A GAS NEW BAG

It is utterly impossible to view Led Zeppelin without filters. Their image as quintessential ‘rock gods’ of the seventies, the bombast of the music, an incredible popularity that endures to the present… in some ways they have become untouchable. 

The curation of the Zeppelin catalogue has been restrained compared to some (hello Estate Hendrix!) and has focussed on archival live material – mostly because that is all that resides in the vaults. As a result, the albums themselves have acquired the weight and permanence of architectural icons. So if Led Zeppelin II is their Stonehenge and III is their Taj Mahal, what is Led Zeppelin I?

Released on 12 January 1969, the debut album is, perhaps, their Royal Albert Hall. Host to many and varied musical events and residence of the Proms, Queen Victoria’s venue can be seen as a home of diversity. And there is diversity on Led Zeppelin I, plenty of it. In fact, one could argue that the debut album sets out the stall that the band would trade from for the rest of their existence. Heavy blues thumping, folk influences, some sly psychedelic touches, histrionic vocals, comic book lyrics… it’s all there on the album with the burning airship on the cover.

But mostly, Zepp I is a showcase for the guitar brilliance of Jimmy Page. After much work as a hired gun and a stint in the Yardbirds, Page was primed to explode with guitaristy energy: electric, acoustic, slide… it is restless and exciting.

I enjoyed listening to Led Zeppelin again. The pop touches, the blues-rock explosions, Plant’s wailing; it was fun and more satisfying than I’d expected. But what was said about Led Zeppelin I at the time?

From Rolling Stone (US) March 15, 1969:

“The latest of the British blues groups… offers little that its twin, the Jeff Beck Group, didn’t say as well or better three months ago, and the excesses of the Beck group’s Truth album (most notably its self-indulgence and restrictedness), are fully in evidence on Led Zeppelin’s debut album. Jimmy Page, around whom the Zeppelin revolves, is, admittedly, an extraordinarily proficient blues guitarist and explorer of his instrument’s electronic capabilities. Unfortunately, he is also a very limited producer and a writer of weak, unimaginative songs, and the Zeppelin album suffers from his having both produced it and written most of it (alone or in combination with his accomplices in the group).”

From Melody Maker (UK) March 29, 1969:

Jimmy Page triumphs! Now with his own group, the legend comes to life. He proves to be technical, tasteful, turbulent and torrid. His band is imaginative and exciting. Robert Plant is a new singer of stature, and John Paul Jones (bass, organ) and John Bonham (drums, tympani) are more than adequate. Their music does not rely on obvious blues riffs, although when they do play them, they avoid the emaciated feebleness of most so-called British blues bands. Production by Jimmy and Glyn Johns is excellent. This Zeppelin is really in a gas new bag!

As a postscript, the two LP ‘bonus’ in the 2014 re-issue is an energetic 1969 performance that amply demonstrates how, from their earliest daze, Zepp were a forced to be reckoned with in concert.

Share your thoughts; is Led Zeppelin I an ornate treasured theatre or a draughty run-down shack?

 

59 comments

  1. I vote gas new bag! 🙂 The blueprint and to this day, my favorite of all their albums. And as I relate in my series, Rolling Stone later got over themselves, ranked five of their albums in all-time top 500, with Zep 1 the highest at #29.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It’s funny, isn’t it? Because it was US audiences who made them the world-conquering behemoths of rock.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Right. But that was as much because Page and their manager targeted America as ripe territory. Not sure what was going on in England at the time that would make them not think that. Maybe the US just represented a fertile ground of $$$.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. I think that’s a plausible explanation, Jim. Peter Grant was certainly a shrewd and forceful manager with an eye for the main chance.

          Liked by 3 people

        2. And not to overgeneralize about this, but I suspect the popularity of the first album depends to some extent of how blues-steeped the listener is and where he or she jumped on board. This was my intro to Zep and so, this is what grabbed me first. This is not to say I don’t love 2, 4, Physical Graffiti and indeed have some affection for the others. You have to look harder for the blues as time went on.

          Liked by 3 people

  2. I really don’t know. I love it…but I love II, Houses of the Holy, and others better…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Would you recommend it, Mike?

