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II is My Favorite Zep Album and ‘What is and What Should Never Be’ is a Logically Important Song in the Popular Rock Pantheon… I Have Proof!”

If you’re ever in the library looking to stuff yourself with words like a smarty pants, you could certainly do worse than LZ ’75, Stephen Davis’ firsthand account of tracing his controversial Zeppelin fandom as a Detroiter from the band’s hatching to the year 1975, which saw the release of their double album. One reason I particularly like his arrangement of ideas is that he really gives an insider’s honest perspective on just how HORRIFIED much of the listening public was by Led Zeppelin and their unscrupulous heavy metal approach, around the start of the ’70s.

The reason why I mention this is that the Led Zeppelin album I’m showcasing here, their second one, begins with a track that if the listener were put off by the bombast of Led Zeppelin I would likely incite a riot thereafter, or some ramming against the walls like that chick in Natural Born Killers [1]. Well, I’m a ’90s kid and I went through Rage against the Machine and System of a Down and stuff, so obviously, Led Zeppelin seems like more of a Maltese than a pit bull to me. I put it on and it’s just like, boring, well not to me, but to most ’90s kids, since it’s not video games and a giant bong. I used to make mix tapes (tapes) a lot back in the day and for this one my II CD would skip toward when the percussionless segment ended on “Whole Lotta Love,” so I’d have to stop the cassette itself and then maneuver the track’s progress so as to resume post-skipping part, then hitting record again on the cassette… well anyway, and I know this is a random story but I just wanted to impart it on you real quick, per the order of “Whole Lotta Love” having irreversibly cemented itself in my mind as something entirely extra-terrestrial (the convention-to-otherworldliness conduit providing it then the ultimate status of “good,” given some acclamation to heavy metal toward the millennial break, just to clarify)… so anyway I have no idea how I did it but when the final product came out, Robert Plant’s voice had two breaks in it for that final “loooove” ode, so it was like “lo… uhh… uhhhhve”. Well, it was pretty rad. That’s my only point I guess.

So now when I put on II on Spotify I no longer have that magical version of “Whole Lotta Love” I created accidentally in the days of yore, but an undeniable treat comes around soon enough in track two, “What is and What Should Never Be,” a song which the band valued enough as to include it on their live album How the West Was Won. Musically, it seems to glean, as a pop number, a little more of a Beatles influence than anything their first album had done, similar to the beautiful ballad “Thank You,” but even better: toward the end it makes an awesome practice of issuing a deconstructed chorus.

Now, the deconstructed chorus, in short, is… well… nonsense. But it’s an itchy, ooey gooey kind of nonsense, which we all like. The practice, just to show the specific (if long delayed) artistic impact Zep would have with this song, was picked up by the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears (hey, it did make their songs better, gimme a break here). The Backstreet Boys number (and it might be on more I just don’t know) on which the deconstructed chorus made the greatest prominence was “The Shape of My Heart,” although in their case, they assemble the original chorus again following the deconstructed one, taking it back to its initial anatomy, instead of the little off-rhythm, half-statements of the lyrics.

It’s sort of interesting to think of all this in terms of just why this technique came about, why it’s effective and what it represents. I suppose it’s just all for the sake of freshness, sort of like looking at what something was in its embryonic state in comparison with what it ultimately would become. Anyway, one thing’s for sure: after the shameless indulgence of “Shake for me girl / I wanna be your back door man”, the listener will take any addition of artistic depth he or she can get.

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[1] Yeah it seems like there was thing called a “moral quality standard” back in the old hippie days, affirmed by the apparent compunction even before Jimi Hendrix’ “arrogant” declamation of “Let Jimi take over” in “Fire.” I used to joke around that if Jimi Hendrix covered “Stairway to Heaven” (which obviously would be impossible since he died in ’70) he’d probably rename it “Stairway to Jimi,” but the more I read about him, the more I realize that he really overcame a lot to get where he was and accomplish what he did, hence making his intense confidence and valor a little more pardonable.

 

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