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Led Zeppelin

Atlantic (1969)
Rating: 8/10

While I’ve always preferred the occult rumbling of Black Sabbath, there’s no denying the mass appeal of Led Zeppelin, who, alongside The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, have become part of a legendary all-time British “Big Four”, so to speak.

Alongside Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin have brought hard rock to the millions, embedding musical culture with their swagger.

Zeppelin are the epitome of rock ’n’ roll to some extent, boasting the seemingly perfect, yet archetypal frontman in Robert Plant with those curly locks, pouting chest and tight jeans, while in guitarist Jimmy Page, a flared riff-monster whose licks have proven to be timeless. We also can’t forget the rumbling bass of John Paul Jones and the primal concrete drumming of John Bonham.

It has often been argued as to whether Led Zeppelin were a heavy metal band? Sure, the riffs were hard, yet blues-tinged, and the vocals soaring, but beneath it all there were those folky flirtations and soulful meanderings. Even so, whatever musical pigeonhole you tend to place Zeppelin in, there is no doubting their power.

Led Zeppelin’s first opus, produced by Page, was given a lukewarm reception at the time of its original release in January 1969, and yet many decades later it remains one of heavy rock’s most important albums, signifying the beginning of the glorious career of one of the world’s biggest ever bands.

As a debut album, Led Zeppelin, complete with burning airship on the cover, has a live feel, lacking the textures and overdubs that so many other bands sought. It’s also Zeppelin at their rawest, chugging into motion with the raunchy riff of ‘Good Times Bad Times’ but also blending rock ’n’ roll steaminess with subtlety, as Plant whispers his way through the seemingly mournful blues of ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’, with its mellow tinkering until Bonham’s stormy skin bashings emerge from the folky mire.

In a sense, ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ sums up that classic Zep sound, combining sultry blues, folk-orientated whispers and those earthquake rhythms provided by Page and Bonham.

‘Dazed And Confused’ follows a similar path as a creeping, tip-toe style of pensive groove before it spirals into Sabbath-esque doom, Page serenading the ears with those staggering chords and the booming downpour of Bonham’s drums.

Admittedly, Led Zeppelin is a patchy affair, an album of overwhelming highs and blues-tinged lows (‘You Shook Me’ and ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ – both cover versions – are downbeat plodders), but like all great bands, when the sun does peer through the clouds the sounds are rarely equalled.

‘Communication Breakdown’ is one of rock’s greatest ever chuggers, a staggering, swaggering raunch ’n’ roll number featuring an unforgettable riff and sleazy Robert Plant vocal croon.

Elsewhere, we’re treated to the organ-drenched wheeze of ‘Your Time Is Gonna Come’, with its gospel-styled choir, the Beatles-esque instrumental ‘Black Mountain Side’, with mystical bongo and Eastern-tinged sitar, and album closer ‘How Many More Times’, which has a jazzy backbeat punctured by Jimmy Page’s wild guitar freak-out.

Overall, Led Zeppelin’s debut album is, when it gets going, a superb rock record and, with tracks such as ‘Communication Breakdown’, the seeds of greatness had been sewn.

Neil Arnold

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