Why the undisputed “rock and roll gods” are among the most overrated acts in music history
Music fans, in a lot of ways, might just be the most delusional people on the planet. Although musical taste is nothing more than an unscientific, 100 percent subjective personal preference, rabid fans of certain acts are convinced that their favorite band is not only the best thing since sliced bread, but so comprehensively great in all regards that if anyone says anything negative about them in the slightest, they have cultural permission to fly off their respective handles and spin into a dizzying rage over something that, fundamentally, is completely meaningless.
Case in point? Try saying “The Beatles suck,” in a public forum, and which what happens. It doesn’t matter how many valid points you throw out there, some people have conditioned their minds to accept their favorite musicians’ alleged “greatness” as an absolute truth, and even THINKING about questioning that alleged “greatness” is enough for violent blowback.
Regarding the popular consensus concerning Led Zeppelin, I will give ground on one thing: yes, I do believe that they were rather talented musicians. Jimmy Page was a virtuoso, Robbie Plant could peel paint off walls with his voice, John Bonham was a mean drummer and John Paul Jones…well, sometimes, you could hear him on their records every now and then. While the boys in Led Zep were no doubt a talented bunch of chaps, I think their status as sound musicians tends to overshadow a much more condemnatory aspect of the group -- mainly, the fact that MOST of their music sucked, they were downright awful people as individuals, and they done so much musical theft that they ought to move to Pittsburgh…you know, with them being stealers and all. Deemed rock and roll gods by a hypocritical press that initially mocked them, Led Zeppelin has become something of an artificially inflated mega-group, a quartet of metal titans that produced NOTHING but musical fury, when the truth of the matter is, they were hardly the balls-out megaliths so many souls today like to think they were.
The Hammer of the Gods, you say? Well, here’s five contrarian counterpoints that demonstrate the truth about Led Zep, proving once and for all that they were a lot more “so-so” than they were Zoso…
REASON NUMBER ONE:
Half of their discography flat out blows.
There are two points where I am willing to admit defeat here; “Led Zeppelin II” and “Led Zeppelin IV” are both truly iconic rock and roll records, and not even I can deny their import on popular culture. That said, the rest of their discography is a jumbled bag, which ranges from mostly mediocre to flat out embarrassing.
Their first and third albums are mostly cluttered with filler, with perhaps two or three decent songs and everything else consisting of lukewarm, easily forgettable tracks. This is especially true of “Led Zeppelin III,” which is noteworthy for “Immigrant Song” and absolutely nothing else -- unless you like generic folksy crap and drab remakes of already drab remakes, of course.
“Houses of the Holy” and “Physical Graffiti” were both chaotic messes of records (more on those two later), and their last three studio albums -- “Presence,” “In Through the Out Door,” and “Coda” -- are largely considered pure shit by the group’s own fans. And then there’s “The Song Remains the Same” -- trust me, the less said about that train wreck, the better. So, out of ten albums taken from the band’s heyday, just two are genuine genre classics, whereas the other 80 percent of their works are either overrated or just straight up garbage. All in all, that’s a pretty low ratio of great to shit, especially when allegedly lesser bands like The Stooges, The Ramones, Motorhead and Black Sabbath were rattling off all-time classics, one after the other, during the exact same period.
REASON NUMBER TWO:
They had a flare for needlessly grandiloquent bullshit.
There’s no denying that Led Zeppelin had a thing for the excessive -- just take a gander at “The Song Remains the Same,” a disastrous live-recording that contains 9 songs, of which 6 go on for more than eight minutes. Shit, there’s a version of “Dazed and Confused” on that one that goes on for nearly half an hour. That’s not really music, as much as it is people forgetting to hit the “stop” button on a tape recorder.
In all, the band had 21 studio tracks that went on for more than six minutes, including three that were over ten minutes long. “Presence” alone had four tracks that stretched over the six minute threshold, including two that exceeded nine minutes in length. Keep in mind, it’s not like we’re seeing only AOR standards like “Stairway to Heaven” and “Kashmir” here, as we’re mostly talking about truly forgettable junk like “Achilles’ Last Stand,” “In My Time of Dying,” and “Carouselambra.” If there was ever a band that exemplified the adage “more is less,” it would certainly have to be the fine chaps in Led Zep.
Of course, the band didn’t need half a record side to produce unnecessarily meandering nonsense. Periodically, the band like to forsake its bluesy-rock-occult tones for more, uh, diverse territory, which chiefly includes some downright cringe-worthy attempts to replicate James Brown, Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder. And if there’s anything out there more embarrassing than a bunch of limeys pretending to be R&B artists? Modern science has yet to discover it.
REASON NUMBER THREE:
Their lyrics were just plain stupid.
The boys in Led Zeppelin may have been some fairly talented musicians, but they sure as hell couldn’t write lyrics worth a toot. Listening to the Led Zep discography is like listening to a lovelorn Dungeons and Dragons player constantly switching up from Tolkien to sock hop -- if the band isn’t singing about icy tundras and wizards, then Robert Plant is probably yelping “baby” for the four millionth time or making some on-the-nose reference to his own schlong. If you’re looking for insightful, politically or socially aware lyrics from Led Zep, the best you’re going to get, I am afraid, are lines about various fruits serving as stand-ins for sexual fluids.
All in all, there’s really not a whole lot of variety to the Led Zeppelin discography. Basically, the band recorded just four types of songs: “Ramble On”-like songs about some wayfaring dude that’s leaving his woman to go do highly unspecified things elsewhere (“Going to California,” “Babe I’m Gonna’ Leave You,” etc.); less than coy songs about doing it or wanting to do it (“The Lemon Song” and “Whole Lotta’ Love,” most obviously); Tolkien-occult-mythology bullshit (“Stairway to Heaven,” “Kashmir,” and the like); and lastly, songs where the boys attempt -- and largely fail -- to sound like black musicians (just pick a song off “Led Zeppelin I,” really.) Contrast this with the works of Black Sabbath, who were recording songs about Vietnam, bipolar disorder, nuclear war, intergalactic travel and heroin abuse on the same album -- or better yet, The Ramones, who were able to sing about falling in love, watching “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” sniffing glue, seeing homeless Vietnam veterans and domestic violence all in the same amount of time it takes Led Zeppelin to spit out just two or three tracks at any point during “Physical Graffiti.”
But don’t think this is just my individual opinion, though. The fact of the matter is, music critics have been savaging Led Zeppelin for decades, pointing out pretty much the exact same faults I’ve already trotted out. Here are just a few highly critical remarks about the band’s oeuvre over the years:
“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).”
“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!”
“Unfortunately, precious little of Z III's remaining hysteria is as useful or as effectively melodramatic. "Friends" has a fine bitter acoustic lead, but gives itself over almost entirely to monotonously shrill Plant breast-beatings. Rob, give a listen to Iggy Stooge.”
“In the same way that the Rolling Stones evolved into a senior, "safe" bizarro-perversion band, Led Zeppelin has become a senior, "safe" heavy-metal band. But by its very nature safety cannot coexist with heavy-metal fire and macho intensity (or bizarro-perversion, for that matter), which is probably why Houses of the Holy is one of the dullest and most confusing albums I've heard this year."
To be fair, those are just opinions of lone individuals, but their critiques, I believe, remain quite valid to this day. And while said remarks rest solely in the domain of subjectivity, there’s one area in particular that even the most ardent of Led Zep fans have to admit their ‘boys have fouled up, in the worst possible way…
REASON NUMBER FOUR:
They were unabashed plagiarists.
All music is derived from earlier music. That much, we can all agree upon. That said, a large chunk of Led Zeppelin’s discography stretches well over the line of “derivation,” into the field of outright thievery. In fact, there’s probably never been a band that’s prospered so much off the fruits of other’s material -- the gods of metal, they may not be, but Led Zeppelin sure as hell remain the undisputed gods of song theft to this very day.
