Why Led Zeppelin songs remain the same after all these years
Led Zeppelin is one of the most influential rock bands in the history of the genre. No one would dispute that the band, consisting of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham, had their roots deep in the blues.
What made this band so exciting in concert was the four members’ phenomenal ability to improvise. As a result, the traditional blues songs they electrified and made their own bore little resemblance to the original tunes they covered.
Since the band’s formation in September 1968, there has been a gradual distancing from the blues in favor of music of the band’s own composition, although the influence remains. Plant and Page were fascinated by world music. Jones and Bonham were in love with Motown, soul and swing.
These influences constantly push and pull the band’s music in eclectic new directions. Witness the development of the first three studio albums. The debut Led Zeppelin, released in January 1969, features mostly blues covers. To the moment of Led Zeppelin IIReleased in the fall of that year, the balance of musical power shifted to only a few covers and the remaining original tracks.
When Led Zeppelin III was released in October 1970 and was met with great disappointment by critics and fans alike. The hard rock band was accused of being “soft” due to the mostly acoustic arrangements. While the musicians of Led Zeppelin wanted to explore and experiment, it seems they were too far ahead of themselves for pop culture tastes.
In conducting research for my book, I had the pleasure of interviewing Craig Morrison, professor of music and ethnomusicologist at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. He gave me a history lesson in the world of country music.
It’s all about authenticity.
Morrison has a favorite video that he always shows his students. This is by country singer Ernest Tubb.
Tubb performs his hit, I’m Walkin’ The Floor Over You, with a big smile on his face. So what? Well, the song is about utter misery! Why is he grinning like an idiot?
Morrison tells us it’s because he’s an artist. This is how it was done in his time (until the mid-1940s). Later in the decade, Hank Williams would begin to sing his songs as he felt and thought them. There was real pain in his eyes and body language. And people responded.
As Morrison points out, the original bluesmen were not entertainers. They sang to forget their problems and take control of their lives in the only area they could – their fantasies. It doesn’t get more authentic and true than that.
These days, even so-called “reality” shows are totally fake. And everyone knows it. The public is currently outraged that Britney Spears and other singers are lip-synching in a “live” performance.
Another of my interviewees wasn’t even born when Zeppelin broke up. He told me that the reason Led Zeppelin’s music is still so popular with his generation is because it’s so REAL. Not overly packed and smoothly produced. There’s an energy, even in their earliest albums, that just can’t be faked.
We would all do well to take a page from Hank Williams’ songbook. Abandon the bull and the cunning. Sing it, play it, DO it – whatever – like we mean it.
Led Zeppelin did it.
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