The Softer Side Of Led Zeppelin

A list of some of my favorite softer Zep tunes


Apart from crunchy rockers like Good Times Bad Times, Whole Lotta Love and Black Dog, Led Zeppelin has recorded a number of softer, oftentimes more acoustically-focused tracks. I was reminded of this earlier today when listening to Thank You and thought it would be fun to put together a list of such tunes I like in particular.

Your Time Is Gonna Come (Led Zeppelin, 1969)

Written by John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, Your Time Is Gonna Come appeared on Zep’s eponymous debut album. According to Wikipedia, on this ballad about an unfaithful girl, Page used an out-of-tune Fender 10-string steel guitar. The amazing church-like-sounding organ was played by Jones, who used a pedal for the bass line. Rarely has a combination of a Hammond and out-of-tune steel guitar sounded so beautiful to me!

Thank You (Led Zeppelin II, 1969)

This gem is from the band’s second studio album and is credited to Plant and Page. The sound of Jones’ Hammond organ is similar to Your Time Is Gonna Come. The song is a tribute to Plant’s then-wife Maureen Wilson and was the first Zep tune, for which he wrote the entire lyrics.

Tangerine (Led Zeppelin III, 1970)

Composed by Page, this folk-rock ballad was included on Led Zeppelin’s third studio album. According to Wikipedia, the song’s origins date back to Page’s time with the Yardbirds when that band recorded a demo of a tune called Knowing That I’m Losing You in April 1968, which sounds very similar to Tangerine.

The Battle Of Evermore (Led Zeppelin IV, 1971)

This beautiful folk duet sung by Plant and English singer-songwriter Alexandra Elene MacLean Denny (Sandy Denny) is one of the highlights of Zeppelin’s catalog, in my opinion. Credited to Page and Plant, The Battle Of Evermore features Page on mandolin and Jones on acoustic guitar. During a 1977 interview with Dave Schulps, senior editor of Trouser Press, Page explained the tune “was made up on the spot by Robert and myself. I just picked up John Paul Jones’s mandolin, never having played a mandolin before, and just wrote up the chords and the whole thing in one sitting.” It appears Page was a quick learner!

The Rain Song (Houses Of The Holy, 1973)

This more than seven-and-a-half-minute ballad, which was written by Page and Plant, is from Zep’s fourth studio album. One of the tune’s characteristic features is a Mellotron keyboard played by Jones, which helps create the soft orchestral sound.

All My Love (In Through The Out Door, 1979)

As previously noted here, I think All My Love is the highlight of In Through The Out Door, Led Zeppelin’s eighth and final album prior to the death of drummer John Bonham. Written by Jones and Plant, the tune prominently features a Yamaha GX-1, which Jones had just bought from Keith Emerson. I totally dig the sound of this polyphonic synthesizer.

Sources: Wikipedia, Trouser Press, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Led Zeppelin/In Through The Out Door

Led Zeppelin’s 8th studio album is band’s most unusual masterpiece

In Through The Out Door is an unusual Led Zeppelin album. When it was released in August 1979, critics and fans were divided. Some felt the synthesizer-driven sound on tracks like All Of My Love and Carouselambra was forward-thinking, while others criticized the band for having abandoned its hard-charging rock sound. To me Zep’s final record prior to drummer John Bonham’s death shows a willingness to push into new sonic territory rather than simply repeating the tried and true. That’s what great bands do!

When looking at In Through The Out Door, it is also important to understand the challenging circumstances under which the record came together. A serious car accident in August 1975 had left Robert Plant unable to tour for the remainder of the year and in 1976. This had made the recording of In Through The Out Door predecessor Presence very difficult. Jimmy Page had started a heroin habit during the studio sessions. The band’s concert film The Song Remains The Same had received a lukewarm reception upon its release in October 1976. In late July 1977, Plant’s five-year-old son Karac had died from a stomach virus. Last but not least, Bonham was struggling with alcoholism.

In Through The Out Door Album Jackets
In Through The Out Door was originally available in six different album jackets

With Page and Bonham frequently not showing up in time at the recording studio, John Paul Jones and Plant took a much bigger role than on previous Zep albums, while Page’s and Bonham’s relative influence was diminished. Jones, who had obtained a Yamaha GX-1 polyphonic synthesizer from Keith Emerson, ended up getting writing credits on all except one track: Hot Dog, a rockabilly song co-written by Plant and Page. Bonham did not receive writing credits for any of the album’s seven tunes, though he was included in the credits for Darlene, which was recorded at the time but not released until 1982’s Coda, the band’s final album.

During a December 2008 interview with Uncut, Jones put the making of In Through The Out Door this way: “I had this big new keyboard. And Robert and I just got to rehearsals early, basically, and as I said… [pause] actually, I’m not sure if I did say it in this interview… [laughs]… With Zeppelin writing, if you came up with good things, and everybody agreed that they were good things, they got used. There was no formula for writing. So Robert and I, by the time everybody turned up for rehearsals, we’d written three or four songs. So we started rehearsing those immediately, because they were something to be getting on with.”

In Through The Out Door opens with In The Evening, a track that was largely written by Jones, though it is credited to him, Plant and Page. The tune introduces the fabulous sound of the GX-1, the synthesizer that is omnipresent on the album.

Fool In The Rain is an unusual track, which features a Latin samba-like section in the middle. Co-written by Jones, Plant and Page, it was also released separately and became the band’s last single.

Carouselambra, with its synthesizer-dominated sound and Page’s guitar mostly feeling like an afterthought, is Led Zeppelin’s most radical sonic departure from their previous albums. Clocking in at a mighty 10:34 minutes, it is also the band’s second longest studio recording; only In My Time Of Dying from 1975’s Physical Graffiti was longer with 11:06 minutes.

The last tune I’d like to call out is All My Love, a rock ballad in honor of Plant’s above mentioned son. Co-written by Jones and Plant, I think it is the album’s highlight. In addition to Plant’s strong vocals, I really dig the sound of Jones’ synthesizer.

According to Wikipedia, Plant, Page and Bonham expressed some reservations about the album following its release. In a December 1990 story in UK music magazine Q, Plant reportedly said: “In Through The Out Door wasn’t the greatest thing in the world, but at least we were trying to vary what we were doing, for our own integrity’s sake…In ’77, when I lost my boy, I didn’t really want to go swinging around—”Hey hey mama say the way you move” didn’t really have a great deal of import any more.”

During a 1998 interview with Guitar World, Page reportedly commented, “We [Bonham and Page] both felt that In Through The Out Door was a little soft. I was not really very keen on “All My Love.” I was a little worried about the chorus. I could just imagine people doing the wave and all of that. And I thought, ‘That is not us. That is not us.’ In its place it was fine, but I would not have wanted to pursue that direction in the future.”

In Through The Out Door was recorded between November and December 1978 at ABBA’s Polar Studios in Stockholm, Sweden – almost one year prior to its actual release by Swan Song Records. Like all of Led Zeppelin’s albums, it was produced by Page. Despite its mixed reception, the record peaked at no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and is said to have sold 1.7 million copies only within days after its release. The album also topped albums charts in the UK, Canada and New Zealand. In November 1997, it was certified six times Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Sources: Wikipedia, Uncut, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: December 27

You’d think the time between the Christmas holiday and New Year would be dead when it comes to music. At least I didn’t expect to find much when I checked my usual sources for this feature. Well, it turns out that at least for December 27, the above notion is not exactly true.

1963: In a story titled What Songs The Beatles Sang William Mann, music critic of the UK newspaper The Times wrote, “The outstanding English composers of 1963 must seem to have been John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the talented young musicians from Liverpool whose songs have been sweeping the country since last Christmas, whether performed by their own group, the Beatles, or by the numerous other teams of English troubadours that they also supply with songs.” Only two days thereafter, Sunday Times music critic Richard Buckle kicked it up a few notches, proclaiming Lennon and McCartney were “the greatest composers since Beethoven.” Even as a die-hard fan of The Beatles, I have to say that Buckle may have had a few too many eggnogs before the wrote this!

Backstage At Beatles Christmas Show

1967: Bob Dylan released his eighth studio record, John Wesley Harding. After three electric rock-focused albums – Bringing It All Back Home (March 1965), Highway 61 Revisited (August 1965) and Blonde On Blonde (May 1966) – Dylan returned to acoustic and roots music on this album, which was recorded in Nashville. John Wesley Harding was liked by critics and fans alike. It hit no. 1 on the UK Albums Chart and no. 2 on the Billboard 200. Only less than three months after it had appeared, the album was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Among others, John Wesley Harding includes All Along The Watchtower, which Jimi Hendrix widely popularized with his recording the following year. Here’s a clip of a Dylan live performance, which apparently was captured during a show in Italy in 1984.

1969: Led Zeppelin II, the English rock band’s second studio album, hit no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200. Released on October 22 that year, it was Led Zeppelin’s first record to top the charts in the U.S. and the UK. The album also became a big seller. On November 15, 1999, it was certified 12 times Platinum by RIAA. This album includes gems, such as Whole Lotta Love, The Lemon Song, Heartbreaker, Ramble On, Moby Dick and Thank You, one of my favorite acoustic Zep tunes.

1975: The Faces, one of the great British rock bands of the late ’60s and early ’70s officially called it quits. Lead vocalist Rod Stewart, who already had released six albums under his name and scored a big international hit with Sailing a few months earlier, decided to entirely focus on his solo career. Guitarist Ronnie Wood already had started recording and touring with The Rolling Stones and became an official member in February 1976. Bassist Ronnie Lane went on to form his own band, Slim Chance, while drummer Kenney Jones eventually joined The Who in November 1978, following the death of Keith Moon. Here’s a cool clip of a live performance of Stay With Me. If you ever doubted that Stewart once was a kick-ass rock & roll singer, check it out.

1980: Double Fantasy, the album credited to John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono, reached no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200, where it would stay for eight weeks, while the record’s lead single Just Like Starting Over started a five-week run as no. 1 on the singles chart. Undoubtedly, the remarkable chart performance was driven by Lennon’s tragic death on December 8 that year, when he was shot at the entrance to his Manhattan apartment building by Mark David Chapman, an apparently mentally deranged former Beatles fan. Initially, Double Fantasy had been poorly received. While I’m not particularly fond of Ono’s songs, I’ve always thought the album includes some of Lennon’s greatest tunes of his solo period. Here’s a clip of one of my favorites, Watching The Wheels.

Sources: The Beatles Bible, This Day in, Songfacts Music History Calendar, Wikipedia, YouTube

Rocking Thanksgiving Eve With Music Of The Mighty Zep

Get The Led Out Bring A Whole Lotta Love to New Brunswick Debut

What could be a greater way to kick off a long Thanksgiving weekend than with a rock & roll party featuring the music of Led Zeppelin? As a longtime fan of the band, I can’t think of any! Last night, I got exactly that with Get The Led Out bringing the music of the mighty Zep to State Theatre of New Jersey (STNJ) in New Brunswick. My one word to sum it all up? Damn!

I’ve known about this terrific band from Philly for some time. When I saw a few weeks ago they were gonna groove right in my backyard, I instantly decided to see them. Calling themselves The American Led Zeppelin, Get The Led Out or GTLO doesn’t want to look like or impersonate their heroes in any other way on stage. Instead, the band wants “to bring the studio recordings of Led Zeppelin to life in concert,” according to their website. And since Zep like many other bands relied on overdubbing to enrich their recordings with multiple instrumental and vocal tracks layered on top of each other, it takes more than four musicians to replicate this sound on stage: Six in GTLO’s case.

Get The Led Out on Stage

With Zep’s fairly sizable catalog, GTLO has plenty of material to choose from. In fact, they make it a point to never repeat the same set back-to-back to keep things fresh. That way they can also perform more of the band’s songs. So what did they play last night? In case you haven’t noticed yet, the above photo collage includes an image with the line-up of tracks, which I shamelessly grabbed from the band’s Facebook page, along with a cool shot of the audience. The 2.5-hour spectacle included two sets divided by a short intermission and a terrific three-track encore – really can’t complain about that!

After all this introduction, it’s finally time to get to some music. And how better to do this than by featuring some YouTube clips. First up: The mighty Rock And Roll from Zep’s fourth studio album Led Zeppelin IV, released in 1971. The tune is credited to all four members, John Bonham, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Robert Plant, and was a perfect opener to last night’s show.

GTLO did a great job mixing some of Zep’s furious rockers with acoustic gems. Among the latter, I thought the highlight was The Battle Of Evermore, another track from Led Zeppelin IV, written by Page and Plant. For this tune, the band brought out their terrific special guest vocalist Diana DeSantis.

With so many great songs GTLO performed last night and fortunately plenty of clips available on YouTube, it’s hard to decide what to include in this post. After kicking off the second set with a strong rendition of In The Evening, the time had come to feature the band’s kick-ass drummer Adam Ferraioli. Playing the parts of Bonham, who undoubtedly was one of the best drummers in rock history, must be pretty daunting. How did he do? Check out this clip of Moby Dick, the furious instrumental credited to Bonham, Page and Jones, which appeared on Led Zeppelin II in 1969.

Another highlight from the second set was Kashmir, the bombastic 8.5-minute tune from Physical Graffiti, Zeppelin’s sixth studio album from 1975. I will openly admit this track was an acquired taste for me, as was Zeppelin overall – somewhat hard to believe from today’s perspective! Initially, I felt Kashmir was way over the top and completely overproduced. But over the years I’ve come to dig this song, which was written by Bonham, Page and Plant. So here’s GTLO’s rendition. It was the final tune of their second set, which of course begged for more!

The three-track encore started with Over The Hills And Far Away. Written by Page and Plant, the tune appeared on Houses Of The Holy, Zep’s fifth studio album from 1973.

At that point, the show was well beyond the two-hour mark, and the time had come for GTLO to play the big enchilada I’m sure many fans had been waiting for: Stairway To Heaven, yet another tune from Zeppelin IV, credited to Page and Plant.

And since it is so much fun listening to these guys, I’m throwing in yet another clip: The final song of the night, Whole Lotta Love, the iconic opener to Led Zeppelin II. As Zep did on various occasions, parts of the song were adapted from another tune, in this case Willie Dixon’s You Need Love, recorded by Muddy Waters in 1962. Unfortunately, it took a lawsuit that was settled in 1985 to have Dixon being added to the credits, which also list Bonham, Jones, Page and Plant.

Founded in the fall of 2003, GTLO went through some changes in their early years before their current line-up: In addition to the previously mentioned drummer and percussionist Ferraiolo and guest vocalist DeSantis, the band’s members include Paul Sinclair (lead vocals, harmonica), Paul Hammond (electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin), Jimmy Marchiano (electric and acoustic guitars), Phil D’Agostino (bass, vocals) and Andrew Lipke (keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars, vocals, percussion).

A look at their bios reveals, these guys are not only true Zeppelin fans, but bring a substantial amount of talent and experience to the band. Listening to them also makes it obvious they have played together for a long time. The attention to detail is really incredible. But after all these years, the band still strives to get even closer to perfection in replicating the sound of Zep’s oftentimes complex studio recordings.

Get The Led Out Members
From left to right: Paul Hammond, Andrew Lipke, Paul Sinclair, Adam Ferraioli, Phil D’Agostino and Jimmy Marchiano

During a recent podcast with STNJ, Lipke talked about GTLO’s meticulous approach. “It’s a constant process of refining and distilling.” The following excerpt nicely illustrates his point. Referring to Stairway To Heaven, which he said the band has performed more than 600 times, Lipke added, “but even a year ago, we were listening again…and realized, ‘Wait a second, that’s not a single 12-string playing that part, it’s a double 12-string. Now let’s figure out who’s gonna play that other 12-string.”

GTLO has a heavy tour schedule that’s posted on their website. Between their next gig in Lakewood, N.J. this Sat, Nov 25 and the end of March, the band is scheduled for some 40 shows in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts and ten additional US states, and even Mississauga, Ontario, which is close to Toronto. That’s great news to all Zep fans out there!

Sources: Get The Led Out website and Facebook page, NJST “All Access” podcast, Wikipedia, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: October 22

1966: The Supremes A’ Go-Go, the ninth studio album by The Supremes hit no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200, marking the first time an all-female band reached the top of the records charts. It remained for 60 weeks on the chart and eventually sold approximately one million copies in the U.S. and 3.5 million worldwide. The record included the no. 1 hit single You Can’t Hurry Love.

1966: Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys entered the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Written by Brian Wilson with lyrics by Mike Love, the complex tune was recorded in Los Angeles at various studios over a two-month period, relying on top session musicians, according to Songfacts. At an approximate cost of $50,000, it became the most expensive pop song ever recorded at the time. Good Vibrations peaked at no. 1 in December that year, becoming one of four no. 1 singles The Beach Boys scored in the U.S. The song is widely recognized as one of the most important compositions and recordings of its time. It was ranked no. 6 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2011 and included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.

1969: Led Zeppelin released their second studio album Led Zeppelin II on Atlantic Records in the U.K. Produced by Jimmy Page, the album was recorded between January and August that year at various locations in the U.K. and North America between four European and three American tours. The record includes various of the band’s early classics, such as Heartbreaker, Ramble On, Moby Dick and the epic Whole Lotta Love, which also appeared separately as a single in the U.S. and became the band’s first hit there. The album was a huge international success, reaching no. 1 in the U.K., U.S., Canada and various other countries.

