Sunday, January 20, 2013

Top 5 Worst Led Zeppelin Songs (1969 - 1975)

People seem to put a lot of stock in the best-of list, not so much in its opposite. My idea for this list came about when I was looking over my digital Led Zeppelin discography (which is limited to the dates outlined above) and realizing how many great songs there were. What would a worst-of Zeppelin list look like?

I initially tried to compile a top 10, but that proved nearly impossible. Say what you will about the band. Their ideas weren't always original, but their executions always became the standard. Here was a band with talent, range, and tight trousers, who over the course of six albums put forth some of the most timeless pop music of all time.

These were the low points. 

5.) "The Crunge"


Houses of the Holy might be my least favorite Zeppelin album from this period (this one or the debut LP). I can't really hold it against the band for attempting something of a departure from the masterpiece of their definitive fourth album. After all, what else were the world's greatest pop musicians to do next other than immediately rebel against that perceived definition? Think of U2's 1987 masterpiece The Joshua Tree. What came next? It was 1988's divisive Rattle and Hum. With Houses of the Holy, Led Zeppelin certainly proved their versatility, as well as their willingness and ability to adapt to other genres of rock music. “The Rain Song” proved the band could craft a moving ballad (even if Jones's Mellotron anchored the song inescapably in a kind of smooth-rock 1970s time capsule). “D'yer Mak'er” used reggae for the basis of what became a fine Zeppelin staple.

I think I have less enthusiasm for “The Crunge,” which was the band's three-minute take on James Brown funk. Yes, Led Zeppelin could even do funk.

My reservations have nothing to do with the band's talent—clearly. It's more a matter of authenticity. In other words, why listen to the tribute when you can listen to the real thing? There's a similar reason why I don't really care for Rattle and Hum's take on Harlem blues, nor its gospel reinterpretation of U2's own “I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.” Houses of the Holy is a better followup album than U2's, but this closing track of its first half comes off as its most purely imitational.

4.) "Thank You"


There's nothing wrong with love. Really. There's also nothing wrong with Robert Plant singing about it—and, no, I'm not talking about “The Lemon Song.”

“Thank You” is a song that evokes the timelessness of love—love as a force that can withstand mountains crumbling to the sea. And while Otis Redding and Ben E. King may have used the same imagery to better effect years earlier, “Thank You” at least demonstrated the band had more to offer than machismo and innuendo.

The real reason this one makes the list has more to do with an unfortunate tendency for me to associate John Paul Jones' delicate organ playing with English fantasy, which I don't think is too much of a stretch given the allusion to J.R.R. Tolkein in other Zeppelin songs. The song could pretty easily have ended at the 3:00 mark. Instead it continues on for almost an extra two minutes with that delicate little organ music. And suddenly my mind drifts to a magical land beyond time, where elves and fairies flitter through the woods and fields. Worse still is my mental association with the movie This is Spinal Tap—itself a parody of the rockstar mythos pioneered by the likes of Led Zeppelin—as I picture a miniature Stone Henge lowering slowly toward the stage.

3.) "Black Country Woman"


I might be tempted to consider Physical Graffiti a sort of ripe tree for selecting the bad fruits of the Zeppelin discography. It's a good album, sure, but it's a double album, and one that got stuffed with plenty of holdover tracks that hadn't fit on the previous releases.

Like any Zeppelin album, this one has its gems, the sprawling “In My Time of Dying” that felt like a logical evolution or matured reinventing of the 60's psychedelia first explored in “Dazed and Confused.” It had “Boogie With Stu,” which sounds to me like a saloon stomp version of the fourth album's “Rock and Roll”—its whisky-drunk country cousin perhaps (listen to them both in sequence and tell me if you disagree).

“Black Country Woman” is the song that immediately follows “Boogie,” and it's the penultimate track of the album. As its namesake implies, it continues the country vibe as a simple little acoustic jam, only in this case John Bonham comes in at about a quarter of the way through to lay down a no-frills rock beat.

