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Posts Tagged ‘Led Zeppelin’

1. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin: Originally hired as a bassist for the popular English band, “The Yardbirds”, Jimmy Page eventually came to share guitar duties with the legendary Jeff Beck. But as the group began to unravel, Page attempted to put together a new lineup, and tour as, “The New Yardbirds”. Allegedly, John Entwistle of “The Who” joked that this new band was going to go down like a lead balloon, so when the original band members forbade Page to use the Yardbirds name, “Led Zeppelin” was born. Despite the bumpy transition, Led Zeppelin’s debut album was an immediate success, and went on to become a rock classic.
2. Achtung Baby – U2: From the band’s debut album, “Boy” (released in 1980) until their classic 1987 release, “The Joshua Tree”, U2 had experienced a steady rise in both artistic and commercial success. It wasn’t until the release of their 1988 documentary, “Rattle and Hum”, that the band received its first notable criticism, with some describing it as, “bombastic” and “overly pretentious”. Disillusioned by the music industry in general, and bored with what had become their signature sound, the group’s 1991 album, “Achtung Baby” was a radical departure in almost every way.
3. Off the Wall – Michael Jackson: The Jackson Five’s departure from Motown records in 1975 seemed to mark the end of an era. Though the group continued to tour and release records, their popularity steadily dwindled. Because Michael was the main songwriter, and focal point of the band, there was no reason to believe that a new solo record would do much to change that trend. But the 1979 release of the album, “Off the Wall” set off a new era of stardom for the singer that eventually eclipsed everything that had come before it. An artistic leap forward, it laid the foundation for the phenomenal “Thriller” album, which was released just a few years later, and went on to become the biggest selling album of all time.
4. 1984 – Van Halen: The years that followed the band’s spectacular 1978 debut release, “Van Halen”, found the group steadily touring and recording. And though it would be difficult to argue their ongoing success, it was hard not to notice the progressively declining quality of their albums. Despite its commercial success, longtime fans couldn’t help but be dismayed by the remake filled album, “Diver Down” from 1982. Given those factors, there was no reason to expect the stunning return to form that “1984” represented. On many levels it was the band’s most successful album.
5. A Momentary Lapse of Reason – Pink Floyd: For long time fans, it didn’t seem possible to make a legitimate Pink Floyd record without founding member Roger Waters. But guitarist David Gilmour and company did just that with this 1987 release. Though not necessarily ranked with their best work, this album was highly successful, and proved to be a credible addition to the bands enduring legacy.
6. Fleetwood Mac (1975) – Fleetwood Mac: By the time that Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks arrived, “Fleetwood Mac” had already been a band for almost a decade, and had released nine albums. But the addition of these two distinctive artists radically changed the chemistry within the group, and propelled them to a whole new level of popularity. This album not only topped the chart, it sold over 5 million copies, and produced three big radio hits (i.e. Rhiannon, Over My Head, and Say You Love Me). More importantly, it set the stage for the group’s next album, “Rumours”, which went on to be one of the biggest selling albums of all time.
7. Infinity – Journey: Originally formed in 1973, the band was made up of veteran players from the San Francisco bay area; including Santana alum Gregg Rolie and Neal Schon. But after the groups first three albums failed to consistently connect with a sizeable audience, their record company recommended a change in direction, including the incorporation of another vocalist. This shift from a jazz/rock to pop/rock style, and the addition of Steve Perry’s striking vocals, proved to be a winning combination, as their 1978 release, “Infinity” went on to achieve platinum status, and set off a string of highly successful albums.
8. Back in Black – AC/DC: The death of lead singer, Bon Scott, seemed to signal the end for Australian rock outfit AC/DC. His charisma, and distinctive growl, were at the heart of the band’s sound, and looked to be irreplaceable. At that time, few could have anticipated the emergence of new singer Brian Johnson, and the release of what is arguably the bands most complete album.
9. Third Stage – Boston: Though not considered to be on a par with the band’s first two albums (i.e. 1976’s “Boston” and 1978’s “Don’t Look Back”), this album is notable for the eight year span that preceded it’s 1986 release. Multiple law suits, and techno-wiz/guitarist/producer Tom Scholz’s constant tinkering, led to the delay. Despite the gap, this album did manage to continue the bands string of multi-platinum success.
10. Heaven and Hell – Black Sabbath: Considering that Ozzy Osbourne was the face, the voice, and ultimately the stage persona of the band, it seemed unlikely that the group could be successful without him. But when his rampant drug & alcohol abuse caused the band to “fire” him in 1979, they decided to regroup with former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Surprisingly, this new lineup reinvigorated the band’s music, and was well-received by die hard Sabbath fans. It’s interesting to note that it was the daughter of the band’s manager, Don Arden who recommended Dio as Ozzy’s replacement, and that years later she (Sharon Arden) became Mrs. Ozzy Osbourne.

