Thursday, December 15, 2011

Led Zeppelin's Forgotten Son

Good response on both the XTC and Grateful Dead posts. Something came to mind while reading the comments.

The song I posted for the Dead, an instrumental outtake of "Death Don't Have No Mercy," is a song I felt would have been appreciated, even liked, by people who don't like the Dead. I'm wondering how many didn't bother to listen just because of who it was.

Then, my pal ASH made these comments on the XTC post:
"Skylarking is an easy choice for most"


"I defy anyone to make an album as English and original as Big Express. XTC have made better albums, but none as original."

So it got my wood burning.

That first Grateful Dead record seems to strike a chord with many Dead-hating friends of mine, simply because of the 60s, "nuggets-y" feel of both "The Golden Road" and "Cream Puff War," two songs that could be Paul Revere & The Raiders or the 13th Floor Elevators, for Pete's sake.

"Skylarking" had the huge MTV hit "Dear God," and because of it, found a much bigger audience that had been eluding XTC for years, but as ASH said, it's "The Big Express" he makes return trips to.

So combining all these ideas, I decided to show some public love for Led Zeppelin's 7th studio release, 1976's "Presence," an album that was ill-received upon its release, and continues to garner somewhat shakey reviews. And I'll go out on a limb here, but, there's a certain group of Zep fans that will only show love for their first two, and others who have never even bothered to listen to anything after "IV." I've experienced these people first hand---first while standing behind a counter for 15 years, then at various times on the pages of Burning Wood.

"Presence," in many ways, is a Led Zeppelin "Greatest Hits" LP,  in that it covers everything the mighty band has successfully attempted on prior releases. There is the monster epic, "Achilles Last Stand," a 10 minute attack that showcases one of the greatest rhythm sections in the history of the world, as well as one of Jimmy Page's finest solos. There is your slow-melting blues number, "Tea For One." Your "Good Times, Bad Times" attempt at a pop single with "Hots On For Nowhere." Your hall of fame riffage, a la "Whole Lotta Love" in "For Your Life," which All Music refers to as the "best song on the album." Your "Bring It On Home," harp-blowing blues workout in "Nobody's Fault But Mine." And two hard rocking tributes to the roots of rock and roll, "Candy Store Rock" and "Royal Orleans."

There was a recent discussion...a discussion that seems to take place once a month....over Jimmy Page and his tendency to steal from the great folk and blues artists that came before him. Our friend, BuzzBabyJesus wrote a brilliant piece on it HERE. But I've tried to never let one's reputation get in the way of the final product. (There are plenty of great Woody Allen movies after "Crimes & Misdemeanors." Honest.) Yes, there are some examples in Buzz's piece that are so blatant, you wish you could just smack Jimmy and ask, "What the hell were you thinking?" But those 3-4 examples are just a small piece of the pie. And if anyone had any interest in LZ at all, I find it astonishing that with such a small catalogue...only 8 studio releases...even one record could go unexplored.

"Presence" is an unsung hero, a massive record by a massive band, and a collection of music, that deserves a second chance, and in many cases, a first chance by those who jumped ship after "Stairway To Heaven."

What would you nomimate as an "unsung hero," or an album that may turn a non-believer into a fan?


steve simels said...

Actually, I liked Presence MORE than any of the earlier Zep albums right out of the gate. Of course, I was never what you would call a Zep fan, but I always felt that Presence had the most pop smarts and least bombast of all their studio efforts.

Plus that hilarious cover art, obviously.

FD13NYC said...

It's kind of difficult to turn a non believer, especially if they haven't delved into an artist's or group's catalog fully, with an open ear.

I would nominate, off the top of my head, Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy. While most or some only know them by the songs Boys Are Back or possibly Jailbreak, the 5 or 6 albums that followed were consistently enjoyable. This band musically kicked ass whenever possible during their existence together. So for the curious music lover, especially the younger contingent coming up and wanting to explore, I say, dig in to those CDs following Jailbreak. Not making their "best of" a starting point. This goes for many other groups as well.

