Monday, August 25, 2014

Led Zeppelin: Stairway to Heaven

Led Zeppelin was one of the first hard rock supergroups, and a band which enjoyed unprecedented popularity in the hard rock arena. The band came together from the ashes of the last incarnation of the Yardbirds, which featured the young guitar hero, Jimmy Page. Page teamed up with bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham, but the new band needed a lead singer to round out its line-up. Terry Reid was considered at first, but when he proved to be unavailable, Robert Plant was brought in.

The new band was initially called, “The New Yardbirds,” but changed their name to “Led Zeppelin” as a response to one observer who predicted their doom by stating, “They’ll go down like a lead balloon.” Like most other early hard rock bands, Zeppelin had a solid grounding in the electric blues of Chicago, especially where Hubert Sumlin, Otis Rush and Howlin’ Wolf were concerned.

The band’s debut album, “Led Zeppelin” (1968), clearly revealed that influence as the band recorded revolutionary takes on a number of Chess standards such as “You Shook Me,” “I Can't Quit You,” and “How Many More Times” with over-amplified bass, guitar and drums and the banshee-like vocals of Robert Plant. The album remains today one of the all-time classics of hard rock.

Their next effort, the superb “Led Zeppelin 2” (1969), contained fewer covers and moved more toward a mainstream hard rock sound with classic tracks such as “Heartbreaker,” “Whole Lotta Love,” and “Ramble On.” Their third release, “Led Zeppelin 3” (1970), was a more eclectic affair featuring several acoustic performances by Page and the hard-driving, “Immigrant Song.”

The band’s next release, “Led Zeppelin 4” (1971), would ultimately become their masterpiece due in large part to the presence of one of the most popular rock tracks ever, “Stairway to Heaven.” In addition to this hard rock anthem, there were other gems such as the folk-rock of “The Battle of Evermore,” featuring a vocal duet between Plant and former Fairport Convention lead singer, Sandy Denny. This album remains one of the best-selling and most-praised rock albums in history.

The first Led Zeppelin album to actually bear a proper title, “Houses of the Holy” (1973), followed next. It was yet another outstanding offering, containing the standout tracks, “The Song Remains the Same,” and “Over the Hills and Far Away.” The double album, “Physical Graffiti,” was next and continued Led Zeppelin’s almost unprecedented run of fine albums. Another diverse release, the album contained the epic track, “Kashmir.”

The very solid, “Presence,” was released in 1976, followed by the somewhat disappointing, “In Through the Out Door,” in 1979. An excellent live album of material from the Seventies, “How the West was Won,” would appear out of the blue in 2003.

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