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  1. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin:  From the opening notes of the first track (Good Times, Bad Times), Zeppelin’s debut album hailed the coming of one of rock-n-rolls greatest bands.  Mixing bruising rock with heavy blues, and sprinkling in a touch of folk, it was an instant hit that set off a string of now classic albums (e.g. Led Zeppelin II, III, IV, Houses of the Holy, and Physical Graffiti).  Cuts like “Dazed and Confused”, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Communication Breakdown” stand amongst the best in Zeppelin’s catalog.
  2. The Cars – The Cars:  On the front of what was aptly called the, “New Wave”, the Cars debut record was a heady blend of synthesizers, crunchy guitars and quirky lyrics.  Though the band went on to score numerous radio hits, no album in their catalog ever approached the consistent quality of this one.
  3. Appetite for Destruction – Guns N’ Roses:  Looking back, it’s hard to remember that this record didn’t initially sell very well.  It wasn’t until the radio got a hold of “Sweet Child o Mine”, that sales began to take off.  Along with the popularity of tracks like “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City”, the album went on to sell almost 30 million copies worldwide.
  4. Crosby, Stills & Nash – Crosby, Stills and Nash:  Despite their notable success with other bands, David Crosby (The Byrds), Stephen Stills (Buffalo Springfield) and Graham Nash (The Hollies) never sounded better than when they joined their voices together in this super-group.  Their 1969 debut album stands as one of the greatest records of that turbulent era.
  5. Van Halen – Van Halen:  The Van Halen brothers arrived with a bang on their 1978 debut record.  Featuring tight rhythms, David Lee Roth’s distinctive howl, and Eddie’s virtuoso guitar work, it was a gritty counterpoint to the synth-pop sounds that ruled the airwaves.  For die-hard fans, this album still represents the pinnacle of their catalog.
  6. Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston:  Though originally released in 1985, it took almost a year for this landmark debut album to reach a worldwide audience.  But Whitney Houston’s dazzling voice and stunning beauty were impossible to ignore; as the record went on to produce three #1 singles.  It was a remarkable beginning for one of pop music’s most amazing voices.
  7. Boston – Boston:  Though their debut album seemed to explode onto the music scene in 1976, it was actually years in the making.  Techno wiz Tom Scholz essentially began the process of recording with the core of the band in the early 1970’s, repeatedly reworking the demos until he felt they were ready.  The finished product became one of the biggest selling debut albums of all time, and nearly forty years after its release, songs from this record can still be regularly heard on rock radio.
  8. The Pretenders – The Pretenders:  Though formed in England, the creative core of the group was primary songwriter, and singer, Chrissie Hynde; who was originally from Akron Ohio.  More gritty than the typical New Wave band, and more accessible than the average Punk band, their music was a compelling blend of influences.  Even decades removed from the context of the early 1980’s, this record still sounds fresh and relevant.
  9. Ten – Pearl Jam:  Just as band mates Stone Goassard and Jeff Ament’s previous group (Mother Love Bone) was set to release their debut album, lead singer Andrew Wood died of a drug overdose.  Just a year later, they regrouped with a new lead singer (Eddie Vedder), renamed the band (Pearl Jam), and released their ground-breaking debut album “Ten”.  Despite it’s rather dark themes, rock radio gravitated to cuts like, “Alive”, “Evenflow”, “Jeremy”, and “Black”; as the album went on to sell over 13 million copies.
  10. The Doors – The Doors:  1967 proved to be a pivotal year in Rock-n-Roll history, and the release of The Doors self-titled debut record proved to be a significant part of that.  Whether it was the irresistible keyboard hook of “Light My Fire”, the rocking “Break On Through”, or the haunting, “The End”, this record was an instant classic.

