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Dane1968

Sound vs Song content

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Dane1968   

I am going to do some very long posts. Album by album. I accept I may initially be called a pretentious wanker but it is only my opinion here and nothing to get upset about if you consider yourself to be a rational adult. Curious? Hopefully it will make sense when you consider the total sum. Take some time to consider before responding and try not to be instantly biased or defensive.

Several things can influence a listener in music: The quality of the song, and the quality of the recording of those songs. Maybe this is only for the audiophiles, but there are many instances where sound can subconsciously influence the listener. I've heard many average songs which sonically sounded great, and many great songs which sounded like shit. I don't think I can deal with a great song that sounds like it was recorded on a five dollar tape recorder.
Quite frankly, the sound quality of songs recorded con-temporarily is pretty horrendous, with extreme amounts of compression that physically hurt my ears.
I find it staggering that with the technology available today, music sounds like it does compared to the 70's recordings. I do not think it is the whole CD v Vinyl debate, it is the raw recording to final stereo mixing to praise/blame. Just remember that when CD's were new, circa 1985, everyone was blown away at the improvement in sound quality. And now everyone wants to go back to vinyl - IMO it's not the format, it is the current mixing to blame. I don't want to go back to scratchy vinyl, no, just get the current mixing and mastering right. Not everyone listens with $15 ear-buds in an iPhone, some people still have stereo's with speakers in quality wooden cabinets.
The overall impression I get is a Zeppelin album sounds like you're in the room listening as a band plays mostly live. Modern recordings are so processed. It is as though older records capture a song being played, modern stuff is creating a song in the studio bit by bit.

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Dane1968   

I:
SOUND: A bit ordinary really. Maybe it was cutting edge in late 60's. Drums are present, probably the highlight of the album. Cymbals sound dull and clangy, not typical Paiste's -  they were, I guess, Paiste Giant Beat models, not the later 2002 series which are bright and glassy. Drums can have a very subconscious overall result in the complete sound - basically a shitty drum sound will give a shitty album sound. Studio engineers have since learnt this lesson, where previously drums were an afterthought. Listen to any Phil Spector 60's recording, or Beatles, where the drums are so indistinct and degrading, while listen to some Motown where the drums are bright and crisp, it's a world of difference.
Guitar is distinct with a Telecaster brightness. Electric Bass is nicely overdriven.., bass is cool and distinct as always. JPJ is a legend. On all future albums the electric bass will be spot on without further need to comment. And it is an electric bass, not a bass guitar. A bass and a guitar are two very different instruments that can look somewhat similar. That is like saying a cat is dog just 'cause they have four legs and are furry / hairy - not the same. It is an insult to bass players to be considered a lesser second rate guitar player with just four strings. Vocals are nice.
SONGS: Highlights are Good Times, Your Time is..., and, How many More Times. I've heard Dazed way too many times to make an objective evaluation - great at the time but too much overkill since. Not a fan of the other slow triplet blues songs (I like what I like, you can like what you like, it's nothing to argue about.)

II:
SOUND: I always find this to be an odd sounding record. It sounds like what it is: different songs recorded at different times in different studios. The end result is that it sounds like a compilation, with variable sounds on each instrument over each song. It does not flow sonically, mainly inconsistent drums, and therefore I seem to listen to it the least. I have always liked albums that capture a band at a particular time. It was done over the same year time period but it always feels disjointed. At the time of release nobody had heard anything quite like it so it became an instant classic. It has some great stereo panning effects going on which blew away all the stoners, which in the 60's was almost everybody.
SONGS: Later, maybe. Not my favourite. This has a reputation for being great but there is better.

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Dane1968   

III:
SOUND: Bit of a muddy sounding album at times, then some really nice bright acoustic parts. Immigrant Song is one of the worst sounding, but great songs, I've ever heard - it is so dull sounding guitar wise. It's a great song but the recording sounds like shit. Overall it is an inconsistently recorded collection of songs - that is, good songs that sound like it was the audio engineer's first day on the job and had no idea at all what to do.
SONGS: Standouts are Celebration Day, Since I've Been Loving You, and Out On The Tiles. I did not like these songs at all initially. I thought Celebration had some weird digeridoo thing at the start, and then what sounded like a banjo, of all instruments, playing the main A chord jangly riff. I just didn't get it and now it is my favourite of all songs. Great song. I think when I saw a live video, and Jimmy had such a boner while playing it, I thought he must seem to like it for some reason so I gave it a few more listens and then I just got it. Great song. I thought Tiles was odd with the hammer on riff, then realised what a fun and difficult song it was to play, and therefore to listen to. I don't give the acoustic side much of of a spin though. Friends is the worst song I've ever heard. Weird album, with some gems and some duds. I can never decide if this is my favourite album.
IV:
SOUND: Damn this must be the greatest sounding recording of all time. Just unbelievable for around 1970/71 And over forty years later no producer and engineer have come close. When you are shopping for a new amp or stereo this is what you want to play to test it out on. Or Presence. Remember the film 'Boogie Nights' when the cowboy played some hillbilly hick stuff to make a Hi-Fi sale? This is what he should have played. Loudly. Instant sale. Nothing else to say.
SONGS: This has some great songs, but a few are elevated purely by the recorded sound. Misty Mountain Hop is massive here, but falls flat and empty when played live. As with Levee, where the sound far surpasses the song. Biggest drum sound ever, but without that drum sound this song is ordinary. Stairway… perhaps the best ever culmination of songwriting, performance and recording ever. There is a reason it gets played on the radio non stop… and it is great reason.

