Led Zeppelin the Band, by Zeppelin Expert Chris M.

Zangara
SOURCE: http://experts.about.com/q/Led-Zeppelin-501/zeppelin-essay.htm

An essay on subcultures of America, and I chose the led zeppelin subculture. To explain the culture, its terms, why people are so in love with zeppelin, its history, its boundaries (Thanks to Guitar World's Brad Tolinski for the 'meat' of this 1st passage.) Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham did not invent hard rock. They did, however elevate it to an art form. Unlike many of their lead-footed contemporaries who painted in sludgy, monochromatic fuzz tones, Led Zeppelin created sweeping aural vistas. Every song in the band's catalog packs the wallop of a full-blown three dimensional, four-star rock and roll movie. With guitarist Page in the directors chair, Zeppelin performed brilliantly in bluesy, X-rated features like the orgasmic "Whole Lotta Love," Disney-esque fantasies like the whimsical "The Song Remains The same" and exotic 70mm Epics like "Kashmir" and "Stairway To Heaven." No one in rock before or since has equaled Led Zeppelin's flair for musical drama. Page has famously claimed that the band was designed so it's sound would have "shadow and light." Sorry Jimmy, but even you must know by now that you -- and your other 3 band mates -- lived, breathed and performed in nothing less than Technicolor. LED ZEPPELIN THE BAND: The most wonderful thing about Led Zeppelin is the variety within their music. They broke all the rules of music, as they never stuck to a one certain formula like most other bands of the time. Zeppelin, in their time, were more successful than The Beatles, OR The Rolling Stones but the press just wouldn't allow it. It was The Stones who got all the big press even though Zeppelin were breaking concert attendance records all over the USA and UK. But Zeppelin were "dangerous" and the press early on were just plain scared to promote them. But it wasn't needed. Zeppelin was all about word of mouth by the fans. No musical group in history has become so popular just by people spreading the word. Remember there was no MTV or videos back then. If you wanted to hear them, you had to buy the albums. If you wanted to see them, you had to go to the show. This kind of hard rock (some called it heavy metal but it never was. Zeppelin hated the term. Remember over half of all Zeppelin music was acoustic!) was very new and any Zeppelin concert was not just a concert. It was an event. Nowadays you hear all the Zeppelin copycats all over the airwaves and it all sounds the same. But back in the early 70's..it was new and, some say, scary. If you were lucky enough to get into a live Led Zeppelin show, you were never the same when you came out. 4 people who had a psychic chemistry onstage. They could read each other’s minds. They would break into long improvisations that could turn 1 hour of material into 3 hours of music. The fans didn't know what hit them, and even after 3+ hours, would still clamor for more. During shorter sets at many festival appearances (ex: Texas Pop 1969) where each band would only be allotted about an hour block of time, the crowds just would simply not allow Led Zeppelin to leave the stage. ZEPPELIN'S APPEAL IS UNIVERSAL TO OLD AND NEW PEOPLE AS MOST OF THEIR SONGS CAN BE ABSORBED BY THE LISTENER WITHIN THE OWN LISTENERS IMAGINATION. ALTHOUGH MOST SONGS HAVE A CONCRETE MEANING BEHIND THEM, MOST ONLY KNOWN TO THE BAND MEMBERS THEMSELVES, THEY ARE NOT PUT OUT THAT WAY TO THE PUBLIC. THEREFORE MANY ZEPPELIN SONGS CAN HAVE MORE THAN ONE MEANING, DEPENDING ON THE LISTENER'S POINT OF VIEW. WHETHER THIS WAS

