Saturday, September 25, 2010

September 25: Led Zeppelin, "Rock & Roll"

Artist: Led Zeppelin
Song: "Rock & Roll"
Album: Led Zeppelin IV
Year: 1971

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For some bands, one can argue for ages about their greatness and exactly how high they should be on the "best bands of all time" list.  For these elite groups, even the mere mention of their name demands the highest respect, and one can instantly hear a handful of their songs in their head.  While these few bands are scattered across the decades, during the late 1960's and early 1970's, many of these iconic bands were in their prime, shaping the landscape of music for decades to come.  Keeping one foot firmly in the blues, and using the other to turn up the volume as loud as possible, there are few bands worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the mighty Led Zeppelin.  From their legendary ballads to their heavy-metal creating rock songs, Led Zeppelin stand as one of the most pivotal bands in history, and it was as much their musical talents as their recording innovations and personas that helped to mold the world of music into its current form.  With a band of such magnitude, it is almost impossible to pick a single song as their "best," as their music has such a broad scope that one is almost forced to only discuss a particular style that Led Zeppelin performed.  However, there is one song that represents everything that makes the band so extraordinary, and it lives on in the form of Led Zeppelin's 1971 masterpiece, "Rock & Roll."

Looking at the album it came from as a whole, Led Zeppelin IV, "Rock & Roll" stands as one of eight amazing songs, as the album itself stands as one of the finest in history.  However, though it is perhaps overshadowed by a pair of songs on that record, it is nonetheless the most true to the sound of the band.  Opening the musical assault is one of the most phenomenal and unforgettable uses of a ride cymbal in history, as the great John Bonham absolutely destroys the song, never letting up his energy or speed for even a moment.  As he did on a number of Led Zeppelin songs, Bonham sounds as if he is trying to smash his drum kit to pieces, and one cannot deny the impact this surely had on drummers of heavy metal, hardcore, and punk music.  Quickly entering the frey alongside Bonham is guitar god Jimmy Page, and he rips one of the most iconic riffs in history.  His performance throughout "Rock & Roll" is absolutely unforgettable, and yet it is perhaps due to the simplicity to the main chord progressions that the song has been covered so many times since.  Rounding out the bands' sound is the perfect bass work from John Paul Jones, and it is within his playing that the groove of Led Zeppelin lived.  Regardless of the era, "Rock & Roll" is one of the most hard rocking and fierce songs ever recorded, and remains a track that demands to be played at maximum volume nearly four decades after it was first released.

For a band to be as legendary as Led Zeppelin has become, there must be one element that somehow outshines the other, and in the case of Led Zeppelin, it was the voice and persona of Robert Plant.  Without question, it was Plant that set much of the tone and style of the "modern" rock star, and both his appearance and general demeanor have become nearly as legendary as the bands' music.  Robert Plant's voice is also one of the most recognizable in history, and on "Rock & Roll," he once again shows that it knows no limits.  In many ways seeming as if he is competing with the instruments for the spotlight, Plant's voice is able to jump off of the track and bring a volume that was simply unparalleled at the time.  The fact that he is able to stay in key whilst clearly pushing his vocals to the limit is a testament to his amazing skill as a singer.  It is this phenomenal energy and swagger, which match the music over which he is singing, where Plant takes a slightly more refined lyrical approach than one finds in a majority of Led Zeppelin's songs about women.  This time around, Plant penned a strangely dramatic lament about having gone some time without "rock and roll," which he deploys as a not-so-subtle euphemism.  Again, the lyrical pattern matches the music in that it is set up as a basic blues song, and this was the case for a majority of Zeppelin's songs.  Yet it is due to how Plant delivers these vocals that make them anything but "basic," and it is the final element that makes "Rock & Roll" such a timeless song.

Truth be told, "Rock & Roll" is actually a rather well disguised tribute to the early days of rock music.  Musically, it is a simple twelve-bar blues progression, and the opening drum and cymbal pattern was largely inspired by Little Richard's "Keep A Knockin'."  Furthermore, on the tail-end of the song, one can hear the piano played by Ian Stewart, and this draws yet another connection to the early days of rock and roll.  Robert Plant takes this yet another step, as the lyrics clearly reference a number of old songs, including "Book Of Love" and "The Stroll" among many others.  These links are rather fitting, as the song perfectly blends the old-school ideas with the new sounds of the day, and it makes it clear what an important bridge was created by the music of Led Zeppelin.  Facts such as these are often lost behind the mystique and sound of the band, but one cannot deny the fact that they remain some of the most talented musicians in history, and it can be easily argued that their combined talent remains unmatched to this day.  Whether it is the blistering barrage from Bonham or the crushing chords and soloing from Page, "Rock & Roll" has a mood and pace unlike any other song in history, and the deep rooted basswork from Jones proves the true might of this extraordinary band.  Topped off by the iconic vocals of Plant, there are perhaps no other bands worthy of being mentioned alongside Led Zeppelin, and it is within songs like their 1971 single, "Rock & Roll," that their place as true music legends is cemented.

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