Study Guide

Jimmy Page

Jimmy Page Essay - Critical Essays

Page, Jimmy

Introduction

Jimmy Page 1944– Robert Plant 1948–

British songwriters and filmmakers. Page and Plant are the two focal points of the premier heavy-metal rock band, Led Zeppelin, a group which for ten years has explored various musical forms and techniques while still adhering to their blues roots. By combining music both delicate and powerful with lyrics that reflect an interest in mystical and physical subjects, Led Zeppelin has developed a fanatical following and a reputation for always providing their audiences with the unexpected. They are the first band to have broken international concert attendance records set by the Beatles, and have spawned scores of imitators. Many critics and fans agree that they are the current embodiment of the quintessential rock band. Much of the credit for the group's success is given to Page, their leader and lead guitarist. Page was a member of the legendary blues-based group, the Yardbirds. When it folded in 1968, Page was left with the responsibility of completing a series of unfulfilled contractual obligations which prompted him to form Led Zeppelin with vocalist Plant, bassist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham. Led Zeppelin expanded on the ground broken by the Yardbirds, Cream, and the Jeff Beck Group and redefined the genre these bands began with their spontaneous vocal improvisations, unusual chord progressions, and forceful instrumentation. Their song "Whole Lotta Love" is considered the classic representation of all these elements. Both Page and Plant collaborate on ideas for their music, but Plant is most often considered responsible for the band's lyrical stance. Often alluding to traditional English ballads, folklore, and works of fantasy such as J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Plant's lyrics create their own imaginative mythology with songs like "The Battle of Evermore" and "Stairway to Heaven," the latter being most consistently regarded as the band's best work. The lyrics often refer to sixties-based concerns such as universal love and world peace, causing Plant to be criticized as a naive, outdated flower child. Plant's darker side has also emerged in Led Zeppelin's lyrics, many of which are overtly sexual and often considered chauvinistic. The band has also been charged with lifting lyrics and music from uncredited blues sources and for creating music that is ponderous, boring, and excessive. Their film, The Song Remains the Same, has been criticized for similar reasons. However, Led Zeppelin is still looked to for music that is both physically exciting and spiritually uplifting, and despite sporadic album releases and tours, personal misfortune, and changing musical tastes, they remain among the favorite groups of many young people.

John Mendelsohn

[The] excesses of the [Jeff Beck Group's] Truth album (most notably its self-indulgence and restrictedness), are fully in evidence on Led Zeppelin's debut album [Led Zeppelin].

Jimmy Page, around whom the Zeppelin revolves, is, admittedly, an extraordinarily proficient blues guitarist and explorer of his instrument's electronic capabilities. Unfortunately, he is also a very limited producer and a writer of weak, unimaginative songs, and the Zeppelin album suffers from his having both produced it and written most of it (alone or in combination with his accomplices in the group). (pp. 6-7)

The album's most representative cut is "How Many More Times." Here a jazzy introduction gives way to a driving (albeit monotonous) guitar-dominated background for Plant's strained and unconvincing shouting (he may be as foppish as Rod Stewart, but he's nowhere near so exciting, especially in the higher registers). A fine Page solo then leads the band into what sounds like a backwards version of the Page-composed "Beck's Bolero," hence to a little snatch of Albert King's "The Hunter," and finally to an avalanche of drums and shouting.

In their willingness to waste their considerable talent on unworthy material the Zeppelin has produced an album which is sadly reminiscent of Truth. Like the Beck group they are also perfectly willing to make themselves a two- (or, more accurately, one-and-a-half) man show. It would seem that, if they're to help fill the void created by the demise of...

(The entire section is 633 words.)

John Mendelsohn

Hey, man, I take it all back! [Led Zeppelin II] is one fucking heavyweight of an album! OK—I'll concede that until you've listened to the album eight hundred times, as I have, it seems as if it's just one especially heavy song extended over the space of two whole sides. But, hey! you've got to admit that the Zeppelin has their distinctive and enchanting formula down stonecold, man. Like you get the impression they could do it in their sleep….

"Whole Lotta Love," which opens the album, has to be the heaviest thing I've run across (or, more accurately, that's run across me) since "Parchmant Farm" on [Blue Cheer's] Vincebus Eruptum….

Anyhow … Robert Plant, who is rumored to sing some notes on this record that only dogs can hear, demonstrates his heaviness on "The Lemon Song." When he yells "Shake me 'til the juice runs down my leg," you can't help but flash on the fact that the lemon is a cleverly-disguised phallic metaphor. Cunning Rob, sticking all this eroticism in between the lines just like his blues-beltin' ancestors!

