What They're Saying in 2014
Speaking of The Beatles

52 Guitars: Week 8

Week 8? Already? Yes, unless I missed a week.

The obvious next person to feature is Jimmy Page. (For the less pop-music-obsessed: Clapton, Beck, and Page were all members of the Yardbirds, in succession except for a brief overlap of Beck and Page.) But I half-intended to skip him. Why? Because most of his best-known work was with Led Zeppenlin, and I never liked Led Zeppelin.

And why didn't I like Led Zeppelin? Well, initially because I just didn't care much, in general, for the loud, heavy, aggressively macho brand of hard rock that they helped to pioneer. It was more or less blues-based, and I love the blues, but it took the humor and sense of play out of it, and made it ponderous, with the good-humored sexuality of the blues transformed into something that seemed to have more to do with greed and power than desire. I admit I never listened to Zeppelin much; I lumped them in with bands like Grand Funk Railroad whose music seemed shallow and insignificant, and its popularity indicative of the collapse of the hopes of the mid-'60s.

But there was something else: Zeppelin always seemed somehow sinister to me, not in the manner of, say, the Velvet Underground or the Doors, who were consciously exploring darkness, but in a deeper way: not as if they were looking into darkness, like the Doors, but as if they were of the darkness. I couldn't put my finger on it (not that I listened to them enough to try), but there was a something dark abroad in the last couple of years of the 1960s, and the sound of Led Zeppelin seemed a part of it. I know this is an idiosyncratic reaction, but I was not the only one at the time who felt that way. I remember a friend describing it as "insect music," and I knew what she meant: yes, the sound was heavy, but it also had a shrill quavering element that seemed vaguely unhuman. I don't know what if anything that quality had to do with Page's interest in the occult and in particular the very sinister work of Aleister Crowley, but I wasn't surprised when I learned of it.

Over the years, hearing their music here and there, I've come to realize that I was mistaken about them in many ways, and come to appreciate them. They were superb musicians, and there's much more to their music than I gave them credit for. They deserve their reputation as one of the great bands. And Jimmy Page seems to deserve a lot of the credit, not just as guitarist but as writer and producer.

Still, I just don't care all that much for them. So here are a couple of tracks featuring Page that don't sound much like typical Zeppelin. Page was (is?) a very fine acoustic guitarist, as is sometimes apparent in Zeppelin's work. This has a lot in common with the acoustic tracks that appeared on the last Yardbirds album ("White Summer") and the first Led Zeppelin album ("Black Mountain Side"). The opening melody is from the ballad "She Moves Through the Fair."


I think Page differs from Clapton and Beck in that his playing is more about color and texture and harmony than lightning-fast leads. Here's a track from the 1998 Page-Plant collaboration, Walking Into Clarksdale. I had not heard this before I went searching for Page's music on YouTube. From what I've heard, it's pretty good. This tune isn't a guitar showpiece, exactly, but the guitar is crucial, and that solo that begins around 3:15 is remarkable.


Well, ok, one Zeppelin song. I've heard Led Zeppelin III more than their other albums, because I worked in a record store when it came out. I always liked this very atypical song (no drums!) a lot. Color and texture and harmony.




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I never liked Led Zep. It's not a moral reaction - I like the Stones, for instance. I just don't like that heavy metal thing.

My "something creepy about this" reaction wasn't moral, either. It was gut-level.

I'm looking forward to listing to the Beck piece. Stan has been very needy since I moved house and is nearly always on my lap when I'm sitting at the computer.

I developed a strange taste for Beck and Clapton in the past few years. But I will never like Led Zep.

That's why I liked This Was Spinal Tap so much - it mocked those kinds of 'heavy metal' bands.

I understand about the needy cat--we have one who is permanently needy, and a small dog with similar issues. Usually within seconds of anyone sitting down they're both trying to get into the chair.

Unless you just can't stand the sound of Robert Plant's voice, I think you may like the Zep thing in this post.

I always thought the makers of Spinal Tap had LZ specifically in mind.

John Paul Jones was an exceptionally talented arranger, which makes much even the mediocre songs of Led Zepplin listen-toable. To me they are the "Beatles" of hard rock.

I owned I, II, and IV in the seventies, because of Page's guitar and the acoustic stuff, mostly. I don't lump them with heavy-metal, which I just can't stand.

I share Mac's queasiness about them. I think there is something sinister about them (not just immoral). The are one of the handful of bands I turn off when they come on the radio, or wish someone else would, if I'm not in charge. The other bands I just don't want to listen to are the Doors and the Eagles. I, unlike Grumpy, am not a fan of the Stones and turn most of their music off, too, although there are some exceptions.

I am less tolerant of "dark" than most people.

My son sees in LZ a deep, deep longing for something more than this world has to give. he's a big, big fan.

I sorta think JPJ was the producer or arranger on one of Donovan's albums, but I could be wrong. I suspect his role in Zeppelin is under-rated. "Beatles of hard rock"--yes, I guess that's apt. I seem to remember reading somewhere that Page insisted they weren't heavy metal, but you can certainly see them in the line of development.

I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who's made queasy. I certainly wouldn't argue about the Doors. I find their darkness rather seductive and don't listen to them very often. Fortunately, I didn't care that much for them when I was young and much more impressionable--thought they were pretentious. I don't listen to the Stones anymore but I think as much as anything they just don't "speak to my condition." I'm sure I'd still like a lot of their early stuff. I got kind of turned off when they began self-consciously cultivating their Bad image. I may be more tolerant of "dark" than I should be. But really, my reaction to a lot of the dark stuff is very much what your son says about LZ. I think he's right about that, really, it's just that LZ seemed to be looking in the wrong direction.

JPJ has more to do with LZ than most people think.

As a certified metalhead, it needs to be said that Led Zeppelin is in no way, shape or form heavy metal. Black Sabbath, Deep Purple an Uriah Heep were of the same timer period and sounded exactly what you think heavy metal should sound like just by its name.

Spinal Tap was a direct poke at Black Sabbath and Aerosmith, both bands that had members falling over during shows and dancing around Stonehenge props in their live shows! Check youtube for the Sabbath 1983 tour and it all becomes clear.

I always wondered if the Stonehenge bit in Spinal Tap was a reference to something specific. According to this the problem with Sabbath's Stonehenge is that it was too big: someone read meters when it should have been feet.

Always thought there was a Zeppelin reference in the early days of Spinal Tap, when they were a hippie band.

I heard bits of Uriah Heep back at the time and never thought they were metal. Deep Purple...yeah, I guess, but the only albums of theirs that I ever heard very much were there first one or two which were more prog.

On the other hand, one of the items in this list of ST trivia says that the Stonehenge bit was actually a coincidence, that it was in ST before the Sabbath tour. Pretty amazing coincidence, if true.

Aerosmith also had it on their 82 tour! Stories say that Steven Tyler walked out if theater becuase he thought he was being mocked.

And it would be very, very wrong to mock Steven Tyler.

It's very wrong to mock Mr. Tyler.

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