Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Five Most Underrated Led Zeppelin Songs

When you look at their impressive career from 1969-1979, Led Zeppelin cranked out plenty of well known and loved songs like "Stairway to Heaven" and "Whole Lotta Love", but many of their best tracks are actually the most underrated and least well known. Here's our look at the five most underrated songs from all their studio albums, excluding 1982's CODA, which was released after the band had parted ways following the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980.

Achilles Last Stand (Presence, 1976)

The opening song on what many consider a lacklustre Presence album, Achilles Last Stand is more than 10 minutes of Led Zeppelin thundering along in an epic track that paved the way for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant at Page's Malibu home, the band recorded it in 1975 in Munich at Musicland Studios. Of interest on this song, besides' John Bonham's stellar drumming, is John Paul Jones' use of a custom eight-string bass. Jimmy Page added no less than 12 guitar tracks to the song and orchestrated the guitar parts. This song, with it's relentless energy, virtually crowns Led Zeppelin at their peak.

Custard Pie (Physical Graffiti, 1975)

Boasting a stellar Jimmy Page riff and incredible work by John Bonham that carries the song, "Custard Pie" kicks off the double Physical Graffiti album in a big way. The infectious, funky groove will instantly have your feet tapping, while Robert Plant is at his sexual double-entendre best singing about a woman's vagina. Written by Page and Plant, the singer also handles the harmonica that adds a solid blues element to the riff. Interestingly, Zeppelin never played it live.

The Rover (Physical Graffiti, 1975)

The second track on the Physical Graffiti album is one of those songs that flies under the radar. But from the moment John Bonham kicks it in with the opening drum passage, "The Rover" shows why it's among Zeppelin's best work. It was recorded in 1972 and originally intended to go on the Houses of the Holy album, but the band held it off that record. Robert Plant puts his heart and soul into it, just listen to him sing "You got me rockin when I ought to be a-rollin. Darling, tell me darling which way to go". Page's fretboard work is sound as always, and he used several overdubs to thicken his guitar sound on the track.

The Ocean (House of the Holy, 1973)

"The Ocean" closes out the impressive Houses of the Holy record with John Bonham counting it in "We've done four already but now we're steady and they went 1, 2, 3, 4 ...." as the band supposedly cracks it on the fifth take. It's a fun, funky song where you can tell the group is having a ton of fun playing it. The ending coda features some cool doo-wop grooving (with John Paul Jones and Bonham providing vocals) while Page solos merrily along. Near the end, Plant goes "Oh soo good" and yes, this song is oh. so. good. It was written by the entire band.

Bron-Y-Aur Stomp (Led Zeppelin III, 1970)

Named after the 18th Century Bron-Y-Aur house in Wales where the band wrote most of the songs for Led Zeppelin III, this acoustic track features John Bonham playing spoons and castanets, while John Paul Jones incorporates a fretless bass as the song grooves along nicely. Jimmy Page carries it with a superb sounding acoustic riff that connotes the pastoral side the band found writing at the house, which had no electricity or running water.


Check out our in-depth look at the making and recording of Led Zeppelin IV

Friday, January 20, 2017

Making and Recording Led Zeppelin IV

There's no question Led Zeppelin IV is one of the most iconic rock albums ever recorded.

Since its release way back in 1971, the album continues to be one of the top-selling albums, year after year (more than 37 millions copies sold worldwide).

Guitarist Jimmy Page, who produced it, vocalist Robert Plant, bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John 'Bonzo' Bonham needed only four months in the studio to produce the piece that catapulted them into the stratosphere among the biggest rock stars in the world.

In late Nov. 1970, the band set themselves up at Headley Grange (after a recommendation on the place from Fleetwood Mac), on old three-story poorhouse in Hampshire, U.K. that was built in 1795. The band brought in the Rolling Stones mobile studio and engineer Andy Johns to handle the sounds, since he was familiar with the mobile truck setup after working with the Stones. They also worked on a few songs, including "Black Dog" at Island Studios in London.

The house had no distractions and the band was under no pressure to finish in a specific time period, so the working conditions were ideal and the finished product reflects that.

Jimmy Page told BBC's "Classic Albums" that the band members would sit around and ask if Jones had anything to contribute songwise, because, up to that time, it was Page and Plant bringing forth most of the ideas and pieces for songs.

"We were always trying to encourage him to come up with bits and pieces so to speak, cause that's usually what they were, he never came up with a complete whole song or anything, (until 'In Through the Out Door')," Page told BBC. "But he had this great riff with "Black Dog" and I added some sections to it as well, and then we had the idea actually, I must be totally honest, I suggested, how you get the breaks with the vocals. That's it, I've finally owned up as no one else will in the band, but that was the idea to give it the vocal thing then the riffs in."

All of the basic tracks were recorded at Headley Grange, while Page added guitar overdubs in Ireland.

