having returned from an exhausting tour of the US, the band retreated to Bron-Yr-Aur, a small cottage in the Dyfi Valley. Hats off to John Paul Jones. The bass player took the tranquility of their setting and created a string arrangement that would open a creative door – a precursor to ‘Kashmir’.
The drums, the drums. John Bonham’s percussion for ‘When The Levee Breaks’ was recorded in a stairwell at Headley Grange. The sound is gargantuan and became the signature break that the Beastie Boys used to open their freshman LP Licensed To Ill on ‘Rhymin’ and Stealin” (a.k.a. “Ali Baba and the forty thieves”). Led Zeppelin were famously forthcoming themselves when it came to using the work of other artists. The track is a reworking of a blues song written in 1929 by husband and wife Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie. It features at the end of Zep’s untitled fourth album.
Before founding member and ex-Jefferson Airplane drummer Skip Spence was kicked out of the band for trying to attack bandmate Jerry Miller with an axe, he was party to this Bob Mosley-written slow blues number. ‘Never’ is an obscure track by an obscure band, but its bluesy arrangement would reach far across the planet 5 years later. It is widely acknowledged that Led Zeppelin used it as the ‘inspiration’ for its epic ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’.
My heavy-metal-loving pal and I do have some overlap in musical interests. ‘What Is And What Should Never Be’ is off Led Zeppelin’s awe-inspiring 1969 long player Led Zeppelin II. Written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, this track seems bipolar; it switches between the folky one minute and axe-wielding the next. Plant was reflecting upon a romance he’d had with his wife’s younger sister (allegedly). Page was hammering his soon-to-become trademark Gibson Les Paul. The band embraced the contemporaneous technology to make it all knit together… stereo channels, phased-out vocals and something strong to suppress John Bonham’s thunderous power.
Where to start with these guys? Intentionally, it’s a cover version. A lost (but much bootlegged) classic until it featured on a couple of 1990s collections, Led Zeppelin’s 1969 rendition of Robert Johnson’s Delta blues number is full of stuff they would then mix aplenty into the classic Led Zeppelin II & III long players: hot blues riffs, the slide guitar and that lyric “I want you to squeeze my lemon, until the juice runs down my leg”. Give me an open top car and a long road now.