When was the last time you said “Holy Shit!” about a musical experience you had recently?
Let’s start with when rock wore the crown…
They say that in your life most of the things you will do, the people you meet and the places you go will ultimately get discarded in time like an old skin into the ether of your past experiences. Only to surface now and again as distant glimpses of fading memories.
And what few things that stay with you through the years are the only things that ultimately mattered in your life.
Music was all that mattered once.
Before all the other distractions.
When rock and roll was king.
When you waited on pins and needles for that big record release day of your favorite band and ran to the record store (there was no iTunes to download it from) to snatch up your fresh copy.
Then you ran home to tear into the wrapper and behold the artwork of a brand new album. Something large enough to hold in your two hands. You turned it over to try and catch a vibe on where this album was going to take you. What the next chapter was going to sound like.
And you were pumped!
Then you would carefully remove the virgin vinyl from the sleeve, the pristine new grooves glistening like the rings around Saturn. You glimpsed that record label and smiled like you were viewing your home team’s colors again after a long time out on the road before you placed it carefully on the turntable.
Finally, you positioned the tone arm over the edge of the record and dropped the needle to hear that first pop as the speakers woke up. There was always this heightened anticipation for me that came in those couple seconds of silence before that first note hit.
And then you kicked back and took this brave new musical journey with your heroes start to finish. There was no channel surfing songs. No emails to answer. No texts to check. There were no other distractions to make you feel like you were missing out on the action.
This Was The Action
It was play side one, flip it and then straight through side two. You wanted the whole movie. Non-stop. Right now!
And the only way to share your enthusiasm was to run over to your friend’s house with the record under your arm and turn them on. Just to watch their face light up too.
It was pure analog experience.
That’s what it was like when rock and roll was king.
When bands were made up of real rock stars.
Been a Long Time Since I Rock and Rolled
Led Zeppelin’s “Celebration Day” really brought it all back home for me.
When I received my DVD copy in the mail of Led Zeppelin’s Celebration Day, which brilliantly captures their 2007 reunion concert at London’s O2 Arena, I was 15 again. It’s a tribute to the late legendary music mogul and founder of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun, who signed the band.
I ran downstairs to my studio, tore open the packaging and checked the artwork and pull-outs, just like the old days. Then I popped in the DVD and cranked it up. (A must. You can’t simply listen to this at an acceptable volume. It needs to be played LOUD!)
And suddenly you are there. It’s like you’re standing onstage with the greatest rock and roll band in the world. Because you are!
And the production is absolutely breathtaking. Sonically and visually.
Watching this incredible concert left me in a state of equal parts disbelief and sadness.
Disbelief that these guys could still get up there on that big stage in their mid sixties and deliver a show so powerful and unforgettable as to make you a kid again pumping your fists, bopping your head and tapping your foot nonstop to songs that have stood the test of time and still sound totally fresh today.
The sadness is the realization that Led Zeppelin ruled the kingdom of rock and roll in a time that will likely be remembered as the Golden Age of Electric Music. A time that has now sadly come and gone.
I was 7 years old when my babysitter came over in his deerskin fringe jacket with his fresh copy of Led Zeppelin II and dropped that needle on “Whole Lotta Love.” I was never the same since.
Am I a fan? Hell YES! Does it matter if you weren’t and want to know how rock and roll is supposed to sound? Hell NO! Buy this DVD! See for yourself.
Led Zeppelin put on a performance that night truly worthy of the legend that bears their name and reminds us why they are a band that always was (and still is) without peer.
Led Zeppelin Mattered
They came from a time when bands endeavored to create music that was built to withstand the ages, like Rome or The Pyramids.
To see Jimmy Page with his tousled white hair, Robert Plant with his weathered face and John Paul Jones sans the boyish pageboy haircut he once sported in The Song Remains The Same, their most famous live album released back in 1975, is to witness the passage of time we all must accept.
Lasting qualities: “The Song Remains the Same”
But as the concert unfolds, the years begin to fall away. You see those same facial contortions on Page’s face when he’s just going for it. The same ones that used to grace the covers of Guitar Player, Hit Parader and Rolling Stone back in their prime. It’s still the same Jimmy Page in there, blowing out some of the greatest rock and roll riffs of all time.
Plant still has the stage poses, the signature hand gestures, the vocal twists and turns. If he can’t hit all the high notes now, he more than makes up for it by playing with them with that same whimsical improvisational magic that put him at the pinnacle of rock and roll vocalists. He sounds fucking amazing!
John Paul Jones is older too with that same stoic face. But when you hear the bass line to “Black Dog,” you realize this is the guy that wrote that classic riff and so many other incredible bass lines that set the bar for many rock and roll bass players to come. And then he sits down at the keyboards and reminds you the depth of his musical prowess.
And then there’s Jason Bonham, who had to step in and fill the shoes of arguably the greatest drummer in rock and roll, his late father, John Bonham. And he does an incredible job of honoring his father’s legend by playing to the letter some of the heaviest grooves ever laid down on vinyl or in any live arena.
Rumor has it that he owns and studied every live show ever recorded by Zeppelin and actually taught the band things they used to do that they had long since forgotten.
