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This Weekend I’ll Mostly be Listening to… Led Zeppelin, In Through the Out Door December 20, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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If one was to compile a list of listeners favourite Zeppelin albums I’ll almost guarantee you their final release proper, “In Through the Out Door” is likely to come relatively low in the ranking. Released in 1979 this was a curious, almost transitionary, album, reflecting the fact that musical tastes themselves had changed, though Zeppelin itself changed with all the ponderousness of an oil tanker taking many miles to turn direction. And yet the odd thing is that listening to its predecessor “Presence” and despite the Hipgnosis cover and the weight of history the group now brought to bear, tracks like Achilles Last Stand have something almost post-punk about their arrangements and the urgency of the compositions. It’s rock, sure, but rock distorted in some way. Now, I don’t want to exaggerate, other tracks on “Presence” fit in more than adequately with their particular style of heavy rock, but there there are shoots of something new apparent.

I’ve always found Zeppelin to be an enormously interesting group, as well as enjoyable – up to a point. I reminded though in that respect of Robert Christgau’s review of Physical Graffiti where he notes:

I suppose a group whose specialty is excess should be proud to emerge from a double-LP in one piece. But except on side two–comprising three-only-three Zep classics: “Houses of the Holy,” “Trampled Under Foot,” and the exotic “Kashmir”–they do disperse quite a bit, not into filler and throwaway (“Boogie with Stu” and “Black Country Woman” on side four are fab prefabs) but into wide tracks, misconceived opi, and so forth. Jimmy Page cuts it throughout, but after a while Robert Plant begins to grate–and I like him.

And there’s something there. Boogie with Stu is an all-time favourite with me. Kashmir… not so much.

Their early output, the first album, replete with – ahem – referencings to other musicians, is steely eyed in its seemingly simplicity, the second disturbing – not merely for the casual sexism but also the erm… shout-outs to Tolkien.

“III” is intriguing as they mature both lyrically and in terms of their sound, as is “IV” (though Stairway to Heaven is a song I can live without hearing too regularly). “Houses of the Holy” is a revelation as a broader range of influences come into view. Skip the live album, though, is my advice.

But I still think that “In Through the Out Door” is the one I like best as a collection of songs. It’s fairly short, the tracks while far from cohesive are individually of a piece and

“In Through the Out Door” came with overly styled brown paper bag cover, sleeve depicting the interior of a bar (and available in six or so versions for completists) and an inner sleeve that had a drawing of some of the objects from the bar which when water was added to it would allow ink held in the cardboard to colour itself. this was, no doubt, the subject of many a conversation back in the day – I may have participated in same myself.

And the music? If anything it was a step back from the chilly and pristine tracks on “Presence”. Where that had been angular, belligerent, detached (at least for Zeppelin) “In Through…” was warm, with a broad musical palette incorporating hard rock, country, ballads, synths and dance. There’s even a hint of disco in some of the percussion here and there.

I recall my friends and I checking the first time we heard In the Evening, the album opener, to see that the record player hadn’t broken when the guitar sound seems to disintegrate in ricocheting strings. The song was of a piece with Kashmir, faintly Middle-Eastern distant intro which leads straight into a pummelling rock track but one which is underpinned by keyboards which seem oddly adrift from the main melody given it a curiously… smeared… quality.

All of My Love was over the top and bombastic – perhaps a step or two removed from Stairway to Heaven, but it was good for its style. Carouselambra perhaps tried too hard, but at least it tried, making it something of a classic, South Bound Suarez, Hot Dog (which oddly foreshadows the reexamination of country tropes by mid-1980s revivalists who had been honed on punk – Jason and the Scorchers, The Long Ryders and others spring to mind), Fool in the Rain and I’m Gonna Crawl each seemed to reference previous songs, but there was an added gloss and even an elegiac feel to the latter.

It’s far from coherent, but in a way that doesn’t matter, in much the same way as III provided a link between the early years and mid period Zeppelin, so “In Through The Out Door” was the bridge to something different. What, though?

It’s often noted that as a group they were remarkably experimental, both in terms of form and style. From “III” onwards they made a point of pushing against the genre limitations of heavy rock. This worked only to a degree, it’s hard to say what stymied their capacity to break completely free… one is tempted to think that this track here, supposedly Plant and Page’s riposte to punk recorded around the same time as “In Through The Out Door” sums up one basic problem. Simply put their past as Led Zeppelin and the weight of expectations that came with that past prevented them from quite getting it, from realising that the conventions of rock, even those that they themselves had distorted to good effect, were melting away.

The song is great, but it doesn’t engage in any serious way with what was coming out from the Damned or the Pistols or Buzzcocks, let alone the genuine experimentation of Wire, the Slits or Joy Division.

Or perhaps the truth is more prosaic, they were good, even great, at doing what they did. There was no particular space for them to do otherwise. It’s tempting to see that as a generational thing, and yet it’s clear that Plant, and to an extent Jones, once free of Zeppelin were able and willing to dive into remarkably productive explorations of other forms of music. I saw the former live in the 2000s and was unsurprised at how he had managed to appropriate elements of dance music into his work, and indeed how well he had done so. And as is well known this he has continued – and his by now constant refusals to reform Zeppelin seem as credible as they are frequent.

By contrast Page has become the keeper of the Zeppelin flame, working on remasters and additional tracks from the original recordings (his own Page-Coverdale album from the early 1990s is a guilty pleasure of mine, but genuinely enjoyable as it is – to my ears – it doesn’t push at the boundaries of the form in the way LZ did). In those two paths perhaps we see something of the dynamics that served Zeppelin so well originally and perhaps point to constraints on just where they would have been able to take it subsequently.

In the Evening

Carouselambra

South Bound Suarez

Hot Dog

I’m Gonna Crawl

Comments»

1. sonofstan - December 20, 2014

Apologies for the hijack ……but this weekend I can’t imagine listening to anything other than the new D’Angelo album, dropped a mere 13 years after Voodoo. It’s called Black Messiah and he explains it’s not about him but ‘it’s about people rising up in Ferguson and Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and in every place where a community has had enough…..we should all aspire to be a Black Messiah’ – was scheduled for early next year, but after the Michael Brown verdict, he rushed it out.

Already feels like a ‘There’s a Riot going On’ for this decade; out of focus, sonically off the wall, full of voices off, conversations between the BVs and the lead, political in form as well as content. Can’t remember the last time I had so many conversations about a record in the week of its release either…

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WorldbyStorm - December 20, 2014

If you get the time you should write up a This Weekend on it, it’d be very welcome, it sounds great…

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2. sonofstan - December 20, 2014

May do….though need to try harder on the originality front; just been reading some reviews and EVERY one mentions ‘There’s a Riot Goin’ On’ 🙂

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3. Mark P - December 20, 2014

I can never quite settle on which aspect of Led Zeppelin’s music I hate the most. At the moment I think it’s Plant’s caterwauling, but it really does change every time I hear them.

Its interesting though just how small their pop cultural presence is these days, given just how big they were and how famous the name remains. And given that the demographic amongst which they remain popular – men in their fifties – controls so much media output.

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WorldbyStorm - December 20, 2014

They were reasonably popular but the ‘biggest band in the world’ stuff was wildly overstated. Critically they were never hugely popular – whether fairly or not. And hard rock/metal was always a much smaller segment of the listening public than most others to begin with. It’s true that in the US they became a staple of rock oriented radio, and there there was a dominance, at least until recently, but I’d be willing to bet that amongst the late forty or fifty year olds here (or indeed elsewhere) their popularity would be extremely limited. It seems to me media output has a much much greater bias towards those into punk and post punk and has for decades.

And yet it’s odd how Bonham’s drumming became a staple for sampling in hip hop etc, isn’t it? One can even buy off the shelf Bonhamalike loop packages. There’s an unexpected cultural presence that will remain I suspect well into the future.

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Mark P - December 20, 2014

Really? This is all before my time, so I could certainly have a confused impression of their size. Particularly given the ability of the media to present essentially American phenomena as if they were more universal. They certainly sold ridiculous numbers of albums in the US, but it’s interesting to hear that they didn’t have the same popularity elsewhere.

On the Bonham thing, I didn’t know that either.

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WorldbyStorm - December 20, 2014

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cover_versions_of_Led_Zeppelin_songs#When_the_Levee_Breaks

Actually checking the above, far from exhaustive list, and knowing that they were a popular resource, I’m still a bit staggered at how many have sampled them, De La Soul, Ice-T, Massive Attack, Bjork, Fatboy Slim, Beastie Boys, Apollo 440, Steady B (first wave hip-hopper), Nenah Cherry, Cocteau’s, Coldcut, Chaterhouse, Enigma, Wu-connected crew Black Knights, The Prodigy, Kid Rock, and so on…

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WorldbyStorm - December 20, 2014

By the way, none of which invalidates a like or disliking of them…

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sonofstan - December 21, 2014

If anything, I think their presence dwarfs that of bands that were bigger at the time – the Who, for example, have nearly disappeared from critical consciousness – who still rates ‘Tommy’? – and even the Stones have faded a bit from popular consensus. Whereas Zep do get respect from diverse quarters. As you say, After Clyde Stubblefield, Bonham is probably the most admired and sampled drummer in hip hop circles, and I’m willing to bet that quite a few of my, ahem, ‘urban’ students, who know very little about rock music of any kind, know who Zep’s drummer was. That and the fact that Stairway and Whole Lotta Love are classic rock radio format staples gives them name recognition. Always hated them, mind.

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sonofstan - December 21, 2014

I would dispute that they were only big in America though: they did the first outdoor show at Knebworth in ’75 (?) to 80k people when gigs of that magnitude were much, much rarer than now.

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WorldbyStorm - December 21, 2014

A couple of thoughts strike, the fact they refused to release singles I think had a funnelling effect, want to hear Stairway or Kashmir and you had to buy the album which clearly contributed to sales but masked their actual popularity or potentially served to distort it in a way that was favourable to them. Can’t disagree about Knebworth and they were super popular on the continent but wouldn’t you think those were a narrower demographic than their equivalent today? It also seems to me that critically their penchant for experimentation or pretty much all about them became better regarded subsequent to their demise – not that I’m saying many critics didn’t like them then though reading some of their then contemporary press it seems very unconsidered but now it’s more universal. Part of that was a recognition of their willingness to explore or incorporate funk or soul or jazz or reggae or what have you.

I’m always conflicted by them, that ahem referencing I mention above particularly early on is problematic, there’s the sexism, the not insignificant sense that personality wise they were not hugely likeable to put it mildly – perhaps Plant and Jones to a considerably lesser extent, and so on, Plants voice grates on me over any protracted period and we have Page to thank for John Squires ultimate nadir of the Seahorses and some of the twiddlier guitar stylings on The Stone Roses second album yet I think for all that they are a better group in terms of willingness to experiment and play with form than might be expected otherwise. Or to put it another way they offend my punk and post punk inclinations in all sorts of ways but they sort of fascinate me simultaneously and it seems to me theres something oddly admirable in their not settling for same old same old – a bit like Fleetwood Mac now I think of it. There’s some grit or corruption at work and I kind of like that.

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4. sonofstan - December 21, 2014

Odd to remember they started life as ‘the New Yardbirds’ – now there’s an underappreciated band…. to my probably jaundiced ear, the best work all of their three guitar ‘legends’ (Clapton, Beck, Page) did was in their relatively brief spans with the ‘Birds.

I guess there’s a larger point that ‘history’ – cultural as much as political or social – is as much about suppression of the past as remembering it – the classic rock ’70s, the punk rock ’70s, etc as filtered through the pages of Mojo or Uncut with, to quote MES ‘the proper British attention to the wrong details’ create a place and time that didn’t exist. Whereas, if you start with a fragment, and let it refute the whole, bogus ‘rock’s rich tapestry’ picture, you can maybe start to grasp something.

I’ve been picking up lots or records by Keef Hartley, IF, Colosseum and the like recently, and it’s there, much more than with the Zeps and Sabbs that you can smell the patchouli on the army surplus greatcoats in a 100 university bars and the old Marquee….

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WorldbyStorm - December 21, 2014

That’s true, re TNY, though I always found the 70s version of Clapton and later unlistenable and politically rancid.
Re Mojo et al I recall in the late 90s a cover story on Joy Division which made me smile given that rock classicism never envisaged the likes of them rubbing shoulders with their favourites back in the day. Theses days Classic Rock mag features the Buzzcocks and Wire with say Fairport or Purple or soesuch and nods to Sly or Marvin Gaye.That’s so true re suppression and remembering.

Keef Hartley I’m not so familiar with but that makes sense re If and Collosseum. And in a way the resurgence of prog in the last half decade underlines that.

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5. Clive Sullish - December 21, 2014

@sonofstan: regarding Knebworth attendance as a signifier of popularity, I attended in 1974 (Doobie Brothers; Allman Brothers; Van M.) and in 1976 (Rolling Stones; 10cc) when the attendance was of similar magnitudes.

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sonofstan - December 21, 2014

Good call Clive – and sort of proves my point that I’d forgotten those two Knebworths ever though I’d have been fully aware of them at the time.

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