Monday, May 02, 2005

Led Zeppelin is the #1 Rock and Roll Band of All Time

By:Peter Cross

I've been in rock and roll all my life, and I'm well aware that
The Rolling Stones have been called the best rock and roll band.
Don't get me wrong because I love Mick and the Stones, and the
Beatles were my major musical influence, but here's why I think
that Led Zeppelin is the best rock and roll band of all time:


First of all, John Bonham was the best rock and roll drummer
ever to walk the face of this planet, and that's an informed
opinion coming from a former professional drummer. John played
drums unlike anyone else ever did, still does, or ever will, and
that fact is continually demonstrated in the astounding breadth
and depth of his recorded work. He had complete independence in
all four limbs, he slammed his drums harder than anyone else,
and he did it with speed and total precision, never once
dropping the beat. His beats were were innovative and creative.
John was never stuck in simple grooves. His fills were also
innovative, creative, complex, and technically brilliant. He
knew when to keep it relatively simple (i.e. Kashmir), but he
was always simply in the stratosphere of drumming. And to top
that all off, John created a giant drum sound which is unique.
It inspired a host of immitators who could only approach the
sound of his snare drum, but just with a simple backbeat. But
not one of them can begin to touch his creativity, speed,
precision, or technical brilliance. At the time that Led Zep was
formed, Jimmy Page could have gotten any drummer in the world to
play with him, and he chose John. I've heard that Jimmy still
feels the same way about John as I do.

Secondly, Jimmy Page has always been one of the best rock
guitarists ever, right from his earliest days as a session
player and the beginning of his real public stardom in the
Yardbirds. I believe that Jimmy is the most brilliantly prolific
of all the rock and roll guitarists. I suspect that Jimmy would
agree with me that Jimi Hendrix was the genius because he came
from another galaxy in terms of his sound and his use of
feedback. But unfortunately, Jimi died and we will never know
how much further he would have progressed. When I listen to
Jimmy's solos using the violin bow, I get the urge to put him on
the same pedestal as Hendrix and wonder which galaxy they both
came from. As a songwriter, Jimmy used his superior ability to
play lead guitar to create actual song structure. Led Zep's
songs use not one or two of Jimmy's incredibly powerful,
complicated and unbelievably SEXY riffs in each song, but there
are four, five or more riffs in some songs. Jimmy's riffs differ
from each other within each song, and also from song to song.
His lead guitar playing can be HARD and sexy, he can be
sensitive and beautiful, and he can be technically brilliant -
all in the very same song.

Thirdly, John Paul Jones is a bass player who attained a level
of brilliance comparable to Paul McCartney. Just like McCartney,
John could play beautiful "melodic" bass (i.e. "Ramble On"), he
could play as fast as it gets, but he also knew when to keep it
simple and just hold down the bottom, although I think he was
incapable of simply doing that without utter sophistication. No
one at all can touch those two on bass, and John also played
consistently brilliant keyboards - piano, organ and synthesizer.
The intricate way in which he wove his bass guitar playing into,
through, and underneath Jimmy's guitar playing is nothing short
of perfection iteslf.

And last but not at all least, Robert Plant had an incredibly
high vocal range, emotionally as well as in terms of octaves.
Just like Dylan was for his own music, Robert's voice was
perfect for Led Zep's music and there's no other singer who
could possibly have fit in. Personally, and also as a
professional singer, Robert knocks me out both technically and
emotionally. He also understood the concept of using his voice
like a musical instrument, creating fascinating sounds without
using lyrics. And Robert co-wrote with Jimmy too. A lot of the
time you can't understand his lyrics and I've heard that was
Robert's intent because just like Mick Jagger, all he cared
about at that time was that you connect with the emotion and the
energy in the totality of the music. But when you can get the
lyrics (like in Stairway to Heaven, their tribute to Janis
Joplin), you find a great piece of poetry. And on top of all
that, Robert had the best "oooh yeahs" in the business.


