There are people out there who can’t get past the fact that Led Zeppelin covered old blues songs, as if playing other people’s songs is such a preposterous crime or such a rarity. Excuse me, Alien Ant Farm’s BIGGEST hit is a cover. Led Zeppelin’s biggest hit is an unwieldy eight-minute opus that isn’t even a blues song, let alone a cover of Delta origins.
Look, let me tell you about Led Zeppelin, just from the top. They’re a supergroup. Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones come from The Yardbirds, a successful blues-rock act of the ’60s. For their first album, the self-titled debut, which came out in January of ’69 and seems like the perfect, aggressive reaction to the significant assassinations of ’68 (Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy), the band itself already usurps production reins, achieving a sound on blistering tracks like “You Shook Me” and “How Many More Times,” one of my favorite Zeppelin tunes and a songwriting swatch fully credited to the band themselves, to soar to unparalleled authority in contemporary rock and go on to influence infinite bands up through grunge and this very day itself.
It’s this thick, early sound, no doubt, with which Zeppelin’s detractors obstinately associate it, complaining that they just took early Delta blues and cranked the amps up to 11 on it. Well, what’s the issue, anyway? They might be goin’ to he** in a bucket baby, but at least they’re enjoying the ride! But it’s beside the point anyway, seeing as most of the first Stones album is Motown covers (if not all of it), along with the fact that there’s this whole other, softer side of Zeppelin, not really better or worse than distorted crushers like “The Lemon Song” and “Immigrant Song,” but equally applying mache to the band’s overall artistic edifice. This penchant for ambience and reflection started to surface with the Led Zeppelin II hit “Thank You” (my favorite song the band has ever done), coming to full fruition, in a way, with the next album’s “Friends,” a rock and roll creation grafted on acoustic guitar and completely unlike anything the world had heard prior. But then, innovation is Led Zeppelin’s way, as is integrity, seeing as upon the death of drummer John Bonham, the band ceased activity entirely, unwilling to attach something to their name that lacked the purity of their anatomical roots.