Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Led Zeppelin: Coda (1982)

Coda compiles eight unused tracks and fulfills a contractual obligation with the record company. It's not a bad collection, but I do not view this as a Led Zeppelin album. It's just a haphazard collection of tunes. Perhaps the expanded edition is a much better collection, but I have never heard it, for some reason. I remember buying this one. I'm not fond of the album cover.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Led Zeppelin: In Through the Our Door (1979)

After a three year break, the mighty Led Zeppelin returned with In Through the Out Door, a record that really divided fans. To be sure, there was a definite change in direction in sound, most notably prominent keyboards and diminished guitars. I have always had mixed feelings about this LP. If I am in the right mood, I really like it, but it's not the first Zeppelin record I would reach for.

Sadly, this was the band's final studio recording. Coda came later, but that was a collection of odds and sods, two or three of which would have improved ITTOD immensely. Even more sadly, John Bonham died about a year after the record was released, and that killed my plans to somehow get to Toronto and finally see the band in concert. He was only 32 years old.

I've read that the change in sound had a lot to do with the greater influence of John Paul Jones and Plant, while Bonham was struggling with alcoholism and Page was in full heroin mode. It made for an odd record in some ways, yet it was very popular. I really do love this record, but I prefer the heavier Zeppelin. Also, I kind of hate the song Hot Dog.
"The original album featured an unusual gimmick: the album had an outer sleeve which was made to look like a plain brown paper bag (reminiscent of similarly packaged bootleg album sleeves with the title rubber-stamped on it), and the inner sleeve featured black and white line artwork which, if washed with water, would become permanently fully coloured. There were also six different sleeves featuring a different pair of photos (one on each side), and the external brown paper sleeve meant that it was impossible for record buyers to tell which sleeve they were getting (there is actually a code on the spine of the album jacket which indicated which sleeve it was—this could sometimes be seen while the record was still sealed). The pictures all depicted the same scene in a bar (in which a man burns a Dear John letter), and each photo was taken from the separate point of view of someone who appeared in the other photos. The walls are covered with thousands of yellowed business cards and dollar bills. The photo session in a London studio was meant to look like a re-creation of the Old Absinthe House, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The album artwork was designed by Hipgnosis. Storm Thorgerson recalls the design in his book Eye of the Storm:
The sepia quality was meant to evoke a non-specific past and to allow the brushstroke across the middle to be better rendered in colour and so make a contrast. This self same brushstroke was like the swish of a wiper across a wet windscreen, like a lick of fresh paint across a faded surface, a new look to an old scene, which was what Led Zeppelin told us about their album. A lick of fresh paint, as per Led Zeppelin, and the music on this album... It somehow grew in proportion and became six viewpoints of the same man in the bar, seen by the six other characters. Six different versions of the same image and six different covers.
Did you ever notice you could affect the dust jacket by putting water on it? If you applied spittle to it or a bit of water, it would change colour, like a children's colouring book we based it on. But we didn't tell anybody. I don't think Zeppelin told anybody, either.
In 1980, Hipgnosis were nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Album Package for In Through the Out Door." [source]
I have a 'C' album cover, by the way. Everything Zeppelin did was awesome, but this is a little less awesome that what cam before it.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Led Zeppelin: Presence (1976)

I suppose there are two Led Zeppelin records (not including Coda) that some fans are not so enamoured with. These records are In Through the Out Door and Presence. I used to rank Presence as my least favourite Zep record, but I think my opinion changed over the years. I will say that the record has grown on me.

I really love the opening track, Achilles Last Stand, which clearly needs an apostrophe. Other highlights are For Your Love, which was resurrected for that famous O2 concert, Royal Orleans, Nobody's Fault But Mine,

It's weird to think that of all of the Zeppelin records, I have two copies of this one, both Canadian pressings. I have no idea why. I've been curious about the remastered vinyl that came out a while back. I'm sure they must sound better, but the prices have kept me away.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti (1975)

In terms of LZ records, this one lands somewhere in the middle of favourites. I was never blown away by it, though there are some great songs, most notably, Kashmir, which would fit in my top five Zeppelin tunes. Clearly, I am on the minority position here:
"Physical Graffiti was the first album to go platinum on advance orders alone. Shortly after its release, all previous Led Zeppelin albums simultaneously re-entered the top-200 album chart.

"In March 1975, Billboard magazine's reviewer wrote: "[Physical Graffiti] is a tour de force through a number of musical styles, from straight rock to blues to folky acoustic to orchestral sounds." Similarly, Jim Miller stated in Rolling Stone that the double album was "the band's Tommy, Beggar's Banquet and Sgt. Pepper rolled into one: Physical Graffiti is Led Zeppelin's bid for artistic respectability." Village Voice critic Robert Christgau was less impressed, writing that except for side two, the material often wanders into "wide tracks, misconceived opi, and so forth", and "after a while Robert Plant begins to grate". Reviewing the album for BBC Music in 2007, Chris Jones described it as "a towering monument to the glory of Zeppelin in their high-flying heyday".

