Thursday, January 8, 2015

Led Zeppelin – III

Recently, I found out that there are people who hate Led Zeppelin.  Like, they feel about this band the way I feel about Nickelback.  I've always known that, just like a lot of things, what people like in music is subjective, and that some people don't care for them, but openly hating and despising them?  That was a new one on me.  Personally, I've felt for a long time that even with all the acclaim and accolades that are heaped on them, they still don't get enough credit.  They really showed, more than any other band, yes, even The Beatles, that a band doesn't have to be limited, that whatever they want to write, they can write it and perform it well and not have to fit into the narrow confines, the little pigeon hole, in which a lot of us want to put a band. 

Case in point; this album.  I have gone back and forth over the years as to whether this was my favorite Zeppelin album, or Physical Graffiti.  Perhaps it is the fact that I have spent hours and hours with the new Jimmy Page remasters that came out this summer, but I am firmly back in the camp with this album.  To me, this is the album where Zep put it all together and realized that they could do pretty much whatever they wanted, and do it well.  The first album was raw and visceral and almost felt as though they were making it up as they went.  The second album was a bit more polished but still very much in the vein of the first album.  Both found the band trying to be a heavy blues band.  They did that very well, but it also seemed to limit them, especially when you compare those first two to what came after.  There would never have been the freedom to record “4”, or “Zoso”, or whatever you choose to call it, which is one of the great masterpieces of rock, if Led Zep III didn't come first.

The songs took a lot of people by surprise back in 1970 when this came out.  Many referred to it as the Zeppelin acoustic album, although the majority of the songs are still electric.  It was different.  It was a huge departure from the two previous albums.  “The Immigrant Song” kicks things off and it's a song about Vikings, so how am I not going to like that one.  You could see that one fitting in with what had gone before, but after that one, the album really branches out.  “Friends” is an acoustic number, with some good ol' Page rhythmic twists just to let you know who it was.  “Celebration Day” is a rocker but definitely veers away from the blues base. 

Then, just to throw a curve ball, comes “Since I've Been Loving You”.  I was all of 7 years old when this album came out, and I could still feel what they were going on about.  When you can make a little kid feel the blues, you're on to something.  To this day this is one of my favorite blues songs, and though the elitist blues purists would argue until they die that it's a Zeppelin song so it can't be blues, they couldn't be more wrong.  And when Jimmy Page just digs into his solo part way into the song, it is just sublime.

Next up is “Out On The Tiles”, another rocker with that Zeppelin touch.  Nothing as simple as a 4/4 rocker in their repertoire, and this one is another case in point.  “Gallows Pole” comes next, starting out fairly acoustic and traditional sounding, but ending up ripping along as the story builds.  “Tangerine” is a sweet, somewhat acoustic ballad, and again the band is not afraid to try out new territory.  This was different as well, not like anything they had done previously.  “That's The Way” is the most blatant acoustic song on the album, and it is simple, sheer beauty when you listen to all the layers of guitar on this song.  The creativity to put so many parts together, and the way they all work so well, demonstrates the brilliance of Mr. Page.  Some of them are just a little strum here and there, a couple of notes that pop up in the right places, but without them the song just wouldn't be the same.  And on a personal note, this is one of my absolute favorite songs to play.

Wrapping up the album come “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” and “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper”.  Both of these songs, to me, have always sounded like a band just having fun and enjoying the pleasure of playing together.  A little more back to the blues base, much more so on “Hats Off...”, but still doing something different.  Definitely a fun and enjoyable way to wrap up the album.

Although “III” did not really get its due when it came out, and is still set aside as a second rate release by many Zeppelin fans, I love it and I think it ranks right up there with all of the other releases.  If you've never given this album some time, listen to it chronologically with the first two and I think you might see what I'm talking about.  Listen closely and you will hear genius at work, you will hear a band literally taking a leap of light years in the course of a single album, and putting themselves on the threshold of the rock immortality that came with their next album.



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