Jimmy Page Tony Palmer - Essay

Tony Palmer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 playing an aching quasi-blues melody. The singer stutters out the simplest of themes. Gradually, but inevitably, the sound develops over ten minutes into a massive climax, the bass and drums providing an elemental roar from which the guitar (now electric) and singer tear a raging, hurting melody. Not all Zeppelin's songs are based on this pattern, but a sufficient number to recognize this as the group's signature. Again, it is the multiplicity of cross-references that makes the music arresting, as if the band were summing up rock and roll today and yet refashioning many of its conflicting elements into a new sound that has the possibility, thereby, of extended development. One hears snatches of the Beatles' chord progression, the miasmic, tortured blues line of Leadbelly, the rhythmic brutality of Pete Townshend. Yet the whole is different from the parts.

Of all those working in the rock milieu today, Page is the master craftsman…. Page recognized that rock contained within itself the possibility of development. (p. 296)

Tony Palmer, in his All You Need Is Love: The Story of Popular Music (copyright © Theatre Projects Film Productions Limited, EMI Television Productions Limited and Phongram Limited, 1976; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission of Viking Penguin Inc.), Viking Penguin, 1977.