"In 1998 Q readers voted Physical Graffiti the 28th-greatest album of all time; in 2000 Q placed it at number 32 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever; and in 2001 the same magazine named it as one of the 50 Heaviest Albums of All Time. In 2003, the TV network VH1 named it the 71st-greatest album ever. In 2003, the album was ranked number 70 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time". The album is also listed in Robert Dimery and Stevie Chick's 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (2005)." [source
Oddly, this record contains a tune called Houses of the Holy, which does not appear on the eponymous record.

I have a vivid memory of buying this record. My sister had a few Led Zeppelin records (Houses of the Holy, Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin IV, The Song Remains the Same, In through the Out Door), but she never owned a copy of this one. I wanted to hear it, so I decided to pick it up one day. I carried it with me back to residence.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Led Zeppelin: Houses of the Holy (1973)

"They used to think it was so cute when she said dyer maker.
All the boys knew it was a joke about Jamaica"

"Dancing days. Houses of the holy. Hot child in the city in the middle of the prairie."

- Joke About Jamaica, The Hold Steady

Sometimes, I am convinced that this is my favourite Led Zeppelin record. Is there any song that sounds better than The Song Remains the Same, especially when turned up very loudly? The answer is no. Back in the day, I would really crank up that song when no one was home.

Although the cover seems harmless to me, the album artwork caused some controversy:
Like Led Zeppelin's fourth album, neither the band's name nor the album title was printed on the sleeve. However, manager Peter Grant did allow Atlantic Records to add a wrap-around paper title band to US and UK copies of the sleeve that had to be broken or slid off to access the record. This hid the children's buttocks from general display, but still the album was either banned or unavailable in some parts of the Southern United States for several years. [source]
I think many would argue that the first four records are the band's best, but I would say that this one is at least equal. It's fabulous.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin [AKA Led Zeppelin IV or the Four Symbols logo, Four Symbols, The Fourth Album, Untitled, Runes, The Hermit, ZoSo] (1971)

"Tired eyes. Trampled under foot. Dazed and confused. C-c-c-c-Cocaine blues.
She hasn't gotten any eye contact tonight"
- Joke About Jamaica, The Hold Steady

Oh, well, the night is long, the beads of time pass slow,
Tired eyes on the sunrise, waiting for the eastern glow.
 - The Battle of Evermore, Led Zeppelin

I'll just say it now to get it out of the way. Stairway to Heaven, although a fine song, is not my favourite Led Zeppelin song. In fact, it wouldn't even make my list of top 25 Led Zeppelin songs. It used to be my favourite song, but I think that was when I knew very little about the band's catalogue. There are way too many great songs to allow this one to take a preeminent places.

Back in high school, Stairway to Heaven was often the last song at school dances (it was either that or Babe, that awful piece of shot from Styx). Those songs served as a signal that the dance would soon be over, and it was your last chance to get close to a female. But, let's face it, this is a difficult song to have a slow dace to. The beginning works, but once the track speeds up, most kids were at a loss as to how to deal with the tempo change. Most just clung to their dancing partner until the song ended.

The album jacket for this record omits the band's name. It's a curious thing to do, but I imagine a hype sticker would have alerted people to the contents. My copy is a Canadian pressing from 1979, and it's in great shape. I think there were close to twenty Canadian pressings of this record.

This record is packed from start to finish with awesomeness. It contains some of my favourite Zeppelin tunes, like Black Dog, Four Sticks, and When the Levee Breaks, all of which are in my top 20 Zep tunes.


Monday, July 31, 2017

Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin III (1970)

The hammer of the gods
Will drive our ships to new lands,
To fight the horde, singing and crying,
Valhalla, I am coming!

Although it stands against prevailing opinion, my favourite Led Zeppelin record is the third. It wasn't always that way. In fact, in the early days, I felt that the record fell apart after the lead-off tack, Immigrant Song. Later, my thinking shifted 180 degrees. I think that Immigrant Song is the weakest track on the record, though I still love it. After all, the track is only 2.5 minutes, and Page somehow manages to play that riff over 100 times.

My copy is a later (probably 1980s) repress in absolutely mint condition.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin II

I learned the following after reading Wikipedia. "The advertising campaign was built around the slogans 'Led Zeppelin – The Only Way to Fly' and 'Led Zeppelin II Now Flying'." [source]

This is a heavy album from start to finish, filled with heavy guitar riffs, tireless vocals, thundering drums, and some delicious bass sounds. As usual, the critics were confused:
Critical reaction to Led Zeppelin II was not positive originally. John Mendelsohn wrote a negative review of the record for Rolling Stone, in which he mocked the group's heavy sound and white blues, while writing 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". Robert Christgau jokingly referred to the band as "the best of the wah-wah mannerist groups, so dirty they drool on demand", while complaining that "all the songs sound alike". He nonetheless conceded that "Led Zeppelin simply out-heavied everyone" in 1969, "pitting Jimmy Page's repeated low-register fuzz riffs against the untiring freak intensity of Robert Plant's vocal. This trademark has only emerged clearly on the second album, and more and more I am coming to understand it as an artistic triumph." [source]
I have a Canadian pressing (not the original) that I think came out sometime after 1978. The jacket of my copy looks mint, and the record is in fabulous shape too. I think there are more than 20 Canadian pressings of this LP, plus numerous 8-track, cassette, and CD issues.

The only track I am not crazy about is Moby Dick, partly because I think extended drum solos are kind of stupid. The guitar part of that song is great, though.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin [aka Led Zeppelin I] (1969)

"Tired eyes. Trampled under foot. Dazed and confused. C-c-c-c-Cocaine blues.
She hasn't gotten any eye contact tonight"

- Joke About Jamaica, The Hold Steady

In answer to the question -- often asked in musical circles -- the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?, I always answer Led Zeppelin. As much as I like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, it's the New Yardbirds for the win. When I was in public school and junior high, I was often teased for liking Led Zeppelin. I attribute my early interest to a couple of my older siblings. One year, I forgot it was photo day, and I wore a Led Zeppelin t-shirt. Oops.

This is a massive record. It begins pleasantly enough, with the brief Good Times Bad Times, but it's the second track that really lays claim to a new sound. It's hard to pick a favourite, but for me, it's Dazed and Confused, a song that would be in my top five Zep tunes. Ages ago, when I was living in a certain place, I would often play Dazed and Confused as loudly as possible when no one else was home. Every song on this record is amazing.

For me, this record is the defining statement about why critics are often wrong. Many critics dissed this record, and that is something I have always had a hard time wrapping my head around. Perhaps the music was so out-of-step with the music of the day, that it left them mystified. Who knows? In hindsight, I think some critics have corrected their opinions.

Figuring out which vinyl version I have is quite difficult. For the vast majority of artists, there was generally only one, and sometimes two, Canadian pressings. For this one, there are something like fifteen, or close to that. I wish I had a red Atlantic pressing or a Canadian red Atlantic pressing, rather than my mundane, later Canadian green Atlantic pressing from 1976. Oh well, it still sounds fine and my copy is mint, or very close to it. Needless to say I also have a copy on CD.

I have pretty much everything officially released from LZ on CD as well as some DVDs. By the way, check out Lez Zeppelin and Zepparella.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Keith LeBlanc: Einstein (Extended Remix) (1989)

Keith LeBlanc is known partly for being a member of Tackhead, an industrial hip hop act. Most of my Tackhead, Gary Clail's Tackhead Sound System, and Keith LeBlanc music is on CD. This 12" single has two mixes of Einstein and a tune called Here's Looking at You, featuring Gary Clail.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Daniel Lanois: Acadie (1989)

My body is bent and broken
By long and dangerous sleep
I can't work the fields of Abraham
And turn my head away
I'm not a stranger
In the hands of the maker

Though I identify as an atheist, I can't help but admire the passion and emotion, and even devotion, of the above stanza.  The Maker is one of the best songs ever recorded, in my ever so humble opinion.

Lanois may be better known as a producer. You might know him from his production work with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, U2, Peter Gabriel, Jon Hassell, and from his collaborations with Brian Eno. He has also released a number of solo records, beginning with Acadie, which I consider to be a musical masterpiece. Why Allmusic awarded this record only four stars is a mystery. Te review is glowing, appropriate for a five star record.
This stunning debut album by an artist that had hitherto been known only as a producer is priceless, and stands up well to repeated listening. It is a blend of New Orleans rhythm, rock, new age mysticism, and folk. It is not mushy but it is as caressing to the ear as to the mind. It has the very distinctive ethereal sound of the albums he produced for among others the Neville Brothers and Robbie Robertson. All the songs were written or co-written by Lanois, with the exception of the traditional "Amazing Grace" (done in an untraditional manner and sung by Aaron Neville). The songs affect a rural and uncomplicated yet very complete and full sound that brings the listener into their mood, swing into the full lilting joy of "Under a Stormy Sky," to the haunting and ominous "Where the Hawkwind Kills." His sound is a distinctive signature, that holds well with each different song and with each artist for whom he has fashioned albums. [source]
Acadie is another record on my long list of top ten records.In addition to the LP, I own the CD Goldtop Edition, which contains six bonus tracks.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Ray Lamontagne and the Pariah Dogs: Live Fall 2010 (2011)

Honestly, that's the best title they could come up with? This brief five-track EP was released for record store day 2011. I'm not really a fan, though I do appreciate his voice. People often tell me that I should like him, but I have never invested the time. Someday, someday.

Some of this record is far too countryish for me, but other tracks I quite like, such as this killer tune: