January 12 – Zeppelin Was Up, Up And Away

A group that moved the British blues movement forward and in new directions caught our ear this day in 1969 Led Zeppelin. Their eponymously-titled debut was released 53 years ago today, after the band had established themselves with months of touring Europe.

At the time, the band was essentially Jimmy Page’s project, having picked the other three members and written most of the band’s original material. That said, John Paul Jones had accrued an impressive resume by that point as well. While Page had recently been in the Yardbirds with Jeff Beck and before that was a much in-demand session guitarist (working on records ranging from the Kinks and The Who – rhythm guitar on “I Can’t Explain” – to Van Morrison and even Petula Clark’s “Downtown”) , Jones was potentially even busier. He’d been one of the top English session musicians for much of the decade, both as a bassist and arranging string sections for everyone from the Rolling Stones’ (“She’s A Rainbow”) to Lulu. Surprisingly, Page’s first pick for drummer wasn’t John Bonham, but B.J. Wilson of Procol Harum. Robert Plant, a singer Page had seen in less-successful bands was recruited and sold them on Bonham. Good call!

They funded the recording of the record themselves, at a cost of just under 2000 pounds (about $4000 at the time or perhaps $30 000 today) and put it together in just nine days! This was accomplished, according to Page, by knowing the material well from the tours and putting it together in studio as essentially a live recording with little overdubbing or other studio enhancement. Page produced it but with help from Glyn Johns, the great Abbey Road sound guy who features prominently on the Beatles documentary Get Back. The album which gave us “Good Times, Bad Times,” “Communication Breakdown” and “Dazed and Confused” was panned by most critics. Rolling Stone gave it a famously bad review, noting that it did little Jeff Beck hadn’t done better already, comparing Robert Plant to a second-rate Rod Stewart imitator and saying while Page was “admittedly, an extraordinarily proficient blues guitarist” that he was a “writer of weak, unimaginative songs.” Only Melody Maker seemed to like it back then. That publication called it “a gas” and noted “their material does not rely on obvious blues riffs, although when they do play them, they avoid the emaciated feebleness of most so-called British ‘blues’ bands.”

The public agreed – by summer it had gone gold in the U.S. and was a top 10 hit there and in the UK, eventually selling some 15 million copies worldwide. It does bear noting though that the popularity wasn’t staggering right out of the gate. It peaked at #6 at home and #7 in the U.S., making it their only studio album not to get to #1 in the UK or at least #2 in the States. Oh, and Rolling Stone– they changed their tune. By 2003, they considered it the 29th best album of all-time! they now say of it that the band was “Still in the process of inventing their own sound…an astonishing fusion of Page’s lyrical guitar-playing, Robert Plant’s paint-peeling love hound yowl and John Paul Jones and John Bonham’s avalanche boogie” which “heavy metal still lives in (the) shadows of.”

14 thoughts on “January 12 – Zeppelin Was Up, Up And Away

  1. badfinger20 (Max)

    I do like it…but my favorite Zep period is the light/heavy period when they brought in acoustics and heavy guitar. Over The Hills and Far Away and songs like that…of course this one will blow the house out…and so will II.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Truthfully this LP doesn’ t do much for me but it had impact. I like their more experimental things like ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ & especially ‘Kashmir’ as well as, yes I’ll say it, the pop of ‘In Through the Out Door’. ‘Fool in the Rain’ is aces.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. badfinger20 (Max)

        I’ve always liked In Through the Out Door also…In The Evening was really cool.
        I liked Led Zeppelin III…it was different…and it had Tangerine.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Its hard to be too hard on ‘Rolling Stones’ review- it was a brand new kind of musical beast, but there sure was a market for it. And hey, as you say, doing poppy session work for Lulu and Pet Clark sure did show that they were savvy and adaptable musicians, even if it was no stretch for them to noodle out a few easy-listening chords- no disrespect, gals!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You never know. I figured Men At Work would have a long huge career (so too did RS by the way) and instead, 1 big album, 1 outstanding followup single of a middling album then bye bye.
      LZ though…yep, great musicians. I really became a big JPJ fan when he collaborated with REM on ‘Automatic for the People’

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember them from the Texas International Pop Festival, August 1969. They came on late at night, still, it was almost 100 degrees and the heat had beaten everyone down. Robert Plant made a smartass comment about Texas and the heat and then they played. We all thought WTF is this shit? Although deafening loud, they were pretty good at something we had never heard before. I next saw them in 1971 in Fort Worth, and they were still so loud in knocked the fillings from my teeth. After their first album, I lost interest, nothing new to see here, move on please.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Well no, they didn’t, but I was picking up Pages high notes in them. They were so loud, some of the folks in the first few rows of seats moved to the back of the floor and stood. The ones that remained were too stoned to move so they endured. I was a rock musician at that time and knew what loud was. These guys were off the charts.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. yeah, that’s crazy. I mean, when it gets that loud I don’t think you can really make out the nuances of the music anymore. Like some of those idiot boomboxes on wheels that you can hear thumping a full block away… what do they even hear inside the car besides non-stop racket and ringing in the ears.

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  4. Pingback: Led Zeppelin – Rock And Roll – PowerPop… An Eclectic Collection of Pop Culture

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