Friday, September 09, 2005

"Good Times, Bad Times"

From time to time I get caught up in debates about the true origins of heavy metal. Where did the first headbang take place and how long was the hair? What was the riff that planted the seed? Some folk maintain it was Iron Butterfly's "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida" that started it all off, others mention Jimi Hendrix and his very heavy blues, while the British maintain the Kinks, the Who and Cream were the source. Some even point to the Beatles' "Helter Skelter". It's probably impossible to pick one name, much like it would be impossible to point to the particular fish that leapt out of the ocean and started walking on its flippers as being the origin of man.
Notwithstanding the debate though, I'm pretty convinced myself that the first band that could be properly called heavy metal was Led Zeppelin - of course they didn't plant the seed themselves. But by taking the blues and amplifying it to the limit, by bringing the rhythm section to the forefront, by using sound as a blunt instrument at times, Zeppelin took out the patent on what was to come.
We're a million miles away from those early steps now, but once in a while it's properly refreshing to revisit songs like this. Compare it with pretty much anything that's been issued since 1990 and be struck by how clean and lightweight it sounds. Jimmy Page's only slightly distorted guitar, the clean, spare bass, Robert Plant's restrained voice and John Bonham's immense, heavy yet agile drumming.
The musicianship is right there too, front and centre. The beautifully syncopated drumming, the hard-as-nails riffs interspersed with the delicate fills, the aching harmonies, it's clear from the start this is no ordinary band.
To put it another way, this song is Track One, Side One of Led Zeppelin's career, and of heavy metal. It starts here.

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