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Led Zeppelin - Original Album Reviews


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The Harvard Crimson...Archive of Pre-Post Led Zeppelin and Related articles...


The Rock Freak Led Zeppelin II
By Chris Rochester, December 3, 1969
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COUNT Ferdinand von Zeppelin dreamed of his magisterial airship dropping entire wars of bombs on helpless cities terrorizing whole continents with floating, dreadful sovereignty, reconnoitering phantom seas, icy wastes, swirling deserts, piercing the Himalavan mists. His corsairs were never conceived as the emblem for Led Zeppelin, arguably the most instrumentally distinguished rock group. Organized by English guitarist Jimmy Page. Led Zeppelin immediately placed itself in the pantheon of rock with the release of its first album. The group does not have the range of mood or gift of assimilation of the Beatles. the only group which can take Dakker's Lullaby for Patient Grissel and use it touchingly in a song such as Golden Slumbers. Although Led Zeppelin draws upon such blues wellsprings as Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon. it does not make its debts its originality. While Led Zeppelin is not so resonantly lyrical as the Beatles. or self-consciously evangelical as Jefferson Airplane. or menacing and cleverly crude as the Rolling Stones. it nevertheless produces a more puissant and unmannered sound than any of these more famous groups. Led Zeppelin like the very few excellent groups. plays with neither tediousness nor superfluity. The essence of the group is superior playing of a propulsive character controlled- by imagination and a firm sense of structure- from degenerating into an assault of unending tours de force.

Lead guitarist Jimmy Page provides the primary force for Led Zeppelin. His playing is rhythmically acute. especially across bar lines. sane in the use of distortion and intelligent rather than self-indulgent. His solos offer neither the bludgeoning egotism of Jeff Beck. nor the excellent yet ultimately tedious work of Eric Clapton; neither the excessively frenetic passagework of Alvin Lee, nor the elegant but limited solos of George Harrison. Page has a much better grasp of the organically developing long line than Eric Clapton, whose style of repetitious punctuation suggests a less sentient man. But Cream was organized around the drums while Led Zeppelin is organized around the counterpoint of lead guitarist and vocalist. Nor does Page have to contend with the supernaturally inane lyrics which Jack Bruce brought to Cream. Led Zeppelin's lyrics are never violently imagistic, and eschew "silver horses run down moonbeam in your dark eyes" ("White Room") for the related theme- provocative to puerile adolescents and Marshall scholars alike- of unrequited love. Their blues songs are populated by the inevitable uxorious men, boastful lovers, and sagacious unfortunates. The song titles themselves suggest perturbable stoicism in the face of a vampire as their recurrent subject. Other possible concerns are the sexual connotations of fruits ("The Lemon Song"). the chinoiserie of the open fifth ("Black Mountain Breakdown"), and caetology ("Moby Dick)."

The remaining members of Led Zeppelin should be mentioned. John Paul Jones is a fluent bassist unseduced by the primordial roar or steadfastness of his instrument. but attracted rather to its opportunities for polyphony. Drummer John Bonham's distinguished use of syncopation unifies, maintains, and elucidates each song. Finally, vocalist Robert Plant provides a fourth instrument which counterpoints and impels the gathering thrust of each song. Plant has a theatrical, coruscating voice capable of a range of tones and speech rhythms equalled only by Paul McCartney. Plant is mainly responsible for raising Led Zeppelin above such groups as Cream, Procol Harum, and Blind Faith.

The three finest songs on Led Zeppelin's first album illustrate the foremost capacities of the group. "Good Times Bad Times" is based, as is usual with their songs, on an energetic riff rather crudely syncopated but irresistibly developed. Page plays a brief solo characterized by his enormous intervals and rapid triplets: Bonham employs complex drum pedals; Jones adds a sinuous independent bass line: and Plant insinuates a tone of bemused disconsolation into the song's eternal situation of calumniating fate. "Dazed and Confused" deals with incoherent man in the face of a latter-day Cressida. After a sufficiently stunned introduction of echoing vibrato notes, the organizing riff enters. Page amuses himself by playing his guitar with a violin bow and follows this with the most involved solo of the album. After this the song dutifully falls apart, the lover, eyeless in Gaza, presumably reduced to tatters. "How Many More Times" is unduplicable for sustained, accumulating force throughout four distinct sections. Plant uses his "soaring eagle heartbroken blues" voice, bringing the song to an arresting climax with a long glissando on the word "gun," the latter instrument being both an expression of the lover's libidinal anguish and his rather desperate solution to Rosy's polygamous impertinence.

