Led Zeppelin

by Eric Feuer, SUNY Cortland, March 17, 2009

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2009 marks the 40th anniversary of the forming of the greatest rock band. On January 12, 1969, Robert Plant, Jimmy Paige, John Paul Jones and John Bonham took to the stage for the first time as Led Zeppelin. Originally known as the New Yardbirds, the band soon realized it had to come up with its own name. Jimmy Paige, who was the driving force behind Zep, had been playing in the Yardbirds and after the band broke up, he asked the group's management if he could continue playing under the name for the remainder of the tour.

Paige, out of a desire to make the best music possible, sought to form a super band. He had hoped to enlist singer Terry Reid with Keith Moon and John Entwistle from the Who filling in drums and bass. However, all three declined and in time Paige was told about singer Robert Plant, who recommended Bonham for drums. Paige also got a call from Jones asking if he still needed a bassist, which Paige did. With the lineup set, the band needed a name of its own. Entwistle, who never joined the group, said that he believed the group would be like a lead zeppelin. Essentially, he felt the band would be doomed and never make it off the ground. Paige liked the name, but decided to drop the 'a', so that people would not pronounce it as 'leed'.

Due to Bonham's unfortunate death in 1980, Led Zeppelin decided to call it quits and stop recording and touring. Ten years worth of recording had given them eight studio albums with the last one, In Through the Out Door coming in 1979. Zeppelin has not released a new studio album in thirty years and the surviving three members have only played together three times, most recently in December of 2007. Yet, to this day Led Zeppelin still reigns supreme as Rock n' Roll gods. Their popularity is clearly seen by the fact that they are one of four musical acts to have a record reach Diamond- ten million copies- four or more times. But what is it that really makes Led Zeppelin so enduring? Thirty years without new material and fans still pledge their love for the band with all their heart and soul.

My first Zep experience was their greatest hits album; a compilation of tracks that even if you weren't a true fan, you knew. Songs such as: "Achilles Last Stand," "Good Times Bad Times," "Ramble On," and of course, "Stairway to Heaven". I didn't really listen to the CD for awhile. It was always on my iPod, but I never really took the time to get my Led on. Then, the summer before college, I finally allowed myself to sit down and let the tracks roll. Day by day, I grew to love the music I was hearing; the amazing guitar riffs that Jimmy Paige had laid down, the crashing yet peaceful drumming of John Bonham alongside the wonderful bass and keyboard playing of John Paul Jones. Throw in Plant's melodic, astounding voice and you can't help but become a Led fan.

One of Zep's greatest strengths is their musical talent and range. Very few bands can play everything from rockabilly to reggae style to blues to good old- fashioned rock and roll. It varies from person to person, fan to fan, but in the end Led Zeppelin is a band that grabs a hold of you and doesn't let go. Even after listening to the same songs hundreds of times, they still astound me with their ability. From the first note of "Black Dog" or Bonham's five-minute drum explosion on the track "Moby Dick," you just can't help but listen in awe.

Perhaps the greatest quality of Led Zeppelin, is that they make music for the sake of making music. This isn't Rihanna singing songs someone else wrote for her, or Madonna touring and selling nose bleed seats for five grand. This is a band that poured their heart and soul into everything they wrote and played. Plant's lyrics are wonderful tales of love, growing up and just living life and the wide gamut of emotions that goes with it. They have the ability to play a slow and emotional song like "Tangerine," and the next second totally shift gears and get you jumping and shouting with "Heartbreaker." Plant pushes his voice to the limit, delivering some of the greatest vocals ever heard. Meanwhile, Paige's fingers run up and down the guitar neck delivering solo after solo, riff after riff. Bonham pulverizes the drums in the most peaceful way imaginable and Jones does his thing, whether it may be, on bass or keyboards.

Every once in awhile, "Stairway to Heaven" will come up on my iPod at the gym and no matter what I am doing, I have to stop and listen. Never has a song been so haunting yet beautiful at the same time. From the first note of Jimmy's double neck Gibson, to Plant slowly singing the greatest lyrics he ever put to paper, you just know you are listening to an amazing work of art. Plant claims that one night, as he and Paige were sitting in front of a fireplace as Paige played, the words came to Plant. He wrote them down and the rest is history. Now, the studio version is good, but nothing beats a live recording of "Stairway." After singing the line, "And the forests will echo with laughter," Plant interacts with the audience asking, "Does anybody remember laughter?" The song slowly builds as Plant and Paige work off of each other and when Jones and Bonham join in, it goes to another level. The climax is Paige's solo, the most famous, greatest and most kick ass of all guitar solos. He works the guitar in ways no one can, grinding out notes from heaven. It is pure rock and roll, pure beauty, pure Led Zeppelin.

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