50 Years of Led Zeppelin

The title may be a bit misleading. Led Zeppelin formed in 1968 and released their first studio album in 1969. However, just over 50 years ago in 1972, Led Zeppelin began a four-week residency at the top of the album charts. As a self-proclaimed Zeppelin nerd, I could not pass up the opportunity to write about the greatest band to ever grace this Earth (yes, they are better than the Beatles).

              At the formation of the band, the world was on the brink of a major shift in pop culture. Leaving behind an era of drug experimentation, U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and the progression of civil rights for people of color in America, society in the Western World was ready to turn the page. Of course, this meant the ushering in of a new brand of popular music. Enter Led Zeppelin. The collection of leftovers from other bands, the four-man rock powerhouse was not a safe bet to end up defining a generation. They ended up doing just that.

Coming out of a decade ruled by the Beatles, Beach Boys, and Rolling Stones, rock and roll was no longer an unknown quantity. Though, the feel-good, drug-inspired tunes of that time would be blown out of water by what was to come. That is not to say that Revolver or Pet Sounds were not works of musical genius. The Beatles and their contemporaries released some truly brilliant work; it was just… different. Led Zeppelin turned the speakers up a notch, so to speak. Robert Plant’s vocals soared to new levels. Jimmy Page worked magic on the guitar. John Paul Jones went underappreciated on bass. And John Bonham was the “man on fire” behind the drums. The four English musicians came together and hit the ground running. Their talent allowed them to create an identity from their first time they recorded together. The product of that was their first of four self-titled albums that would later be known as Led Zeppelin I.

Coming in at nine songs and just under 45 minutes of run time, the album is long enough to give the listener what they want but concise enough to keep things interesting. Putting myself in the shoes of a listener at the time of the albums debut, I imagine the first listen would have been outrageous. The album kicks off with “Good Times Bad Times”. Within the first 30 seconds, there is a notable difference from the simpler dynamics of years gone by. John Bonham lays down a driving beat on drums. It features his signature “Bonham triplets”- a grouping of three notes on the kick drum played in the time one note would normally be played. It gave the song life and energy. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, the rest of the band turns in stellar performances of their own to cap off an impressive first track.

The second track is defined by valleys and peaks. It is an almost seven-minute song characterized by acoustic picking and haunting vocals, as well as crashing cymbals and ambitious belts from their lead man. It is followed by “You Shook Me”- a blues-heavy tune from the group that would seamlessly find its place into a smokey bar. The next song is the iconic “Dazed and Confused”. I consider this to be a near perfect song. From the moody bass introduction to the raspy powerful vocals to the whaling guitar work, I can’t imagine how this song would be made any better. The back half of the album starts with the poetic and anthemic “Your Time Is Gonna Come”. It is followed by a gorgeous instrumental piece “Black Mountain Side”. I would say the last three songs on the project are some of Led Zeppelin’s best, but it is almost impossible to say they are better than others when the band has such a deep catalog. “Communication Breakdown” was undoubtably a hit and rightfully so thanks to its amazingly controlled chaos. “I Can’t Quit You Baby” and “How Many More Times” may be considered deep-cuts which is remarkable because they would be many other bands’ biggest accomplishments.               After listening to this album countless times, I never grow tired of it. To think that this was the first time Led Zeppelin released music as a group is incredible. Like the last couple songs on the album, the band’s first self-titled work would be the envy of most bands. It would blow many other albums out of the water and sit atop a group’s discography. If I am going to knit pick, the album is not perfect. As much as the pros outweigh the cons, there are some minor flaws. Despite its proficiency compared to other debut albums, the band had not even hit their stride yet. I would argue the band has three or four albums that are better. This is largely thanks to the improvement of the band’s studio performances as time went on. Plant improved vocally and Page played tighter riffs alongside better production on albums to come. Overall, I would give Led Zeppelin I an 8/10 (1 being a waste of time to listen to, and 10 being a perfect album) in large part to its diverse sounds and cultural impact. I consider it a strong recommendation to anyone who wants to get into Led Zeppelin or 70s rock.

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