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Get the Led Out

In honor of Led Zeppelin being presented with a Lifetime Grammy award, I offer you a partial past effort, on the meaning behind Zep songs, and a short survey. And a gratuitious picture of me in a Led Zeppelin shirt (and Dorothy Hammil haircut and perky boobs), circa 1976.

There was a time when I considered Led Zeppelin to be gods. Most people my age went through that phase. We quoted lyrics left and right and debated the meaning behind each song. Plant and Page were geniuses, deep thinkers, philosophers.

Yea, right. What is deep thinking to a 14 year old mesmerized by heavy guitars and pounding rythms and Robert Plant's hair turns into foolishness and pretension when you take away the haze of few joints and flights of teenage fancy.

The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands,
To fight the horde, singing and crying: Valhalla, I am coming!

Did we really sing these lyrics out loud? Valhalla, I am coming? How did we not break into fits of laughter when we said those words?

On we sweep with threshing oar

We must have been really stoned.

Sure, they had plenty of tunes that were about love and sex and things other than faeries and Norse gods. But those weren't the lyrics that were endlessly debated. Those were not the lyrics quoted as if they were the mantra of your life.

We sang The Battle of Evermore as if we were story tellers. We felt the pain, the despair, the anguish. Oh, we were so deep, so in tune with our lyrical heroes.

Queen of Light took her bow, And then she turned to go,
The Prince of Peace embraced the gloom, And walked the night alone

You know, we had no idea what they were going on about. It just sounded good. It sounded like poetry. It sounded deep. In turn, we thought it made us sound scholarly and deep when we sat around ruminating about the Prince of Peace and his Queen.

Our favorite song at one point was No Quarter:

The winds of Thor are blowing cold.
They're wearing steel that's bright and true

Maybe our Tolkien-drenched minds kept us from finding the lyrics to be amusing and pretentious, like I do now. We were living in this outer realm, where hobbits existed and wars were fought between inhuman creatures. Plant knew that, he knew the mindset of the kids those days. And he played on it. Either that or he did a lot of acid.

Now, forgive me for this next part. I know that some of you consider Stairway to Heaven the Greatest Song Ever. I sure did back in the day. But please, look at these lyrics.

If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now,
It's just a spring clean for the May queen.

One summer night, five of sat on the open tailgate of a someone's mom's station wagon, parked in the last row of a drive-in theater (double feature: Kentucky Fried Movie and Groove Tube). For two hours, we discussed the meaning behind the lyrics to that song, spending an awful lot of time on the "bustle in your hedgerow" line. We each had a different interpreation of the song. We each took our own meaning from it. And that was deep, man. I mean, wow...they spoke to each one of us in a different way. How fucking cool!

It was only years later that I realized the words probably mean nothing except that Robert Plant read a lot of books. He strung some thoughts and words from his favorite novels together, mixed them in a blender and called it Stairway to Heaven.

When all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll.

Anyone care to explain that line? To be a rock and not to roll. They revisited that theme again in The Rover with the line You got me rockin' when I ought to be a-rollin', which took on a decidedly different tone than the rock and the roll from Stairway. Maybe he was just running out of words at this point, a consideration to be taken seriously when you realize that the next Zep album was Presence.
-------------

I still do listen to Zep once in a while, and there are far, far better songs than Stairway to get my old school groove on to. After careful consideration, I'd have to say my favorite Zeppelin song is either Trampled Underfoot or Ramble On, both for very different reasons. Though you can still find me playing air guitar to Black Dog every once in a while.

So, what's your favorite Zeppelin song?

[I just remembered to add this - last week we went out to eat for a Chinese New Year celebration at a local restuarant - they had a meal time show with dragons and dancing and a 40 minute drum/gong/cymbal solo, during which I yelled out Moby Dick..Dick...Dick...!]

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Comments

I drove up the coast yesterday pounding my Zep: Early Years CD. I like music loud too. When I say loud, I mean that I could hear the stomp pedal squeaking on John Bonham's bass drum. I had no idea they were up for a lifetime award thing. That's good though, because they deserve. hooray.

