Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin I (1969)

Jarek Żaba

Sound Designer and AMP Kingston Heritage Researcher, aged 35

This was one of those records I bought in my teenage phase of discovering the old rock classics; it felt like there was an obligation for me to have at least one Led Zep record to sit alongside The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Queen, Bowie et al.  

I struggle, however, to remember my initial reaction to it; I’m not certain I could have told you for sure which tracks featured on this album, and may have reached for Black Dog or When The Levee Breaks (NB: Those are on Led Zep IV). Perhaps I think all they all sound the same, or perhaps it’s just the unoriginal naming convention of their early records left me confused. 

On re-listen the opening tracks make me feel that this debut LP – released a few months before they played to The Toby Jug in Tolworth – still stands the test of time. The first four tracks in particular are as an imposing way for a record to begin as I can imagine; I suspect that feeling would be downright dizzying in 1969, prior to heavy rock’s evolution off the back of such records. 

Yet I think my favourite elements of the record aren’t necessarily those that provoke thoughts of headbanging rocking out, Plant’s hair bouncing in the wind. Rather, I like those moments that facilitate heavier sounds by speaking to other genres: the acoustic folk picking of Babe I’m Gonna Leave You; the bluesy harmonica of You Shook Me; the Indian tabla on Black Mountain Side

On the other side of the coin, perhaps the 6 minute plus length of the tracks can feel a little on the arduous side – does You Shook Me really need a call response between vocals and guitar? Truth be told, I’m not quite still in the moment come the end of the record – the 8 minutes of How Many More Times is by this stage a slog. And then the cynics among you may point towards the band’s reputation for plagiarism  – where does inspiration end and thieving begin? 

But it would be impudent to dismiss Led Zeppelin on this basis. It’s not a perfect record – but it’s a damn important one.

Kingston link:

Led Zeppelin played at The Toby Jug in Tolworth on 16/4/1969, in between the release of this record and Led Zeppelin II.

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