The Chemistry Here is Undeniable
Whatever personal or political battles you heard about over the years between the members is left in suspended animation. For one night, they played a Led Zeppelin concert at full tilt boogie and left no doubt as to the supremacy of the their brand.
Yeah, there were some cool Zep spin off combos over the years. I loved the Jimmy Page & The Black Crowes project. Great album! Great tour! Them Crooked Vultures was a very cool pairing of rock icons too. The Firm flirted with potential.
But when you hear the real deal, even 40 years after its inception with all the original members and one blood substitute it brings the legend back to front and center.
And front and center above all else is the music.
It’s in the swagger. The infectious groove. The adventurousness of the compositions. Nothing ever sounded like Led Zeppelin and nothing ever will.
To hear “In My Time Of Dying” with all it’s twists and turns is to witness the crux of the British Invasion all over again. The alchemy of blending delta blues and electric rock and roll that built the careers of Zeppelin, Cream and The Stones among so many others.
Seriously, I had to ask myself why even write this piece? Who cares, right? Is it just the ramblings of a lifelong fan lamenting an era bygone? Or is it something more?
Is it maybe that Led Zeppelin and the body of work they left to rock and roll is simply head and shoulders above anyone else out there today? And begs us to take another look at what is musically possible again?
NOW we’re talking serious longevity.
Comparing Led Zeppelin to the music of today would be like growing up nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas and looking up, thinking they were the tallest mountains in the world. Behind them were always misty clouds.
And then one day you ventured far out into the fields and looked back on a clear day where you spy Everest for the first time looming high above the foothills.
And You Realize What Heights We Were Capable of When Rock and Roll Was King
I’m sorry. There’s simply no comparison.
In one crashing chord, Celebration Day lays to waste all of the innocuous Tweets and Likes and status updates we waste our time on and take as important daily activities we all must partake in now. Time that once upon a time was spent in the shadows creating greatness.
Seriously, when was the last time you dug back into your Twitter archives to reminisce over 140 characters of genius you read once so you could feel good again? Or a pin someone shared with you?
Time was, to hear “Stairway To Heaven” once more on the radio when I was a teenager was to cringe. It was the brunt of so many bad jokes at the junior high school proms when you slow danced to a really bad cover version.
But it’s only because after being crowned one of the greatest rock and roll ballads of all time, the world couldn’t stop playing it to death and trying to emulate it because it was head and shoulders above anything that had come before it.
Everyone tried to write the next one. Most failed.
But when you hear it on Celebration Day, played by the original composers, it’s like beholding music broken down to elemental chemistry. The essential building blocks of immortality.
And there are so many songs like this in Led Zeppelin’s canon. “Kashmir,” “Dazed And Confused,” “No Quarter,” “Black Dog,” “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” “Whole Lotta Love.”
Songs that are so much larger than life. Each infused with these unforgettable musical moments, riffs and melodies that are imbedded in our collective DNA.
Who Could You Say This About Today?
Don’t take this the wrong way.
This isn’t some rant from some angry old fan about what’s wrong with music today and how it all used to be so amazing once.
Trust me. Hard as this is to say, after seeing The Who during this last concert for the victims of Hurricane Sandy it’s like, ‘Enough already guys.’ It felt like Daltrey was some old heavyweight boxer flailing away before he hits the mat for the last time. Which is not to say Zack Starkie doesn’t play his ass off. But as a band? That legendary band?! Sorry guys. It’s over.
How can you stand among Messrs. Jones, Plant & Page?
Yes, there is notice to be taken for sure of some very cool new artists. I love Jack White and Adele really is a superstar. Gary Clarke, Junior? I dig it. Will they build a body of work that resonates for generations to come? I guess only time will tell. But I have my doubts.
Who Has The Time To Build a Legacy Anymore?
There’s too many distractions. There’s no more money in music. Not on the level that allowed you to focus on nothing else but creating amazing art. Not rockstar money. Fools go into this today looking to get rich.
If you get a hit today someone offers you a movie deal or a clothing line or a TV show for real money and it’s on to the real big time.
I wrote this not as a sad lament but as an open letter of hope for rock and roll.
The legend of Led Zeppelin lives on because they took rock and roll music to unimaginable heights and set the standard for others to beat. Celebration Day is an eye opening reminder. As far as I can tell, nobody has even come close.
People need to play less with computers and more with other human beings again. (Yeah, I own a Pro Tools studio too). Share ideas in real time and surf that pipeline of possibility by taking real chances playing music together.
Not stopping so fast to hit the “Send” button when a song idea comes together, just so we can get it out there to our fans to show them we’re still busy.
Do you know how many renditions of “Sympathy For The Devil” the Stones experimented with before they landed on the version we know today?
Do that again.
Want To Become The Next Led Zeppelin?
Dream on. There will never be another like them.
Want your fans to rave about you for decades to come?
Give them something so unforgettable, so undeniably obvious that your work demonstrates the pinnacle of human possibility and could not possibly get any better. Then be able to do it again. And again after that. Maybe then you will be remembered.
That’s what it was like when rock and roll was king.