BUSTLING TOWARD THE HEDGEROW: LED ZEPPELIN I – III

I – Setting out

Led Zeppelin played their first gig on the 7th of September, 1968, in Denmark. The tour was a remaindered Yardbirds commitment but none-the-less a statement of intent for a new/old band with energy, commitment and stamina. They played regularly, often two sets per night, and set off on the first of many visits to the USA over Christmas of that year.

March 28th 1969 saw the UK release of their first album, Led Zeppelin I. Britain’s Record Mirror was kind:

Full of nice tastes and ideas that actually work, the album is very well done. …a new and expectedly exciting group (sic).

On 31st March of 1969 they were playing at the Cooks Ferry Inn in London. An eyewitness recalls:

I was there in my granddad vest and Dunlop Green Flash plimsoles, cool or what? I sat right at the front with my feet resting on the stage, Jimmy Page standing in front of me playing his nuts off and sweating profusely. How excited was I as sweat dropped from his head onto my Dunlops! This was a Monday night, as were most Cooks Ferry gigs at the time, and the noise was unbelievable, my ears didn’t stop ringing until Thursday morning. [Courtesy of the Led Zeppelin website. The timeline is fascinating.]

LedZeppelinI

 II   – Randy sloths?

The band toured, then toured some more. Success, power, adrenalin and endless diversions followed: the tales of debauchery and decadence are legion. Read about it (if you dare) in tour manager Richie Cole’s memoir, “Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored”.

A second album duly burst forth in October ‘69 while the band were touring the US (again). By this stage a gulf had opened up between American critics and the concert going, record buying public. The official Zeppelin site reminds us that “on December 27th, 1969, Led Zeppelin II reaches number 1 on Billboard, displacing Abbey Road”.

Meanwhile, iconic music writer Lester Bangs described Led Zeppelin as “lumbering sloths” and the sloppily sarcastic Rolling Stone review included this memorable quote:

Until you’ve listened to the album 800 times, as I have, it seems as if it’s just one especially heavy song extended over the space of two whole sides. [RS, Dec 13, 1969]

As author Charles R. Cross notes in “Led Zeppelin: Shadows Taller Than Our Souls”, the signature US music magazine “felt that Zeppelin’s music was so derivative it could be comically dismissed.” [p. 28]

Despite the panning, the first two albums have achieved a certain historical gravitas with the passing decades that may or may not be deserved. One believer is Mr Foo Fighter, Dave Grohl:

Heavy metal would not exist without Led Zeppelin, and if it did, it would suck.  [Writing for Rolling Stone magazine. Article ‘updated’ 2011, retrieved May 2014]

led zeppelin II

III – Tired and Emotional

Whatever the artistic achievements, there is no doubting the work ethic of manager Peter Grant’s boys: “In 1969, Led Zeppelin played 139 shows, the vast majority of them in the US” [RS #657, Oct 2006].

After a few days off for Christmas the band was on the road again, playing shows in the UK and Europe before returning – like a comet orbiting a seething planet – to the US. It was a slog, and by the end they were knackered.

In the final days of the spring 1970 North American tour, all of us were exhausted. Too much travelling, too little sleep, too much alcohol, too many drugs. [Cole, p. 143]

The omission of one particular diversion suggests that Mr Cole does not attribute a surfeit of sex to in-the-red fatigue levels. Guess they were young and strong. But Robert Plant’s larynx was not so robust; he lost his voice. Taking a break from intimidating promoters, Peter Grant gave full rein to his compassionate nature. Or perhaps his long-term investment savvy. Anyway, Richie Cole records that,

Peter stepped in and took control of the situation. “That’s it, Robert,” he said. “There will be no show tonight. You’ve sung twenty-nine concerts in thirty-one days. The doctor says that if you sing without a long rest, you could ruin your voice permanently… We’re going home.” [ibid, p. 144]

IV – Country retreat

Arriving back in the UK in April 1970, the four members of Led Zeppelin touched base with family, friends, and massively engorged bank accounts.

But Robert was restless. Ill at ease. Unused to being in the same place more than a day, perhaps. He told Richie Cole that he and girlfriend Maureen were ‘fighting’. Unused to the same partner for more than a night, perhaps. The singer decided a change of scenery was in order. Recalling a cottage where he had spent an enjoyable childhood holiday, Robert called Jimmy Page to suggest a sojourn in Wales.

Although the record company was already breathing down their necks about the next album, Plant and Page were not worried. Some songs, such as “Immigrant Song”, were already well advanced and despite being road-weary, they were full of ideas. Robert Plant’s interest in history and mythology was starting to permeate his ideas for lyrics while Jimmy Page’s ears had always been quietly attuned to acoustic and folk influences, not just the blues. What better preparation for some time in the wild lonely Welsh hills?