"We had the drums in the hall and sometimes the drums were in the room as well, (in the sitting room with the fireplace) and the amplifiers were all over," said Page. "When Bonzo was in the hall, Jones and I were out there with earphones, the two sets of amps were in the other rooms and other parts such as cupboards and things. A very odd way of recording, but it certainly worked. When you've got the whole live creative process going on, that's how things like "Rock and Roll" come out."

Certainly the drum sound on the record is phenomenal and "Rock 'N Roll" was recorded in a couple of takes, showing how in sync the band was at the time.

Capturing Drums on "When the Levee Breaks"

The now-famous drums from "When the Levee Breaks" came about from an idea Page and Johns had at Headley.

"Having worked in the studios for so long as a session player, I had been on so many sessions where the drummer was stuck in a little booth and he would be hitting the drums for all he was worth and it would just sound as though he was hitting a cardboard box," said Page. "I knew that drums would have to breath to have that proper sound, to have that ambiance. So, consequently we were working on the ambiance of everything, of the instruments, all the way through. I guess this is the high point of this album. You've got something like "When the Levee breaks" which was with Bonzo in the hall and on the second landing was a stereo mike and that's all there was."

Songs like "Going to California" and "Misty Mountain Hop" came together fairly quickly out of the band noodling around on different chords.

While many of the songs came easily, "Four Sticks" was a labour of love that took some time until it was up to snuff for Page. He tells a great story of how it was finally finished and how the song got its title.

"We tried that on numerous occasions and it didn't come off until the day Bonzo, who was just playing with two sticks on it and we tried all different things, then one day he picked up two sets of sticks, so he had four sticks, and we did it," said Page. "That was two takes, but that was because it was physically impossible for him to do another. I couldn't get that to work until we tried to record it a few times and I just didn't know what it was and I still wouldn't have known what it was. We probably would have kicked the track out, but then Bonzo went - and I'm not going to repeat the language he said at the time, but it was nothing to do with the fact that it was taking a long time. We had actually gone in to try on a fresh occasion and he just picked up the four sticks and that was it."

Jones had brought a mandolin to the house and Page would play around with it (having never played the instrument before) and ended up with "Battle of Evermore", a track featuring additional vocals by folk singer Sandy Denny, who Plant recommended come in and add her vocal styling to the song.

For the most popular song on Led Zeppelin IV, "Stairway to Heaven", Page had to purchase that famous Gibson SG doubleneck, so he could do all the guitar parts on one instrument.

Once he had the idea for "Stairway", he said it was a bit of a chore getting the rest of the band into it.

"It may not make a lot of sense, but it was actually quite a complicated song to get across to everybody," said Page.

"I know one of the bits that was difficult for Bonzo at the time was the twelve string fanfare into the guitar solo and that took a bit of time," recalled Page. "We were going over and over it from the beginning to the end quite a few times, with Robert sitting on the stool listening and he must have got inspiration as he wrote these lyrics then. He said I think I've got some things for it. We had an old Revox tape recorder at that time and I remember there were a good 70 to 80% of the lyrics there."

The band was sued in 2014 by 1960s band Spirit for allegedly plagiarizing "Stairway" from their song "Taurus". However last year during the much-publicized trial, a jury quickly found Zeppelin did not lift anything from "Taurus".

First Mix of Zeppelin IV Goes Wrong

The record was first initially mixed at Sunset Studios in LA with Johns. But the mix was terrible, despite Johns having good luck there mixing albums for the Rolling Stones.

"As it turned out, mixing the album was an absolute disaster," said Johns in an interview on musicradar.com. "It all sounded great at Sunset, but the only mix that got used was When The Levee Breaks. That, for some reason turned out alright. But we did this playback at Olympic Studios in London and it wasn't the greatest place to hold a playback session. I should have chosen Island. Anyway the first song goes by and it doesn't sound very good at all. Jimmy and I are sitting on the floor with heads in our hands going 'What the hell is this?' Then we played the next one and the next one… and it all sounded 'orrible."

So, basically, the album had to be mixed a second time at Island Studios, delaying the release until November, 1971. And Johns never worked with Zeppelin again after that.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

An In-Depth Look at Soundgarden's Louder Than Love

While Nirvana became the poster band for the so-called grunge revolution, Soundgarden is the group that really first broke significant ground in Seattle.

And it was their sophomore album, Louder Than Love, that paved the way for the rest of the bands in Seattle in the late 1980s.

Louder Than Love, which was unleashed on the world on Sept. 5, 1989, was Soundgarden's first major-label release after 1988's Ultramega OK via indy label SST. In fact Soundgarden was the first Seattle "grunge" (I don't classify them as grunge) band to garner a major record deal, setting the ball rolling for the likes of Alice in Chains, Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, and Pearl Jam to follow suit.