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After spending the first thirty years of my life being glued to the radio, collecting record albums, and reading Rolling Stone magazine, I took about a twelve year hiatus from that whole scene. In recent years, as I’ve revisited some of that old music, I’ve been surprised by how different some of it sounds to me now.  A few of the bands I used to love don’t sound that good anymore, and others seem even better than I remember them.  Here are a few examples:

 

Under-rated:

 

  • Steely Dan – I always enjoyed this bands completely unique approach to their craft. The complex jazz influenced arrangements, the exquisite musicianship, the cryptic lyrics and the sparkling production made them standout against the rock/pop music landscape. These attributes also give their best work a timeless quality that has allowed it to become classic.
  • Chicago – In its heyday, this band was one of the brightest and most innovative groups in rock music. Through their first ten albums they produced a library of compelling music, much of which remains vibrant today. Though the exploitation of the band’s name in later years diminished their stature in the rock community, a listen to their earlier work is a great reminder of what a special group this was.
  • Bad Company – Formed from the ashes of the bands, “Free”, “Mott the Hoople” and “King Crimson”, Bad Company was something of a super-group and it showed immediately on their classic (self-titled) debut album. Though their run (with the original lineup) was relatively brief, it produced five solid albums filled with a lot of great music.
  • The Guess Who – This legendary Canadian band has taken on many forms over the years, but it was the combination of Burton Cummings remarkable vocals and guitarist Randy Bachman’s copious musical skills that created their most memorable music. Between 1969 and 1970 they released classics like, “These Eyes”, “Laughing”, “Undun”, “No Time”, “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature”, “Share the Land”, and “American Woman”. Those songs alone give them a Hall of Fame worthy resume.

 

 

 

Over-rated:

 

  • Kiss – No one is likely to dispute their credentials as world class entertainers, and I would list a Kiss concert (with makeup) as a must-see event for any avid rock music fan. But as I revisited the old studio recordings it’s been hard to miss the mediocre songwriting, singing and, in many cases, playing. Other than Kiss Alive I & II, I’d be hard pressed to get through a whole album anymore.
  • Eric Clapton (Solo) – There’s no doubt that Clapton is a guitar virtuoso, and that he has played on numerous classic recordings. But as I’ve listened with fresh ears it’s difficult not to notice the huge disparity between the work he did in bands such as the Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Derek and the Domino’s, and his solo recordings. His limitations as a songwriter and vocalist become far more apparent when he was not surrounded by great musicians/vocalists like Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Duane Allman, Steve Winwood… His best solo recordings have generally been songs written by others (e.g. JJ Cale).
  • Jimi Hendrix – I know that I’ll likely be lynched for including his hallowed name on this list, and it is in no way meant to disparage his amazing talent. In truth, it is more a lament over the circumstances that surrounded his brief recording career. Though every fan cherishes anything they can get their hands on, most of the Hendrix catalog is made up of poorly recorded, poorly produced snippets of songs and ideas. All of them point to the limitless potential that Hendrix possessed, but sadly, few of them represent the realization of that potential.

 

Lives Up to the Hype:

 

  • The Beatles – These guys are the gold standard by which just about everyone else is judged and after years of not hearing them, their music still sounds fresh and innovative. With all due respect to their notable individual accomplishments, none of them consistently approached this artistic level as a solo artist.
  • The Doors – Like everyone else, I was a big Jim Morrison fan, and was often mesmerized by his persona. But in revisiting the Doors catalog I was struck by the incredible talent and contributions of the rest of the band (keyboardist Ray Manzarek, drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger).   They were by no means simply Morrison’s backing band.
  • Led Zeppelin – English bands that loved to play the blues were a dime a dozen back in the 1960’s, but none of them quite reached the heights that Zeppelin did. Their eclectic mix of blues, folk and hard rock could be at times tender, haunting, or even bludgeoning. Going back and listening to this music only enhanced my respect for this one of a kind band.

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This article is not intended to be a list of the “most distinctive voices of the rock era”, because with all due respect to folks like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Axel Rose, Janis Joplin, Bjork… distinctive is not necessarily synonymous with high quality.  This also isn’t a list of the best vocalists of the era, though a couple of these might qualify for that one as well.  Instead it is meant to highlight some truly unique vocalists who made a mark on the music of their era.

1.    Roy Orbison (solo, The Traveling Wilburys):  Few could boast the vocal range of this rock pioneer, whose natural baritone was perfectly capable of reaching into the high tenor range.  Though best known for his classic, “Oh, Pretty Woman”, hits like “Crying” and “Only the Lonely” were an even better showcase for this special vocal talent.

