Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Debut of Led Zeppelin

Today, Led Zeppelin is regarded as a classic rock band, a cultural icon, but 45 years ago today, the world was really getting its first taste when Led Zeppelin released its debut album.

As I understand it, the initial reviews were negative, and I guess that is understandable, really. No other band, no matter how rebellious its music sounded, could compete with Led Zeppelin. Their sound was a unique blend of blues, heavy metal and hard rock, and it was just about guaranteed to annoy the older generation.

What more could a young person, determined to challenge authority, want from a band?

But anyone who listened to Led Zeppelin in those days quickly discovered there was more to Led Zeppelin's sound than noise. It was a radically different kind of sound, and a lot of people didn't know what to make of it.

In hindsight, it can be said that Led Zeppelin was more than a means to annoy the older generation. Led Zeppelin made really good music.

I discovered Led Zeppelin several years after that debut album, but "Dazed and Confused," one of the tracks on that original record, has long been one of my absolute favorites.

The record itself reached #10 on Billboard's chart following its initial release. Today, Rolling Stone ranks it #29 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time (higher than any other Led Zeppelin album). Ten years ago, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

That debut album has had a lasting influence on the cultural landscape. Other albums contained songs that are more recognizable to mainstream audiences, but Zeppelin's fans have a fondness for many of the tracks that easily matches songs like "Rock and Roll" and "Stairway to Heaven."

There were those in America who had heard of Led Zeppelin before the album hit the store shelves but not many. The band launched an American tour to introduce themselves to U.S. audiences in late 1968, starting the day after Christmas in Denver.

The material on that first album had been recorded a couple of months earlier, so, when the band began its tour, it was way ahead of other groups at that stage of their chronological development. The Led Zeppelin sound was well developed, and the tracks on the first album bear witness to its uniqueness.

Led Zeppelin took what folks like Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck were doing and made it their own. Songs like "Dazed and Confused" get most of the attention with their obvious blues influences, but songs like "Communication Breakdown" were — in hindsight — much more representative of what fans could expect.

It is worth noting that the record came out at a time when an album's cover art was almost as important as the music, and Led Zeppelin did not disappoint. The album's artwork was based on the famous photo of the Hindenburg ablaze in May 1937. It was a reference to the origin of the group's name, which, supposedly went something like this: Jimmy Page was discussing forming a band with Jeff Beck, Keith Moon and John Entwistle. Moon said that would "probably go over like a lead balloon," and Entwistle said, "[A] lead zeppelin." The four didn't form a band, but a name for a band had been born.

This is really an important date in the development of hard rock (and, for that matter, heavy metal) as a musical genre. Led Zeppelin was a pioneer, a band with a harder edge than anything that had come before — and a harbinger of things to come.