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Dane1968   

Houses:
SOUND: Terrible sounding album. The guitar is thin with no sustain, the drums at times sound like cardboard boxes, and Robert's voice sounds unnaturally high at times, as if it the tape were speed-ed up. This is odd considering some songs were recorded and then the tape was slowed down a whole step in pitch. I don't get it. But then a few songs sound just great.
SONGS: Some standout songs, and a few that have me bewildered. Song Remains is a classic.
Song Remains (live):
SOUND: For a live recording this is very acceptable. All the instruments are well recorded and separated in the mix.
SONGS: You dig the set list or you don't. Celebration Day is a nice inclusion. Moby Dick I could do without as there could have been another song or two in it's place. I am a drummer and I will happily admit that drum solo's are painful after one or two passes - the majority of an audience has no interest.

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Dane1968   

Graffiti:
SOUND: Average to very good. Nice separation of each instrument, you can clearly hear what is going on. Drums are good overall, if maybe a touch boxy sounding. Guitars are well defined without excess distortion. Song by song, the guitars can either be very layered, or single guitar tracks. A couple of songs the guitar sounds a touch muffled. For me, the fullness of a song is a combination of all instruments panned and mixed well. There is a ton of great riffs here. If you are a first time Zeppelin listener, this should be your go-to starting point. Not the best ever recording but not to be sneered either.
SONGS: Probably my favourite overall collection of songs. Such diversity in styles and yet all unmistakably Zeppelin. Isn't that the mark of a great band? Zeppelin peaked at this time. The songs were becoming more advanced and sophisticated without being pretentious (which they were almost verging on with Presence, almost to the point of being too clever for their own good… more to follow on that)
Down By The Seaside is a grower for sure, I didn't know what the hell this country song was doing on a Zeppelin album at first, and now I love it. Boogie With Stu was the same deal. It gets airplay all the time and people can't believe that it is Zeppelin, then you catch them humming it hours later without them realising they are doing it. Ten Years Gone is just the real deal with the Fender and Les Paul combination.
 Everyone raves about The Rover - good song, a simple song done well. Never been a fan of Kashmir, hey that's just me, as it goes on and on. Kashmir is a landmark song that deserves attention, to which you can decide for yourself.
Presence:
SOUND: Great, just great f'n sounding album. The guitars are just so right there in your speakers. Great drum sound though could be a touch crisper or brighter on the snare, the bass drum is pumping, just everything overall right on. You blast that on a good stereo and you know it. So will your neighbours. Who wants to be friendly with the neighbors anyway. The best sounding album after IV. If anyone has had the pleasure of being in a big room with a live drum kit, you will know that this is what real drum sounds like.
SONGS: One of those love it or don't love it collections of outstanding songs that seem to fit, yet don't fit, in the Zeppelin repertoire. I did mention that they had almost gone too far from the straight out rock songs to somewhere that maybe alienated people. I think Page, Jones and Bonham had grown tremendously as writers and performers by this stage, but their audience had not quite caught up yet and were not ready for this album. From performance view it is just outstanding, but it is so far advanced from the likes of Whole Lotta Love that people could not decide if they dug it or not. At the time it may have been confronting but when you hear it now it seems such an obvious positive growth. An audience likes familiarity but an active musician always likes to grow.
Achilles is a good study in how to layer guitar tracks. For the unfamiliar, it is when you have a guitar part, and add another guitar part, and another, and so on - kind of like when you sit in the audience of a classical orchestra and you have 80 different instruments playing and you can still clearly hear each instrument as it is played: the part itself may not be much but the combined total of all instruments equals something massive. When you listen to Presence you will be hearing a four piece orchestra at it's prime.

