From the outset of their debut, Led Zeppelin’s sheer creativity and willingness to experiment are there for all to see. Page’s excitable fingers dance across his fretboard while Bonham bends his way through a multitude of tempos without once losing a sense of charging rhythm, and Plant’s vocals echo through their famously airy production as though his voice has taken some physical form to glide through the imagined room of each track. There rarely comes a moment in the eponymous album that feels mundane, and the promise that this evokes is all the more succulent in the knowledge that it was destined to bear even greater fruit. Everything is compounded by an urgency and confidence that is at odds with the idea that, at the time, Led Zeppelin were a new band trying to piece a sound together and find their feet. I can’t think of many other rock bands who have included anything as bold, uproarious, and dominant as “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” in their seminal album — a track that feels chaotic and explosive without ever showing the listless strain of experimentation.
The oft-deified progenitors of hard rock incorporate such a vast range of styles and influences that, again, it surprises in the fact that it works at all. “You Shook Me” begins as overdriven blues, flits briefly into jazz and funk, and then into space-age psychedelics reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix, all with the same mellow percussion and frantic exhibition of guitar mastery throughout. At no point in this excitement does any layer feel out of place or remote from the rest of the composition; even now it’s easy to feel an excitement at the accomplishment. The riffs, energy, and force of will grasp from the ’60s to the present day with the swagger of being brand new. Tapping into the bohemian change-the-world sensibilities of the era, Led Zeppelin feel like a sonic equivalent of the Beats in their indifference to the status quo and their willingness to swivel it on the tips of their middle fingers. While it’s not their magnum opus, it no less serves as a perfect indicator of the heights Led Zeppelin would come to climb.8 10
Favourite tracks // Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
You Shook Me
How Many More Times
Led Zeppelin’s debut album isn’t their best, but there’s no shame in that. I like it when discographies have a record where you can hear the pieces coming together. There’s no buzz quite like it. Recorded in a day and half’s worth of studio time, Led Zeppelin unsurprisingly feels like bottled lightning, though not quite as electric. (Sorry.) The band have said themselves that it’s effectively a live album, and that colour transmits near-flawlessly. The guitars sound so clean and warm and luscious that they may as well be in the room with you, while the rhythm section goes a step further and sets up shop somewhere inside your eardrum. Plant’s vocals fly, of course, and are given all the room they deserve. It all makes for a real trip. “How Many More Times” and “Black Mountain Side” are my current standouts, but the record hits upon so many verves and tones that it’s hard to imagine them not cycling out over time.
I have a soft spot for studio albums comprised of quickfire live recordings. They preserve a Moment in amber, imperfections and all, and what a privilege it is to have the formative energies of Led Zeppelin on record. The band hadn’t settled on their sound when Led Zeppelin was recorded. They were climbing towards it, and to share in that still feels exhilarating and laboured and inimitable all at once. Every listen is like the first time. There are worse things to hear than a band strolling towards greatness. Even today the album sounds like the future. For all Led Zeppelin’s strengths, what hits hardest is the sense of a band going places — strange, glorious new places — and it’s hard to beat the imagination of all that, the promise.8 10
Favourite tracks // How Many More Times
Black Mountain Side
You Shook Me
It’s a rare occurrence to hear such a confident debut from a band. While it’s by no means free from rough edges, Led Zepplin’s eponymous debut delivers some of the band’s most critically acclaimed tracks. Despite the release being panned at the time, the album’s opening minutes feature some stonking guitar work across both “Good Times Bad Times” and “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”, and Robert Plant’s vocals certainly hold their own here too. For me, there are some dips in the likes of “You Shook Me” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby” as they stick a lot closer to lethargic, twelve-bar blues standards. On the other hand, tracks like “Dazed and Confused”, smokey atmosphere, wailing guitars and all, and “Black Mountain Side”, with its fusion of Indian instrumentation and clean steel guitar, both burst with character and make for some very memorable moments. The overall production layers further character onto the tracklist too, providing a huge, open, airy quality that lets guitar and vocals ring out wonderfully. It’s a raw album in many senses and with it comes imperfection and disorganisation in places, but for me that’s all totally forgivable given the blast you’ll have while listening to it and the sense of excitement for what’s to come from a band that, at the time, was totally unproven and full of potential.8 10
Favourite tracks // Dazed and Confused
Black Mountain Side
Babe I’m Gonna Leave You