Music critics don’t always get it right. Sometimes, they fawn over third-rate albums, just because of who recorded the album. That’s often the case with ageing artists. I could quote numerous examples where critics had their head turned by sentiment.  This is nothing new. 

Thirty-five years ago, on 12th January 1969, Led Zeppelin released their eponymous debut album, Led Zeppelin, which was recently rereleased by Atlantic Records. Critics were far from impressed. Their reviews were negative. Some of the highest profile critics rounded on Led Zeppelin. They felt Led Zeppelin offered nothing new. It had all been done before, and done better. Music lovers didn’t agree with this.

On its release, on 12th January 1969, Led Zeppelin reached number ten in the US Billboard 200 and number six in the UK. Led Zeppelin was certified platinum in the US eight times over. In the UK and Australia, Led Zeppelin was certified double platinum. Across the world, Led Zeppelin was a huge commercial success. It was certified diamond in Canada and platinum in Spain. Gold discs came Led Zeppelin’s way in Holland, Switzerland and France. Suddenly, Led Zeppelin was one of the most successful albums of the sixties. Not bad for an album that received poor reviews.

As usual, history was rewritten over the next thirty-five years. Suddenly, Led Zeppelin was a being hailed a classic album. Every critic was suddenly claiming to have realised that all along. Even Rolling Stone magazine, which wasn’t originally a fan of Led Zeppelin, put the album at number twenty-nine in their list of 500 greatest albums of all time. Not bad for an album that was recorded by Led Zeppelin in just thirty-six hours.

Back in October 1968, when Led Zeppelin began recording their eponymous debut album, they were a relatively new band. They were formed in August 1968, out of the ashes of The Yardbirds. Guitarist Jimmy Page was the last man standing. He owned the rights to The Yarbirds’ name. However, he was also under contract to play several concerts in Scandinavia. So Jimmy began putting together a new band.

For his new band, The New Yarbirds, Jimmy Page brought onboard the rhythm section of bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham. Robert Plant became the vocalist. This was essentially a new band, that began touring Scandinavia. 

Touring Scandinavia, The New Yarbirds combined some of The Yarbirds’ old songs and a number of new songs. This included future Led Zeppelin classic Communication Breakdown. It would feature on Led Zeppelin. So did How Many More Times, the Anne Bredon penned Babe I’m Gonna Leave You and Willie Dixon and J.B. Lenoir’s You Shook Me. These songs were honed during The New Yarbirds’ tour of Scandinavia. They returned home a much tighter band, who were ready to record their debut album, Led Zeppelin.

Led Zeppelin featured a total of nine tracks. They were a mixture of new material and cover versions. New songs included Good Times Bad Times, Communication Breakdown and How Many More Times, which Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham. John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page penned Your Time Is Gonna Come. Jimmy Page wrote Dazed and Confused and Black Mountain Side. Covers included Willie Dixon’s I Can’t Quit You Baby, Willie Dixon and J.B. Lenoir’s You Shook Me and the Anne Bredon penned Babe I’m Gonna Leave You was arranged by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. These none tracks were recorded at Olympic Studios, London between September and October 1968.

When recording of Led Zeppelin began at Olympic Studios, London, Jimmy Page played acoustic, electric and pedal steel guitar and produced the album. The rhythm section included bassist and organist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham who also played percussion and timpani. Robert Plant delivered a series of vocal powerhouses and played harmonica on the album that became Led Zeppelin.

Released in January 1969, Led Zeppelin was the album that launched Led Zeppelin onto the world stage. It reached number ten in the US Billboard 200 and number six in the UK. That was a familiar story all over the world. This commercial success wasn’t replicated by the single Good Times Bad Times, which stalled at number eighty in the US Billboard 100. Mind you, Led Zeppelin, which I’ll tell you about, sold over ten million copies. Not bad for an album the critics panned.

Stabs of Jimmy Page’s searing, grizzled machine gun guitars open Good Times Bad Times. Hissing hi-hats and percussion sit way back in the mix, before the pounding rhythm section kick loose. They match each other ever step of the way. The track has a live sound. That’s down to the way the microphones were placed.Robert Plant’s vocal is a mixture of raw power, frustration and loneliness. Later, he’s joined by swirling harmonies. This add to the late-sixties, psychedelic sound. So, the swirling, searing, screeching guitar. It comes courtesy of Jimmy’s trusty Telecaster. Then when Led Zeppelin are in full flow, their fusion of blues, psychedelia and rock proves a potent and powerful partnership.

Babe I’m Gonna Leave You has a much more understated, mellow sound. Robert’s heartbroken vocal is accompanied by a lone, meandering, crystalline guitar. Soon, a subtle bass enters and that’s the signal for the track to unfold. Led Zeppelin don’t kick loose. They come pretty close though. Bursts of Spanish guitars and a thunderous rhythm section combine. There’s even a siren. It’s the signal for Robert to unleash another vocal powerhouse. Accompanied by stabs of dramatic music, Robert lays bare his soul, delivering a bluesy vamp that’s equal parts pain, power and passion.

You Shook Me was a song made famous by Earl Hooker. Here, Led Zeppelin unleash a bluesy shuffle. The rhythm section, organ and blistering, scorching guitars create a moody backdrop for Robert’s hurt filled vocal. He begs and pleads, “baby please come home.” Later, he blows some blues harmonica, before the rest of Led Zeppelin get in the groove and create a stunning slice of blues rock. 

Dazed And Confused is another Led Zeppelin classic. It has an understated, moody introduction. A prowling bass and crystalline guitar reverberates, setting the scene for Robert. He’s “Dazed And Confused,” doesn’t where he is or “where you’ve been.” Meanwhile, blistering rocky licks accompany the prowling, menacing and dramatic rhythm section. Robert’s vocal is a vamp, where all the pain, hurt and betrayal escapes. It’s cathartic, as if his demons are leaving him. When they do, Led Zeppelin kick loose. As a power trio, they display a maturity that belies their relative inexperience. They sound more like an experienced band, on this classic track, rather than a band who’ve just released their debut album.

Your Time Is Gonna Come has an atmospheric, sometimes gothic introduction. That’s down to the organ that sets the scene for the rest of Led Zeppelin. Drums pound, while chiming guitars are panned left and the organ panned right. In the middle sits Robert’s vocal. Fed up of the pain and hurt, Robert has revenge on his mind. He sings: “I’m gonna make you pay for that great big whole in my heart” before the rest of Led Zeppelin harmonise, singing “Your Time Is Gonna Come.” This gives the track a timeless anthemic sound. 

Black Mountain Side is very different to what’s gone before. Having cross faded from the previous track, an instrumental unfolds. It was inspired by a folk song Down By The Blackwaterside. Western and Eastern music meets head on. Jimmy Page tuned his guitar so that it would sound like a sitar. Nimbly, his fingers flit up and down the fretboard while percussion accompanies him. It’s easy to imagine Led Zeppelin sitting on the floor of the studio recording this fusion of Eastern and Western music.

For a debut album, Led Zeppelin wasn’t short of classics, including Communication Breakdown. With machine gun guitars sprayed across the arrangement, the rapid, pounding rhythm section provide the heartbeat. Robert Plant’s vocal is a fearsome swagger. He struts his way through the track. Just when you think things can’t get any better, a scorching guitar solo is unleashed. Later, urgent, defiant proto-punk harmonies are added as Led Zeppelin deliver a stonewall rock classic.

I Can’t Quit You Baby sees a a return to the bluesy side of Led Zeppelin. Robert’s despairing vocal is a pained, howl. It’s accompanied by another shuffling blues. The rhythm section keep things slow, moody and bluesy. Jimmy Page delivers bursts of blistering guitar solos. They prove a perfect foil for Robert’s vocal as Led Zeppelin reinvent the blues.

How Many More Times closes Led Zeppelin. It has a sixties psychedelic sound. Just a wandering rhythm section set the scene for lysergic, reverberating guitars. Before long, Robert delivers a despairing, frustrated vocal. The rhythm section kick loose, delivering a buzzing arrangement. Jimmy Page won’t be outdone. He unleashes a guitar masterclass. It’s a virtuoso performance. Later, a slow, moody bolero rhythm pushes the arrangement along. Later, Led Zeppelin’s rhythm section kick loose. Scorching, crystalline guitars are unleashed. They’re panned left and right, adding to the trippy sound. This proves a perfect way for Led Zeppelin to closes their eponymous debut album.

That’s not quite the end of the newly rereleased remastered version of  Led Zeppelin. Disc two features  Led Zeppelin playing live at The Olympia, in Paris. They storm their way through much of  Led Zeppelin. This includes Good Times Bad Times, Communication Breakdown, I Can’t Quit You Baby, Dazed and Confused, White Mountain Side/Black Mountain Side, You Shook Me and How Many More Times? The other tracks included Heartbreaker and Moby Dick. These nine tracks a tantalising taste of one of the greatest British rock bands at the start of their career. They’re a much more mature band than you expect. That’s not surprising, given how good their debut album Led Zeppelin was.

Success came quickly to Led Zeppelin. Formed out of the ashes of The Yarbirds, Led Zeppelin went from a new band to selling ten million albums in just six months. That wasn’t meant to happen though. Not if you believed the music critics. They didn’t believe that Led Zeppelin were destined for greatness. 

That’s not surprising. Music critics can be contrary. They’ve a herd mentality. They tend to speak as one. That’s been the case since the birth of rock ’n’ roll. It was the case during the late-sixties. However, it was at its worst during the punk years. 

Critics couldn’t see beyond punk. It didn’t matter what other music was being released. If it was released by one of the established names, it was pilloried as the music of the establishment. It was a them and us mentality. Music critics were the radical gunslingers. That however, wasn’t the case.

Many of the music journalists who made a name during the punk years, were blinkered individuals. The groups they know treated as the “enemy” was the music they’d championed a few years earlier. There was a certain irony that groups like Pink Floyd, Yes, Jethro Tull, Little Feat and Neil Young were seen as yesterday’s men. The effect this had, was perfectly good music went unnoticed. Many music journalists were guilty as charged.

Many music journalists are perfectly happy to do a hatchet job on certain groups. They always have been. Ironically, after Led Zeppelin sold ten million albums, music critics suddenly warmed to Led Zeppelin. Later, they collectively developed a case of amnesia. Many of the critics that panned Led Zeppelin wrote fawning articles praising the album. What they wrote was what ten million music fans already knew. Led Zeppelin, which was recently rereleased by Atlantic Records, is a classic album.

Just like many a classic album, Led Zeppelin is pretty near flawless. It’s a fusion of blues, psychedelia, rock and even folk. The power trio of guitarist Jimmy Page, basist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham were the perfect foil for Robert Plant’s vocal powerhouses. Especially when Led Zeppelin kick loose. Led Zeppelin in full flight is a joy to behold. A hard rocking, hard living band, Led Zeppelin were a proper rock ’n’ roll band.

From their eponymous debut album, Led Zeppelin were living the dream. They lived life to its fullest. Led Zeppelin were one of the hardest living bands in the history of rock. Wine, women, song and narcotics were constant companions. Life was one long party. They owed it to their fans to live the dream. Throughout that party, Led Zeppelin recorded some of the greatest rock music of the seventies and all time. 

Commercial success and critical acclaim came Led Zeppelin’s way. So did gold and platinum discs came Led Zeppelin’s way. Then there was riches beyond even their wildest dreams. Led Zeppelin must having been laughing all the ways at the critics who slated their eponymous debut. While these critics returned to their dreary rented flats, Led Zeppelin were living life to its fullest. The album that launched Led Zeppelin’s career was their 1969 debut album, Led Zeppelin, which is a stonewall classic, despite what the critics originally said.




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