Led Zeppelin Reunion: To Be Or Not To Be?

In days of yore when the rock ‘n’ roll world was young, bands broke up for good.

Solo careers ensued. Years, decades, and trends passed like pages in an anachronistic desk calendar. And the stomping feet of rock fandom began to pound for reformations during an era when many bands had been introduced to new audiences by way of the X-Box.

When it comes to returning to the musical homesteads of old  by way of reformation after years of prodigal albeit often fruitful wandering, one big event on the rock fan’s horizon in recent news is the hint of the clue of the possibility that the mighty Led Zeppelin may reform in 2014.

They were the biggest band in the world for over half a decade once. While they roamed the earth as younger men, they defined what a large-scale rock band could mean to an audience in a (then) new technological era of the late ’60s and into the ’70s; moon landings, global satellite broadcasts, exponential amplification advances, and faster air travel. They created a musical template for many while they were at it. But by 2014, what would a Led Zeppelin reunion look like, and what would it represent in the Age of Internet memes and fragmented media?

Writer, cultural critic, and rock fan Geoff Moore is back on the ‘Bin to find out whether or not a Led Zeppelin reunion would sink like a leaden balloon, or soar like a Valkyrie.

Led Zeppelin reunion 2007
Image: Paul Hudson

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Led Zeppelin Play “Going To California” at Earl’s Court 1975

Here’s a clip of stadium rock pioneers and erstwhile New Yardbirds known as Led Zeppelin. It’s a live take of “Going To California”, originally a cut from their untitled fourth album, which is sometimes called Led Zeppelin IV. Here we see it performed on film at one of their five appearances at Earl’s Court, this specific one on May 25, 1975. You can see the entirety of the show on 2003’s creatively titled Led Zeppelin DVD on disc 2.

This is perhaps one of the most era-defining performances in rock history, capturing the band at the height of their powers during a time they were being hailed as the biggest rock act of the era.

Led Zeppelin at Earls Court Going to California

No expense was spared in creating the event on an appropriately epic scale. The lighting rigs and sets used during these shows were shipped from the States where the band had recently toured to Earl’s Court in London, then the largest venue in Britain. Rehearsals stretched out over days while the sound on a technical level was tested and perfected.

It was kind of a big deal.

But, there again so were the band, the biggest concert draw of the era by then in terms of sheer numbers in the seats. Considering the era, this is saying quite a lot, what with both the Who and the Rolling Stones also on the road in 1975. In terms of commercial appeal, they were sitting pretty.

Yet, even if the commercial traction they’d created would sustain them in the immediate years that followed, this series of shows at Earl’s Court would represent the pinnacle of their success for many. And, how so? Read more

The Small Faces Perform “You Need Loving”

Listen to this track by ’60s mod champions and British R&B purveyors The Small Faces. It’s “You Need Loving”, a belter of an R&B tune recorded in 1966, and featured on their self-titled debut record The Small Faces . The song was originally written a few years earlier for Muddy Waters to sing by Chess Records bassist, producer, and songwriting giant Willie Dixon, who christened it “You Need Love“.

This version by the Small Faces had a tremendous influence on the upcoming hard rock scene by the end of the decade. It might actually sound very familiar to you as it inspired yet another song by a group of British R&B enthusiasts, who made that song into something of a signature number of their own – “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin.

The blues is a mysterious form, as we’ve seen. Like a lot of vibrant folk music, individual songs aren’t so much owned as they are passed along, and changed through performance and interpretation over the years and decades. But, as we’ve also seen, the modern publishing industry isn’t so mysterious when it comes to the issue of borrowing and adapting without leave. So, how did things unfold with this tune?

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Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Perform “Four Sticks”

Listen to this track from Percy and Pagey, once of conquering Nordic-style hard rock  demi-gods Led Zeppelin, reunited as world-music enthusiasts Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.  It’s “Four Sticks”, a massively underappreciated Zep track from their most soundly celebrated 1971 untitled fourth album (sometimes called IV, Four Symbols, or Zoso), and revisited here on their live No Quarter album, recorded and released in late 1994.

Since 1980, and through solo career efforts of varying degrees of success and quality, Page and Plant were burdened with their legacy as game-changing rock icons.  The pair were constantly asked about Zep re-unions, teased out by appearances with John Paul Jones at Live Aid (with Tony Thompson and Phil Collins sitting in for a departed John Bonham).  There was also a brief show together at the 1988 Atlantic Records 40th anniversary.  Yet, through it all, the commonality that runs through their music was their interest in Celtic traditions and the blues as informed by the musical traditions of North Africa. Read more

Robert Plant & The Strange Sensation Play “Takamba”

robert_plant_and_the_strange_sensation_mighty_rearrangerListen to this track by former Zep-figurehead and recent alt-folk proponent Robert Plant. It’s “Takamba” as taken from his 2005 album Mighty Rearranger recorded with his new band The Strange Sensation.

Being in the position Plant was in, and still is in to a certain degree, isn’t enviable.  He was the frontman of a game-changing rock band from the late-60s to the early 80s, not only establishing a sonic template for many, many bands coming up behind him, but also an image too – the Golden God.

After the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980, that entity which was Led Zeppelin was no more.  Yet, the expectations of fans and of music critics, continued along the same trajectory, a phenomenon akin to the rock and roll law of physics as applied to popular frontmen gone solo.  How to proceed then?  Make albums that everyone expects and be accused of resting on your laurels?  Or, make albums that run contrary to those expectations, and risk losing your audience?

On this album, everyone agreed that the seemingly impossible balance between these two powerful solitudes had been achieved. Plant’s interest in North African textures are certainly served here with the Malian-flavoured introduction.  And his penchant for singing atop rock Mount Olympus is also served, particularly thanks to Strange Sensation drummer Clive Deamer, who sounds as though he’s whacking the kit with a pair of telephone poles.

Plant has made a record that seems like a logical progression of all the musical avenues that he has explored earlier.  And as such, it sounds honest, as well as elemental and big, which is what he built his career on since the days of Led Zeppelin I.  And it is this type of honesty which would further spark a duet record with Alison Krauss, gaining him a following that many never expected without compromising his own musical interests in roots music, and R&B which he’d pursued from the beginning.

Rock icons have it tough in some ways, perceived as dinosaurs who walk a razor-thin edge of critical praise when putting out records in the 21st Century.  This is perhaps down to the “hope I die before I get old” factor set rather ironically when many members of Plant’s generation were in their prime.  Yet, rock and roll has always been about tearing down walls between styles, between communities, and now between generations too.

The idea of ‘relevance’ being about keeping up with the newest trends is itself outmoded.  If anything should be made irrelevant, it should be this. Artists making creative decisions that clearly sharpen the definition their own body of work should be celebrated, no matter when they had their initial success.  This is certainly the case with this song, and this album.

To find out more about Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation, check out RobertPlant.com