INTENTIONAL OR NOT, THIS IS SURELY A SIGN OF TRUE BRILLIANCE IN SONGWRITING. ZEPPELIN'S POLITICAL STATURE: Led Zeppelin was never a political band at all really. But they were affected by the USA of the early 70's in that the war in Vietnam was just finishing up and there was a lot of tension. The kids who came to see Zeppelin really let it all out. A Zeppelin show was a place to really forget the daily troubles. The police in some states, though, weren't too keen on that and Zeppelin had a terrible time with the cops and security guards at some shows where the kids just wanted to stand up and cheer and were pushed, shoved and sometimes beaten with clubs. In other countries it was even worse. In Milan, Italy what was thought to be smoke from the audience turned out to be tear gas from the police. A full riot ensued and the stage was stormed. The members of Zeppelin were left hiding in a dressing room back stage, coughing from tear gas, until the riot was over. Many were injured including fans, security and Zeppelin's roadies. In Singapore, the members of Zeppelin were not even allowed into the country because of their long hair! But Zeppelin's music hardly reflected the political nature of the day. The song That's The Way dealt with the prejudice issue and the environment as did the song Down By The Seaside, but that's about it. Zeppelin dealt in mystery, mythology and the blues. Their music was not meant to make any kind of statement politically but to simply take you to another place and time. ZEPPELIN INFLUENCES: The great thing about Led Zeppelin is that each member had very diverse musical tastes. That, besides they uncanny chemistry amongst Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page & John Bonham, was why it's the variety that keeps Zep alive. Their influences come from around the world, mainly folk, Indian/Arabic, country, jazz & the blues. But it was the blues that gave Zeppelin its core. Blind Willie Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and numerous others. But THE most important influence comes from the man who invented the blues and, in turn, the way music has developed since. Robert Johnson first made the Blues popular in the 1920s and 30's in the great Mississippi Delta. He died in 1933. He is the essential inspiration for all rock bands and musicians. But his influence on Led Zeppelin would change the face of rock forever, thanks to the talent of the band and the way they could mold Johnson's songs into completely their own. It's very hard to find anyone in the rock & roll world that is not influenced by Led Zeppelin. Most of whom have tried and failed miserably to "get it right." The 1980s were full of Zeppelin copycat bands whose so-called "mystical" lyrics did nothing to make them at all believable. Heavy Metal came from Zep. But it's a term they hate. I can see why since 60% of Zep's music was acoustic. But, on the other hand, there have been many bands that took that same inspiration and made good with it. But the true spirit of Led Zeppelin seems to have never been captured, as most people still want to turn up the volume and leave it there. Zeppelin was all about light and shade. Soft and heavy but all with substance. And when Plant sang, he meant it. It wasn't an act. It was him. The same for Jimmy Page. The "rockstar" poses of today may seem cliché' but in the 70's when Zeppelin hit the stage, it was new, original and brilliant. It was just who they were. No 'playacting' like you see today. ZEPPELIN ON STAGE: Zeppelin concerts are the stuff of legend. They weren't just shows, they were events. Especially in the early days as no one had heard anything like them. Audiences were left stunned, astonished and, at times, frightened at what they had seen and heard. One of many examples is in Boston in 1969 when the band was only a few months old. The audience wouldn't let them off

the stage. They only had 45 minutes of material! But they ended up playing for over 4 hours! After playing and replaying their entire first album, they broke into Elvis tunes, Beatles songs, etc. Anything they could think of to keep the crazed audience on their feet. After the show the crowd and the band were literally exhausted. ZEPPELIN AND DRUGS: There were indeed times that drugs and/or alcohol became a factor. Although 1977 was one of the greatest and most powerful tours musically, there were a few shows during those later years that stand out. Seattle 1977 was one of the last shows and you can see a stark contrast between that show and the last show in LA just a week earlier. Jimmy Page was on heroin at the time and it began to take its toll. His playing was sloppier than ever and he was not as animated as he usually was. He was standing still most of the concert. Also, Page had collapsed at a show in Chicago 1975 after only a few songs. It was stated to be a stomach ailment but insiders think it was more like a reaction to drugs. There's no way anyone would begin to make assumptions if drugs or alcohol affected the lyrics of the songs as they were written. Only Robert Plant would know that. Each band member contributed ideas but it was Robert who, after the 2nd album, was writing the lyrics. Page had written the lyrics for the 1st album and some of Led Zeppelin II. After Robert wrote "What Is And What Should Never Be" & "Thank You," Page said the job was Roberts from then on. LED ZEPPELIN SYMBOLS: After Led Zeppelin released an almost all acoustical album (Led Zeppelin III) the press slammed them. Their last album (Led Zeppelin II) included the hit Whole Lotta Love and Heartbreaker and it seemed that everyone was looking for Whole Lotta Love parts 2, 3 & 4, etc , etc). But Zeppelin were such a divers band that they would NEVER stick to just one formula. So they retreated to the mountains and countryside of Whales, England and stayed in a small derelict cottage named BronYAur. The cottage had no electricity or running water and was located on the side of a plush green mountainside. It was perfect. Hence the outcome, Led Zeppelin III. The album began with a BANG with Immigrant Song but then subsided into mostly acoustic material. Fans and critics alike were confused. It has sense become one of the most famous of all Zeppelin albums. But at the time, folks were looking for Whole Lotta Love parts 2, 3 & 4, etc, etc. So after the negative reviews from the press regarding Led Zeppelin III, Jimmy Page decided that there would be no mention of the band whatsoever on the bands next album. But instead each member devised a symbol to represent themselves. This 4th album would become their most popular stemming the hit Stairway To Heaven. Zeppelin's record company argued that it would be "professional suicide" to not include at least the band name on the outer jacket. But Page was steadfast. No mention of the band OR the record label on the outside sleeve, and only the symbols on the inside. Included on the inside were the lyrics (written as a script devised by Jimmy Page himself) to Stairway To Heaven. Each and every song on this album would become a major hit across the world, but none moreso than Stairway. No one expected it, but if there was ever an album for this song to be on, this was the one. The most mysterious of them all, by any artist. Remember this was only 1971! The world did not realize what hit them. It didn't take long. Remember, it was word of mouth, not the ever-denying media that would bring Led Zeppelin into the stratosphere. But also remember, Zeppelin's music was well respected within the music business amongst fellow artists and musicians, producers and engineers, publishers and record label execs. It was the public that

