Tag Archives: Led Zeppelin

#songoftheday: Them Crooked Vultures – Scumbag Blues

Of all the songs Them Crooked Vultures produced, this one always seemed to have the biggest John Paul Jones influence.  Sort of a more bluesy and upbeat companion to Trampled Under Foot from Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti.

 

 

Led Zeppelin II

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Confession time: for a long time, Led Zeppelin IV just didn’t do it for me.

In the Napster days, Led Zeppelin was this name that always got tossed around as the definitive hard rock band. Knowing that “Stairway to Heaven” was their most popular song, I figured that Led Zeppelin IV was the obvious point to jump on the Led Zep bandwagon. Bad call. I went in expecting something along the lines of “Hells Bells” and ended up with songs like “Four Sticks”, and “The Battle of Evermore”. Great songs in retrospect, but at the time, I saw the album’s diversity as incoherence. Without three album’s worth of context, it just came across as an album that couldn’t decide on it’s own identity. Looking back, Led Zepplin IV is an amazing album, but at age 15, I’d decided that Led Zep just wasn’t for me.

A couple of years later, I’d finished up high school, but had no firm plans on what to do with my life. Instead of blowing a few thousand dollars on some random universty program, I made the call to do an extra year of high school. With all the advanced math and science classes under my belt, I was left with a lot of choice in that last year. Computer programming/engineering classes seemed like a safe bet, but that wouldn’t fill up an entire schedule. The time was right to get a bit more experimental with my course picks, and what high school class says free spirit more than guitar?

As much as I loved the idea of learning how to actually play the music I enjoyed, I did have some reservations. Namely, my complete lack of musical talent. Seriously, it was pretty bad.

In grade 5, my class was given the task of learning how to play the recorder. The instrument itself wasn’t all that intimidating, but reading sheet music turned out to be extremely difficult for me. After learning the first 3-note song, I was completely lost, and way behind the rest of the class. The rest of the year was spent sitting as low as possible at my desk, in an attempt to obscure my hands from the teacher’s view. From there, I’d pantomime what the other kids were doing, and pretend to blow into that stress-inducing, wannabe flute. Whenever the time came for a test, I’d transcribe the notes into a system of numbers that fit with my finger placement, and fumble through the song. After all that, I walked away with a solid “B” mark, and a healthy sense of anxiety whenever the thought of performing music popped into my head.

Fortunately, guitar class worked out much better because I ended up with an amazing teacher. He wasn’t nessecarily Ynngwie Malmsteen, but he had a real passion for his job, and patience to spare. The sound of twenty teens mangling “Sweet City Woman” never seemed to fase him one bit, and he knew we could only get better. Afterall, the spirit of rock was chaos, and we had that in spades. Best of all, by getting rid of sheet music, the barrier for entry was tossed right out the window. With guitar tabs, and transcribed chords I had a fighting chance at this whole music thing.

Throughout that year, I gained a new appreciation for dozens of artists. The Beatles, The Who, Bowie, Hendrix, Kansas….even Led Zeppelin. Songs like “Moby Dick”, and “Bring it on Home” sounded like I’d always imagined Led Zeppelin should sound. The main riffs weren’t overly complicated, but still had the ability to make you look, sound, and feel like a legit rock star if you could pull them off. As it turns out, all of the “new” Led Zeppelin songs that I was discovering came from the same album….Led Zeppelin II. Their second album, and their second chance at winning me over.

I picked up the album on my next trip to MusicWorld, and thankfully, I wasn’t let down in the slightest. While a bit less diverse than their fourth album, Led Zeppelin II delivered on that promise of being the definitive hard rock experience from intro to outro. This was the legendary Led Zeppelin that I’d heard so much about, and it was the exact album that I’d been looking for.

From beginning to end, Led Zeppelin II had that sense of cohesion I didn’t get from their fourth record. Track sequencing probably had a lot to do with this. Jimmy Page did an incredible job of creating the perfect flow to keep you engaged the entire time. Kicking things off with “Whole Lotta Love”, then calming things down for an intermission of sorts with “Thank You”, before jumping into the second act with “Heartbreaker”.

To close out the whole show, there’s “Bring it on Home”. Beginning with a slow, heavily distorted blues intro, “Bring it on Home” suddenly explodes with life around the 1:40 mark. The band keeps that frenetic pace going for the rest of the song, before returning to the slow blues riff for the outro. It’s the perfect track to end the album with, and gives Led Zeppelin II an excellent mix of climax, and closure in the confines of a single song.