I too liked Presence. Not one of my faves, but still a solid album with some killer cuts.

Jeff Matthews said...

Not wanting to (or maybe really wanting) to re-incite the recent HOF debate, I find that many rock minds who have otherwise impeccable tastes are inexplicably hostile to certain monster bands if they smack even remotely of hip-hop. I would argue specifically for the Beastie Boys - it'sfine for folks to be annoyed by Licensed to Ill (which I actually do like) but I wish they would really listen to Check Your Head for example. But it's usually just a pure dismissal of the whole genre. Same could be said for Eminem, who is brilliant. (I might even extend the argument to Kanye but that might be a stretch.) If great rock and roll is, as Stiv Bators said, meant to be young loud and snotty, how can you not give the BB and Eminem a chance?

buzzbabyjesus said...

I think "Presence" is as good as "Physical Graffiti", and better than "In Through The Out Door", but nowhere near "Houses Of The Holy" or the one with the picture on the front. "III" is a personal favorite, and the first two are undeniable, although I haven't listened to any of them much since I was old enough to buy beer.
So much music, so little time.
I nominate "Curse Of The Mekons" as an album to convert a nonbeliever.
I can't imagine any rock fan not finding something to like there,
and a fine introduction to another band that deserves a larger audience.
And thanks for the shout out.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who is a committed fan of popular music. College professor, plays a mean guitar himself, listens to all the right stuff. Except....Richard Thompson. Can't get him to bite. Even tried to entice him with this amazing cover of Joni's Woodstock:

His reaction? meh.


Rich D.

FD13NYC said...

Oh well, here we go again. Jeff, hip hop and rap is NOT rock, pop rock or rock and roll. It is and to me always has been a big stain on the musical plane for however long it's been around (meaning too long). To me it's merely not listenable. With unintelligent lyrics and rhymes that you can't understand set to plagiarized music.

Once again, we're talking ROCK here. Which always has something to offer. Melodic music with understandable lyrics. It's been around for 55 years. Check some of it out. No offense.

Shriner said...

Albums that would turn a non-believer into a fan -- is an interesting question. Can you really get somebody to think better of somebody they don't like?

Off the top of my head (and this was harder than you think because you have to think of artists that don't have a ton of fans already *or* who have been slagged off by others without ever hearing a note...)

"Headquarters" by the Monkees. Note that there were *no hit songs* off their 3rd album (except added on reissues), but it's the one where they play all the instruments.

Aimee Mann: Bachelor #2. (Though a valid point could be made that there's such a similarity to *all* her albums that you could pick her first solo album, too...)

Bangles: All Over The Place. Forget "Manic Monday" and "Walk Like and Egyptian". Everything you need is on the first album and you'll wonder why you dismissed them as a group because of MTV.

Bob Dylan: Biograph. This is a cheat, I know. I was never really into Dylan beyond the radio hits on the oldies station until I picked up this career (at the time) retrospective.

Bee Gees -- any "greatest hits" compilation including both 60s and 70s songs. Many old farts probably slagged them off because of the Disco connection, but there's a lot of great melodies in their catalog

DEVO -- Duty Now For the Future. There's more to this band than "Are We Not Men" and "Whip It". The 2nd album is a good entry point for somebody unfamiliar with the band that will determine if they want to dig further (like how I've used English Settlement in the past...)

Elvis Costello -- Imperial Bedroom. The only EC album my wife ever stood to listen to in full. (But it's flagged as a "masterpiece" often, so how "unsung" is it, really?)

The Turtles -- Battle of the Bands. Monster hit in "Elenore", but the entire album -- the band played without session musicians through their career -- will surprise people in it's diversity.

Zappa -- Sheik Yerbouti. It's more "comedy" than most, but I find it the underrated album in his catalog because of it -- and, as such, it hides some of my favorite material from others.

KISS -- The Paul Stanley solo album. Chock full of pop-rock. It sounds KISS-like (because it's Paul), but it's not has heavy or genital-focused as you might think. This is "the one I go back to" all the time.

Jefferson Starship -- (well, scratch that, there are too many versions of the band. I was going to suggest "Spitfire" as an unsung hero, but if somebody is looking for Mickey Thomas, they won't find him there...)

Neil Young -- Live Rust -- acoustic and Crazy Horse on one great album. If you like this

McCartney -- Tug of War. Apart from some production quibbles and "Ebony and Ivory", I pull this one out as "here's some solo Paul you probably haven't heard"

I thought about adding some albums from artists with a large discography like Kim Wilde, SCOTS, Juliana Hatfield and Robyn Hitchcock, Queen, REM, the Replacements, Sloan, Teenage Fanclub, etc, but I figured this post would get too large and I want to read what others say.

Anonymous said...

First of all I can count at least 3 GREAT Woody Allen films after "Crimes and Misdemeanors". So I'm totally with you.

Second, I am a huge lover of the Replacements' "Don't Tell A Soul", a record that most of their die-hards call their sell out record. I think it has as many great songs on it as "Tim". Production is a bit slick but the songs are there. And the uninitiated might even find it more accessible.


Anything Should Happen said...

Great post again Sal, you are on fire.

I quite like Presence to be honest.

In Through The Out Door is similarly treated badly.

It's very different, Jimmy Page seems on holiday and JPJ obviously got a load of keyboards for Christmas but it's an album I return to a lot.

All Of My Love got loads of Airplay on Radio 1 here in the UK and a new audience seem to be drawn, people who had never heard any Led Zep apart from knowing they "did" the Top Of The Pops theme tune.

Sadly curtailed.

I'm not of the 1 - 4 brigade. My love is Physical Grafitti, yes it's a bit long, but that is regularly on here in ASH land and remains I think Zep at their peak.

Not as powerful, but far more clever.

Anything Should Happen said...

Big Express wise it suffered from a number of things, it sold really poorly.

It was made even worse by what was a throwaway Dukes project selling more copies.

Big Express is the bridge between the second and third and final XTC stages.

Without it there would be no Skylarking, Orange And Lemons etc and if it had sold well, the direction may have been very different.

Big Express made Partridge temper the bluntness, there is so much aggression in Big Express to the pastoral Skylarking.

Interesting of late that Partridge has mellowed to Todd Rundgren's production. He still doesn't agree with the approach, but now at least seems to understand what he was trying to do.

As a sideline though, XTC's great moment for me is This Is Pop. If it had ended there, that was a good enough statement.

Enough XTC though, this is a Led Zep post.

Anything Should Happen said...

Great post Jeff and I fully agree with you on the Beasires and Eminem.

Not sure about Kanye West though, one great album.

It applies to a lot of things. I've recently been singing the praises of early Hanson and the likes of Busted and McFly.

Too much hipness and too much believing common consensus does for a lot of us.

The Stones are still crap after Some Girls though.

Sal Nunziato said...

@ Shriner
Nice list. I'm with you on the Paul Stanley solo album. Eric Carmen would have killed to write a song like "Wouldn't You Like To Know Me," post Raspberries.

I think I hate The Mekons and yet I can't recall a single note by the band. To make matters worse, I bought a ticket to see power pop supergroup SWAG at the Mercury Lounge, and the headliner was The Mekons. I left before they took the stage. I may have to dive in.

@Rich D.

Most RT detractors complain about his voice. But a guitar player not acknowledging RT's guitar playing is a real puzzle.


You're right. Rap is not rock or pop rock or rock and roll. But neither is R&B, yet you seem to have no issue with Wilson Pickett or Al Green in the HOF. How about Donovan? He's more folk than rock AND he's just mad about saffron and saffron's mad about him. No issue, right?