Hardly anybody has ever covered Led Zep songs for very good
reasons. Their song structure is based on their vastly superior
playing abilities and there's no one who can actually play what
they played. I'm talking about songs that are not based on
simple chords like all other rock and roll is. Jimmy and Robert
based their songs on Jimi's riffs and on his chordal tonalities
that to this day stand alone as being unique. I'm also talking
about length of songs that maintain a constant and intense high,
up to 11 minutes in length without resorting to an overly
repetitive chorus. I know from Robert's solo work after Led Zep
that he also uses unusual tonalities in his writing, but even
without actually knowing this I would have to assume that due to
Jimmy Page being an erupting fountain of brilliant guitar work,
the majority of the non-vocal music creation came from Jimmy.
The Beatles certainly deserve abject worship for John and Paul's
creative songwriting ability, no question about that. Certainly
Mick and Keith wrote a slew of classic, historic and truly
memorable rock songs, but the very nature of their comparatively
simple rock and roll structure and basic similarity to each
other in terms of using major and minor chord progressions,
simple and basic rock and roll rhythms, and verse/chorus/bridge
approach defines them as being less innovative when compared to
Robert and Jimmy.


Here they outdistance The Stones because most of the Stones'
albums have "filler" material in terms of not hitting the same
high that they slammed in all their best songs. However, I'd
like to say that I don't think either Mick or Robert are capable
of recording anything short of a brilliant vocal. The Beatles
actually exceed Led Zep in terms of numbers of great albums that
constitute a greater body of brilliant and uniquely innovative
work that literally broke new musical ground with every single
song they recorded. The Beatles were simply The Beatles, and
they were the most creative rock and roll band ever, from being
the best singers and songwriters ever right down to their
individual charm and charisma. But without denegrating their
gorgeous, sensitive and original style of playing, what they
recorded is not the heavy type of rock and roll that either the
Stones or Led Zep played. George, Paul and John were all
brilliant and creative guitarists, but because they did not
improvise on stage, they were not really master guitarists. I
love and respect Ringo as both a person and as a very creative
drummer who mastered the art of drum sounds. He has his own
unmistakeable Ringo style for both, but he's not really a master
drummer in the sense of being able to play with great speed and
dexterity. I'm talking about 9 albums chock full of brilliant
and intensely high Led Zep songs - I don't know how many hours
of great rock and roll listening that is. There's hardly a
single weak track among all that work, and there's simply no
question that they consistently broke new ground musically.
Their debut album is still the best one of all time (including
Cream's), and Coda, their "swan song" is equally perfect.


Led Zep was there when the concept of "rock and roll star" was
still evolving. I will grant that the Stones at least deserve
honorable mention as the best rock and roll band ever, but it's
mostly because of their impressive touring record and Mick's
superstar stage presence with his ability to put on a great show
every single time he appears. And he's still doing it at age 60
for goodness sake! My point isn't that Led Zep necessarily had
the best stage presence, just that they did have that true rock
star sexual aura, and when you add all these important qualities
together, they really do deserve being called the number one
rock and roll band of all time.

I could go on about Jimmy Page's abilities as a producer, and
there are other aspects to their greatness like the length of
time they were together without a change of band members. And
the life they actually led as archtypical wild rock and roll bad
boys equals the life led by the Rolling Stones in intensity, if
not length. In this sense both bands are perfect examples on a
conceptual artistic level of what I call FORM = CONTENT. The
above four categories do enough to fully qualify Led Zeppelin
for my not-so-humble award. There will never be another rock and
roll band to approach the stratospheric musical heights that Led
Zep reached. The Recording Industry Association of America, who
has the correct statistics, lists Led Zeppelin as the third best
selling musical act/artist in history. The Beatles are first,
with 166.5 million albums sold in the USA alone, Elvis is second
with 117.5 million, and Led Zep is third with 106 million. I
think it's very significant that those statistics are becoming
geometrically times greater than the number of albums that they
sold during their performance lifetimes. What has happened and
is happening is that the young people of today are discovering
them in droves because they are coming of age sexually and they
recognize and connect with the most powerful musical example of
that sexual power. They are buying their CD's, shirts, posters
and other memorabilia. And frankly, I'm thrilled.

About the author:
Peter Cross is a singer/songwriter/producer who was among the
first to put music on the internet in downloadable format in
1996. To this day, he is one of the only musicians who has
created and designed his own music web site in html, and at 104
pages filled with entertaining content, it's one of the largest.
Check it out at:

Get Jimmy Page's guitar here:

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