Album Reviews

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin I [Reissue]

on June 02, 2014, 12:01am
Led Zeppelin 1 A-
Release Date
June 03, 2014
Label
Atlantic
Formats
digital, vinyl, cd
Buy it on amazon

For as long as rock criticism has existed, or arts criticism in general for that matter, critics have gotten it wrong. Our system is one built on the shifty variable that is human perception: criticism is an inexact science, a snapshot of a single moment. Things change, and with change comes an adjusted perspective. Maybe it’s for that reason that a little UK band, performing under the new moniker Led Zeppelin, was initially cast as unremarkable amidst a wave of British hype bands in 1969. In that moment, UK bands ran rampant in the states — some authentic, some soon irrelevant  – and on the heels of the demise of Cream, everyone seemed increasingly skeptical that there was an import that could fill the gaping hole in blues rock. They were all obviously very, very mistaken. An unofficial, time-tested rule for truly determining whether an album is a classic or not is to simply wait. Well, here we are 45 years later still marveling over Led Zeppelin’s eponymous first album, with a clear understanding that it is one of the most important rock albums of its time. It is, quite frankly, transcendent.

Led Zeppelin I is a masterfully constructed debut LP that plays like the recordings of a savvy veteran band. It is Led Zeppelin’s ode to rock’s progressive metamorphosis. Its arrangements are often daring and sometimes semi-improvisational. Its orchestration delves adventurously through hard rock and heavy metal with bluesy undertones that often cause the chords to weep poignantly as if struck with malice. It’s both powerful and precise. No stanza feels out of place. Everything has a purpose. Each moment plays a role in building an ambitious sonic tapestry that is a grand sum of its parts. There is careful consideration put into each note, each phrase, each perfectly placed crescendo; the attention to detail shapes its aesthetics. The musicianship glows in an electric blue hue that radiates vibrantly even now. Whether it’s the wagon wheel feel of the stringy acoustic guitar lick in “Black Mountain Side”, the warm, slow-strumming coda in “Baby I’m Gonna Leave You”, or the wheezing, psychedelic melancholy in “Dazed and Confused”’s tumbling riffs, every majestic shift further erects this rock epic as an obelisk of the era.

(Read: Dissected: Led Zeppelin)

Though not noted at the time, Led Zeppelin I was groundbreaking work that was far richer and more lush than anything else. It would set the stage for the even greater Led Zeppelin II that same year, but its own genius is not to be overshadowed. Led Zeppelin I was markedly radical and electrifyingly so. In a recent interview with Zeppelin guitarist and de facto leader Jimmy Page, the UK’s The Telegraph prefaces the article paraphrasing the musician: “We knew that no band has ever sounded like Led Zeppelin.” Listening to their debut in retrospect — a debut among the greatest in the history of the genre — it’s hard to imagine they didn’t know that going in, too. There is something unique about their blues-saturated, heavy metal grit. In many ways, the album embodies the best things about rock culture: It’s riff-heavy (when it needs to be), experimentally progressive, and thunderous without being bombastic, yet universally palatable. Led Zeppelin I established Led Zeppelin as a major influencer in ‘70s rock.

From beginning to end, the 45-minute, nine-track LP is a perfect projection of rock and roll’s not too distant future, a future it would heavily impact. It isn’t quite the dreamy fantasy that later volumes were, but it is the first hard rock domino that lays the groundwork for everything the band would accomplish. It is the start of an evolution. The reissue of this classic captures the crispness of every detail. It is almost like hearing it anew. “Your Time Is Gonna Come” rolls out an elastic bass line that snaps back to match the cadence of the steel guitar as Robert Plant belts out the chorus like the leader of a gospel choir.

(Read: Led Zeppelin and Kurt Vile Get Lost in a Daze)

Even now, it awes. “Communication Breakdown” pumps out an amped guitar riff like a tommy gun firing off shells. The album opens with “Good Times Bad Times”, and after a dramatic, ticking drum rollout, it shuffles back and forth between alternate riff patterns over a tapping cowbell. “You Shook Me” is driven almost entirely by Plant and a slow-strutting tempo. He croons like he’s plunging down a rabbit hole. The elements converge to create a masterpiece, and it ends so abruptly you have little time to digest what just hit you. Here, in 2014, it’s shocking to see how wrong the critics were. How could they have missed this gem? The album is still an impressively interesting listen after all this time.

Led Zeppelin I is a fantastic glimpse into the time capsule, a standing testament to rock pageantry. If released today, there would still be a place for it in the genre’s decorated history. It set the tone for one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Even if no one knew it yet.