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Dane1968   

In Through The Out Door:
SOUND: This is a nicely recorded album, mostly, if not well mixed. The guitar is too low, the keyboards are very late 70's early 80's sounding, but they did not have hindsight nor the benefit of years of later scrutiny. Vocals are indistinct at times. It is easy to pick the shit out of something many years later but I would think they did the best they could with what they had.
However, you can almost get a hint of what would be the (sadly) future of drum sounds with the added reverb and maybe some delay, which would eventually lead to that horrendous and unnatural Phil Collins 80's gated, processed-to-the-shit drum sound which every band after just had to had. Whether that is a good or bad thing, well, I think it was bad but the masses seemed to love it.
SONGS:By this point in retrospective musical history Zeppelin was done. This has some great songs, they just don't sound so great. Where could they go?
They would have had the choice of being:

A: one of those 'new wave dance bands' led by questionable makeup-laden men with fluffy mullets, chunky bass lines, sparse guitar, processed drums, and synth driven songs singing about being bi-sexual (not that there is anything wrong), or:

B: being a 'new wave of British metal' band such as Iron Maiden and the forthcoming Metallica. Zeppelin would not have fitted in and would have become an aging dinosaur band. At this point if you were over 27 years of age you were obsolete. The sixties were over, the seventies were seen as indulgent excessive musicianship with overblown guitar and drum solos. Jimmy's relative lack of success in the 80's with The Firm et al shows this. Note that all these bands were 'new…' something or another. Zeppelin were considered very old by now, and musical ability counted for nothing if you did not look good in tights and makeup.


Taken for an individual album I really like this. If it is compared to their sixties or early seventies work it is markedly different which I think puts people off. It was an awkward time for music, being not one thing or another. There are still some cool songs on it, maybe not expected Zeppelin songs, but still good songs. All things considered the musicianship is good, as always it has some great bass lines. Carouselambra has a pretty funky bass line that seems to overshadow a great guitar line. By now you'd have to seriously consider whether Zeppelin would have ever gotten anywhere without JPJ. I know Zeppelin was the equal sum of four parts but I think long term they would have been struggling without JPJ. Page and Plant get all the attention but a body is useless without a spine.


Coda:
I don't want to comment at all on this.

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JTM   

Man I want some of what you've been sniffin'...:D.

 

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IpMan   
11 hours ago, JTM said:

Man I want some of what you've been sniffin'...:D.

 

Ain't that the truth...so much for Page being a genius producer I guess. After reading that I need to figure out I even own any Zep album except for IV, PG, & Presence. Can't believe Page kept fuckin' up the sound of the drums...what was old Pagey thinking :hysterical:

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Dane1968   

What?? I think I stated pretty clearly that the drums overall sound great, compared to other produced drum sounds. Maybe you have been sniffing something that fogged up your glasses. You wanna share some? Totally missed the point, or am I missing your point?

Bonham himself was not always pleased with his recorded sound. Just forget it and move on, I have. So not every album is masterfully produced, so what. The world continues.

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Led Zeppelin IV truly is the gold standard in production, everything  is fantastic there, but while earlier albums might have been more about learning to produce than anything else, the latter ones were more about experimentation then not being able or trying hard enough to hold to that standard. So it's also about a lot of people simply liking the approach to production on IV for various, sometimes even hard to identify reasons and of course it's not just the quality of the sound and Page was not willing to follow that style always on latter albums or wanting to use some of the approaches on earlier ones, even while he knew how, but there are things that could indeed be improved and they were and things could always be improved on IV as well, even for people who like it a lot, but you would never please everybody and by the end you are down to so many parameters, you don't even know what is making it all work more, the song, the sound or the listener. So while many can agree that IV is the best in production, we can't agree exactly why and other albums have not just been improved but Zeppelin was also always about improvisation in sound and each song having a unique sound, so I think it's good Immigrant song does not have that big loud live sound on the man riff, because you still get that wall of sound over it with another guitar, which you never get live and drums are always those big Bonham drums, but it's good they vary and a lot of it is just down to taste and Zeppelin have hit the taste of their fans and others pretty well and they even improved it latter on, certainly with IV in mind while working on the remastering of other albums and trying to improve the acoustic guitar sound or keyboard sound on In through the out door and making the instruments even more clear through the layers and making the bass a bit louder sometimes and the drums closer to those on IV and Graffiti and Page even worked  on the vocals on Houses a bit,  but Led Zeppelin always tried to do that, even while learning the first years and while experimenting and I'm quite sure you heard the remasters and you are still not pleased and the truth is no one really is completely, as soon as you are into music a bit more, there is always that one song you would want to sound a bit different and chances are it's one of your favourites and no matter how good the producer is, it's always gonna be like that, but I'm not particulary good at the technical side of recording, so you might spot things that are perhaps quite basic, but those are not common, it's mostly just 'that's not as good as IV,' which is also debatable and a matter of taste or just different from what you would prefer. So that's how it is. 

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