Words by Tom Pimlott
After I had finished the painstaking process of compiling my list, fuelled by Bar Burrito, I was actually quite surprised to find that only three of my choices were from the 1960s. Although, I suppose they cover the aspects of 60s production that I love, except for the Philthiest Phil of them all Mr Spector, who is not represented here but is the undisputed master of his own bathwater no questions about it. Anyway, on with the records…
Six years passed from the release of our last entry in this series to this one, and the stylistic and sonic shift just goes to show how quickly things were moving in the still quite new world of rock and roll back then. The A-side of this record, along with the single that preceded it (‘You Really Got Me’), is one of the major pieces of the bridge that eventually linked the first-wave rock and roll ravers like Chuck Berry to the punk and metal bands that we know, love and play in today.
If I’m being honest, this record would have made the list even if it was only the first five seconds on repeat. The guitar sound here is one of my personal holy grails, and was apparently accidental. Lead guitar player Dave Davies, out of sheer frustration with the underwhelming sound coming from his Elpico amplifier, sliced the speaker cone with a razor blade and poked it with a pin, creating that instantly recognisable dog-rough fuzz tone. But even so, the guitar tone isn’t the only thing that sounds great here. The drum kit sounds incredible, huge and undampened, it’s ringing and thumping all over the place, filling in those gaps like lead polyfilla (not unlike a certain crew of Aussies would a decade later).
It’s rough, tough, natural and full of hot air. A perfect weapon, then, to spearhead an invasion…
As a music fan, citing something as a favourite record of all time is not a statement that should be thrown around too lightly. In this case however, there’s absolutely zero hesitation in throwing this slab in the top ten list of my most beloved records of all time. Not a bad accolade for an LP that mostly leans on R&B/rock and roll cover songs, but such was the time, and if it was good enough for the Rolling Stones’ best album then its a good enough way to do things for anyone.
‘Aggression’ in a musical sense seems to be a term mostly reserved for records in the realm of punk, hardcore, metal etc, but the performances on this record have more raw aggression in them than most of Bridge 9’s releases put together. There was only one microphone on those drums. ONE. The drum break on ‘Do You Love Me?” at the 1:55 mark makes me lose my mind. It sounds like he’s trying to kick the entire kit out of the door and into the street. You just can’t do that with ten mics and Pro Tools. Yeah, it might sound good objectively, but you’ll never capture the soul that engineer Kearney Barton was able to get by placing one microphone next to the drummer’s head, straight into a two-track tape recorder. His logic? The listener would hear what the drummer heard as he was playing.
Every part of this record sounds like it’s moving, sweating, breathing and being pushed into the red at all times. Even the vocals wail into overdrive territory, making them sound even more manic and complimenting yet more split-cone guitar sound. Never was a band more aptly named. Sonic perfection.
I’m sure that, when talking in terms of sound and production, most people would go with ‘IV’ when it comes to choosing a Zeppelin record to talk about. They’d talk about the booming drums recorded in the hallway of Headley Grange, the architect-like layers of sound and the great engineering and mixing work from Andy Johns via the mobile studio owned by the Rolling Stones. All of this is fantastic and I love ‘IV’. However, I’m drawn to rawness and simplicity like a moth to a flame, and the first album hits that spot just right for me. Production aside for a second, this could well be my favourite Led album based on songs alone, with their best opener in ‘Good Times, Bad Times’, their best closing track ‘How Many More Times’, and my favourite of their slow blues dirges, ‘Dazed And Confused’, which was actual stolen almost wholesale from acoustic musician Jake Holmes. Born out of the band’s original conception as the New Yardbirds, the record is a ridiculous mix of evolved Yardbirds songs (‘Communication Breakdown’ was born from a jam based on the Yardbirds’ version of ‘Train Kept A-Rollin’), stolen songs from Jeff Beck and Holmes, and uncredited old blues standards. Yet, there is a certain magic that causes you to overlook all of this insane plagiarism. Firstly, they might be mostly stolen songs, but Led Zeppelin certainly pull out all the stops to make them their own. Also, due to the band not having signed to Atlantic yet when they entered the studio thus not having major label funding behind them, plus Jimmy’s urging that the record should be made to sound as close to the live experience as possible, the record was recorded, mixed and mastered in just a few weeks for a mere £1000. The sound is clear and dry, yet still sounds huge, and there is definitely a young and excited energy to the performances, despite Page and Jones having their clinical session guy background. The band specifically intended to have minimal overdubs on the record, as the band were to hit the road in the USA before the record even came out, and Page wanted the sound on stage to be exactly what the kids buying the album heard when they dropped the needle. The huge and bombastic nature of the style and production on this record also signified both a musical and cultural change. The sixties were drawing to a close, this new heavy music was on the rise, and the hippie generation was about to be pushed aside by it’s little brothers and sisters, failed by flower power and just wanting to bang their heads.
Next up, the 1970s…