Picture the scene: the year is 1969 – fashion is ambiguous at best, The Beatles are about to break up and culture seems to be on the cusp of something new. The ‘summer of love’ is in the past...
Cue a dingy, smoke-filled rehearsal studio beneath a record shop in London where a young Jimmy Page, formerly of The Yardbirds, is pushing the boundaries of what people thought rock’n’roll could be. Alongside band mates John Bonham, Jon-Paul Jones and Robert Plant, the sound that would define the 1970s was already coming into being.
Led Zeppelin I exploded onto the scene shortly after, hitting the charts at number six and ten in the UK and US respectively. It was groundbreaking, making previous takes on the blues-rock genre feel comparatively bland. The record bursts out the gate with ‘Good Times, Bad Times’. Page’s pounding power chords set the tone as Bonham’s dynamic shuffles add a refreshing air of complexity.
The combination of classic blues with the louder instrumentation of the era (not to mention the unleashed sexuality) put Led Zeppelin’s debut on a new plane. Perhaps the best example of this is the second track, ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’; gentle acoustic guitar and Plant’s emotion-filled vocals are all of a sudden usurped by anthemic drums and a guitar riff that could ignite any modern arena.
This is not to say that the band have abandoned the rootsy twelve-bar stylings that they were raised on, as exhibited by the harmonica-laden ‘You Shook Me’. Even here though, the vibe is distinctly heavier and more unique, as though British rock’n’roll, far from simply parroting America, had truly come of age. The iconic ‘Communication Breakdown’ and ‘How Many More Times’ don’t even appear until the very end of the album, showing a refusal by Zeppelin to let up. The latter and final track clocks in at over eight minutes long, twisting and turning through different bluesy passages that feel almost improvised before closing on one of the heaviest riffs of the entire record.
Zeppelin’s first album is a revolution: a creative masterpiece that intricately marries the atmosphere of the late 60s, powerful equipment and really, really hard drugs. The result is a storm, and one that’s well worth your time.