Sunday, 21 September 2014

Hippie Blues: 45 Years of Led Zeppelin

It used to be said that somewhere in the world, at any given moment, "Stairway to Heaven" is playing on the radio. This 1971 track from the fourth Led Zeppelin album, with its mellow guitar intro (perhaps borrowed from Spirit's "Taurus"), became so ubiquitous in rock culture that it formed the basis for a well-known music-store gag in Wayne's World (a sign in the store reading "No Stairway to Heaven"). Like "Bohemian Rhapsody" for Queen, "Money" for Pink Floyd or "Hotel California" for the Eagles, "Stairway" played an important role in making Led Zep one of the highest-profile bands of the 1970s. Some would even argue that Page, Plant and company are to the 70s what the Beatles are to the 1960s, Elvis to the 1950s or Michael Jackson to the 1980s.
Despite Led Zeppelin's status as icons of 70s rock, the band's music is steeped in the British electric blues and psychedelia of the 1960s. The first two albums, of course, were released in 1969; Led Zeppelin II competed in the album charts in the autumn of 1969 with the Beatles' Abbey Road -- placing the 1960s and the 70s in immediate musical juxtaposition. Is there any other way to hear the center section of "Whole Lotta Love" as something other than late-60s psychedelic head music (though more sexually driven than most hippie soundscapes to be sure) or the slow sections of "Dazed and Confused" as opiate-induced languor? It was trippy blues, or better yet, "hippie blues."

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