      Liked by 2 people

  3. You beat me to this by 24 minutes! Nice to see Rolling Stone have to backtrack on their initial take…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Back then, magazines were much more willing to pan an album or artist than now. Less corporate control, perhaps.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. It’s a great opening gambit but it’s also the one I play the least from here to PG.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I imagine you speak for many, Steve.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. It is the last album of their’s I ever bought. I bought all the others before it. It is average in comparison to other albums being released in the UK at the time. Of course average in that company is pretty amazing so there you go.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s always good to see where a world-conquering monster is born, though, isn’t it?

      Liked by 2 people

  6. It was the first one of theirs I heard around 1971 and it’s still my favourite. Sonically it blasts all the then competition out of the water and although it shares a song with Beck’s album it’s miles beyond it in terms of attack and diversity. I don’t play it that often but when I do I play it really loud! As for the rest I reckon III and Physical Graffiti are the bees knees then II, IV. Houses of The Holy, OK, the remainder I don’t even have any longer.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Humans are attachment driven, and those early imprints tend to last for life. So for me it was IV that made the initial impact. These days I’m most likely to reach for III or Phys Graf.

      Thanks for sharing, Paul. Fascinating stories emerging on this post. It’s great!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. To Bruce’s point about more corporate control, aye. However, there was something else going on at Rolling Stone. Jann Wenner and company saw themselves as the keepers of the Joplin/Dead/Doors-era flame. But bands like Zep, Sabbath and Grand Funk were being listened to by a younger crowd who were seen perhaps as less discerning. So I think there was a sort of “generation gap” within the counterculture. And so they got a guy to review them and slag off this “kids sound.” A hatchet job if you will. They tried to do that to some extent with Sabbath who they thought was a one-off. But Ozzy and his ilk are more viable today than the glammed up flabby Rolling Stone. (A magazine, BTW, that I used to love.)

    But gradually RS started to realize there was more to Zep than they had first thought, much as many of the older generated slagged off the Beatles with “yeah, yeah, yeah” then heard “Yesterday” for example, and thought, hmm, there’s more here than meets the eye.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. All good points, Jim. Rock mags have always had an inflated view of their own importance, I reckon. Look at how they pilloried prog in the late seventies when a brief glance at sales (both records and tickets) show progressive rock was unarguably THE dominant force in the music-loving community.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. To this day, Wenner tries to keep prog out of the Hall of Fame. Yes finally got in 20 years late, too late for Chris Squire to see. The upside of Creem, Rolling Stone etc, in their heyday was some pretty fine reporting (Rolling Stone did a great job on Altamont, and first serialized Hunter Thompson) and good coverage of the rock scene. Not to mention outstanding interviews with Lennon, Dylan. I am able to blog today in part because of what I learned there about music and how to write about music. So a mixed bag.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. “Humans are attachment driven, and those early imprints tend to last for life. So for me it was IV that made the initial impact.” Imprint. Good point. Like those stories you read about chickens that imprint themselves to a pig or something in nature because they think it’s their mother. Zep 1 was my imprint. And I’ve rediscovered Zep III. To this day their weakest seller because it’s thought of as an acoustic album. Sorta true, sorta not. “Immigrant Song” couldn’t be much heavier. “Gallows Pole?” And even though it IS acoustic, “Friends” is a good tune with a kind of hypnotic riff. Every album after PG is hit or miss but the “Coda” deluxe compile is pretty damn good.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’d always liked the contrast between acoustic and heavy artillery on III, a feeling enhanced when I delved into the ‘folk’ influence on Zepp for a post a few years back. Now it is a fave, in all its patchwork glory.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. That “imprint” idea is spot on. The way I got this album was my older cousin joined the RAF and asked if I wanted his album collection (I was just into buying singles at this point). Of course I said yes so I got his (very small) collection. LZ I, Jethro Tull’s This Was, Beefheart’s Safe As Milk, John Mayall’s A Hard Road and an album by Quintessence (with a wonderful open out sleeve). He was in the RAF for several years and never got around to asking for them back and I’ve still got them and they all sound glorious when I play them and bring back lots of memories.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Great story. Still flying high with the coz’s LPs.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. The way I got into it was through a friend. He and his friends had quite the collection of records and I got turned on to a lot through them. He lent me Zep 1, I listened to it, thought it sucked. I told him I’d give it back, he said ok, but I decided to give it one more spin. Fell in love with it. Learned right then that sometimes an album has to grow on you. Although that said, I don’t quite have the time to give some albums their due.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Sometimes all it takes is a second kiss.