I think part of the problem for me is that opening “Hey, hey, mama” line, which gets repeated with some variation through the rest of the song. We already have a Zeppelin song that begins with “Hey, hey, mama,” whose song title also starts with the word “black” but is a much better song. “Black Country Woman” strikes me as what happens when a bunch of rock legends get together just looking to record something off the cuff. Hell, they even left the airplane on the track. But it's bread and butter from a band who we know can give us prime rib in heaps.

2.) "I Can't Quit You Baby"


As a debut album, Led Zeppelin did what it needed to do, which was to showcase the chops of England's newest rock supergroup. It did this almost entirely by recycling (if not ripping off) songs from other artists, primarily Jimmy Page's former supergroup, The Yardbirds. The inclusion of this song on the list was almost a tossup with the album's third track, “You Shook Me.” Both of them are pretty standard blues ballads. And, to be perfectly fair, both are pretty good. But by the time “I Can't Quit You Baby” arrives on the album, it feels like we've already heard it. And when you hear the two songs side by side, “You Shook Me” is decidedly the superior track. For one, it cements the Page-Plant dynamic as they match each other note for note. But it also showcases everyone's talents, with a sweet organ solo from Jones, followed by some excellent Plant harmonica and a Page guitar solo that climaxes to great effect at about the 4:18 mark, complimented by one of the first great Bonham drum fills. And then the track transitions perfectly into “Dazed and Confused.”

“I Can't Quit You Baby” feels more like the Page and Bonham show. The true giant that Led Zeppelin would become had yet to awaken. Their trademark brand of rock and roll was in chrysalis, with Page at the epicenter of that cocoon running laps around those blues scales, feeding his power. “I Can't Quit You Baby” makes the list because even when the band later returned to this same sort of improvisational blues with III's “Since I've Been Loving You,” everything was so much more amplified by comparison. The instrumentation was denser, grittier, with a pathos as crippling and tangible as Atlas under the weight of a planet.

1. "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You"


This singer can't make up his mind. He's gonna leave you, woman. For reals. He can't take it anymore. Dude's a dude, and he's gotta ramble. Then again … he ain't never gonna leave you.

Maybe the song is just too repetitive. I like how it begins with Page's finger-picking folk riff, his reworking of a Joan Baez tune. It's got a nice movement to it. It kind of goes up and down, back and forth—like Plant's lyrics. And then the song gets hard. The listener realizes all the tension brewing underneath the surface wasn't necessarily a bluff. Or was it?

The song falls back to the soft part. Then it goes back to heavy. It's a dynamic, but not a terribly interesting one—not for such a long song. All the while, Plant's vocal delivery begins to really grate, particularly at the 4:30 mark when Plant belts out the most maudlin lyric of the entire Zeppelin discography: “We're gonna go walkin' through the park every day!” It seems so off kilter, almost ad-lib. Maybe it was. But did he really just say that? Who is this pansy? And there you have it, the worst Led Zeppelin song.

Am I right? Am I way off? Leave a comment.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Digital

Captain Bryce Duncan wakes up at 5:14 a.m., approximately one minute before the alarm clock on his left-side nightstand is programmed to jolt him from his sleep. Taking advantage of the opportunity to spare his wife Julie the annoyance of having her own sleep interrupted more than two hours earlier than her own programmed alarm clock, Bryce disengages the alarm function and carefully extracts himself from his comfortable queen-size bed. Sneaking stealthily away from the bedroom, down the hallway to the tan-carpeted living room, Bryce performs fifty rapid but fully extended pushups in his underwear before going into the bathroom and grooming himself for work. After a light breakfast of Cheerios and milk, Bryce returns to the bedroom, puts on his uniform and kisses his wife on the cheek—who has been in and out of sleep ever since her husband moved out of bed. Bryce prays a silent prayer for his wife before kissing her once more and making his way to the garage, where he gets into the car that he will directly pilot forty-three miles across the desert to the Air Force base, where he will sit at an advanced computer station to indirectly pilot an armed aircraft over the desert skies of Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Pakistan, or Yemen, or—

