Today David and I complete our post on our top five favorite albums…
Led Zeppelin – “Physical Graffiti”
Led Zeppelin: Robert Plant, vocals, Jimmy Page, guitar, John Paul Jones, Bass and Keyboard and the one and only, John Bonham, bombastic Drums. I labored over “THE” Zep album to choose for this list. After much review and after getting to play these CDs I have played hundreds of times over the years, the choice came painstakingly clear: Physical Graffiti, the sixth studio album from this amazing band.
This two-record set begins with a tasty Page riff into the song, “Custard Pie.” Bonham’s groove is infectious as he skips two on the snare and hits on the and of two and four causing what seems like a pause or skip that really builds the tension. “Show the people your Custard Pie!”
“The Rover,” Another hard hitting grove by Bonham. Page comes in with a, “Phase Shifter,” effect.”Rover” is a term for a wanderer, as the lyrics attest to. This song was written in 1970 as an acoustic piece but wasn’t recorded until 1972 during the, “Houses of the Holy,” sessions. It was left off that album and included on Physical Graffiti.
“In My Time of Dying,” Wow! Just an intense song, a gift for a drummer. The opening guitar riff is slow and powerful with Bonham joining in for a couple of beats, building tension until he slaps you with the groove, four on the floor while skipping a beat before stopping to let Mr. Plant do his job. Interestingly, this is the longest recorded Led Zeppelin song, coming in at 11:06.
Once the song kicks in the guitar has a quick riff that Bonham locks into switching between the bass and snare in a broken up beat that ends with a 16th note snare beat, then repeating. The song goes through several powerful changes that make it interesting and super fun to play if you’re a capable musician. “Ohhh, Saint Peter, at the gates of heaven / won’t you let me in / I never did no wrong / I never did no wrong.” The solo makes you want to walk to the cross roads in Mississippi at Midnight, like Robert Johnson to sell his sole to the devil, to be able to play with the feel that Page has. Bonham playing a 16th note groove on the high hats. The last segment of this song is strait up power, as if Bonham was hitting the kit with elongated bricks. Joy of joys this wondrous song…..”It feels pretty good up here!”
I had the pleasure of seeing Jimmy Page on the Outrider tour in 1988. I was at the back of the Portland, Maine Civic Center when he went into this song. My clothes started to rattle from the vibration. It went through my body and right down my spine. I have never experienced anything like it at a concert, I was mesmerized by the power of that guitar riff, vibrating my shirt from across the Civic Center. The wizard was in Maine and it was a transcending experience for me.
“Houses of the Holy,” is a fun, quick and happy song, makes you want to dance around your apartment in various forms of undress. A straight ahead rock song with, “more cowbell.”
“Trampled Under Foot,” “I can’t stop talking about Love.” another straight ahead rock song, two’s & four’s. John Paul Jones gives us a great clavinet solo, really showcasing his immense talent. This song was one of Plants favorites. It charted 38 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and was played live constantly.
“Kashmir,” What a groove, in a word, this song is sexy. The guitar has a triple meter feel while the drums kick a strait and slow groove. In high school, I looped a 90 minute tape that my girlfriend and I played over and over while we taught each other, “things.” Such fond memories to such a perfect song. I think this is the song that is played in, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” The dating advice is, “When at all possible play side one of Zeppelin four.” The kid play’s Kashmir instead, good choice!
“In The Light,” This song starts out a little weird. Very slow, Page used a violin bow on an acoustic guitar while John Paul Jones comes up with a creative synthesizer intro until the drums kick in. It has a similar groove to Kashmir but they are very different songs. This song was never played live because the band couldn’t reproduce the synthesizer sound properly outside of the studio so it was scraped, although John Paul Jones wanted to do it. He said that it was his favorite song on Physical Graffiti.
“Bron-Yr-Aur,” A beautiful Page guitar solo. Very light and airy. Sweet. Bron-Yr-Aur is a Welsh country house that most of Led Zeppelin III was written. A great retreat for the band with its lush surroundings. A great place to write and record amazing music. This instrumental is the shortest recorded Zeppelin song, clocking in at 2:06.
“Down by the Seaside,” This song was also written in 1970 at Bron-Yr-Aur but recorded for this album. It’s a beautiful track. “Down by the seaside, see the boats go sailing. Can the people hear, what the little fish are sayin.” The song takes a turn, speeding up at the middle into more of a rock number but then goes back to a slow southern drawl.