IN TURNING to Led Zeppelin II we might feel that the bold change in cover art from the phallic to the cenotaphic argues a change for the worse. Dirigibilis mutabilis! The new album contains two of their best songs, two of their clearest failures, a delight in light parody, and an explicit and jocular exhibitionism, verging at times toward crudity, only suggested in the earlier record. This last element is most apparent in the lurid copulative jactitation of "Whole Lotta Love." This very involved song, with its assemblage of background sounds of connubial exertion, reminds one (very hazily) of Southev's lines on the waterfall of Lodore (execrable lines but probably undeserving of such context):

Advancing and prancing and glancing and dancing,

Recolling, turmoiling, and toiling and boiling,

And gleaming and streaming and steaming and beaming,

And rushing and flushing and brushing and gushing,

and so forth directly into "What Is and Should Never Be," a desultory serenade. This song's marcato conclusion features the best example of Plant's consummate syncopated singing in which he takes cognizance of each word past and forthcoming, and deftly employs the syllables to counterpoise the principal rhythm. "The Lemon Song" is a tongue-in-cheek medley of blues cliches, even to the point of "down on this killin floor." Although the band is almost as wry as the Beatles in "Yer Blues" or "Helter Skelter," the result here as there does not prove durable. Led Zeppelin's only ostensible love song. "Thank You," is quite frustrating. Page assumes a twelve-string and Plant emulsifies his voice for such less than breathtaking lyrics as "If mountains should crumble into the sea/ There would still be you and me," and "Inspiration is what you are to me." But the inspiration is unfortunately bathetic, and the sanguine ending is a bit too Panglossian. "Thank You" does provide a needed contrast to the previous songs, amatory alacrity and citrous jeu d'chair, but its flawed beauty recalls Checkhov's reply to a plea for biographical disclosures: "If you haven't facts, substitute lyricism."

"Heartbreaker" and "Ramble On" perhaps represent Led Zeppelin's finest achievement. "Heartbreaker" reveals the group at its best, integrating creative solos and complex subordinate lines without verbosity, repetition, or loss of outline. "Heartbreaker" takes its place with "How Many More Times" as a genial yet cynical song about the sumptuous and toxic banquet of credulous infatuation. "Ramble On" is the structural successor to "Babe I'm Going to Leave You," in which several sections are unified by Plant's masterful use of slight dynamic and tempo adjustments. "Ramble On," perhaps Led Zeppelin Il's finest song, also affords a good illustration of the group's use of several guitar timbres in order to avoid monochromaticism. The good taste of "Ramble On" helps to balance "Whole Lotta Love" and "The Lemon Song." which while partially humorous, possess the grace of a lecherous cheese-monger.

John Bonham's drum solo, "Moby Dick," is another failure. It will inevitably be compared, probably extremely unfavorably, with Ginger Baker's "Toad," which must be recognized as the finest rock drum solo. Baker's ability to develop rhythmically redefining motives over a beat which is itself reforming is beyond the demonstrated capacities of any other drummer. No drummer has ever carried a bad song with such unfailing strength as Baker did with "White Room." Yet Bonham proceeds primarily by a method of complementary rhythmic motives which, at least in "Good Times Bad Times" and "Ramble On," are the equal of Baker. Bonham's solidity of striking, his footwork, and dynamic range are comparable to Baker, while his talent for long-term organic development of genuinely complex rhythms compares disadvantageously with Baker.

The last song, "Bring It On Home," is a humorous comment on the current preoccupation of coming together. Since Led Zeppelin never left home, or wandered into the hell's kitchen of supporting orchestras and electronic accessories, they bring it on home with one last incomparably precise instrumental exposition. Plant gestures toward the return to simple instruments with a wittily languid harmonica part, punctuated by an indolent "Watch out, watch out." Their signature blend of innuendo, vaguely arrogant virtuosity, and exhilarating braggadocio return home with unexpected lightness as the harmonica quietly arrests the song with a sarcastic but still good-natured wince of a glissando. So the album which began with a laugh ends with a smile!

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  • 4 months later...

Not sure if this one has been posted before:


Physical Graffiti review - Dutch press


Thanks for this dutch review. For some reason it always bothered me a bit that Led Zeppelin got such harsh review (this dutch one is also pretty awful). However, What matters is that the concert-going crowds loved them.

And rightfully so, they did great regarding album sales and sold out concerts. Oh and especially in their early days (68 - 70) they really were a fantastic live band (ok I know, from about the mid 70's their live concerts suffered from the various problems that went on in the band...).

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Another Rolling Stone Album Review :/


Not Rated

Houses of the Holy

Led Zeppelin Atlantic


BY Gordon Fletcher | June 7, 1973

For me, Led Zeppelin began as the epitome of everything good about rock: solid guitar work, forceful vocals and rhythmic backing, devotion to primal blues forms, and most of all, thunderous excitement on stage and vinyl. But as superstardom came to them, so too came the gradual evaporation of those qualities from their sound. In the same way that the Rolling Stones evolved into a senior, "safe" bizarro-perversion band, Led Zeppelin has become a senior, "safe" heavy-metal band. But by its very nature safety cannot coexist with heavy-metal fire and macho intensity (or bizarro-perversion, for that matter), which is probably why Houses of the Holy is one of the dullest and most confusing albums I've heard this year.