2.    Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin, solo):  Despite being known as a hard rock vocalist, Plant has shown himself to be equally adept at singing the blues (e.g. “Since I’ve Been Loving You”), folk (e.g. “That’s the Way”), pop standards (e.g. “Sea of Love” w/The Honeydrippers) and even bluegrass (e.g. the “Raising Sand” LP).  Regardless of the genre, he makes every song uniquely his own.

3.    David Gates (Bread, solo):  Though the radio friendly pop ballads of his band “Bread” aren’t necessarily esteemed in rock circles, few would argue the tender, expressive quality of David Gates vocal delivery.  Decades later, his body of work continues to find an audience through Oldies stations around the world.

4.    John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival, solo):  Though it’s tempting to group Fogerty’s raspy vocals with the likes of Bob Dylan and Neil Young, his voice actually had a sturdier and more musically credible quality to it.  Undoubtedly, his unique delivery was a key element in creating some of the most memorable records of that era.

5.    Steve Perry (Journey, solo):  While the pop leanings of the rock band Journey were likely a turn off to some purists, they still managed to produce a string of highly listenable and memorable albums.  Though the band boasted a roster of notable musicians (e.g. former Santana members Neal Schon & Gregg Rolie), it was Steve Perry’s pristine vocals that ultimately distinguished them from the rest of the pop rock pack.

6.    Art Garfunkel (Simon & Garfunkel, solo):  Blessed with one of the purist voices in pop music and partnered with the amazingly talented Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel was a part of several now classic performances.  One listen to “Bridge Over Troubled Water” will tell you all that you need to know.

7.    Brad Delp (Boston):  Though (guitarist/keyboardist/producer) Tom Scholz’s often talked about studio wizardry was the basis for Boston’s unique brand on rock and roll, it was Brad Delp’s soaring vocal style that ultimately defined their sound.  After more than 30 years, there is still nothing that’s come close to duplicating this combination.

8.    Robin Gibb (The Bee Gees):  Though all of the Gibb brothers possessed unique vocal talent, Robin’s quivering falsetto could at times be described as otherworldly.  Early recordings like “I Started a Joke” or “Massachusetts” and later disco hits like “Staying Alive”, are prime examples of his one of a kind vocal delivery.

9.    Annie Lennox (The Eurhythmics, solo):  Though much of pop music from the 1980’s was set against a backdrop of synthesizers and outlandish fashion, it was the timeless quality of Annie Lennox’s vocals that elevated her work above the din.  Incredibly versatile, her voice was at times deep and sultry (“Who’s That Girl”), at other times haunting (“Here Comes the Rain Again”); sometimes playful (“Would I Lie to You”), sometimes soulful (“Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves”) and even at times, emotionally raw (“Why”).

10.  Michael McDonald (The Doobie Brothers, solo):  After breaking into the music business as a backup singer with the band Steely Dan, McDonald had the good fortune of being asked to join the already popular Doobie Brothers.  His arrival ushered in their most commercially successful years and set the stage for what has been a long and fruitful career as a solo artist.  His distinctive brand of blue eyed soul has continued to resonate with audiences into the new millennium.

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I must clarify that I was not attempting to list the ten “most epic” songs of the rock era.  Indeed, there have been many more “epic” recordings than these; especially by art-rock bands like Emerson Lake & Palmer, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Yes and Pink Floyd.  Even bands such as Led Zeppelin and The Beatles had more ambitious works than the ones I’ve listed here; but what makes these songs extraordinary is that they were able to stand on their own merit (in some cases apart from the concept albums that spawned them) and that they achieved a level of notoriety (including substantial radio airplay) that is rare for such intricate music.  Most of them are structured more like classical compositions than the standard three minute pop anthems that generally rule the airwaves and yet these songs still managed to carve a niche for themselves in pop music lore.