John Mendelsohn, "'Led Zeppelin II'" (originally published in Rolling Stone, December 13, 1969), in The Rolling Stone Record Review by the editors of Rolling Stone (copyright © 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, by Straight Arrow Publishers. Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Pocket Books, 1971, p. 8.

Lester Bangs

I keep nursing this love-hate attitude toward Led Zeppelin. Partly from genuine interest and mostly indefensible hopes, in part from the conviction that nobody that crass could be all that bad, I turn to each fresh album expecting—what? Certainly not subtle echoes of the monolithic Yardbirds, or authentic blues experiments, or even much variety. Maybe it's just that they seem like the ultimate Seventies Calf of Gold.

The Zep, of all bands surviving, are today—their music is as ephemeral as Marvel comix, and as vivid as an old Technicolor cartoon. It doesn't challenge anybody's intelligence or sensibilities, relying instead on a pat visceral impact that will insure absolute stardom for many moons to come. Their albums refine the crude public tools of all dull white blues bands into something awesome in its very insensitive grossness, like a Cecil B. DeMille epic. If I rely so much on visual and filmic metaphors, it's because they apply so exactly….

Their third album deviates little from the track laid by the first two, even though they go acoustic on several numbers. Most of the acoustic stuff sounds like standard Zep graded down decibelwise, and the heavy blitzes could've been outtakes from Zeppelin II. In fact, when I first heard the album my main impression was the consistent anonymity of most of the songs—no one could mistake the band, but no gimmicks stand out with any special...

(The entire section is 514 words.)

Bruce Harris

There's something absurd about reviewing an album like [Led Zeppelin III]. It's like reviewing Love Story. No one is the least interested in what you say. Don't expect mass audiences to turn away from Love Story to go see an Italian western just because Bruce Harris said that the combined talent that went into making the movie wouldn't be enough to come up with an effective circular for the A&P.

Likewise, there isn't a reason in the world why Led Zeppelin should even bother to be good, having the charts sewn up the way they do, but the fact is, music lovers, that on this LP, if not on their previous two, the Zep have demonstrated that they are first-rate supermusicians, and that, with the current drought in Rock artistry, they aren't only good, they're one of the best….

Immigrant Song, for instance, is one of the best things Led Zeppelin has ever done, and it's a pleasure to hear it on Top 40 Radio, not only because it drowns out the squeals of James Taylor and Elton John, but because Immigrant Song is not only louder, it's better: "How soft your fields so green/Can whisper tales of gore/Of how we calmed the tides of war,/We are your overlords./On we sweep with threshing oar,/Our only goal will be, the western shore." That's poetry. No, it isn't great. Yes, it is sophomoric. But it is on Top 40 radio, and yes, yes, yes, it is a far cry from "Sugar, Sugar, Honey, Honey, You are...

(The entire section is 450 words.)

Jon Landau

Three or four years ago, rock reviewing was less problematic than it is today. For one thing, you knew what to write about. The Byrds, the Animals, the Dead, the Airplane, and the Beach Boys were fit subjects for comment; Gerry and the Pacemakers, Dave Clark and Freddie and the Dreamers were not. The Beatles, the Stones, and Dylan were the first inductees to rock's (as opposed to rock and roll's) pantheon; after that, everyone bowed in the direction of San Francisco and underground British groups until the appearance of Led Zeppelin.

Zeppelin forced a revival of the distinction between popularity and quality. As long as the bands most admired aesthetically were also the bands most successful...

(The entire section is 274 words.)

Lenny Kaye

It might seem a bit incongruous to say that Led Zeppelin—a band never particularly known for its tendency to understate matters—has produced an album [#&@%] which is remarkable for its low-keyed and tasteful subtlety, but that's just the case here. The march of the dinosaurs that broke the ground for their first epic release has apparently vanished, taking along with it the splattering electronics of their second effort and the leaden acoustic moves that seemed to weigh down their third. What's been saved is the pumping adrenaline drive that held the key to such classics as "Communication Breakdown" and "Whole Lotta Love," the incredibly sharp and precise vocal dynamism of Robert Plant, and some of the...

(The entire section is 452 words.)

Mike Bourne

The point is this: even the most trivial art offers some virtue, even the most evanescent entertainment, even the most utter jive, even Led Zeppelin.

To hear a retrospective of their music is to recognize a variety, or simply a musiciality, that never before seemed evident. Not that their fourth LP [#&@%] proves all that exhilarating but in listening I realize a certain jadedness in myself; too often I've accepted their more egregious Top-40 like The Lemon Song (possibly the worst rock song ever) as their noisome hallmark—and this is not always so….

[Despite] all the vile humors I've spewed upon the band, the music of Led Zeppelin is at least amusing….

...

(The entire section is 179 words.)

Lester Bangs

Robert Plant, the original hippie, has been responsible for all of Led Zeppelin's lyrics, and his peacelove doves and mushy stairways are all over Houses of the Holy. This is the first Zep set where they made the mistake of printing the lyrics; if they hadn't, we might have missed gems like "I got my flower, I got my power," or prime Rowan Brothers stuff like "Hare Hare" and "Singing in the Sunshine, laughing in the rain …"

That kind of stuff may bug you the first few playings if you bother to notice it, but that's not what pulls this album down from being a true masterpiece like their last one. Plant's just the easiest member to pick on, and Houses is as erratic as Zeppelin have been...

(The entire section is 555 words.)

Steve Simels

The Zep is a band for which I have a sort of grudging respect; all their albums have had a few incandescent moments surrounded by great heaping gobs of overblown silliness, but those incandescent moments have been definitive rock-and-roll. The problem has always seemed to me that Jimmy Page (who is the group, for all intents) is either afflicted with a cynical contempt for his audience (justifiable, I'm afraid) or, less likely, blessed with extremely fitful good taste (there are too many moments when the only reaction to his music has to be "he must know better"). (p. 111)

Steve Simels, in Stereo Review (copyright © 1973 Ziff-Davis Publishing Company),...

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Chris Welch

"Led Zeppelin" was and still is one of the finest rock albums devised, one that gave birth to a whole school of rock thought, and provided stimulus to countless other groups….

This was the first "heavy" band…. The combination of feeling, technical ability and raw energy was quite overwhelming….

Zeppelin were a revolution in 1969, but a lot has happened since then, and many imitators have passed under the bridge, let alone a whole breed of groups who have taken rock music to new frontiers.

There is no earthly reason Page should not take what he has already pioneered and polished, and simply go on producing vibrant and yet essentially humanist hard rock, with...

(The entire section is 180 words.)

Michael Oldfield

["Physical Graffiti" is] a work of genius, a superbly performed mixture of styles and influences that encompasses not only all aspects of Led Zep's recording career so far but also much of rock as a whole.

This is not just a collection of great tracks, but a perfectly balanced selection of music that weighs heavy rock with acoustic, ballad with out-and-out rocker in such a way that you can play the album non-stop day and night without ever needing to pause for a bit of peace.

And for one of the world's heaviest bands, that's some achievement….

[Led Zep] are, if you like, one of the few "progressive" bands left—you remember them, the groups who were always going...

(The entire section is 494 words.)

Jim Miller

[With] the release of Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin's sixth album, the question [of what group is the world's best rock band] has actually become relevant. This two-record set, the product of almost two years' labor, is the band's Tommy, Beggar's Banquet and Sgt. Pepper rolled into one: Physical Graffiti is Led Zeppelin's bid for artistic respectability.

In a virtual recapitulation of the group's career, Physical Graffiti touches all the bases. There's a blues ("In My Time of Dying") and a cosmic-cum-heavy ballad ("In the Light"); there's an acoustic interlude ("Bron-Y-Aur") and lots of bludgeoning hard rock, still this band's forte ("Houses of the Holy," "The...

(The entire section is 950 words.)

Jaan Uhelski

Physical Graffiti can stand on its own historically without the support of Zep's five other million sellers, but inevitably the cuts on this album will be scrutinized with Nancy Drew-like precision in search of a successor to "Stairway" or an equal to "Rock and Roll." Graffiti is, in fact, a better album than the other five offerings, the band being more confident, more arrogant in fact, and more consistent. The choice of material is varied, giving the audience a chance to see all sides of the band. Equal time is given to the cosmic and the terrestrial, the subtle and the passionate.

The exotic and musky "Kashmir" is intriguing in its other-worldliness. Jimmy Page's grinding, staccato...

(The entire section is 401 words.)

Chris Welch

Of all the great British groups that emerged towards the end of the sixties, [Led Zeppelin] represented the most raw and powerful approach to music, combining an intelligence and expertise, that made their appeal, to the vast bulk of fans, irresistible….

For many fans "Led Zeppelin" is still the definitive album by the group. There was a pace, an electrifying atmosphere about the pieces. And the way they blended into each other, especially the fade on "Your Time Is Gonna Come," leading into the unexpected Indian flavour of "Black Mountain Side," with Viram Jasani on tabla, gave the album a sense of performance that many a concept album has lacked.

The sizzling, spine-chilling...

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Bud Scoppa

[Led Zeppelin plays] a basic, sinewy brand of music that depends for its impact more on simple relentlessness than on dramatic development. Not many bands could get away with working within such a simple framework, but Led Zeppelin takes a seemingly arrogant delight in flattening everything in its path through a perfect execution of fundamentals.

In the Sixties, it would have been hard to imagine a band like Zeppelin winning a mass following (it may now be the most popular single attraction in rock) with such hard, uncompromising music, but this outfit has certain other characteristics that have combined with its raw sound to make it appealing in a very broad way. One of the most important of these...

(The entire section is 1119 words.)

Stephen Davis

Led Zeppelin's seventh album confirms this quartet's status as heavy-metal champions of the known universe. Presence takes up where last season's monumentally molten Physical Graffiti left off—few melodies, a preoccupation with hard-rock rhythm, lengthy echoing moans gushing from Robert Plant and a general lyrical slant toward the cosmos….

Physical Graffiti was a penultimate of sorts ("Trampled Under Foot" was the hardest rock ever played by humans, while "Kashmir" must be the most pompous) and the new record certainly tries to keep up. The opening track, "Achilles Last Stand," could be the Yardbirds, 12 years down the road. The format is familiar: John Bonham's furiously...

(The entire section is 313 words.)

James Wolcott

No "Black Dog" [in Presence], no "Kashmir" either. Yet though Presence doesn't bombingly pockmark the landscape or scale snowy Himalayan heights—even if Jimmy Page's guitar is becoming a riff Osterizer and Robert Plant's voice is shredding at the edges and tearing in the middle—still, Zeppelin has such command of heavy-metal weaponry that even their modest efforts have scorched-earth capability. When Zeppelin doesn't launch search-and-destroy missions into your neocortex it's because they don't want to, not because they can't. This album, a quickie recorded in eighteen days, lacks the fleetness of Houses of the Holy and the architectural density of Physical Graffiti, but in its best...

(The entire section is 413 words.)

Dave Marsh

The Song Remains the Same isn't the landmark in rock cinema Led Zeppelin would like it to be. In fact, it's barely a movie at all, just some concert footage interspersed with trick photography (in a fantasy sequence devoted to each member). This technique is meant to unify the best qualities of A Hard Day's Night and Gimme Shelter, but it doesn't work: there's none of the Beatles' wit, and the horror is phony. Still, in its misguided way, this blurry, pretentious monolith does offer some insights into what makes the most popular heavy-metal band tick. (p. 19)

Parsimony is one of the movie's themes, albeit accidentally. When a telegram arrives notifying Robert Plant of the...

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Roy Harper

Robert Plant is one of the great "mediatricians" of the Sixties, and is likely to remain so into the Eighties and Nineties and beyond the year 2,000….

In my estimation Robert's forte is twofold: one, I think, is his ability to be able to understand the forces at work in what we could loosely call the youth culture, and two, not only to understand them but to continue to assimilate them into the nucleus of his art, so that at no time in the last few years has his finger been anywhere other than on the pulse, the pulse of human youth on this planet.

To be that vital is no mean feat….

In one sense, it is hard to talk about Robert's contribution to British art...

(The entire section is 468 words.)

Tony Palmer

Stylistically, [the music of Led Zeppelin] is a tour de force, borrowing from Bo Diddley, the Stones, Cream, and Burt Bacharach, fusing jazz, rock, blues, flamenco. It is persuasive and snarling, whether acoustic or electric. It is deceptively facile, yet almost never overblown. It relies heavily on the blues for its emotional strength, yet has expanded the vocabulary of that ill-used idiom while remaining firmly locked within it. Some maintain that, like the best or the worst of rock, Page and his troupe have been schooled in the art of excess. They play too loud and too long. Yet the musical evidence dumbfounds such a view. A song like "Stairway to Heaven" is characteristic; it begins quietly with acoustic guitar...

(The entire section is 324 words.)

Robert Smith

It's Plant's wailing, drifting, compelling voice and uninhibited stage presence, along with Page's electrifying musical direction (and guitar playing) that carry [Led Zeppelin]. The mystery of their success is partly in the surprising ways they take to the stage and not let go, as well as their ability—behind the scenes—to write and record with uncanny exactitude and excitement. They have mastered a unique sound: loud, spiritual and mesmerizing.

Robert Smith, "Robert Plant, Male Vocalist of the Year," in Circus Magazine (copyright © 1978 by Circus Enterprises Corporation), February 16, 1978, p. 24.

(The entire section is 89 words.)

James Spina

In every sense of the word this [article] is 'a ramble' on strictly intended to convey the incredible staying power, the historically heavy importance and the sometimes celtic prowisnish that is, in the christening words of Keith Moon, a LED ZEPPELIN. (p. 38)

[Despite] massive personal setbacks, constant critical abuse and a carefully controlled output of recorded music Led Zep are still the best at their business of heavy metal, rockironroll music….

There isn't one bad cut on that first record. Some people are constantly griping about the fact that Page took all the ingredients of the first Jeff Beck Group and called it something new. That is totally unfair. Compare the two...

(The entire section is 1234 words.)