Even after a hundred listenings I'm still not convinced this album is by the same group that brought us the likes of "Communication Breakdown," "Heartbreaker" and "Black Dog." The powerfully simplistic rhythms and surging adrenaline drive that made those songs so compelling is nowhere to be found. Only once is it attempted, on "The Ocean," but there it's so diluted with pointless humor that the necessary musical tension never develops. Jimmy Page's guitar spits jagged fireballs with John Paul Jones and John Bonham riffing along behind him, but the effect is destroyed by ridiculous backup cooings and an overbearing "killer" coda that's so blatant it can only be taken as a mock of straight rock & roll. "Rock 'n' Roll" to the contrary, Led Zeppelin's forte has always been rockin' the blues; if they took themselves seriously they'd realize that they are foolish to step outside that genre.

The only other tune approaching the Zep's past triumphs is "The Song Remains the Same," a slice of Whodom that works solely as a vehicle for Page's guitar antics. And that's really what Led Zeppelin's been about from the start. Interesting things abound in what amounts to a 5:24 guitar solo — groin-rattling riffing, a clever fuzz run, and some finger-picked figures executed with a finesse that belies their macho origin. And Page manages to run through this hefty gamut without once being self-indulgent. It's not the music that made Led Zeppelin famous (their style is hardly interchangeable with the Who's), but at least it's got more than an amp or two of the excitement that they're renowned for. And on this album, that alone is a major triumph.

Two songs are naked imitations, and they're easily the worst things this band has ever attempted. "The Crunge" reproduces James Brown so faithfully that it's every bit as boring, repetitive and cliched as "Good Foot." Yakety-yak guitar, boom-boom bass, astoundingly idiotic lyrics ("when she walks, she walks, and when she talks, she talks") — it's all there. So is Jones' synthesizer, spinning absolutely superfluous electronic fills.

"D'yer Mak'er" is even worse, a pathetic stab at reggae that would probably get the Zep laughed off the island if they bothered playing it in Jamaica. Like every other band following rock's latest fad, Led Zeppelin shows little understanding of what reggae is about — "D'yer Mak'er" is obnoxiously heavy-handed and totally devoid of the native form's sensibilities.

The truly original songs on Houses of the Holy again underscore Led Zeppelin's songwriting deficiences. Their earliest successes came when they literally stole blues licks note for note, so I guess it should have been expected that there was something drastically wrong with their own material. So it is that "Dancing Days," "The Rain Song" and "No Quarter" fall flat on their respective faces — the first is filler while the latter two are nothing more than drawn-out vehicles for the further display of Jones' unknowledgeable use of mellotron and synthesizer.

"Over the Hills and Far Away" is cut from the same mold as "Stairway To Heaven," but without that song's torrid guitar solo it languishes in Dullsville — just like the first five minutes of "Stairway." The whole premise of "graduated heaviness" (upon which both songs were built) really goes to show just how puerile and rudimentary this group can get when forced to scrounge for its own material. One would think that the group that stole "Whole Lotta Love," et al., might acquire an idea or two along the way, but evidently they weren't looking. Let's hear it for androids!

When you really get down to it Led Zeppelin hasn't come up with a consistent crop of heavymetal spuds since their second album. Their last three efforts have been so uneven that had they started with Led Zeppelin III I'm convinced they wouldn't be here today. While they've been busy denying their bluesrock roots, Robert Plant's vocals have lost their power and the band's instrumental work has lost its traces of spontaneity. In simple fact of matter, Houses of the Holy was 17 months in preparation, yet Led Zeppelin I (the product of a mere 15 hours) cuts it to shreds.

So all in all it's been two separate groups we've called Led Zeppelin, and I've tired of waiting for the only legitimate one to return. An occasional zinger like "When the Levee Breaks" isn't enough, especially when there are so many other groups today that don't bullshit around with inferior tripe like "Stairway To Heaven." Beck, Bogert & Appice, Black Sabbath, the Groundhogs, Robin Trower — the list is long and they all fare musically better than the Zep because they stick to what they do best. Page and friends should similarly realize their limitations and get back to playing the blues-rock that moves mountains. Until they do Led Zeppelin will remain Limp Blimp.

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Thanks Sam:-) Nice read on the above article. ..The comment about John Bonham "The man must have the biceps of a bull"...love it!! I remember going to the record store and getting the album like it was yesterday. Then got home and like the other ones, wore it out!! Thank God my Mom was so great about letting me and my sisters listen to our music..and for headphones:-) :D

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Let's just let these choice lowlights sink in for a moment:
"... altho the instrumentation on a couple gets a bit repetitious."
"... Sandy's Grace Slick-like singing gives some dash to what would have been a very monotonous number."
"But Sandy is the only surprise on the Zeppelin album. The group has changed only very slightly since the last album..."
"Most of it contains a lackluster melange of undistinguished rock..."
"... and the unexciting area they've settled into on 'Houses of the Holy' doesn't seem worth the trip."
Wot?! Astonishingly, laughably myopic.
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^^ Hi Patrycja!

I agree and also...."their new album Houses Of The Holy and it looks like Led Zeppelin is beginning to tarnish." Seriously! :huh:

Honestly the press was so brutal to them for the most part. Morons! :blahblah:

Edit to add: thozil, thanks for the post. I find it amazing how wrong they were :rolleyes:

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