  1. Nights in White Satin – The Moody Blues:  Though the use of orchestration within pop music was nothing new, the Moody Blues took that element to a whole new level with their 1967 album “Days of Future Past”.  This song’s darkly poetic lyrics (which seem to tell a tale of unrequited love), combined with the dramatic epilogue of “Late Lament”, form the perfect match for the roiling symphonic waves of the musical accompaniment.  Considering the state of pop music in that era, it seems doubtful that many executives at their record label had this song pegged as a potential chart topper.
  2. Day in the Life – The Beatles:  Taken from the 1967 album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, this song was a defining moment in the Lennon/McCartney collaboration.  Part lament, part wry humor, part political commentary; it hinted at the ever expanding musical landscape the Beatles would go on to explore on 1968’s “The Beatles” (a.k.a. The White Album) and 1969’s “Abbey Road”.  It also created an appropriately grand finale to one of the greatest albums of the rock era.
  3. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen:  Easily one of the most elaborate recordings of all time, there is no popular song from the rock and roll era that remotely resembles this classic from the 1975 album “A Night at the Opera”.  While each member of the group made invaluable contributions to the songs creation, it was first and foremost a reflection of the band’s enigmatic lead singer Freddie Mercury.  Like Mercury himself, the song is at once theatrical, frenetic, oddly humorous, tragic and ultimately unforgettable.
  4. American Pie – Don McLean:  While Don McLean’s folk balladry may seem out of place on a list of “epic” songs, it would be hard to deny that the intense cultural poetry of this classic doesn’t qualify.  While much has been made of McLean’s use of the phrase “the day the music died” (which is purportedly a reference to the plane crash that claimed the lives of rock pioneers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper), that line is merely a thread in a much broader and richer tapestry.  Though the author has steadily refused to offer a literal interpretation of the song’s lyrics, their vivid imagery remains nonetheless profound and compelling.
  5. Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin:  Though Led Zeppelin is primarily thought of as a hard rock band, their music was just as much rooted in blues, folk, psychedelia and mysticism.  With virtuosic musicianship and Robert Plant’s otherworldly vocals, they seemed to effortlessly flow from genre to genre.  Several of those elements came together on this landmark track, as the song builds from is haunting intro to its exhilarating crescendo.  Like the band itself, there is little that could legitimately be compared to it.
  6. Jungleland – Bruce Springsteen:  This nine and a half minute opus, which creates the emotional centerpiece of the classic “Born to Run” album, takes the listener on an emotional journey like no other rock track.  At points hopeful, haunting, exhilarating, and ultimately heartbreaking, Bruce and his brilliant band create an unforgettable slice of rock opera.
  7. Roundabout – Yes:  When it comes to sheer musical ability, few bands could approach the incredible array of gifted musicians who’ve passed through the membership of the band “Yes”.  At the time this tune (from the 1971 album “Fragile”) was recorded, the group could rightly boast at least three of the finest players in rock music; Steve Howe on guitars, Chris Squire on bass and Rick Wakeman on keyboards.  Their collective talent, combined with Jon Anderson’s distinctive high register vocals, made for a sound that pushed the boundaries of conventional rock.  Because of the dizzying intricacies of their music, it was likely the relatively fluid and lucid quality of this song that made it more palatable to the masses.
  8. Scarborough Fair / Canticle – Simon & Garfunkel:    Like Don McLean’s, “American Pie”, some might disagree with the application of the term “epic” to this arty folk song; but I would suggest that few songs from this period can boast such a lush and complex musical/vocal arrangement (especially within a standard 4:00 minute pop format).  With their voices seamlessly joined, they begin the old English folk song “Scarborough Fair” and then almost immediately begin trading leads to the delicate counterpoint of “Canticle”.  As the song builds, layer upon layer of vocals are weaved over a fabric of guitar and harpsichord.  Both beautiful and haunting, it is a great example of all that made this collaboration so memorable.
  9. Aqualung – Jethro Tull:  Despite a lack of radio-friendly singles, Ian Anderson and his band “Jethro Tull” have enjoyed a hugely successful career, that’s spanned five decades and resulted in records sales in excess of 50 million worldwide.  Anderson’s infamous theatrics, wry sense of humor, unique vocal style and deft musicianship have been at the core of that success.  In what is perhaps their best known song, from their most popular album, this entertaining portrait of the eccentric title character (Aqualung) is the perfect primer for those not familiar with the bands larger body of work.
  10. Us and Them – Pink Floyd: Few albums in the history of recorded music have been more successful than Pink Floyd’s 1973 release, “The Dark Side of the Moon”, which stayed on the charts for 15 consecutive years and has sold over 45 million copies worldwide.  Along with the classic “Money”, this song was one of two singles released from the album.  An unpredictable collage of David Gilmour’s ethereal vocals, Roger Waters manic lyrics, unexpected saxophone solo’s, choir filled choruses and a dazzling array of studio effects; it seemed to be an unlikely candidate for significant radio airplay and yet today stands as one of the bands most popular songs.

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