Needless to say, after Led Zeppelin II, I was finally sold on Led Zeppelin. Over the next few years, I’d pick up their other records, and with the context of Led Zeppelin II, I was much more open to the blues-heavy Led Zep I, the acoustic/folk-influence of Led Zep III, as well as the later albums that threw most genre conventions out the window. Without giving Led Zeppelin that second chance, I would’ve completely missed out on “The Rain Song”, and that’s just not a world that I’d want to live in.

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Napster

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A the dawn of the new millennium, Napster was at the forefront of a huge shakeup of the music industry. Suddenly, every song you’d ever imagined listening to was available for free. The 60s had free love, but we had free tunes, and it was a dream come true.

I’m counting Napster along with the other influential albums, because, to be honest, it (and its other P2P contemporaries) did more to inform me about music than any single album could. The days of paying $20 for a few songs, and hoping that the rest of the album was decent, were officially over. The only real barrier for entry left, was how much patience you had for dial-up internet.

I first heard about Napster in the spring of 2000, from the same friend that introduced me to Fat Music Vol. IV. He told tales of a computer program that let people download, and share all the music in the world. To top it all off, the entire thing was free.  The whole idea seemed too crazy to be true, but I couldn’t wait to try it out.

The program itself was really user friendly. The simplicity of just typing in the name of the artist/song you wanted, then having it just show up was pretty mind blowing at the time. You’d get a list of results arranged by audio quality, and whatever connection speed the uploader was running on. Normally it would make the most sense to go with the highest sound quality, but there was a bit of a catch back then. High quality meant bigger file sizes, and bigger file sizes meant longer download times. Now, patience was only part of it. The biggest concern was that the longer something was downloading, the more likely it was that someone would call your house, and instantly kill your internet connection. Downloading “Stairway to Heaven” can get pretty stressful, when it’s your 20th try, it’s 90% downloaded, and you’re positive that your grandmother’s going to call at any second.

Putting the technical limitations aside, Napster gave me an unheard of freedom to discover new artists and genres. It even had a built in chat, with different rooms for more genres of music than I’d even heard of at that point. An innocent question of, “What is Ska?” in the Ska chat room resulted in an impromptu essay about what Ska “means”, from someone that I can only assume, was the founder of the hipster movement.

Those first few months of using Napster were pretty incredible. Even people with 14.4kbit connections were happily sharing their music collections with the world. The legality of the whole thing never really occured to me at the time. I mean, this was before Metallica let us know that, surprisingly enough, all this swapping of copyrighted material might be considered piracy by some.

The popular idea at the time was that Napster was costing the music industry a fortune. I can’t speak for everybody, but if it wasn’t for Napster, the record company execs would be walking around with a lot less of my money in their pockets. Without the financial barrier for entry, I was free to check out a ton of bands that I’d heard of, but wasn’t really familiar with. Bands like Guns N’ Roses, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, The Eagles, The Who, Green Day…. Bands that I’d go on to spend a good chunk of real, honest-to-goodness cash on.

With all this newfound music, I set out to develop my own version of the Big Shiny Tunes series. Soup Mix volumes 1-4 (and its spinoff brand, Soup’s Punk Mix) were an ever evolving anthology series, that gave a pretty good snapshot of my musical tastes at the time. Mostly consisting of equal amounts The Offspring, AC/DC, and Goldfinger, the mixes would go on to bring in more genres and artists over time.

I didn’t own a CD burner at the time, so I had to get a friend of mine to actually burn the CDs. Since there was a charge of $10, and a lengthy bike ride associated with the creation of each Soup Mix, I put a lot of time into the pre-burn process. After designing the cover art, I’d spend hours writing out all the songs I wanted, then doing some hardcore math to whittle down the run-times to come under that 80 minute mark.

Once the songs were picked, I started to really focus on flow. Taking extra care to make sure that the transition from one track to another was never jarring, no matter how many genres and tempos I wanted to cram on there. Lagwagon and Buffalo Springfield don’t just go together without a bit of planning after all.

Napster wouldn’t last forever, but Kazaa and Morpheus picked up the slack for the remainder of high school. Gradually the music sharing scene lost that bohemian spirit of music for everyone, and became a bit more about surprise viruses and spyware. It was nice while it lasted though.

#songoftheday: Crash Kings – It’s Only Wednesday

A rock band doing guitar solos?
Nothing too interesting about that.

What sets Crash Kings apart, is that they’re a rock band without a guitar player. They do, however, have a very talented pianist, who manages to simulate hammer-ons, pull-offs, and bends with the help of his modified keyboard.

Here’s a good showcase that the band posted on YouTube: