I heard Led Zeppelin for the first time on John Peel’s Saturday afternoon radio show, and was so shaken up that I had to buy their debut album.
I loved the way they riffed along, propelled by John Bonham’s incredibly tight drumming. But what struck me most about the Led Zeppelin album was Robert Plant’s voice. They used it as more of an extra instrument than just somebody singing. There are a lot of gaps in the band’s music, but they whack on the delay and use them perfectly.
Led Zeppelin may be old, but certain albums will always stand the test of time. A song like Communication Breakdown lasts alongside any contemporary rock music.
I suppose if you wanted to pick a few technical holes then that’s possible; it was recorded in 36 hours, after all. I was never a great fan of the band’s lyrics – Robert sometimes sang ‘Baby, baby, baby’ or ‘Oh woman’ too often – but it didn’t matter.
Two years later, when Budgie’s self-titled debut album was released, some critics likened us to Black Sabbath and Grand Funk Railroad. Without being disparaging, those comparisons were both completely inaccurate. But we were proud to have been influenced by Led Zeppelin. Although we didn’t have anything like that voice, we were already riffing away ourselves.
Some of the tracks on Led Zeppelin sounded like they were being jammed, but there’s a real magic in that. Good Times Bad Times is the perfect way to kick off an album; and I prefer the studio version of Dazed And Confused to the live one on The Song Remains The Same.
I also like what they did with Willie Dixon’s You Shook Me, although their electrified versions of Chicago blues songs caused some to accuse them of plagiarism. To me, that was complete rubbish. Zeppelin were covering songs by artists whose time had gone, bringing them new respect. No way did any of their treatment of those songs sound like black Delta bluesmen.
Some of my all-time favourite Zeppelin tracks, like Kashmir and Black Dog, are on other albums, but hearing the band for the first time was an experience that could never be beaten. A bit like your first girlfriend, I suppose.
Led Zeppelin changed everything in rock music. It was an ending to what had gone before and a whole new starting point. Ritchie Blackmore once admitted that after hearing Planty’s voice Deep Purple had to get rid of Rod Evans and find someone like Ian Gillan who could scream. That, to me, says it all.
Burke Shelley was talking to Dave Ling.