needed help, and it would come from the fans mostly. With a little help from our own hero, Cameron Crowe and others like him, Zeppelin would win the war one day. Or so they'd hoped. Here is a rundown of the symbols as far as we know today. 2006 ROBERT PLANT (vocals) The feather in the circle is Robert Plants symbol and is an old book called "The Sacred Symbols of Mu." Robert Plant explains; "My symbol was drawn from the ancient Mu civilization, which existed about 15,000 years ago as part of a lost continent somewhere in the Pacific Ocean somewhere between China and Mexico. All sorts of things can be tied in with the Mu civilization, even the Easter Island effigies. These Mu people left stone tablets with their symbols inscribed into them all over the place. In Mexico, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, China and other places, and they all date from the same time period! The feather, a symbol on which all sorts of philosophies have been based and which has a very interesting heritage. For instance, it represents courage to many Red Indian tribes...I like people to lay down the truth. No bullshit. That's what the feather in the circle is all about." JOHN PAUL JONES (bass/strings/keyboards) Jones' symbol is the 3 ovals interlocking a circle and is from the same era thought to represent unity and family. It is also thought to represent a person who is confident and competent because it was difficult to draw accurately. JOHN BONHAM (percussion) Bonham's symbol is the three interlocking circles. Robert Plant once stated that he always thought it meant the trilogy; man, woman and child, but also observed it was also the emblem of Ballantine beer. JIMMY PAGE: No one knows what it means as he's not told anyone and doesn't plan to. But I do know it was made by him and is probably a mixture of three, or more, ancient symbols or runes. In the early 90's, Robert Plant admitted, "...Jimmy pulled me aside one day in 1975 and said, 'I'm only going to tell you this once..and then I shan't repeat it' and proceeded to tell me the meaning of his symbol. "Since than I've forgotten what he said and now Pagey won't tell me!" If you can get your hands on the CD sized book "The Making Of Led Zeppelin's (symbols)" by Robert Godwin (1996) or the January 2002 edition of Guitar World magazine with Jimmy on the cover, it explains a bit more about trying to decipher Page's symbol. But it won't matter because the meaning he has chosen is still a secret. A recent website has in my opinion the best-to-date explanation of

. http://www.inthelight.co.nz/ledzep/zososymbol.htm

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Regarding the meaning of the song. Well, there's no specific meaning. The song was written for that purpose. Before the song became the most requested song on radio history (this record has never been broken, even 34 years to this day..) housewives were requesting the song while they waited for their husbands to come home from work. The song was requested for weddings and funerals alike. Robert Plant once stated that the song was "...a women's quest for spiritual perfection" and ".. A simple wedding song." Jimmy Page said, more sincerely, that the song has whatever meaning the listener wants to put to it. It was a song of hope. Jimmy credits Roberts lyrics while Plant credits Jimmy's magical folk to rock guitar playing. It's