Check out the lyrics to "Looking Out The Barrel Of A Gun" by the Beasties. Actually, pretty heavy. AND, really smart. Getting a message across to a select group who might not have gotten it if it had acoustic guitars and harmonies behind it.

I think not liking hip hop is a-ok. I'm just not sure you're making your argument by simply stating it sucks. (my word, not yours, but really, it's what you're saying.)

As for rock and its "understandable lyrics," which rock are you listening to? Certainly not Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis or the Rolling Stones or R.E.M. or David Bowie or...

FD13NYC said...

Point well taken. I don't have an issue with R&B because I love it, and I dig Donovan too. I will check out some Beasties to be fair, but no guarantees.

You're right about rock lyrics, but the music sounds so good. It all comes down to preference.

I spoke to your Mom today, we laughed. Have a Tootsie Frootsie day!

cmealha said...

I think most people's problem with presence is that it sound less refined than other Zep albums. Its' a bit sloppier, rushed and raw. But I think that's what makes it so good. 'Hot's on for Nowhere' stands among the best tracks they ever did. Then you add 'Royal Orleans', 'Nobody's Fault...', 'For Your Life', et al and you've got yourself one fine album. I'll admit to one disappointment. The beginning riff of 'Tea for One' had me anticipating some transcendent track similar to 'Kashmir'. When it broke into the blues I was crushed. It took me years to appreciate what an amazing song it really is. Jimmy plays the crap out it and Plant puts down one of his best vocal performances.

Jeff Matthews said...

FD13NYC - oh puleeez don't start questioning my rock cred - you know nothing about me.
This is a matter of open ears and open minds
I think your focus on what is rock and what isn't rock (or, as you call it, ROCK) is parochial and, frankly, pointless because most of what we listen to bears very little resemblance to Rocket 88 or Buddy Holly any more. I can draw genealogical lines to get to the Beasties any number of ways but who really cares. Just a question of where and when you want to draw the line to include or exclude membership from the ROCK club.
[Side question: can you define "chair" for me? Does it need to have four legs? Can it be upholstered? Can it recline?]
It's all a continuum. Explain to me again why songs like "Sabotage" or "Whatcha Want" are not rock? Explain to me why rock lyrics need to be intelligible (or intelligent, while you're at it)? Explain to me why songs that lack melody are not rock?
If you don't like the Beasties, or Public Enemy, or Nas, or the Roots, or Arrested Development, or if you want to lump all those great acts together with 2 Live Crew, fine. Your loss (which I'm sure you're happy to accept). But you're missing some really cool sonic experimentation, musical attitude, and cultural commentary.
By the way, I think your Thin Lizzy argument was an excellent example consistent with Sal's.

buzzbabyjesus said...

As long as there's no auto-tune involved, I'm good.

Anything Should Happen said...

Wow you have got me thinking, a streaming cold has got me out of bed and the first thing I can think of is to see what people are saying here.

Richard Thompson's voice is of course grating, but he's not alone in the music world is he on that score?

His songwriting is unusual in that it grips on subjects it shouldn't and he's capable of the likes of Valerie.

However he is worth the admission alone for his guitar playing, as an acoustic player, I don't see many better.

I'm really surprised at the venom against Rap. I'm not a follower but can admire some of the stuff as modern day street poets.

May not have much of a tune, but has Walk On The Wild Side?

Eminem's early subject matter stands up with anything from any street lyricist, perhaps age dulls our appreciation.

Some rappers liked the bling and the kill 'em bit, but thise days are gone and as a genre it stands up.

Do you want your kids to watch the X Factor or have their minds perked by a lyric?

Because something isn't aimed at us, doesn't make it bad, it just means that we don't understand it.

When I was young, elders used to bemoan that long haired jibber jabberer on Top Of The Pops who wanted a good wash and a proper job. "I Can't Understand A Word He's Saying" etc etc.

Little difference now in the rap comparison.