When Louder Than Love first came out, the heavy, Black Sabbath-influenced tracks filled with doomy riffs and screaming vocals fell mostly on deaf ears, peaking at No. 108 on Billboard. But a video for "Hands All Over" would gain some valuable airplay on MTV and MuchMusic in Canada, exposing the band to some new fans.

For those at the time who got into the album, it was phenomenal.

Making Louder Than Love

Singer Chris Cornell, guitarist Kim Thayil, drummer Matt Cameron and then-bassist Hiro Yamamoto took two months (December '88-January '89) to record the album at Seattle's London Bridge Studios, with producer Terry Date, who had worked with Metal Church and a few other bands before getting hired by Soundgarden.

When the band hit the studio, they had a clear goal in mind: To avoid any of the 1980s production techniques. Certainly Soundgarden wanted to stay away from that polished Def Leppard or Poison sound that was so popular back then. It got to the point where every lame band along Sunset Strip could get a good producer and throw out a record to capitalize on hard rock's popularity during that decade. In fact those hair bands were already on their way out, as music fans were turning to the likes of Jane's Addiction, Metallica, Guns N' Roses and Faith No More for music that was more raw and unrefined.

Even though Louder Than Love certainly had a natural, organic sound, Cornell stated in Raw magazine in 1991 that the record "was just a few degrees too produced and too clean, although I wouldn't want to change any of it."

With Yamamoto struggling to come up with ideas, while losing confidence is his ability to be creative (he did write the music for "Power Trip", "No Wrong, No Right" and "I Awake"), Cornell ended up handling most of the song writing and all the lyrics, except for "I Awake", the words of which were written by Yamamoto's girlfriend at the time, Kate McDonald on a note to the bass player.

"At the time Hiro had excommunicated himself from the band and there wasn't a free-flowing system as far as music went, so I ended up writing a lot of it," recalls Cornell in the Raw interview.

While the riffs are uber heavy with many tracks dropped into Drop D tuning, and Cornell's vocals powerfully carry the songs, an interesting aspect of Louder Than Loveare the unusual time signatures. "Get On the Snake" showcases 9/4 time, "Gun" mixes tempos beautifully, while "I Awake" boasts 4/4, 6/4, 11/8 and 14/8. It's a testament to Cameron's talent in the drummer's chair.

Interestingly, "Big Dumb Sex" is a major parody of the glam metal scene at the time, where 90% of the bands were singing about sex using all kinds of euphemisms. Given that, Cornell figured he'd write a song mocking that notion by spelling it out clear as a bell. Guns N' Roses would use it on their The Spaghetti Incident? album of cover songs, while Yamamoto hated the song.

While every song is good, the top tracks include "Loud Love" (great riff and vocal), "Gun" (heavy, heavy riff), "Ugly Truth" (Cornell at his best), "Hands All Over" (great melody and groove) and "Big Dumb Sex" (catchy melody and lyrics).

Soundgarden would go on to gain millions of fans with their next album Badmotorfinger in 1991, but it was Louder Than Love that showcased the power of the band before grunge became a household word.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here: Absence & Disillusionment

Suffice it to say, the making of Wish You Were Here was a time of uneasiness for Pink Floyd.

Tasked with making the follow-up to their landmark Dark Side of the Moon album (one of the best-selling records of all time), bassist Roger Waters, guitarist David Gilmour, drummer Nick Mason and keyboardist Rick Wright certainly weren't in the mindset where they could be super productive in the studio and write another Dark Side.

In fact they were struggling to come to terms with what they were doing, now that they'd made millions and ascended to among the biggest rock stars on the planet.

"In this post Dark Side of the Moon period, we were all having to assess what we were in this business for, why we were doing it and whether we were artists or business people," said Gilmour in the documentary The Story of Wish You Were Here. "Having achieved the sort of success and money out of all of that could fulfill anyone's wildest teenage dreams, why we would still want to continue to do it?"

Indeed, Waters has publicly stated that Pink Floyd was, for all intents and purposes, finished after Dark Side, in that there was nothing left to strive for as a band.

"We could have easily split up." - Roger Waters

Waters notes the band in 1975 was "at a watershed then and we could have easily split up, but we didn't because we were frightened of the great out there beyond the umbrella of this extraordinarily powerful and valuable trade name: Pink Floyd".

So with all these misgivings, the members began working at Abbey Road studios in January, 1975, setting about creating a new album, which would get released in September that year and go on to sell millions of copies.

However, it was a painfully slow grind plagued with infighting, particularly between Waters and Gilmour, as they struggled to come to terms with what the album should be and make new music to fit that vision.

Interestingly, the entire album got a kick start from those four, slow guitar notes that Gilmour strummed one day, which became the basis for "Shine On You Crazy Diamond". It was actually a song they had worked on before hitting the studio.