obvious that the song inspired everyone in Led Zeppelin at the time. Notable lines include "If there's a bustle in your hedgerow.." A bustle in your hedgerow refers to the beginning of spring. When the flora and animals, etc wake up and are new and refreshed after the winter. After the tragedy that Zeppelin experienced during their career, especially Robert Plant (Robert and his wife Maureen were nearly killed in a car accident in 1975. She suffered a fractured skull and pelvis and Robert's ankle was crushed. He had to walk for almost a mile before a fruit truck picked him up and pretty much saved his family. He wouldn't walk again for 6 months. In 1979 Plant's son had died from a respiratory infection & in 1980 his childhood friend John Bonham had died and Zeppelin came to an end.) After that, it was over for Robert Plant. He refused to sing any Zeppelin songs while touring to promote his solo work. Eventually, in the late 80's and early 90's he came around and accepted his past. He performed some Zeppelin songs in concert but NEVER touched Stairway To Heaven. It would be a kind of sacrilege to play the song without the full band..And Bonham was dead. Robert has said continuously that Stairway is not his favorite Zeppelin song. It is Kashmir. It's taken much compromise with Plant to even get it done during the Live Aid and Atlantic 88 reunions. Jimmy Page felt the same. Although he describes Stairway as his favorite (along with Kashmir), he will not play it without, at least, Robert Plant on vocal. He as played the song in his solo concerts but only as an instrumental with the audience filling in for Robert. Some very emotional moments there. In 1994 on Japanese television Jimmy Page and Robert Plant played a shortened live version of Stairway To Heaven before a shocked crowd and talk show hosts. Page and Plant went out to sit on 2 stools and asked the audience for any requests. One shouted "Babe I'm Going To Leave You." Agreed. But Jimmy Page himself surprised everyone, especially Robert Plant, by strumming the opening riff of Stairway To Heaven. From there on, the song took shape and a short but magical version was performed. A truly wonderful moment. LED ZEPPELIN LYRICS: Many of Plant's lyrics stem from old American blues to ancient English and Greek mythology but mostly in the form of legend. Achilles Last Stand mentions the Mighty Arms of Atlas but the song is actually about the call of the road, meaning touring as Led Zeppelin and also hints at the world travels of Robert when not on tour.. Again, Plant drops references here and there, but there is no complete song about a particular figure in mythology. Immigrant Song is Zeppelin putting themselves in the form of Vikings. Over The Hills and Ramble On have Lord Of The Rings references, which are fictional of course. A lot of the songs have references to the English countryside and the Welsh plains where Plant and Page grew up as lads. A lot of old Scottish wars happened there. A lot of history. But nothing can really be pinned down as mythological in Zeps tunes. They wrote mainly about where they were and the feelings they had at a certain point in time. Hence the incredible variety of the band. Stairway To Heaven was recorded at Headley Grange in England. Most of the 4th Album was recorded there. Headley Grange was a huge, hundred year old mansion that was cold and drafty and had limited privileges. It was perfect. Stairway was literally recorded in front of a roaring fireplace with Robert Plant & Jimmy Page