Plant and Page brought their partners with them, along with a couple of roadies to look after the domestic tasks. No small job, in a building without electricity. Still, as Clive Coulson told Mojo magazine, “Everyone mucked in really. I wouldn’t take any of that superior shit. They were wonderful people to work for, normal blokes.” [Mojo #77]

Rambles were undertaken, lyrics written, tunes conjured from the countryside or excavated from memory. Dogs were walked, babies conceived (well, one, anyway) and a genuine song-writing partnership sprouted.

Bron-Y-Aur / Zeppelin

Page reproduced from the Charles R. Cross book. Photo credits: Eleonora Bortoli (T); Heilemann/Camera Press/Retna Ltd (B)

V – III

After further wood-shedding with John Paul Jones and John Bonham at draughty Headly Grange in Hampshire, the band went into the studio then – inevitably – back on the road.

Eventually, in October 1970, Led Zeppelin III was released. Album opener “Immigrant Song” is described by Stephen Davis:

With its images of barbarous Norse seamen and pillaged abbeys, (it) was the first of Led Zeppelin’s many hammer-of-the-gods threnodies. [p.117]

Electric blues and high energy rockin’ dominate the remainder of the side. But it is the second side of Led Zeppelin III that really changed the game. Here the complimentary interests of Plant and Page in English folk burst forth with side opener “Gallows Pole” (Trad. Arr. J. Page & R. Plant) setting the tone. Wistful ballad “Tangerine” is followed by the yearning vulnerability of “That’s the way”, their most emotionally complex song to date. “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” is aptly described by Allmusic as “an infectious acoustic romp” before the album closes with the Beefheart-esque wonkiness of “Hats off to (Roy) Harper”.

In a Mojo article, writer Phil Sutcliffe quotes Robert Plant as identifying Led Zeppelin III as “our single most important achievement”; this was in the 90s, not amidst the hype and propaganda of the album’s original release. At the time opinion was divided, of course, with some noting the ‘bombast’ while others complained about Zepp going ‘soft’. But Robert knew from the beginning that III was special.

Now we’ve done Zeppelin III the sky’s the limit. It shows we can change. It means there are endless possibilities and directions for us to go in. [quoted in Mojo #77, p. 62]

And they did just that.

Led Zepp - III

VI – Setting the woodland stage

For this listener, it is the leavening of the swaggering take-no-prisoners sonic assault with some acoustic light and shade that makes III special. Incorporating ideas and colours from the fertile English folk-rock scene added a richness and variety that found fulfilment on the next album.

*

Next time at Vinyl Connection we’ll discover answers to some Zeppelin questions that have plagued rock scholars for countless seconds…

Who loved the Incredible String Band’s place?

Who wanted to do “a Pentangle-type thing”?

Who pinched mandolin ideas from Fairport Convention?

We’ll also wonder about what music the lads may have been listening to on the bus or in the plane during those endless tours; those ideas that gave rise to the musical leaps which bound out of Led Zeppelin III’s grooves.

Stay tuned.

*

SOURCES & FURTHER READING

Bangs, Lester [1970] “Of Pop and Pies and Fun”, in Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung (ed. Greil Marcus). Vintage Books, NY, 1988.

Cole, Richard [1993] Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored. Simon and Shuster, London.

Cross, Charles R. [2009] Led Zeppelin: Shadows Taller than our Souls. Harper Collins, NY.

Davis, Stephen [1985] Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga. Ballantine, NY.

Gilmore, Mikal. “The Long Shadow of Led Zeppelin”in Rolling Stone #657, Oct 2006.

Sutcliffe, Phil. “Bustle in the Hedgerow”in Mojo: The Music Magazine, #77, Apr 2000.

Led Zepp II Flyer

25 comments

  1. Very enjoyable! I didn’t know about that Grohl quote: “Heavy metal would not exist without Led Zeppelin, and if it did, it would suck.”

    It’s interesting to read these old stories too, when the band were not the gods they were destined to become. It’s hard to imagine that time from the perspective of today.

    Like

    1. Yes, have to say I’m more interested in the rise than the ‘soaring the stratosphere’ phase. And as you implied, an amusing quote from Mr ex-Nirvana!

      Like

  2. Your blog set gales of ‘A whole lot of love’ going in my head and just like the 70’s parties where these albums were played, the sound is loud and the songs get played over and over again. Indeed, there was a sense of excitement when each of these albums was released, although the excitement around lll did not match that of the first two.
    Thanks.

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    1. Sales and excitement were both more subdued for III. Perhaps that old chestnut of fans wanting more of the same…
      Personally, I prefer the light and shade of III.

      I wonder if the young persons in a booty-shaking mood would dance to ‘Whole Lotta Love’ now?

      Like

      1. Yes, too many fans wanting more of the same could be the reason for lower sales of LZ lll.
        I am refreshing my memory of three as I type and it has lots to offer, including for that slow-dancing/ denouement stage of a party.
        Thanks to the scratchy record that cola4369 of YouTube uploaded and his use of what sounds like a cheap 1970’s Uni student’s record player, the result is a fair reproduction of how I first heard Zeppelin.
        As to your question, after today’s visit to the Physio and with addition of industrial earmuffs, yes there remains the possibility of booty-shaking … but Z is most unlikely to lead me to the dance-floor (‘Do you really like that stuff you’re playing now, Darlinger?).

