Critics Hated ‘Led Zeppelin’ But Here Is The One Review That Got It Right
Words by Riley Fitzgerald
Graphic by Press
The dominant historical narrative which surrounds Led Zeppelin is that the press hated them.
It’s a story many biographers and the bandmembers themselves claim to be true.
And while there is certainly an element of fact to this – major media outlets were dismissive of the group for the better part of their career and prestige publications like Rolling Stone routinely panned them, there were many who were, from the outset, on Zeppelin’s side.
Felix Dennis, who would publish the first biography of Bruce Lee and later become a crack cocaine smoking multimillionaire media mogul later in life, was one.
In fact, it’s his prescient review in a March 1969 issue of underground paper OZ that sums up the record better than any of his peers, of for that matter anyone else who has followed, could.
“Very occasionally a long-playing record is released that defies immediate classification or description,” Dennis wrote, “simply because it’s so obviously a turning point in rock music that only time proves capable of shifting it into eventual perspective. (Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home, The Byrds‘ Younger Than Yesterday, Disraeli Gears, Hendrix‘s Are You Experienced? and Sgt. Pepper). This Led Zeppelin album is like that.”
“Few rock musicians in the world could hope to parallel the degree of technical assurance and gutsy emotion [Jimmy Page] displays throughout these nine tracks,” he continued. “Exactly 84 seconds after the beginning of ‘Good Times Bad Times’, the first cut, side one, Page does things with an electric guitar that might feebly be described as bewildering. From then on it only gets better.”
Dennis also enthused over the vocal contributions of a young Robert Plant.
“Lead vocalist Robert Plant is a blue-eyed soul merchant,” he beamed. “Living proof of the YouDon’tHaveToBeBlackToSingTheBlues theory, formerly with Birmingham based group, The Band of Joy, as is the Zeppelin’s drummer John Bonham.”
Dennis also picked up on the Motown meets proto-metal vibration John Bonham’s now-iconic drumming.
“Bonham’s technique is interesting,” he then reflected. “It’s nice to be able to listen to a drummer whose use of the bass pedal and cymbals is intelligent without being studied and contrived and at the other end of the stick, powerful without deteriorating into frenzied, feverish thrashing.”
John Paul Jones also received praise
“John Paul Jones,” Felix noted, “plays bass and organ for Led Zeppelin. It’s enough to say that of both instruments he is an experienced, resourceful master.”
In making these points Dennis hinted at the fact that it was the pooling of the elemental energies of each four members which made Zeppelin truly special.
He then looked at the overall impact of the band’s debut.
“This album makes you feel good,” he shared. “It makes you feel good to hear a band with so much to say and the conspicuous ability to say it as they feel it; to translate what’s in their heads to music. It makes you feel good to hear Bonham and Jones working together, creating those deep, surging, undercurrents of rhythm as Page again and again molests the more vulnerable areas of his Telecaster. Good to listen to Plant with his ugly, angry vocals, bellowing to his woman that he’s leaving her – right after the next fuck. Good to dig completely spontaneous but so, so beautiful breaks is ‘How Many More Times’, or Jones running amok on his Hammond keyboard in Willie Dixon’s ‘You Shook Me’ and to sway, entranced with Page’s droning, mantra-like bow guitar in ‘Dazed and Confused’.”
Dennis then predicts the future trajectory of the band with unerring accuracy.
“Of course, as a result of this album,” he laments, “we’ll lose the group to the States, and almost certainly within the month the Melody Maker letters page will headline – ‘Is Page BETTER Than God?!!’ – and then the BBC will begin negotiations on a feature film… but there’s more to it than that. There is a phrase nobody uses anymore, (not since we de-freaked our hair, handed back granny her beads, quietly disposing of kaftans and joss sticks to jumble collections). That phrase exactly sums up Led Zeppelin’s debut album. Remember Good Vibrations?”
You can read the full issue of Oz magazine here.