sitting cross-legged on the floor. Jimmy came in with the intro intact. After a small while of "humming" from Plant, Robert starting to write the lyrics right then and there. "Something was moving my pen..." he has been quoted to say on many an interview. Jimmy Page admitted that Robert "...had come up with 90% of the lyrics right there on the spot! We were all stunned..." The song broke the rules of traditional music recordings of the day as it actually "sped up" as the song went along. It was also much longer than the usual "radio friendly" 2-minute format. And it was a true tour-DE-force in that not only did the tempo speed up, but the emotion grew throughout the songs acoustic beginning, the intro of John Bonham's percussion, and the final part where, not only, the band plays at full force, but Jimmy Page carved his name into rock and roll history with the, still, best rated guitar solo of all time. Jimmy Page, again, was the first and only KING of 'light and shade.' For most solos, Page would lay down 3 different takes while alone in the studio. He would then pick the best out of the 3 and that was it. No 50-100 takes that most bands, even today, still do. For Stairway, Jimmy chose the first solo take. He was using his old Telecaster guitar that he hadn't played since the later days of the Yardbirds and the first few months with Led Zeppelin. The song evolved from there; and many actual rehearsal tapes have surfaced in the past year that really reveal the makings of this classic. (If you would like a copy of some Zep rehearsals, let me know.) John Paul Jones was present at the living room presentation by Page with his intro guitar part to Stairway. He thought that the keyboards, with an Old English flute & strings section, would better suit the folksier instrumental much better than a simple bass guitar. (JPJ always said the keyboards were his "main" instrument. He was playing the piano as a child long before he took up the bass guitar. He was essential in orchestrating many Led Zeppelin songs including Kashmir and The Rain Song.) EVER ONWARD: In December 2007, at the O2 Arena in London – it finally happened. It took the death of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegu8n to bring Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and the heir to the throne, John’s son Jason Bonham – to reunite as Led Zeppelin for a 2 hour spectacular that that media, as usual scoffed at; only to reverse all criticism with an outstanding review of the three 60 year olds and the 40 year old on drums blazing away with all the power, mystery, magic and Hammer of the Gods intended. All in tribute to the man who gave birth to such greats as Ray Charles, Buddy Holly, Crosby Stills & Nash, etc.. – Ahmet Ertegun. Ahmet not only founded Atlantic Records, he was responsible for believing in this young band in 1968 that most all others thought was hype. HE signed the largest deal of the time, advancing the band $200,000 and complete artistic control over their music, albums and cover designs. Unheard of in today’s medium. Ahmet and his wife were simple lovers of music. Atlantic Records was the company that believed in the underdog. Ahmet Ertegun was the man who wanted people to succeed on their own merits and not “made” or “molded” by a record company. Unlike the disposable pop music of today – Ahmet Ertegun invented integrity not just within the artist – but also within the music industry itself. So how could the remaining members of his greatest child – Led Zeppelin – not reform at least for this very special tribute? Of course they could not say no.

The youngsters in the audience had no idea what to expect and were visibly shaken by what they were witnessing. A REAL LED ZEPPELIN CONCERT!! As the cameras rolled to witness the atmosphere of the crowd coming out of the stadium postevent, there wasn’t a dry eye in the streets. A big relief for Zeppelin aficionados. A stunning display for the newbies and a huge embarrassment for the nonbelievers, mostly consisting of early morning radio talk show DJ’s and the usual beleaguered press…all of whom had to admit they were once again…wrong. When it comes to Led Zeppelin together, it’s still a magic and chemistry beyond any on this planet. It’s a profound statement. But true. It’s been proven time and time again. People are listening. Don’t believe me? Here are just a small percentage of the celebrities at the show.. Besides the names…check out the variety. Just goes to show that there’s a Zeppelin song for everyone…but the band itself as a whole, has power that all want to witness for themselves The guarantee that you, your parents and even your grandparents are familiar with Led Zeppelin without even knowing it is pretty much a given. And it’s not just for the so-called “hard” rock you hear on the radio. On camera for CNN, FOX, BBC and the like. Among those who humbly witnessed the greatest show on earth (or at least downtown London) were celebrities as varied as Zeppelin’s music catalog, including: Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Sammy Hagar, Robert De Niro, Frank Sinatra Jr - Sylvester Stallone, Eddie Vedder, Eddie Van Halen, Bruce Willis, Liam Neeson, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Ozzy Osborne, Eric Clapton, Harrison Ford, Jim Carrey, Russell Crowe, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townsend, Ed Harris, Ringo Starr, Dan Ackroyd, Jim Belushi, BB King, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Jones, Bill Wyman, Dustin Hoffman, Whoopi Goldberg, Ben Stiller, Robert Englund, Adam Sandler, Mickey Rourke, Tom Hanks, Craig T Nelson, Drew Carrey, Drew Barrymore, Matt Damon, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Mark Whalberg, John Goodman, Anthony Michael Hall, Garth Snow, Steve Young, James Caan, John Mcenroe, Paulo Nitttini, Stephen Stills and so on… When the final chords of Stairway to Heaven rang throughout the arena (the first performance of Stairway by the entire band with a Bonham on drums since Zep’s last true gig in Berlin, 27 years prior in 1980) – Robert Plant with bottom lip trembling spoke into the microphone, “Hey, Ahmet!… We did it!.” The concert continued with “The Song Remains The Same”. In 2009, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss won out over all the so-called disposable pop of the day not to mention some fine acts such as Coldplay – to win TOP honors at the Grammy Awards with Album of the Year for “Raising Sand.” - - Jimmy Page must have shit a brick. Chris M. Zangara. 03/11/2009

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