Essential Tracks: “Dazed and Confused”, “Communication Breakdown”, and “Good Times Bad Times”

14 comments

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Anthony
October 27, 2014 at 12:55 am

Why was it ignored? I’ll tell you why. All those who liked to think of themselves as rock intellectuals completely dissed and bypassed this incredible album, because it wasn’t cerebral enough for them. It didn’t meekly conform to their staid expectations of what late 60s rock ought to be about. And they couldn’t process that Jimmy Page, the young man they thought a distant third to Clapton, their crowned god, and Beck, their other darling, could possibly come up with anything to blow those esteemed guitar legends right off the stage. Well he did, and he produced it, composed the riffs, almost all the songs, and is my favourite guitarist because of it. Zeppelin was unabashedly loud, triumphal, and aggressive – but also textured, multifaceted, down-home, DIY, full of errors and sloppiness which only added to the textures and the endearing quality of the work. Zeppelin was perfection, without trying to be perfect. They are and remain, the one and only, greatest rock group that ever were and ever will be.

Jim Dorsey
June 22, 2014 at 10:46 pm

As members of a band in high school, we were big Yardbirds fans. We loved Jeff Beck and we’re disappointed with the YB breakup. When we saw one of the last YB gigs at The Fillmore in Spring on ’68, Beck was gone, Page was on lead, and we felt let down. We simply weren’t prepared for what we were hearing. Maybe that’s what happened to some of the critics….
The last gasp of the old Yardbirds even played Dazed and Confused with Page in a huge trench coat and playing lead guitar with a bow. It was just… Freaky…
We were waiting for Beck’s first album and we’re suitably rewarded. When LZ I came out, we were all over it as well…
But, it still wasn’t our beloved Yardbirds…
We were fooled as well.by what was about to happen…

Zino Zackmann
June 22, 2014 at 11:02 am

Of course, rock critics aren’t always right.

But in the case of Lep Zep I agree with those writers who consider it one of the most overrated and uncreative bands in Rock history.

The were dozens of lesser known bands in England and in the USA in the lates sixties and early seventies around – groups, who put sometimes only one or two albums out before they disbanded – but who deserve it much more to be remembered. Just a few examples: Beacon Street Union, Mad River, Fraternity of Man, Ford Theatre, Ill Wind, Sugar Creek, Fraction, Spooky Tooth, Family, Groundhogs, Panama Limited….

Joe
June 6, 2014 at 10:36 pm

So this review is for the vinyl LP correct ?

brian mann
June 7, 2014 at 5:28 am

1555 Finch ave.
unit 70

rastronomicals
June 5, 2014 at 4:22 pm

John Mendelsohn and Rolling Stone reviews notwithstanding, Led Zeppelin’s quick success was not a surprise to very many.

Check out Tony Wilson of Melody Maker, quoted on the back of the first Yes album–

“At the beginning of 1969, I was asked as were all Melody Maker writers to pick two groups who I thought would make it in the following year.
One of my choices was LED ZEPPELIN. A bit obvious perhaps, but then we all like to back a winner occasionally.”

A later unsigned review of Led Zep I at Melody Maker said “Jimmy Page triumphs!” with the exclamation point intact.

Or Felix Dennis at long-forgotten OZ magazine:

“VERY OCCASIONALLY a long-playing record is released that defies immediate classification or description, simply because it’s so obviously a turning point in rock music that only time proves capable of shifting it into eventual perspective. (Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home, The Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday, Disraeli Gears, Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? and Sgt. Pepper). This Led Zeppelin album is like that.”

And even Mendelsohn called II “a fucking heavyweight.”

It’s clear there were some bad reviews of early Zeppelin, but I think the article overstates their preponderance; and more importantly, their significance. Bad Reviews of Physical Graffiti, for example (maybe in Creem?), would have perhaps pointed to Zeppelin’s bloatedness, which in the light of the coming of punk rock, were somewhat accurate charges which thus would have meant more than some dude in 1969 simply failing to get it.

Fritz (@TheFritz)
June 4, 2014 at 10:34 am

So, no mention of the bonus disc at all?

brian mann
June 4, 2014 at 3:16 am

1555 Finch ave.
unit 70

Bobby MAshoda
June 3, 2014 at 11:38 pm

My little brother gave Led Zeppelin I to me for Christmas 1975. He remains the gifted artist of our family and had been trying for years to convince me how unique and brilliant Zeppelin were. It took me a couple of years before I really gave them a chance. Long story short….they now reign (in countless millions lifetime fan’s minds as rock’s greatest band. The truest testament to their genius is the fact that their music remains glowingly vital and vibrant all these years later.

HDtracks (@HDtracks)
June 3, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Get the new Led Zeppelin remasters in pristine high-resolution audio!!! Use code LEDZEP10 for 10% off at checkout.

This is Zeppelin like you have never heard before!

http://www.hdtracks.com/music/artist/view/id/4858/

Charles DeWeese
June 2, 2014 at 8:48 pm

It should be A++. I think the first one is even better than the second one.

but…
June 2, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Why only an A- then?

Anonymous
June 2, 2014 at 1:12 pm

dam I was hoping for a sample to hear……..

Dawn
June 2, 2014 at 11:54 am

I love you guys always. led Zeppelin your part of me growing up .

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