      Later in life, everything requires putting aside the time…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, and not to get too “why back in my day,” but I think rock was fresher, newer then. I hear stuff now and for me a lot of it is, been there, done that.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Just listened to the first Wolfmother album and its melding of Zeppelin and Sabbath made me smile… and want to break out the originals.

          Liked by 3 people

  11. I think it was a Chuck Klosterman argument that stated, at some point, during every man’s life, Led Zeppelin will be the favourite band.
    Although they’ve climbed up the list for me, they’ve never quite hit #1 – so perhaps I haven’t grown up to be a man yet?
    As for LZ I – I like your Royal Albert Hall description! Though how many holes?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ha! Very nice, Mr S. They know, but they’re not telling.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. It’s my least favourite of the first six. It is diverse – the psych of ‘Your Time is Gonna Come’ is somewhere they didn’t really go again – but for money it’s less diverse than what would follow. It is their bluesiest, and that doesn’t really excite me that much – I like their folk and prog-rock aides better.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think that contextualising this (and quite a few other notable 1969 releases) in the times is really important… and helpful. UK music WAS coming out of psychedelia, Mayall (and others) HAD influenced a whole impressionable clutch of young blues boys.

      I guess what I’m saying is that your comparison (and that of most others, I hasten to add) is an entirely valid personal response. In the end, that applies for all art: I like what I like in the context of my own journey. I have lots and lots of those too.

      AND I really enjoy placing things in their cultural/musical/historical context and noticing how that affects my perceptions and enjoyment.

      Rant over. Thank you for listening. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I have a History degree, so I find that interesting too. Another “transition” type album to my ears is The Yes Album from 1971 – feels half psych and half prog to me, partly because Tony Kaye’s organ gives it a 1960s feel.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. It’s not my favourite of theirs… it was the first I heard (when a pal was getting into them), but it just never moved me. It sat in my collection, pulled from the shelf every now and again for a year or two so I could spin it and saw “mnah”.

    It wasn’t for another good few years (maybe 10?) that I gave them another go. IV. That’s the one that left that mark. The imprint as you perfectly put it. Still, it would be another 10 years before I would embrace much of the albums… but that first one still sits unloved, though appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess there are different reasons for hanging onto an album that hasn’t really grabbed one. Sometimes it can simply be a general liking for the artist, or even historical significance. Either or anyway, thanks for sharing your ‘I’ story, J.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, I have so many albums that I just can’t seem to let go of… even though I no longer listen or just don’t really like them all that much. A combination of sentimentality and, like you mentioned, a general liking for the artist or an album’s importance.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. I appreciate it more than love. Find it a bit boring these days. Enjoyed the reissue though, despite that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m a sucker for contemporaneous live material added on.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. What a terrific chain of comments…they’re a ‘gas new bag’ in and of themselves! I think my first exposure to them was in middle school art class; we had a ‘hip’ teacher who let us bring in our favorite LPs to play while we were all elbows deep in paint, clay, etc. One kid brought in Physical Graffiti; I honestly can’t remember my initial impressions of the music, but do remember that I loved the album artwork (the apartment buildings pictured are in Greenwich Village, in NYC). Since then, my subsequent experiences of the band have been limited to what one hears on ‘album oriented rock’ radio stations; I’ve never owned a Zep LP myself (heresy?!). The comments here are nudging me in the direction of thorough listens. And Bruce, this is genius: “I like what I like in the context of my own journey.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In light of the comments about Rolling Stone and Jann Wenner, I also meant to mention the 2017 biography of Jann Wenner, “Sticky Fingers”, which got some great reviews. And vis-a-vis John Mendelsohn’s pan of Led Zeppelin I in RS, check this out: https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/11/theyre-like-cream-but-worse-harsh-early-reviews-of-classic-albums/265160/

