Led Zeppelin‘s eponymous debut, released January 12, 1969 is one hell of a record, it goes without saying. This is an insane debut. The Yardbirds were great, of course, but Jimmy Page took things to previously unimagined levels with his new band. It would be impossible to overstate the influence of this record. Led Zeppelin is generally credited with creating Heavy Metal, but it goes so far beyond that. I put this album on in preparation for this write-up and was once again blown away. The opening bars of “Good Times, Bad Times” were blatantly and unapologetically lifted to open “Love You Madly” from Cake‘s Comfort Eagle album over 30 years later. Does the statute of limitations run out eventually? Or does the influence become so ingrained on a cellular level that you no longer know where you copped that riff?
That’s just one example. I mention it because it’s the first thing you hear when you listen to Led Zeppelin I. “Good Times, Bad Times” announces the band’s presence with authority and as soon as Robert Plant‘s vocals come in, you know this isn’t just The Yardbirds Redux. This is a sub-three-minute powerhouse that grabs you by the balls and doesn’t let go. John Bonham is a man possessed as he pounds out an insane backbeat on the opening cut. Jimmy Page drives power-riffs throughout the verses, leaving the melody to Plant. John Paul Jones gets a little breakdown in the middle of the song, almost as if to let you know how much he’s contributing, in case you didn’t notice the bass with everything else going on.
The whole album is like this. It’s one revelation after another. For someone like me, who came to the album late in life, it is instantly familiar because so many of the tropes in modern rock music stem from this band, this record. And sure, Jimmy Page did his share of “borrowing” on the band’s debut, and though the blues influence is often cited because it’s unmistakable, you can also hear the influence of contemporaries like The Doors and Jimi Hendrix coming through in these performances.
Though the band offers up its own interpretations on a handful of tracks, two by blues legend Willie Dixon (“You Shook Me,” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby“), there’s no mistaking the sound that would become signature Led Zeppelin. Both of these are done as straight ahead blues numbers, but unlike any blues up to that point. Plant’s vocals are otherworldly, Page tears loose on the Telecaster, and Bonham wreaks havoc on the drum breaks. The engine behind it all is Jones’s walking bassline.
Thirty-six hours. That’s the thing that blows me away most about this record. Yes, it was revolutionary and ground-breaking (my thesaurus is failing me) and it is still relevant today and it established a new force in rock-and-roll. But it took 36 hours to make. That’s recording and mixing time combined. It wasn’t 36 consecutive hours in the studio, but the fact that an album of that magnitude could come together in such a quick fashion speaks volumes to Jimmy Page’s abilities as bandleader and producer. He has since said in interviews that it was done so quickly in large part because he paid for the sessions out of pocket; he paid out of pocket because he wanted 100% creative control of the album, not some record executive’s idea of what The New Yardbirds should sound like. Then, when he’d gotten it recorded and mixed, he took the completed album to Atlantic and they signed his band.
It’s an incredible introduction to a legendary band and it’s still amazing to me that such a young band was able to create such a powerful and enduring statement. They were young in that Jimmy Page, at 25, was the elder statesman in the group (Robert Plant was only 20 when he recorded this, something that blows my mind every time I listen to the record), but also young in that the band came together as a unit only a few months before these tracks were recorded. Their first live show was in September of 1968. Four months later, they released their debut album.
There’s not much else to say that hasn’t been said about this record, so I’ll wrap it up with a personal note: this is what made me the rabid music fan that I am. Not this album in particular, but it was finding these sorts of albums – recorded before I was born but which influenced everything I listened to growing up – that influenced me to dig deeper, listen to more, find out who did it first, get to the root of what I was hearing. And I just keep digging. It’s been a rewarding journey, and at this point I’m pleased to say it’s one that will never end.