Kevin Lintman wakes up at 6:50 a.m. to the sound of his mother’s stern voice and rapping knuckles on the other side of his bedroom door. He tries to ignore the disturbance and falls asleep for a further two-and-a-half minutes before his mother opens the door and commands him in an even sterner voice to remove his person from his comfortable twin bed. Kevin slowly extracts himself from the bed, his mind depressed with thinking of the monotony and social awkwardness he most assuredly will experience for the next six-and-a-half hours spent primarily at Grover Cleveland Middle School, located five blocks to the west of his home. With his mind processing remembered interactions from the previous day, meanwhile processing imagined interactions for the quickly approaching future, Kevin shuffles in his cotton pajamas down the hallway to the bathroom and perceives—amidst his simultaneously processing memories and imaginings—a physical dizziness more substantial than his typical morning drowsiness. Relaying this perception aloud to his mother, Mrs. Lintman hurries into the bathroom and proceeds to gauge her son’s temperature via thermometer. Having registered a body temperature of ninety-nine degrees Fahrenheit, Mrs. Lintman makes the executive decision to excuse Kevin from attending classes, in the hopes that a day of physical rest will cure the boy of his ailment. Mrs. Lintman prays a quick spoken prayer before kissing her son goodbye and leaving the house for a day of work while Kevin boots up his Xbox 360 and begins to play a military simulation game that has him pretending to shoot terrorist insurgents and bomb pixilated enemy targets over Afghanistan, and Russia, and Brazil, and—

Amir Mohamed wakes up at 11:13 p.m. to the sound of a MIDI ringtone blaring from the Motorola cell phone he shoved under his pillow before laying down to sleep a little less than an hour ago. Agitated and annoyed, he nevertheless scrambles to answer the call and talks briefly to his uncle Rahim who has been giving him some easy work on the side delivering packages to his business associates around and about the city. Heeding the urgent and near incomprehensible tone of his uncle’s voice through the receiver, Amir scrambles from his comfortable white-sheeted mattress and tiptoes down the hall past the opened bedroom of his father—a bricklayer by trade who employs his son and disapproves of his brother’s dealings with the boy. Stepping into the warm night air, Amir jogs around to the alley behind the house, where he jumps onto the motorcycle that he pilots about two miles to his uncle’s mansion on the outskirts of the city. Along the way, as he darts among the thoroughfares and side streets, past scores of shuttered storefronts and silent residences, his mind replays a scolding received from his father, ponders the mysterious brazenness of his uncle’s recent behavior and his increasingly erratic schedule. When Amir greets his uncle with an enthusiastic apology for his delayed arrival, his kind words are met with curses and sarcasm. Rahim supplies his nephew with a large envelope, an address and a stern warning not to entrust the package to anyone other than a man bearing a certain appearance that Rahim describes and reiterates three times before sending Amir on his way. About three blocks from his uncle’s house, Amir looks again at the address and remembers delivering a package to the same location weeks earlier. It was a farmhouse about three miles outside the city proper, where the man of the house had two gorgeous daughters who both laughed at Amir when he nervously jumped aside as a large, friendly goat ran up to inspect him. Amir drives and imagines marrying the elder daughter and learning from his wife how to raise goats and teaching his wife how to drive a motorcyle. He thinks about all of the things he has failed to understand and experience by living all of his life within a city instead of on a farm. As he leaves the city streets for the country road, Amir begins to worry about finding his way. He looks for landmarks on the sides of the road but sees only an expanse of darkness under a moonless night sky. He turns down a road, still uncertain of his bearings and turns down yet another road he thinks is the one that leads to the farmhouse. When he gets to the end of the road he smells smoke. A plume appears to be rising from the spot where a house should be. Amir looks around and moves closer. He can feels the ground sloping in front of him and realizes he is descending into a crater. He touches the ground, which feels neither hot nor cold. Amir, frightened, runs back to his bike, which he pilots back in the direction of the city. All along the way Amir tries to reach his uncle, who is not answering his phone. Amir finds his way back to the city and his father’s house, where he sleeps for the remainder of the night. In the morning he wakes up early and hurries outside to his motorcycle. Amir realizes, for the first time, he has lost his uncle’s package. It being a weekend, Amir gets on his motorcyle and drives to an Internet cafĂ© ten blocks away. In the hazy sub-basement building he sits at the computer station in the farthest corner of the room and scours the news for anything that might relate to his confusing experience. Mouse in hand, Amir follows link after link. He reads about current events in India, in Israel, in the United States. He gets distracted and searches for threads of information that lead to nowhere.

Friday, November 28, 2008

House of Discovery

When I build a house, it will have many secret passageways that only a few people will know how to find. Doors hidden behind bookcases and narrow tunnels between bedrooms. There would be tiny compartments underneath the floorboards — covered by Venetian rugs — and in them I would keep exotic trinkets and artifacts from long forgotten civilizations.

I'd also incorporate dumbwaiters and various chutes where visiting children could whisk their toys into various other realms and dimensions.

Fires would burn in each of the parlors and living rooms. Warm-stoned mantles and a fluffy cat to sprawl in front of it — such would be a common sight in my house, never failing to influence a smile on the faces of all who peak inside the various upstairs rooms.

You could find me very often in my study, working diligently at my mahogany desk and always eager for the interruption of a long-missed visitor. You would come in and peruse the hard-bound folios of my personal library and ask me about my latest projects, the exploits of ongoing expeditions around the globe. I would invite you to the terrace where we would enjoy a cup of tea, all while admiring the peacocks traversing the lawn below — or the changing shades of yellow and green foliage on the distant mountains.

Before building the house, I would bless the ground, doing my best to calm the spirits of those who had settled and wandered there before me. I would welcome them to haunt the stairwells, to make funny faces at people as they gazed on the looking glass in the washing rooms.

And once I had journeyed on from this earthly station, I would hope to have my remains carried down to the glen below the ridge, left to bask in the open meadow where the sun hits at morning, resting in the matronly evening shadow of my former home.

The grandchildren would tell stories to their grandchildren of the benevolent lord who once took them on candlelit adventures through the network of hidden portals, an entire labyrinth — a second residence — within the walls of the hillside manor. Visitors and subsequent residents would be discovering new treasures and secrets for generations to come.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

My little sun chip

Hey, I've noticed you around. But, no, wait! Not in that creepy-vibe manner of speaking. Let me start over.

I like you.

You've got a real style about you that always makes me feel like a charmed, sly observer, admiring how you move about the different spaces you inhabit — rugged, urban, domestic or otherwise. I don't suppose you've ever really watched yourself in the third person. Has anyone ever described to you your sprightly gait (as I shall like to call it)?

There's a real bounce to your step, but very light. Mmmhhmmm (that means "yes?")? It's as if each step you take is an exuberant leap (in miniature, of course), followed by a gentle parachute landing (your cute little skirts come in handy). Repeat that several times in fast forward and you have an idea — maybe — of what I'm talking about.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Just visiting

This place has ambiance you can't deny. There are little details in the spacing and placement of things. To be honest, they don't all make a lot of sense when you think about it.

And when I think about it, these chairs are uncomfortable. And that pizza isn't really settling well.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Another Veemas miracle!

I have seen the light. And it's iridescent.

I was nearing sleep, just last night, my thoughts a stone's throw from a wide chasm of nothingness. Numb. Defeated.

Turning in my bed, my closed eyes sensed the faintest of glowing, slowly intensifying like the nearing sunrise through a glass darkly. A pulsing energy emerged from within my hands and feet. But I dared not move, frozen suddenly and completely in a moment of suspicious fear.

My mind's eye drew the outline of a snowman, an image that soon grew in clarity and seemed to burn like a cattle brand on the inside of my eyelids.

The image, a mere outline in red, morphed a pair of red outlined eyes. And from the eyes there drew a nose, and from the nose a smiling mouth. And then the picture on my brain began to melt as if in sunlight, until all that remained was a smiling effigy. I chuckled.

I opened my eyes and saw a glowing from the crack between the closet doors at the other end of my room. My orbs widened like a child's as I watched a fantastic orgy of red, orange, yellow and green light that crept like swirling tendrils from behind the narrow opening. These tendrils stretched to the floor in front of my cluttered dresser, digging into the carpet like roots in soil. From there, almost immediately, an unshapely blueness began to sprout. It became like a translucent indigo pod. All the colors of the rainbow surged and boiled like water within this pod.

And then it spoke, addressing me in a new name (one I'm sure I had never heard but understood with a sense of recognition that I can only liken to instinct).

"Hello, (my name)," it said. "Happy Veemas."

The pod burst in a brilliant display of color from which I had to turn away. And there he was, Mr. Sneezlebums, legendary patron of Veemas, in all his purple glory.

Note: Veemas, or V-mas, occurs every year on June 25, half of X-mas, or Christmas, which (as you know) is recognized each year on December 25. Public schools discontinued teaching and celebrating the pagan holiday of Veemas mostly during the late 1960s. For more information, research the landmark 1966 Supreme Court case, Bailey v. the State of Indiana.

I tried to respond but found I could not speak. It was also then that I realized my arms were spread wide like wings, hands still surging with a foreign energy. My legs stretched out stiff, and my feet likewise pulsed.

For what seemed like a small eternity, Mr. Sneezlebums spoke to me in a language I do not recall. He was imparting to me three gifts:

1. Insight: We are more than our eyes can see, part of an existence more expansive than the seeming confines of space and time. The things we do ripple infinitely in a manner that disrupts and affects every living and non-living thing.

2. Purpose: Mr. Sneezlebums breathed on the tip of his cane and touched it gently, first to my feet, then to my two hands. Then he took his cane and traced a circle in the air, a portal. Within the portal was a destination I do not remember. The journey to that place was not a straight path in the physical sense but nevertheless represented a definitive culmination of actions and interactions that would ripple in such a way as to arrive at the image before me. He charged me to follow that path, and I said, "I will." It was the only thing I was able to speak.

3. Glory: But it was not my own.

I experienced rapture, and then blackness...

My alarm rang this morning, but I must have slept through it. I'd overslept by about a half hour. It had been a pleasant visitation, but my thoughts already were reverting to anxiety of the pressing labors before me. I approached my dresser to get ready for work and stepped on something cold and hard.

I looked down and saw a small lump of coal. The bottom of my left foot was smeared black. Mr. Sneezlebums, I thought, what happened?

The symbol puzzled me. Actually, it still does. A coal, after all, is like deadness, expended carbon.

But I thought more along the same train of thought. I thought of the coal as once burning. I thought of the fire that once consumed the black object. I thought of the transformation. That fire, that life, did not fizzle and die but emerged and transcended the object into an intangible but real energy that will ripple to infinite. I also thought that after a million or billion years of incredible pressure and time, what now is a lump of coal could become a diamond. I'm still not sure.

All I know for certain (and I think it's good enough) is that we are special. Happy Veemas to all and to all a good night.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Lost Dogs

I woke up to a sharp feeling on the back of my bare shoulder the other morning. It was the sting from a senile old bee. I probably flicked him away in the immediate daze of my interrupted dream, but I saw him again later in the day.

I think he was making the same witless journey across my bed that my slumbering presence had obstructed earlier that morning. He was a fat orange specimen, and ancient I assume (much my distinguished elder in bee years), creeping awkwardly across the undulating folds of my comforter.

I prefer to call him senile because of another puzzling encounter with a bee I had had in that room while visiting home weeks earlier. I was sitting in my room when I began to hear a frantic buzzing sound, the recognizable noise of insect wings slamming into walls, of a bee attempting flight in confined quarters. It went on for several minutes above my head, probably inside some crack in the walls of my parents' log cabin. Eventually the creature emerged, its enormous (even larger than the old guy that stung me I think) body appearing to be weighed down by hanging dustballs, as if it has just sprung from bee prison. I flicked the lights on and off to trick the bee over to my bedroom windows, which I opened for the bee's release.

Maybe an hour later, however, I heard the same chainsaw-like buzzing from the same corner. And the same Jacob Marley bee began to careen around the room in its hindered phantom flight. I released it again, hoping it would finally learn its lesson.

I'm tempted to want to believe that the bastard that stung me was the same confused bee from before. When I was much younger I was playing with my older sister behind the old horse stable shed, an area of our property that we didn't often visit. I was underneath a mysterious tree. During the spring its bushy top blooms full in brilliant white flowers. But it's a gnarly skeleton of a tree, with these wicked dead vines hanging vertically from its own canopy like witch's hair.

I remember being under this tree when the scariest looking spider I have ever seen descended a branch. I remember it was the color of fossilized bone with pointy crab-like legs, probably as big in diameter as my young palm. I fled terrified. Years later I was near the same spot with our mutt of a dog. He was rustling like a good mutt in the tall grass. I remember seeing him squirm his head, his dog face in a grimace as if from an uncomfortable itch. I watched him scratch his ear, and would you believe it? Suddenly what had to be the same legendary white spider from years earlier was crawling across my poor dog's snout. I fled again, afraid for a few moments that the spider might sicken or kill the dog with a venomous bite.

I can't explain to you the strange respect I had for that curmudgeon of a bee. Something about watching it make its wearied rounds across its lifelong territory.

Later that night I went to a concert in an old theater building in Tacoma, Wash. The headlining band was an old Christian folk/country/alternative group, comprising three musicians who had begun their careers in separate musical groups long before this already ragtag trio. They are called The Lost Dogs, and what a fitting name. There were these three haggard men on stage, two of whom rested their old eyes behind sunglasses, singing their songs - none of which I recognized - telling old-fashioned stories of abandoned dreams and God knows what else. I'd noticed on their Web site the day before that they had just toured from some shows on the East Coast days earlier. They were an odd respectable presence, making the same rounds across the American landscape as they had probably been doing for decades.

We mourn the memory of lost dogs, but what does that mean to a dog? Have you ever noticed how even the tamest, most loyal of canines can wander away from home. The slightest whim or distraction - maybe a scent, perhaps the triggered dog thought of an old buried bone - and a dog wanders off. If you're lucky you or someone else finds the stinker strolling contentedly across a field on the other side of town, oblivious to the notion that it's actually "lost."

Who was anyone to tell these humble three gentlemen that their era had come and gone? That their legacy was a old tapestry, rapidly fading?

That bee was definitely senile, an ornery bumpkin with no reason or reasoning capacity to bother with the thought that it shouldn't sting me on its stubborn northern journey.

My parents began burning the wood of the old rotted tree house yesterday before I left, a cute little playhouse where my sister and I used to slide down from, where we played with plastic food toys. It was once a real tree house, with wallpaper, a flowerbed windowsill and fake domestic furnishing. What it was isn't really important anymore. It hasn't been an important place to me in probably close to 20 years. It's gone now. It collapsed this past winter during a windstorm, fell to the ground from between the two massive cedar trunks where it was once proudly perched.

I roasted two hot-dogs over the coals of the fire. Nothing ceremonial. I was too much in an frantic hurry to be on my way and get working on a piece of writing that was due this morning.

I suppose the memory of that little house will come back to me decades from now, maybe as some unrecognizable picture in my mind of a red mailbox in the middle of the woods, or a fraying tire swing. Perhaps I'll be wandering the trail of a park or going about my own rounds as a wizened old hermit. I'll come to those two cedar trees (which will outlast me no matter how long I live) and insist in some loony babble to my grandchildren or whoever is nearby about an old tree house that's missing from the spot or the picture in my mind.

Senility, I believe, may be the reward of old age. A transaction of our old ways for the new. Anxiety for blissful ignorance. Hurried commutes for meaningless wanderings. Repose. Long-deserved peace as a witless fool.

I wonder what became of that old spider. I'd like to interview him and write his life's story. That tree behind the old shed will always be its kingdom in my memory. A dark place of terrible knowledge for which I may have been the wiser to have experienced, had I been a brave little boy instead of a coward. Were I to venture there once more, would I find him again? Would he invite me to his lair for tea and crumpets? Or would he just spout some nonsense, bare his fangs and terrify me one last time?