“Ten Years Gone,” was intended to be a Page instrumental but Plant ended up writing lyrics to it. He said in an interview that the song was about a girlfriend he had ten years ago. Plant said, “I was working my ass off before joining Zeppelin. A lady I really dearly loved said,” “Right. It’s me or your fans.” “Not that I had fans, but I said, I can’t stop, I’ve got to keep going.” I think every musician has a story like this, I’ve heard, “you love those drums more than me!” I just smile.
“Night Flight,” I love this track. That 16th note feel with the snare coming in is just cool daddy, cool. Such a great snare sound. Plant once said that this song was about a young man avoiding the military draft.
“The Wanton Song,” Is another favorite of mine. I dig the groove on this one. That riff and Bonham just kicking it into gear, making the riff better. I also love the way he dances around the beat in this, skipping and killing those base drum fills, triplets on the foot that he always did so well. Fun to listen to, fun to play.
“Boogie with Stu,” This song was a free form jam in 1971. Zeppelin was using the Rolling Stones mobile studio when the Stones road manager and pianist, Ian “Stu” Stewart, ended up jamming with the band on piano. It’s an unlikely song that never would have been written or recorded had it not been for this free form jam.
“Black Country Woman,” Is a blues song about a woman living in an area called, Black Country, near Birmingham where Plant and Bonham grew up. It’s a pretty strait forward blues/rock song.
“Sick Again,” This ones about under age, teenage groupies that Plant felt sorry for. Bonham is favoring the bell of the ride cymbal all thorough out this track. He also kills some pretty heavy triplets on the toms and bass drum. The ending of a great Rock & Roll classic album by one of the greatest bands to ever walk the earth.
Jane’s Addiction – “Nothing’s Shocking”
There are other Jane’s Addiction albums like “Ritual de lo Habitual” that have left an indelible impression on me but their debut album is where I discovered one of the most unique alternative bands I’ve ever come upon. From the shocking album cover which features a sculpture of nude female conjoined twins on a rocking chair with their heads on fire to the vivid music within it, Jane’s Addiction pushed, and continues to push the artistic realm of music. The song that everyone knows, “Mountain Song” was dropped by MTV for a scene of nudity so the band released a 20 minute live footage video version called Soul Kiss, The video is as brilliant as the album and shows the artistic ingenuity of the band.
I was also drawn to the tribal drumming style of Stephen Perkins who has become a regular on The Drum Channel. Another highlight of this album is the variety of musical styles that are included. From hard rock to light music, the broad style of the musicians is evident. “Jane Says” is a remarkable song that tells the story of a junkie that is trying to kick the heroin habit. It features a single acoustic guitar and steel drums. I’ve never heard that combination before. It has become a favorite of mine when I listen to that album. I looked it up and Nothing’s Shocking is certified platinum with little radio airplay and no MTV support. That draws me to the album even more. Here’s my favorites:
“Mountain Song,” This is a monster song. The opening tom fills are epic and let you know that this song is going to be h-e-a-v-y. Perry Farrell’s booming voice echoes over the drums. This album was made before any of these guys (Dave Navarro, Perkins, or Ferrell) were anybody. Who knew they would grow to become some of the most successful musicians in their given field. “Mountain Song” was their first “hit.” I remember watching video of Perkins playing (naked) the intro to this song and thinking what a cool opening. I could do that. Only to find that I couldn’t quite get the right timing without a lot of practice. The drums and bass are in sync and without a bass player it was difficult to master. I eventually worked it out. This was before the Internet or Play-Alongs.
“Jane Says,” Another favorite song. This one showcases Perkins on the steel drums and was the first time I had heard an alternative rock drummer play such an instrument. I think Ferrell’s voice and lyrics are what appeals to me the most with this song. The title refers to Farrell’s ex-girlfriend who was the inspiration and the namesake of the band. The song carries drug references such as “kick” (stop using). Janes has performed different versions of this song over the years to include acoustic. Each version is great in my opinion as the song stands on its own regardless of the style it is performed in.
“Pigs in Zen,” This song is often considered the band’s “anything goes” songs. Instrumentally the song is simple. The band would frequently improve new jams when performing the song live. Ferrell also created countless memorable “perryisms” during live performances. The lyrics are outstanding: “I’m in the midst of a trauma – Leave a message- I’ll call you back – Leave it by the bed – Some people should die – That’s just unconscious knowledge” I don’t think this song influenced me specifically as a drummer but it did influence me as a musician. The idea that you could write a song that framed itself for regular improvisation stuck with me.