Monday, November 12, 2018

Led Zeppelin and the Critics

AM's conceptual goal was to analyze music utilizing a 10 point rubric, though the site is more the celebration of rock music throughout time. Artists like Gary Clark Jr., Jack White, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness or Fleet Foxes are proof that rock and pop are as good as ever (written with only a little trepidation). We've got our pet peeves (any song with the artist tag "feat." and I throw up a little in my mouth), but find discussions of such ephemeral, and focus on what's essential. Snap judgments don't fit into the rubric; we'll leave that to Lester Bangs.

Bangs, for instance, said of Led Zeppelin's eponymous first LP that "'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You'" alternates between prissy Robert Plant's howled vocals fronting an acoustic guitar and driving choruses of the band running down a four-chord progression while John Bonham smashes his cymbals on every beat. The song is very dull in places (especially on the vocal passages), very redundant, and certainly not worth the six-and-a-half minutes the Zeppelin gives it." Seriously? It's 1969. No one has even touched upon what "the Zeppelin" was doing, and it's not just 20/20 hindsight that recognizes this. Critics love to be contrarians and naysayers and critics of AM say we "lack the critical eye, kowtowing to the self-evident." So be it; call me Catherine Obvious. In Woody Allen's Manhattan, Diane Keaton trashes, among others, Gustav Mahler, Ingmar Bergman and Van Gogh, taking a typically contrarian rhetorical approach by mispronouncing their names (that'll show them). Allen's response is that "all those people are great," a simplistic retort that merely shows the exasperation of those who appreciate for those who don't.

But back to Bangs, who reports that, "The album's most representative cut is "How Many More Times." Here a jazzy introduction gives way to a driving (albeit monotonous) guitar-dominated background for Plant's strained and unconvincing shouting (he may be as foppish as Rod Stewart, but he's nowhere near so exciting, especially in the higher registers)." Now, I have a spot in my heart reserved for "Maggie Mae" as the song playing the first time I put my hand up a girl's sweater, but Plant not nearly as exciting as Rod Stewart? Comical.

Bangs' go to band was always Cream as the harbinger of all things great in music, and his review for LZ1 concludes by beating the dead Cream horse with, "It would seem that, if they're to help fill the void created by the demise of Cream, they will have to find a producer (and editor) and some material worthy of their collective attention." (We won't mention the ill-conceived grammar or the passive voice.) LZ1 is an AM8 and rising, and seemingly only Lester Banks felt otherwise. I'll take the AM premise any day.

While Rolling Stone was getting everything wrong, Tony Palmer, in London's The Guardian got it right, knowing in 1969 what the rest of us know nearly 50 years later. As a part of our focus on Led Zeppelin, here's a portion of Palmer's article:
On the west coast of America, in San Francisco, there is a famous concert hall called the Fillmore Auditorium. It's run by a wisecracking, loud-mouthed magician called Bill Graham. To be invited to play there is like receiving the gold medal from the Philharmonic Society – you've arrived.
Whether by accident or design, Graham has succeeded in launching most of the international pop groups whose claim to fame is musical rather than fashionable. Cream, Jimi Hendrix and the Who all owe a great deal to his fanatical championship. And at the beginning of January, he promoted a new group called, rather enigmatically, Led Zeppelin. If their LP is anything to go by, he has discovered a worthy successor to the defunct Cream. For their first LP, the group had advance orders for 50,000 copies in California alone; wherever they played, they got standing ovations. 
They're all in their 20s and extravagantly hirsute in the current manner. They started as a group in November last year and the LP now released is the product of their first improvisations together. They rely on formalized beginnings and endings and leave the rest to the mood of the moment, and they are complete masters of their material. They bend and twist the simplest of lines into architectural caverns of sound, careful but throbbing with violence. Their music crouches like a giant panther and shudders like a mighty jet waiting to leap down the runway.