Too many to really name a single favorite. Among my favorites are Communication Breakdown, Celebration Day, Immigrant Song, Tangerine, Going to California, Gallows Pole, Misty Mountain Hop, and Rock and Roll. How's that for narrowing it down? :) I did not know about the lifetime Grammy award thing. I'll have to be sure and watch. Thanks.

I think "When all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll."
is a reference of death

I remember in 67 or 68 we put the first Zep album on the turntable and the first Cream album in the record changer (ghads! who remembers record changers?)with Big Brother and the Holding company featuring Janis Joplin right behind. It was a golden age. As much as we loved Cream's musicallity, Zep was everclear to Clapton's singlemalt scotch. When Zep comes on the radio, whatever I'm doing stops, I have to listen deeply.

I have an ironclad policy of not reading the liner notes on a new album - sorry, CD - until I've listened to it a few times first. Nearly all rock lyrics read poorly when divorced from the song.

Yes lyrics, especially... I was in awe the first time I listened to Relayer. When I read the lyrics, I was puzzled - how did this epic poetry transform itself into nonsense after moving from the ear to the eye?

In fact, the best reason for reading the lyrics is to clear up any confusion, like, say, is Micheal Stipe really singing "only in Jamaica" and why?

Oops, sorry, favorite Zep song: Kashmir. Because it's maybe the loudest song ever, regardless of the actual volume.

Favorite Zep song never done by Zep: Barracuda.

Hi -

Michele, you really, really shouldn't post pictures like that on the internet, I had an immediate flashback to dating someone who looked a lot like you in 1976. Me in a corduroy suit, of course.

Favorite Zepp: Ramble On, but also Communications Breakdown. I spent a whole summer in 1972 trying to get the guitar riffs down on that one, only to discover that my hands were too small to do so...

And y'all really, really got to read the books by John Ringo, where some music by Led Zepplin is put to rather ... inventive usage.

:-)

John

PS: I saw LZ twice in Pittsburgh, both times at the Civic Arena. Due to the wonders of the Internet, it was on 21 Jan 1969 and 02 Feb 1975.

The second time I went out during the drum solo to take a leak, talked to some people I knew, got a couple of cokes for me and my girlfriend of the time, and came back before he was even halfway over.

There are reasons no live Led Zepplin has been released from those days...

And man, did that group tour. Take a look at:

http://ledzeppelin.alexreisner.com/tourdates.html

to see what I mean. Not many new groups capable of that kind of stamina...

I was at the stage you are at now a couple years ago. Now, I'm back. What a band, I'm really sorry I was too young in the early 70's to see them live, intermnable drum solos and all. Fave tunes; Misty Mountain, Ramble On, Communications Breakdown, Kashmir.

It's amazing that my son (who's 18) likes Led Zeppelin. That says a lot.

Slightly OT:
One of the funniest things I've ever heard is comedian Tim Wilson's routine of George Jones singing "Stairway To Heaven." If you haven't heard that, your life is not complete

Favorite Zep: Thank You.

The worst English class I took in high school, we had this Led Zep lovin stoner for a teacher, who insisted we spend 6 weeks analyzing the lyrics to Stairway

My God, I wanted to scream "goddammit, I just don't CARE what they mean anymore"!

Kashmir, I suppose.

Wow. I can't get over how much you look like Nat in that photo.

Black Dog. When the Levee Breaks. Your Time is Gonna Come (esp. the Dread Zeppelin version).

My 18-yo daughter and her friends even like some Zeppelin songs. I'm not quite sure what to think about that...

A few of my favorite but "not-so-popular" Zeppelin tunes:
Boogie With Stu
That's The Way
When the Levee Breaks

Live LZ sucks music-wise. I've never seen them, but my husband did back in the '70s and was disappointed. I saw the DVD "The Song Remains the Same" and concur.

I heard a live cover of "The Battle of Evermore" by the Wilson sisters and thought they did it more justice than the original studio version by LZ.

I'd have to go with Whole Lotta Love (being somewhat fond of avant-garde electro-percussion effects -- although I can still remember a very good cover version done by Patty Smythe on David Letterman's NBC show using just the members of Paul Shafer's quartet where they, of course, trimmed that section up considerably), with Kashmir a close second (due in no small part to its associations with Fast Times at Ridgemont High...).