For starters, their first album ALONE featured six tracks that were blatant swipes of other artists’ works. “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Dazed and Confused,” perhaps we could write off as being “unacknowledged” cover tunes, but that still doesn’t prevent the band from filling up more than half of their first record with unabashed lyrical and musical thievery.
“Black Mountain Side?” -- That was a copy of “Black Water Side” by Jake Holmes.
“How Many More Times?” -- A rip-off of “How Many More Years” by Howlin’ Wolf.
“Communication Breakdown?” -- Stolen from Eddie Cochran’s “Nervous Breakdown.”
“Your Time is Gonna’ Come?” -- Swiped from Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” Well, at least the boys didn’t just change one word in the original song's title like they did for the first three tracks before attempting to pass it off as their own material, I suppose.
“Led Zeppelin II” contains what are perhaps the band’s most notorious examples of plagiarism -- “Whole Lotta’ Love,” a shameless swipe of Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love” and “Lemon Song,” which is a flat-out rip-off of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor.” Additionally, both “Moby Dick” and “Bring it On Home” similarly share resemblances to other songs -- in the case of the former, “Watch Your Step” by Bobby Parker and in the case of the latter, “Bring it on Home” by Sonny Boy Williamson.
The band’s third album contains at least two straight-up plagiarized tunes -- “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” which was modeled after Moby Grape’s “Never,” and “Hats Off to [Roy] Harper,” which was based on the Bukka White song “Shake ‘Em On Down.”
And the band’s most iconic song? Something tells me Jimmy Page listed to the Spirit song “Taurus” quite a few times before penning “Stairway to Heaven.”
Of course, there are plenty more examples -- “In My Time of Dying” and “When the Levee Breaks,” among them, are unaccredited “odes” to previously recorded tracks -- but I think you get the gist of it. Baby, I ain’t fooling…those Led Zep chaps sure did know how to prosper off the works of others, all right!
REASON NUMBER FIVE:
They were downright horrible human beings.
Ok, so their music, taken as a whole, was more crap than excellence. And they had a tendency to record really, really overlong songs, with really stupid and clumsy lyrics. Those aren’t crimes, of course. Then again, they did plagiarize a large portion of their discography, which IS a crime, but since they settled most of those matters in court, I suppose you can overlook some of their indiscretions in that category.
That said, even if you’re the most hardcore Led Zep fan in the world, you really can’t excuse the boys in the group for being among the most deplorable people to ever become multimillionaires via the recording industry. Where to begin with these depraved chaps, really?
Yes, we’ve heard the “mud shark” story a billion times, but there’s quite a few other stories out there about the group that, somehow, have yet to make the same impression on people.
For example, did you know Jimmy Page -- one of the most celebrated guitarists in the history of music (and, for a time at least, one of the rock world's biggest heroin addicts) -- was also an unabashed paedo that asked Led Zep manager Richard Cole to kidnap a 14 year old girl to be his slave?
Or how about the time the band tried to gang rape journalist Ellen Sander?
Or the time John Bonham tried to sodomize a stewardess, punched out a woman in an L.A. bar, or tag-teamed with a known gangster to nearly murder a security guard in San Francisco? And that's not even quantifying his non-criminal instances of stupidity, like the time he tried to open up a plane door -- in midflight -- to take a pee.
Even in their post-rocking years, the group members are still acting like straight up nitwits. Just ask Robert Plant, who in 2010, said he was a fan of “spook music” during a live interview.
The band, as a whole, were about as morally conscionable as Hell’s Angels with terminal cancer. With their copious drug abuse, groupie assaults -- more than a few that border on sex crimes -- not to mention their super depraved trysts with minors (which very much WERE sex crimes), Led Zeppelin are at the center of some of the most disgusting scandals in rock and roll history. So what if the band recorded a couple of “killer” tunes, is your reverence for that music really enough to overlook the fact that the band associated with known gangsters and murderers, were managed by a man that (allegedly) enjoyed humiliating women by urinating on them and were complicit in the secret abuse of children for years on end?
Your perspectives on the band may not change knowing the above information, but for me? There’s definitely a feeling I get when I look to the band…and that’s absolute nausea.