As for rap being sampled, our original topic subjects did a fair bit of that to the Blues.

Albert said...

Oh man...oh man man man...Presence has ALWAYS been my favorite Zep album....starting with the good-faith attempts to get down(not too successfully)at least several of the songs in garages and basements of Sheepshead Bay while the album was still on the new releases rack...all the way to iPod/commuting replays of For Your Life,Achilles Last Stand and the amazing Royal Orleans...thank you for bringing this album to the discussion table...and to think this record is the closest thing Led Zeppelin has to a cut-out...another unsung album: Along the Red Ledge(Hall and Oates)...a-mazing!!

buzzbabyjesus said...

My favorite Richard Thompson albums are his first one, "Henry The Human Fly", and "I Wanna See The Bright Lights Tonight" his second, with Linda. I've liked every subsequent release incrementally less, until by now I admire his craft, he is one of the world's best guitar players, but I can't really get into his records anymore. There is something essential missing, which for a long time I've blamed on his conversion to Sufism. Kind of like Beck and Scientology.

buzzbabyjesus said...

I've been a Reggae fan since "Rastman Vibration" (1976), which led me to dub, and DJ culture, so initially Hip Hop wasn't much of a stretch. I still have my 12" Grandmaster Flash singles, and I bought "Cookie Puss" back in the day. I saw Hip Hop as the next iteration of Black Music, which is the basis for Rock N Roll.
I followed it until the end of the "Daisy Age", when Gangsta emerged and the music took a back seat to attitude.
I think De La Soul's "Three Feet High And Rising" is a nutty classic, as is Lee "Scratch Perry's "Return Of The Super Ape".
As for the Beasties and Eminem, I'm just as suspicious of white guys rapping as I am of them playing the blues. I'm more interested in the sources they're imitating.

Shriner said...

I have to admit, I keep trying with Richard Thompson -- and as a guitar player, I should appreciate him.

But he's never done anything for me. And I have friends who love him and keep telling me what I miss out on him, etc...

cmealha said...

Do I dare say Mayer Hawthorne "A Strange Arrangement"? Kidding (sort of)
This was tough. The albums i kept thinking of were for artists who's other albums I didn't care for or artists that were already pretty popular. Finally the only one I keep going back to is Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, "100 Days, 100 Nights".
Oh, oh, oh... How about the Rapberries "Starting Over"

scott said...

How about Blood On The Tracks? I never cared for Dylan's voice when I was younger. I listened to LZ HEAVILY at the time.
I first bought Time Out Of Mind because of the reviews and initially thought, meh.
Then I picked up BOTT and listened to it nonstop for about a year while working on the computer.
After which, of course, I went out and bought every Dylan album. At the age of 45.
Talk about an education...

Sal Nunziato said...

It's common among long time record collectors and music fanatics to have certain records they can no longer listen to. "If I never hear Stairway To Heaven" again..."

But I have to say, some of those records...Beatles catalogue, Zep II and IV, Exile...and Blood On the Tracks...I've yet to stop listening. Just listened to BOTT last week.

Anonymous said...

I loved The Basement Tapes a couple decades before I cared much about the rest of Dylan's or The Band's catalogs. Those songs slayed me the first time I heard them.

Bruce H

OldRockr1 said...

After reading this post I went out and grabbed a vinyl copy of Presence last week. It was never my favorite and I had pretty much left it on the shelf for years. Now I love Led Zep but was left a little put off by the last couple in high school. I've played the crap out of the first 6 lps for 35 years or so and still do...just not Presence or In Through the Out Door.

So I've been playing the crap out of this for the past week and have to say it is a far stronger record that I remember start to finish. Maybe it's because it is relatively fresh to my ears, but it sounds great right now. My wife would think differently but you can't have it all!

I am constantly going back and finding things I missed for one reason or another over the years. Frankie Miller was one of those artists you mentioned a while back that I had never heard much of and really like. Timeless music is just that...timeless.