Led Zeppelin “Led Zeppelin”

Ultra Fidelis’ Musical Favorites

zep_zep(A.K.A. Zeppelin I) Atlantic, 1969

It was bound to be on the list sooner or later so I might as well get it out of the way now. Zeppelin I, as it is usually called, is the genuine article, the original, the prototype for all of the future rock and rollers who would follow. But who would have thought that such a fantastic original could spawn such miserable copies for so many years to come. Led Zeppelin is credited with inventing hard rock; some even say heavy metal. But the Zep imitators most of us are familiar with are a far cry from what you’ll hear on Zeppelin I.

We are way out of ‘audiophile recording’ territory here, aren’t we? Well, yes and no. Musically, this stuff is too real and full of energy to be confused with most of the sleepy, empty, and contrived audiophile stuff. But sonically it’s actually quite amazing. Recorded back in 1969 onto analog tape, Zeppelin I can sound spectacular on a good system. Oh it’s not perfect, but strikingly vivid sounding at times, especially for a studio album of that era. Just listen to Robert Plant’s vocals on Dazed and Confused or How Many More Times. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a human voice come across with more conviction and intensity. This recording captures Plant when his voice was young and powerful. He is probably better recorded here than on any of the other nine Zep albums. Many of the tunes are blues-based but twisted in the way that only Led Zeppelin could manage to sound, where the line between blues and rock is completely blurred. If you enjoy a good scream, Plant will oblige on plenty of occasions, but most notably on “How Many More Times” where his range climbs so high that you wonder if he’s going to explode. For those who might be scared away by the mere discussion of screaming and quality of screams, there is more going on here than you think. You may not enjoy the heaviest tunes (i.e. “Dazed and Confused”) but the other stuff may be up your alley.

I suggest you listen to “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Your Time is Gonna Come” first. The latter is one of Jon’s favorite Zeppelin tunes, by the way. There is, of course, some great guitar playing from Jimmy Page and some spectacular drumming from John Bonham. But at the end of the day, it’s the band as a unit that is such fun to listen to. If there is such a thing as telepathy in a rock group doing a studio recording (and I’m not sure that there is) Led Zeppelin had it on their first effort. Everything just flows and comes together perfectly. Even when things sound sloppy (and they do at times) it just comes across as right.

As for the recording quality, it is damn good. The vocals sound particularly good. If I had to nit-pick about something, I would say that there is some thickness in the mid-bass that can make things sound a little bloated at times, but it isn’t severe. If your system makes the bass/mid-bass sound completely overblown or out of control, it is your system and not the album. A good system won’t “let go” of the bottom end. As for different versions, the regular CD is really good, about a B+ in my book. The re-mastered version is also good although the channels have been reversed for some reason. The LP remains a mystery because it goes against my theory that LPs always, always, always win. For some reason, I have not yet found a copy of the LP that can convincingly beat out the CD. And I have tried at least 30 different copies from originals (which actually are the worst!) to more recent copies, which are pretty good. A good copy of the LP will have some advantages over the CD, but also some disadvantages.

-Dave

(Note- Since the initial writing of this review, Classic Records had released Zeppelin I on vinyl. It is the best sounding version of the album I have heard, but not by the wide margin that LPs typically beat out CDs. For the record, Classic has since released Zeppelin II, III, IV, Houses of the Holy, Physical Graffiti and Presence. The sound quality varies dramatically, but in each case the Classic re-issues sound more true to the master tapes than any previous versions on LP or CD.)

 

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