1976: Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band release Night Moves, Seger’s ninth studio album. On four of the nine songs Seger was backed by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, including Mainstreet. The record also includes the classics Night Moves and Rock And Roll Never Forgets. All three tunes were also released separately as singles. Night Moves peaked at no. 4 on Billboard Hot 100, giving Seger his first big hit since Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man from 1969. The album became Seger’s second Gold record in the U.S. and his first to receive Platinum certification. It ultimately achieved sextuple Platinum.

Sources: This Day In Music, Songfacts Music History Calendar, Songfacts, Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Led Zeppelin IV

Led Zeppelin IV remains a gem, more than 45 years after the album’s release.

Why do a post about Led Zeppelin’s fourth studio album now? Well, why not? I don’t really need a specific reason ever to write about great rock music, especially this 1971 classic. But the fact I’m musing about this album today is not entirely a coincidence either.

Yesterday, I went to an old-fashioned record store not far from my house, Revilla Grooves & Gear, and purchased three records – my first “new” vinyl albums in three decades! I’m saying “new,” since this great store almost exclusively sells previously owned vinyl records, as well as vintage Hi-Fi equipment – a place to get lost and find true treasures! And, yes, by now you probably figured it out: one of the LPs I got is Led Zeppelin IV, which until yesterday I had owned on CD only.

The first Zeppelin tune I ever heard was Stairway to Heaven, which must have been in the late 1970s. At the time, I was starting to take (Spanish) guitar lessons. The song’s acoustic opening was an immediate draw, and it wasn’t long thereafter that I asked my guitar instructor to teach me how to play it – took a while to figure it out! In fact, I’ve been practicing it again lately. But I’m no longer playing as much as I used to and have lost a good deal of dexterity, so doing it justice nowadays is not easy!

Since an 8-minute song is a tough proposition for any mainstream radio station, they always faded out Stairway during the transition to the hard rock section. I still vividly remember when I listened to the song in its entirety for the first time. I thought, ‘oh no, how could the band have ruined this beautiful acoustic masterpiece with this aggressive hard rock ending?’ Well, then, I primarily was into folk/acoustic guitar music and hardly listened to hard rock, except perhaps Deep Purple, though I don’t exactly remember whether I had already “discovered” them.

Anyway, in my case, Zep definitely was an acquired taste, including Led Zeppelin IV. Initially, I would mostly listen to Stairway, in part to play along with my acoustic guitar, and stop the tune as it transitioned to the hard rock part. But soon I did not only start to “accept” the hard rock ending, but came to realize how absolutely brilliant the tune’s build and transformation is. I also noticed that the other songs on the album weren’t “so bad after all!”Today, Led Zeppelin IV is one of my favorite albums from one of my favorite bands.

While Stairway to Heaven is the most obvious song that comes to mind when thinking about Led Zeppelin IV, there is a lot of great additional music on this album. It all starts with the opener, Black Dog, which was also released as the record’s first single in December 1971. The song features one of the coolest riffs in rock, which I was surprised to read was credited to John Paul Jones, not Jimmy Page. The single’s B-side, Misty Mountain Hop, also has a great riff. In this case, it was Page who came up with it.

Another standout on the album is The Battle of Evermore. Written by Page, this folk tune nicely illustrates that Zeppelin was more than just a terrific hard rock band (of course, Stairway shows that as well). The song, which has a mystic feel to it, features acoustic guitar and mandolin, and Robert Plant singing duet with Sandy Denny. Denny, an English singer/songwriter, was best known as the singer for the folk rock band Fairport Convention.

In addition to the many great songs on this album, I also like to highlight John Bonham and his drum-playing. While I don’t want to pretend I’m a drum expert, if I would ever start taking up the drums, which I actually have considered, Bonham would definitely be one of my idols. And once I would reach an appropriate level, I would try to learn the drums part for Stairway – I imagine a steep climb! Apart from the great guitar parts, I’ve always admired Bonham’s drumming on the song.

And what better way to finish this post than with Stairway. Here is a terrific clip of Zep’s performance of the iconic song at Madison Square Garden in July 1973. It’s taken from The Song Remains the Same, the concert documentary released in October 1976.