With its intriguing and now iconic artwork, Led Zeppelin’s self-titled debut album must have made an arresting sight for any patchouli-doused flower child sifting through record store racks back in January 1969. The Summer of Love was over, Altamont was just a few months away and the times they were a-changin’. Zeppelin may have been a product of the 60s, but their often bombastic style signposted a new decade and the arrival of a new breed of rock bands. Fortunately for Zeppelin, their first effort was every bit as dramatic, dynamic and compelling as the sleeve which bound it. Recorded at London’s Olympic Studios during October 1968, it showcased an ambitious and inventive fusion of blues and rock which paved the way for virtually every big-riffing outfit of the 70s. It wasn’t heavy metal, but it sure was heavy. Although still finding their feet and searching for a collective identity, the band were clearly brimming with confidence; so much so, in fact, that they funded these recording sessions themselves. The resulting lack of corporate meddling meant complete artistic freedom which, in turn, allowed founding guitarist Jimmy Page to pursue the clear and certain vision he had for his new band. The group were certainly well-rehearsed upon entering the studio. From the rhythmic stomp of Good Times Bad Times to bludgeoning coda How Many More Times, this is the sound of a super-tight unit ploughing through a set they’d already performed on stage countless times. Even the arrangements mirrored those worked out on the road.Alongside a clutch of stellar originals, the album highlights the band’s ability to bend cover versions to their own ends; even passionate renditions of Willie Dixon’s You Shook Me and I Can't Quit You Baby pale alongside a masterful reinvention of Anne Bredon’s Babe I'm Gonna Leave You. The centrepiece, however, is 100% Zep: the smouldering, sinister Dazed and Confused. A platform for Page’s famous violin bow histrionics, it remains one of the band’s signature songs. Compositionally, Zeppelin would go on to achieve greater things, but the performances here simply cannot be faulted. Darkly orchestrated by Page, vocalist Robert Plant, drummer John Bonham and bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones play their hearts out, expressing an eternal synergy unheard of in rock before and, some say, since.
By: Greg Moffit