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The Atlantic article is very entertaining. Thanks JDB. And good on them for not including the famous pan (RS again, I think) of Uriah Heep’s debut. “If this band makes it I’ll commit suicide”. The band, with admirable humour, reproduced the review in the inner sleeve of their Live album.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. It was S O O O tempting to call the article “A New Gas Bag”, but I wondered whether the Melody Maker critic was intentionally making an airship reference with the phrase (which is very funny), in which case I’d be over-egging the gag. Anyway… as you say, some fabulous gas-bagging going on in these comments. One of the most lively streams ever!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. That’s some good intel, JDB. I didn’t even know there WAS a bio of Jann Wenner. “Sticky Fingers?” Hmm.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    “More than adequate.” It does set up well what would follow, as you suggest Bruce. For me, they just grew and grew — those first four seem a really nice package, that “Houses” broke from in a sense. And I’ll always hold up “Physical” as my favorite. The first feels truer to the blues roots, or closer to the blues roots, than the ones to follow. I associate it with high school drinking, and can still remember first time I heard “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” at a party: can see myself hearing it for the first time, in 1986 or 87. Took 20 years almost, right? Better late than never. Great post and premise…thanks for lighting up that gas new bag, hep cat.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right on, man. I love the sprawling grandeur and giggling excess of Phys Graf too, though sadly I don’t have teenage parties to go back to in the nightclub of my mind.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. pinklightsabre · · Reply

        It’s good to grow up with Led Zepp, positive role models they.

        Liked by 1 person

  18. I read that brief Atlantic article and I was pleased to see I’m not the only one who thinks Robert Christgau is a clueless tool. Quote – “Quite why anyone cares what the self-styled Dean of Rock Critics™ thinks is one of the enduring mysteries of the world of music.” (Did Christgau really trademark Dean of Rock Critics?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha ha ha. If that’s true, his tool-ness is enshrined for eternity. As they say in these parts, “Dickhead.”

      Like

  19. Even though I was a teenager in the 70s I never really got into Zeppelin. A few years back, on the recommendation of a friend, I started listening to them a bit and was surprised by how much I enjoyed them. Unfortunately, the way we listen to music in this digitized age makes “albums” almost irrelevant, so without some concerted effort (which I doubt I will ever expend) I’ll never be able to compare albums. Enjoyed this one considerably, especially the contrasting reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fascinating to hear about your quite different listening experience, Jeff. Of course you understand the album concept (if you’ll pardon the expression) but choose to listen piecemeal. I imagine anyone under the age of 20 finds the idea of an album-focussed music blog totally meaningless.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Bruce. It is the Zep album I reach for the most. (I didn’t know it was birthday time for anyone one involved. These pages just continue to educate CB and expand his knowledge). It was part of a bunch of music at that time of my life that influenced my listening habits. Like the Blind Faith album from your earlier post. Si in honor of that I’m heading out for a stroll in the woods and I’m going to bring along The “Cream Reunion’ album. Make sense? Keep the diverse takes coming unless you want to lose me as a disciple.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your wish is my command, my good fellow.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. OK. Sitting in a nice comfortable place, enjoying a cigar and listening to some good music. Ah .. don’t worry about it I’m already there.

        Liked by 1 person

  21. LZ1 was (probably) my favourite of that reissue series, the only one with a live set from the era. And OMG what a live set. Holy moly…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That was a major selling point for me too, Aaron. It’s a helluva triple album, that re-issue!

      Like

  22. RE-posted on twitter @trefology

    Like

  23. I had my nose out of joint about LZ for too many years and just never “got” them. Then I heard “Kashmir” and then just had to go out and buy Physical Graffiti. Eventually I worked my way all the way back to their earlier LP’s. LZ 1 for me is still a grind to listen to, but at least my nose is back where it should be. 😉 – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent news re the nasal protuberance, Marty. And another vote for Phys Graf too!

      Liked by 1 person

  24. I’m vaguely certain that I first heard LZ1 in its entirety at a party in Brighton (pron. Braahhtn) late Summer of 1970. It excited ‘the boys’ and was played repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly.
    And no doubt it will reward a spin sometime this weekend.
    Thanks Bruce.
    Thanks all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do you really want to be reminded of that (a) era, or (b) party, DD?
      Hope you bopped your sox off.
      PS> Endorse your ‘thanks everyone’. Weren’t the comments terrific on this one?

      Like

Leave a Reply to Vinyl Connection Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: