30 June 2009

The Roots Of Led Zeppelin

This is a set with 3 CDs and a DVD with no music by Led Zeppelin but with music that led to Led Zep.

The three CDs are roughly one with acoustic blues, the second with Chicago blues and a third with rock 'n roll. If you know LZ but not much music history in general, this set will surprise you. If you do know more about music, you might think that tRoLZ could also have been called The Roots To Rock Music In General Including Led Zeppelin. Artists go from Robert Johnson to Elvis Presley including lots of other artists from the 'you need to know at least these' category. It isn't a general introduction to rock because of the LZ specific selection of songs but it comes close. Let's just say that a roots of the Rolling Stones CD set would include many of the same artists and quite possibly some of the same songs.

Many songs have been included because they've been played during concerts or by the Yardbirds. Roots of course and often verifiable because of live recordings/bootlegs. The more interesting items imho are the songs that can be traced to the studio albums. This set provides the originals and documentation to help you discover those influences. That can be a complicated matter: not included (but mentioned in the liner notes) in this set is "You Need Love" by Muddy Waters (which you can find on 'You Heard It Here First'), an original to LZ's 'Whole Lotta Love'. But as the liner notes by You Heard It Here First already point out, Zeps version seems to be more inspired on the Small Faces' "You Need Loving" (also not included).

"When The Levee Breaks" has an original by Memphis Minnie (Kansas Joe) but the LZ version is a "drastic re-working" of it, according to the linernotes. That's an understatement, see this link to a Wired article:
"You’ve got backwards harmonica, backwards echo, phasing, and there’s also flanging," Jimmy Page told Uncut Magazine in 2008, "and at the end you get this super-dense sound, in layers, that’s all built around the drum track. And you’ve got Robert, constant in the middle, and everything starts to spiral around him. It’s all done with panning."
I mean, the roots are only half of the story here.

With blues and rock 'n roll the most important influences are covered. Featured are also skiffle and country songs but they enforce the rock-side of LZ most. If you're looking for the roots to "The Battle Of Evermore" or "D'yer Mak'er" you won't find it on this set.

Which brings us to the question what the value is of tRoLZ. LZ wasn't particularly generous when attributing songs and if you'd want to explore the roots yourself, you won't get much assistance from the record sleeves. tRoLZ doesn't reveal any secrets, you can find everything in books and on the net, but having 60 tracks handy with a text to explain their selection makes it easier to discover the influences. "Travellin' Riverside Blues", Robert Johnson, check, but is that also influenced by the music from "The Girl I Love" by Sleepy John Estes?

So in order to fully appreciate this set, you need to have a few LZ albums for comparison or know their music well. Not a necessity, it's an excellent selection of songs in its own right, but it's fairly pointless without. You can use this set to discover some artists you didn't know before but the majority is of a stature that getting a bunch of 'Best Of' CDs makes more sense.

Download it of course but that doesn't give you the booklet. As said, all the information is available elsewhere and you'll find easy. But so are the songs and like the songs, the liner notes make it very convenient to explore the music. The text is a somewhat chronological walk through the history of the band and the various albums, making connections to the songs on this set and other influences, with a quote here and there. Excellent stuff. The rest of the booklet are pictures of the artists and a catalog of other Proper releases. The set contains a fourth disk, a DVD with interviews, which I haven't bothered to check out yet.
Proper, 2009

When The Levee Breaks
How Many More Years
Train Kept A Rollin

Extra: Small Faces - You Need Loving (remove last extension)