Throwback: Led Zeppelin

On Jan. 12, 1969, Led Zeppelin released their debut album in America. The British band didn’t release the album in their home country until March of the same year. There was a ridiculous amount of super groups coming out of Britain at the time, and America had plenty of huge rock groups to boot. The stage for new bands was tiny at the time; it was overcrowded by artists like The Beatles, Cream, the Rolling Stones, The Who, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix— I could go on, but I think you get my point.

Critics didn’t like Led Zeppelin at all. Rolling Stone tore the band apart, calling them a knock-off of the Jeff Beck Group. The competition in the music industry was crippling. Any band that had a blues sound was immediately shot down as an impostor. Led Zeppelin had to prove themselves to the industry in order to gain any respect as a band, and they did just that when they toured America.

Led Zeppelin’s sound was completely unique. While guitarist Jimmy Page did rely on blues riffs, he transcended blues with a combination of technical perfection and raw power. He could play soft-acoustics, like “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” and then slap you in the face with solos, like the one on “Communication Breakdown.” His influence on hard rock was astronomical.

Singer Robert Plant’s voice, so howling and soulful, was directly influenced by American blues. Both bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham packed a brass-knuckle punch. Led Zeppelin was the perfect recipe, brewed in the very cauldron of Hell. They didn’t sound like the psychedelic bands that were so popular at the time — Zeppelin played far too loud and far too hard to resemble that style.

If anything they most resembled the bands that came out of Detroit, like MC5. But even that comparison falls short because unlike the early punk style of Detroit, Led Zeppelin was more intricate. They had the polish of classical composers and the power of a wrecking ball.

Led Zeppelin isn’t the best Led Zeppelin album, but it tops just about every other album that came out in 1969. I’m including Abbey Road in that statement. Sure, it was a solid album, but it wasn’t anything we hadn’t already heard from the Beatles.

Led Zeppelin, on the other hand, was new and original. From it spawned the hard rock of the 70’s. When I listen to bands like Vanilla Fudge or Cream and then listen to Led Zeppelin, I take pity on the psychedelic bands. They can’t match the sound of Led Zeppelin; no one can.