        Like

  3. Excellent post – from the clever title through to the not so time-consuming questions! My answer changes frequently, but after reading here, I’m reminded of why LZIII usually tops my favourite LZ record list

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    1. Delighted to find another III-fan.

      As will become clear next week, this was partially an excuse to write about some folk-rock. The idea has been kicking around for about 6 months, but two things provided a catalyst: the recent re-release of albums I to III and a post on Leige and Lief by your good self. Thought the time was right!

      Thanks for joining in.

      Like

      1. I’ve been called a lot of things – a catalyst is one of the nicer names!
        Looking forward to more folk rock posts (late 60s/early 70s, what a ridiculously excellent era for music)

        Like

  4. Very enjoyable post. I have two LZ albums on vinyl. I remember our hometown radio station playing a block (3-4 songs) of Zeppelin songs every day at 7 pm local time. My daughter, about 4 yrs old sitting in the back seat would hear this block and scream “Zeppy, man! Get the Led out!” Which was the stations catch line for the block. Anyway, thanks for the walk down memory lane.

    Like

    1. That’s fantastic. Musical brand recognition at four. She’s sure to grow up a rocking little Crimson Owlette. Or perhaps she already has!

      Thanks for adding in a great memory.

      Like

  5. Really enjoyable (as always) but I think you’re missing the point – the real hero of the story, therefore of heavy metal/hard rock and the WHOLE OF RECORDED MUSIC EVER is clearly Wales.

    I have done the pilgrimage to Bron-yr-Aur, of course. Except we got a bit lost and ended up Ramblin’ on (pursued closely by Gollum and the ring wraiths riding in black).

    Like

    1. Ah, thanks for the gentle correction. I had read somewhere that there was an ‘r’ in the place name but couldn’t for the life of me relocate the article. I’ve now written out ‘Bron-yr-Aur’ 50 times on the back cover of LZ III.

      Like

      1. Just scrawl ‘R Plant’ under that and you’ll be looking at 7million on eBay (possibly).

        No correction intended, just Welsh patriotism. Apparently Mr Plant can be bumped into occasionally rambling on certain Welsh hills, I’d love that!

        Like

  6. Great post and now you’ve got me wanting to listen to III. But alas, I only have IV on vinyl (my favourite), so that’ll need to do.

    … Black Dog soundtracking my walk to the kitchen to boil the kettle! Rock ‘n roll, indeed!

    Like

    1. Hard to take issue with IV being the highpoint in the Zepp canon (or, more accurately, cannon).
      I hope the tea-making proceeded in a suitably Rock ‘n’ Roll manner! 😉

      Like

      1. … the most rock ‘n’ roll tea-making you could imagine!

        Like

  7. Great post! Can never get enough of the mighty Zepp. And those snotty critics can continue to take their flying leap into eternity as far as I’m concerned, along with their absurd opinions.

    And I did read Cole’s book, natch. They were some naughty boys for sure, but I forgive them. Lol. 😉

    Like

    1. Spoken like a true believer!

      Like

  8. […] article continues a feature on the bursting forth […]

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  9. Very nice post, no such thing as too much Zep.
    NB: Countess Frau Eva von Zeppelin – came to Denmark to prevent Zep from using her family name. They even did some scandinatian shows with a different name, I dont know how it was settled.

    Like

    1. Yes, I’d heard that story too.
      As the re-issues seem to have the band name intact, I guess an agreement was reached!
      Thanks for visiting.

      Like

  10. […] album. Case in point: by far the most viewed Vinyl Connection post is the one on Led Zeppelin. On the other hand, how to find something new to say about an album that most people know (or have […]

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  11. Interesting post, this. I learned things but must admit that, having come to VC later on, I was surprised not to sense the VC presence here until section VI. I noted in the comments above that you wrote this one in a way to set up the next one, kind of a teaching moment to prepare readers to better ingest the personal offering to come, maybe? Ever considered going back and expanding on what our man VC “felt” for any of these? (or maybe it’s there in the archives and I just need a steer…) I, for one, would be interested to read more on III from “this listener.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Re-reading almost two years later, the beginning is certainly very stilted (though fortunately relaxing a little as it goes along). I think I was still writing a few posts in the ‘music journalism’ category partially for the pleasure of doing some research but mainly because I was just a tad pretentious. Luckily all that is behind me now. (Nudge nudge wink wink say no more).
      The other aspect that springs out is how careful I was to avoid slagging off I and II. I think that contributed to the laboured prose. I do not have a particularly high opinion of those first efforts and I think I can see enthusiasm seeping in as we move towards the birth of the third child.
      Anyway, thanks very much for visiting the back catalogue, Victim, and for your (always) thoughtful comments.

      Like

  12. Hey, CB really likes this band. The first album probably gets as much spin time as anything he plays.

    Liked by 1 person

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