Friday, December 27, 2013

Song #459 of 9999 - Good Times Bad Times by Led Zeppelin

Song #459 of 9999

Title: Good Times Bad Times
Artist: Led Zeppelin
Year: 1969
Album: Led Zeppelin

So much good music came out in 1969, it would be easy to pass over the obvious major releases, which have been written about so much already by so many talented professional writers, in favor of lesser-known gems. But I know my audience and you're all about the hits. Er, what I mean to say is, the hits are important too! In this year when The Beatles were releasing their final records, we have the the first two LP releases from the next really significant band in the lineage of pop superstardom: Led Zeppelin.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, he attributes the success of The Beatles in part to the endless hours they played together in (primarily German) clubs prior to landing in America. In support of his theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something, Gladwell contends that The Beatles were already so good at playing together that they arrived performing at a master level. Many of the other bands of the era were releasing records just after forming or were brought together by managers to record music without ever playing together before. Even a band as accomplished as The Rolling Stones sounds so green and inexperienced when its early albums are compared to those of The Beatles.

And here we have Led Zeppelin, sounding very polished on their eponymous debut, despite having been together for mere months before banging out the album in nine days. So how does this happen? Are these four guys simply more talented than The Beatles?

Well, no. But there were other extenuating circumstances. When Led Zeppelin was formed, Jimmy Page was 24 and had already logged five years as a session musician after already having been in a touring band for two years as a teenager. His time in the studio would prove particularly beneficial as Page shepherded Led Zeppelin into the studio armed with knowledge few musicians would have. The Beatles had George Martin to guide them but Page was calling the shots during the recording of Led Zeppelin as well as financing the entire project! John Paul Jones arrived with a similar pedigree, having logged at least four years of studio time prior to joining Led Zeppelin. And the other two guys....well, they're just gifted I guess.

I could go on forever about the background of the band but let's get into the song. "Good Times Bad Times" is almost the perfect introduction to Led Zeppelin as it highlights each band member's contributions to the song and foreshadows the roles each will play over the course of the band's career. The first thing that really grabs my attention in the song is the stylized drumming of John Bonham. As his drumming becomes more syncopated and complex during the intro and ensuing verses, one quickly realizes this is no ordinary drummer—he's doing things with his bass drum pedal that still seem impossible with a single drum. The complex riff played in unison by guitar and bass during the verses is attributed to John Paul Jones who would embrace the role of band arranger and contribute many of the most intricate ideas to the band's later records. In addition to the sterling production achieved by Page, we also hear his tremendous skill as a lead guitarist at 1:30 and beyond as he manages to set a new standard for rock guitar players in less than three minutes. Robert Plant's contribution seems bit muted until 2:09 when we get a real glimpse of his vocal style during his ad libs. (Listeners to the entire album get more than an earful from Plant, who dominates the second track, "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You.") Of course, his vocal tone quality was so unique that even the more sedate stuff of his vocal track must have seemed unique to listeners in 1969.

And thus the world was introduced to Led Zeppelin. The best was yet to come.

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