"Ramble On" is the king for lyrical non sequiturs. It's all reasonably normal until the end when the microdot kicks in and Plant channels J.R.R. ... then, suddenly, a plot twist: Smeagol and and an unidentified accomplice are running off with his woman! (Donchya hate when that happens?). I think later on he just decided to make noises and stop with words altogether. I still have no idea what he's singing in the song "In the Evening" (though I like the song). I've never looked up the lyrics, I kind of enjoy just not knowing.

Ha! The Westbury drive in? I saw that double feature there too.

I remember going to the midnight show of "The Song Remains the Same" in the Rockville Centre RKO, after sitting in someone's car for an hour smoking. I thought it was the deepest, most incredible thing I had ever seen. I was also 15 and very stoned, oh and sure that I was Robert Plant's soulmate. I used to keep a picture of Robert Plant in my wallet, my best friend had one of Jimmy Page.
Favorite LZ song...
Communication Breakdown, no wait, No Quarter, no, definitely Kashmir.
Or Going to California.
This is hard.

Carouselambra.

Even though I know almost none of its words.

For listening: When the Levee Breaks, Kashmir.
For playing: Out on the Tiles

Page and Plant knew something that most 14 year olds dont: In a rock song, how the lyrics sound is way more important than what they mean. "To be a rock and not to roll" is just a cheap way of getting the phrase "rock and roll" in there.

Favorite Zep: When the Levee Breaks, The Ocean.

Favorite listening/makeout tune: "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" (And I wonder why I had so many doomed relationships...)

Favorite to play (I'm a drummer): "When the Levee Breaks" -- that has become my default midtempo hard rock beat -- or "The Ocean"

pick just one zepplin song? so many great songs and for some many reasons, but at this point in time, i think i'll go with d'yer mak'er.

My favorite is the Immigrant Song, because of that Flash movie with the kittens. Other than that, I never really liked Zeppelin. I listened to Queen and Nugent and Nazareth and KISS until New Wave arrived.

Well I made her pussy purr with a stroke of my hand

I have the darkness to please me, and I command thee to kneel

Now you're messin with a son of a bitch

Bismillah! No! We will not let you go!

See, those lyrics make sense.

They never topped Achilles Last Stand.It is their finest effort.

It's a tie between Kashmir, Thank You, and Fools in the Rain. The first two because they are absolutely great, the last because it's a quirky little tune that always seems to put me in a good mood.

"Stairway" and "Kashmir" are a close #1 and #2. They're both epics that make you think you're hearing them in huge spaces. The lyrics, eh? Let's just move past them. Give me sonic bigness.

For sheer sonic crunch: "When the Levee Breaks"

For pure-pop purposes: "Living Loving Maid (She's Just a Woman)"

Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You

Not too loud, not too soft, it was just right and highlighted all their talents without being them beating us over the head with their talents.

"To be a rock and not to roll" means to be steadfast, of course. I never had a problem with that line, in spite of the knowing pun.

Nor does the worse pun toward the end of "Kashmir" - "With no provisions but an open face" (i.e. an open-face sandwich) - ruin that song for me.

Favorite song? On balance, probably "Dancing Days".

Though if someone can explain to me the line "I saw the lion, he was standing alone with a tadpole in a jar", I'd much appreciate it.

Fave - Thank You. Or The Rain Song. Or In My Time Of Dying. Or Over The Hills And Far Away.

Ha! Loved that pic! I've several similarly embarassing 70s shots of myself like that - the same kind of 70s washed-out emulsion and bad haircuts!...

Favortie Zep trax are pretty much "Tangerine" and "Since I've Been Loving You" - it's obvious that III was my first Zep LP. To answer the question - No, I didn't feel silly quoting the Immigrant Song - I was reading lots of Robert E. Howard stuff at the time (including the Marvel comics versions of Conan and Kull) so I thought that kind of twisted, pretentious prose was really kewl!
Bought that 2-disc Zep DVD on a whim last year and relized that I appreciate some of their songwriting a bit more than I once did. Never caught them live, but I did catch Plant on his first solo tour. To be truthful, I never really thought that they were the "ultimate" rock band way back when. I saved that honor for groups like UFO and Kiss. In fact, there's an old issue of Rock Scene Magazine (remember that zine?) floating around out there with a printed letter from my 16 year-old self debating just exactly why Kiss is better than Zeppelin! (It was a phony constructed controversy by the mag to generate more interest, but us "serious" rock music fans bought it hook, line and sinker...)

And for my rather lengthy take on "Stairway to Heaven," the late 1970s, and other fancy stuff, there's

http://www.newberry.edu/wmoore/Documents/Stairway.doc

Yeah, I'm long-winded. Sorry.

Favorite?

Babe, I'm Gonna' Leave You and Achilles Last Stand.

The Song Remains the Same (the song, not the album) has some great guitar parts nicely woven throughout.

Though I don't listen to them very much nowadays, every album kicked serious ass, up until In through the out door, which I did not enjoy.

God knows how many copies of the first four albums I went through...on eight track and vinyl, but every song is still ingrained in my head. Permanently.

I'd go with one of the iconic beats or guitar riffs: Whole Lotta Love, Rock and Roll, When the Levee Breaks. Immigrant Song is a tremendous song just for the opening wail, but I never thought it had meaning, it was just a song with a cool Viking-themed historical setting. Most of LZ 2 is gold.

There's something to be said for the idea that profound-sounding lyrics (or poetry) cause you to have profound thoughts, even if they themselves don't mean anything.

Oh, and I agree with Steve Skubinna - never, never read the lyrics until you've heard the song plenty of times. Most lyrics otherwise sound like they've been squeezed to fit the music.

The Rain Song, Stairway, Thank You, Kashmir. I love the guitar intro in The Rain Song. By the way, I never thought the lyrics in Stairway to Heaven were it's chief brilliance, but rather the music. The changing cadences, the instruments used (flute, strings, wooden recorder). No drums for the first 4 minutes. It moves beautifully from a gentle melody to hard rocking tune. Really amazing stuff.

One more comment. It's interesting that you point of the "bustle in your hedgerow" segment, as that's the point with the supposed reverse satanic verse. I did listen to it backwards as a kid.

http://led-zeppelin.j1media.com/

The Ocean, followed closely by Kashmir.

I also bought the 2-DVD set on a whim last year. Great stuff, and highly recommended.

I don't pay too much attention to the lyrics. Half of the time I have a feeling that the song writer is saying a very personal thing which just flies over my head. Having said that, a combination of good lyrics and good music just blows your mind away like the "When the levee breaks" and "gallows pole", "babe, i'm gonna leave you" or "nobody's fault but mine."

I'll go with Nobodys Fault But Mine, the harmonica solo's awesome, and Custard Pie. What's that one about?

Here's a second for Nobody's Fault But Mine. Two other tunes I can still listen to are The Battle of Evermore and In My Time of Dying.

Unfortunately, I'm totally Zep-ped out on most of the rest of their music. Been waaaay overplayed on "classic rock" stations...

I took my (now ex-) wife to see that same double feature in 1979. It was our first date. It was good for 24 years.

I always liked "In the Evening" because that showed that they still had it. Although "Ten Years Gone" was the song my wife said reminded her of me. Go figure.

"Trampled Under Foot"

Stairway and Kashmir are at the top; honorable mentions are legion.

Zep-lover's factoid--Zep was never so good as when Dean serenaded Deaniacs with it at campaign rallies, as captured in Allah's now sadly etherized Dean-o photoshop series.

If you're goin' down south and they've no work to do then ya go north to Chicago

Next question.

The amazing guitar and melodic smarts (not to mention the skillful blues swiping) of Jimmy Page will always keep Led Zep's music worthwhile.

"Four Sticks" is probably my favorite Zeptune- I still smell incense (among other smoky odors) when I hear it.

Always liked "Dancing Days" and "Rain Song" a lot as well. "Tangerine". "Black Country Woman". I could go on and on...but for once, I'll stop now. :)

Fave Zep Song: Kashmir

Favorite Zep song never done by Zep: American Woman.

"...he knew the mindset of the kids those days. And he played on it. Either that or he did a lot of acid."

Nope and nope.

"Maybe he was just running out of words at this point..."

Oh please.

"...there are far, far better songs than Stairway."

Wrong again. ;)