In 1968 The Yardbirds were disenchanted from constant touring and were in the process of breaking up. Bassist turned guitarist Jimmy Page wanted to go on or form a new group. He tried to entice a variety of musicians to join his proposed band including Keith Moon, John Entwistle, Jeff Beck and Terry Reid. After a period of trial and error he was joined by Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones for a jam. The rest as they say is history.
The band first toured as the New Yardbirds to finish off some scheduled Yardbirds gigs on the but quickly changed their name to Led Zeppelin. During these handful of concerts the band refined their sound. They recorded the album quickly in London. It took a grand total of 36 hours, self financed by Jimmy Page, as the band didn’t yet have a recording contract.
The material had been well rehearsed though in front of live audiences and the album does maintain a live feel to it, especially “You Shook Me”. Atlantic Records took one listen and signed the band on the spot.
The albums opener is “Good Times Bad Times”. The song quickly established the signature Zeppelin sound. Very hard guitar and drumming driving blues based lyrics. It was released as a single. The song showcases Bonham’s ability to add the sound of a whole rhythm section in one take. If you listen carefully you can hear him working the hi hat virtually the whole song. Jimmy Page’s riff at 1:40 established that this was going to be a guitar band.
Next up was “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” which opens with a pretty acoustic guitar bit. This of course off set the heavy ending of “Good Times Bad Times” creating a tremendous counter effect. Plant sings the song nicely, or maybe it’s just that without the driving guitar and drums his vocals take center stage. The song was a folk song from the 1950’s but Zeppelin using the liner notes from an earlier Joan Baez version thought the song was not copywrited. in all honesty they believed they were just adding their own arrangement and towards the end going electric and really driving the song home. All the copyright issues were satisfied 10 years after the release of the album.
“You Shook Me” is an old Willie Dixon tune. Zeppelin does it proud. The song has an edgy hard blues feel to it and Jimmy Page’s slide work is impeccable.
Ah “Dazed and Confused” closes side one. One of the great heavy metal classic songs with a harbinger of much of what would follow in 70’s metal. Everything from spine crushing guitar to over the top vocal work. This song would have been the cornerstone of any bands career but with the amount of great music Zeppelin was to produce in the next few years it’s easy to forget what a tremendous song “Dazed and Confused” was in 1968.
Flip the disc over and “Your Time Is Gonna Come” kicks off side two. The song opens with some very nice John Paul Jones classically influenced organ work. The song is about a woman who cheats on her man and the trouble she’s going to get into. The song has a definite 60’s feel to it. With more organ than guitar.
“Black Mountain Side” is an interesting instrumental. Although an Irish traditional folk tune Jimmy Page’s guitar work has a sitar like quality to it. The percussion gives the song an Eastern trance like feel.
“Black Mountain Side” is then the perfect lead in to “Communication Breakdown” which is just a riveting hardcore heavy metal song. The song is relentless in beat and has always been one of the favorites of hard core Zeppelin fans. This is a perfect hard rock/ heavy metal song.
“I Can’t Quit You Baby” is a tremendous remake of the Willie Dixon classic. This is arguably Robert Plant’s blues singing. The song is anchored by a simple but effective bass line. The rest is just both Plant and Page doing what they do best, wailing away. A true gem of a song in every sense of the word.
The album closes with “How Many More Times” a loosely structured arrangement that allows for all sorts of improv jam bits. The double tracking of Page’s guitar is so cleanly done that you can pick out each note. A classic song that was used frequently as an encore number during live shows. A true classic and the eight minutes go by effortlessly.
In retrospect the first Led Zeppelin album never sounds dated. It’s hard to pick a favorite Zep album. The second album is also a classic anchored as it is with “Whole Lotta Love” and of course the fourth album with “Black Dog” and “Stairway To Heaven” is up there to. But when it comes down to it, the first album was a revolutionary moment in rock history. Not only in parts is it the first heavy metal album but just for the sheer originality and the craftsmanship it’s hard to beat.