The deck was stacked against Led Zeppelin from the get-go. Besides rising from the embers of the Yardbirds, they arrived at a time when the “supergroup” concept had already made consumers wary. But unlike some of those bands—Blind Faith, the Jeff Beck Group and Crosby, Stills & Nash, for example—Led Zeppelin rose to the occasion with their debut LP and enjoyed something else those bands didn’t: longevity. In fact, outside of The Beatles, they’re the only major band of the rock era that never put out a bad album.
“Good Times Bad Times” is a perfect opener to an almost perfect album. It takes a simple chord change and turns it upside and backwards in 2:50. “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” starts off in such a way that we don’t realize new ground is being broken for how music is to be made. This has the balance of light and shade the band envisioned when they first got together. “You Shook Me” may or may not have been recorded specifically to piss Jeff Beck off, but showcases organ and harmonica for variety. It’s also a better demonstration of Led Zeppelin as a band compared to Beck’s group, which comes off more as a guitar-based power trio plus singer. The end piece where the vocal matches the guitar note for note is priceless and should be attempted by no one else. It crumbles down into the menacing bassline for “Dazed And Confused”. Yes, Jimmy Page stole the song from Jake Holmes, but he also improved it. While the original dealt with a bad trip, this is a trip to hell. And that’s a perfect album side.
“Your Time Is Gonna Come” begins side two with an extended organ workout not dissimilar to The Band’s “Chest Fever”; it’s moments like this that show just how valuable John Paul Jones was to the chemistry of this band. It may be the weakest song on the album lyrically, but it’s still great, even with Robert Plant’s Chicano vocalizations. The song fades down into “Black Mountain Side” (descended from the Yardbirds instrumental “White Summer”), complete with tabla. This diverts us long enough before the amphetamine rush of “Communication Breakdown”. Similar to “Good Times Bad Times” in its attack, it also worked well as a concert opener. “I Can’t Quit You Baby” sounds at first like a retread of “You Shook Me”, except for that A to B flat change after each verse that makes it superior. Then it’s right into another deceptively low-key bass intro. “How Many More Times” takes blues clichés from all over the place, as well as Jeff Beck. There’s some bowing in the midsection and Plant extrapolates on a variety of themes. The sleeve says it’s only 3:30, but it goes a full five minutes longer until a gloriously raucous ending.
Led Zeppelin is simply a great album. And while it was only their first, nearly all the ingredients that define their catalog are in place. Such was the economy of the album that 45 years later, Page apparently didn’t find anything from the studio sessions to bolster the Deluxe Edition of the album, choosing instead to devote the second disc to the better part of an October 1969 concert in Paris originally broadcast on French radio. It’s a great show, from “Communication Breakdown” (then including a 40-second “Good Times Bad Times” intro) through a 15-minute “Dazed And Confused”, and nine minutes of “White Summer/Black Mountain Side”. Still, it might have been more historically interesting had they used an earlier show, as opposed to one recorded on the eve of the release of the second album.
Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin (1969)—4½
2014 Deluxe Edition: same as 1969, plus 8 extra tracks