As their studio time got eaten up with nothing to show for it, Waters proposed taking "Shine On" and bookending the album with it, ultimately making it a nine-part track that was 26 minutes long.

Waters also wanted to axe two other songs they'd worked on in 1974 (which turned out to be "Sheep" and "Dogs" which appeared on Animals) in favour of writing new material. But Gilmour was adamantly opposed, wanting to use those two tracks along with "Shine On". This led to a huge fight between the two bandmates, with Waters ultimately winning the day.

"It felt cobbled to me. I didn't feel real," said Waters. "So at some point in the process, I came up with the idea that it has to be thematic.

Two Themes Emerge: Absence & Disillusionment

Two themes would emerge: Absence and the band's growing disillusionment with the record industry.

Waters came up with "Have a Cigar" and "Welcome to the Machine", two songs attacking the music business and it's eternal quest for the next big hit so record companies can fill their coffers off the backs of their recording artists - throwing them into the money-making machine.

For "Have A Cigar", neither Waters nor Gilmour could lay down a vocal that they thought suited the tone of song. They even tried singing it together, to no avail.

So they enlisted Roy Harper to handle vocals on that song, as he was working down in another Abbey Road studio.

And Harper nailed the tone of the lyrics as a greedy record exec who knows nothing about the artists working for him and only seeks to make more cash for the company.

"Everybody thought it was Roger," said Harper in the Wish You Were Here documentary. "I was a bit peed off at that."

Shine On You Crazy Diamond: An Ode to Syd Barrett

"Shine On You Crazy Diamond" is all about Syd Barrett, one of Floyd's founding members who was let go in 1968 because of his erratic behavior and apparent schizophrenia.

"He was kind of a crazy diamond and all of the things (the song) says about him in those brilliant lines are very, very accurate," said Gilmour, who replaced Barrett. "'You wore out your welcome with random precision' was certainly a part of him."

Waters wanted it to be a song "to get as close as possible to what I felt ... that sort of indefinable, inevitable melancholy about the disappearance of Syd."

Wright plays a brilliant keyboard piece as a tribute to Barrett that closes out the last 3:20 of "Shine On" (which is Part IX).

Shockingly for the four members of Pink Floyd, Barrett actually showed up in the studio on June 5, 1975, as they were working on the final mix for "Shine On". But he wasn't the elegant, wasted rock star they'd seen seven year earlier. Barrett was bald and very overweight, so nobody recognized him as he stood in the control room.

"How remarkable, how long it was before anyone actually woke up," said Gilmour, who was the first to recognize the man as Syd Barrett during those extremely awkward minutes. "And then we were all unbelievably shocked at his appearance. (He'd) turned rather balloon shaped, had no eyebrows and little hair."

Storm Thorgerson, who did the covers for Wish You Were Here and Dark Side of the Moon, noted that both Waters and Gilmour cried when they finally recognized Barrett.

Absence in Wish You Were Here

The song "Wish You Were Here" isn't so much about Barrett as it is about Waters thinking about absence. The song got its initial seed from Gilmour playing the opening riff, and when Waters heard it, he loved it. Both Waters and Gilmour wrote the chords for the rest of the song, with Waters penning the amazing lyrics.

"That collaboration between David and I is really good," said Waters. "It's a much more universal expression of my feelings about absence. Because I felt that we weren't really there. We were very absent."

Gilmour says "Wish You Were Here" does remind him of the man he replaced.

"'Wish You Were Here' has a broader remit. I can't sing it without thinking about Syd," said Gilmour. "Because of the resonance and the emotional weight it carries, it is one of our best songs."

Check out our look at why The Final Cut is one of Pink Floyd's best albums

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Five Best Iron Maiden Songs with Paul Di'Anno

Original Iron Maiden singer Paul Di'Anno only appeared on three of the band's records - Iron Maiden, Killers and Maiden Japan - but he certainly left his mark on some of Maiden's best songs with his gruff vocals and snarly East London attitude. Di'Anno, who joined the band in 1978, was ultimately fired in 1981 by manager Rod Smallwood, after bassist and bandleader Steve Harris questioned Di'Anno's commitment to the band, which was being undermined by his affection for booze and cocaine. Nevertheless, Di'Anno had a huge impact with fans and here are five of the best songs he recorded during his brief tenure with Iron Maiden.

Prowler

The opening track from Maiden's 1980 self-titled debut album, "Prowler" is arguably one of Maiden's best songs, period. It's got a punk feel to it that's perfectly suited to Di'Anno's gruff vocal style. Lyrically it's about a perverted creep who gets off masturbating in the bushes as he peeps at various ladies passing by. A major highlight of the track is Dave Murray's blistering guitar solo while the band keeps it rocking in double time. Steve Harris wrote the music and lyrics.

Phantom of the Opera

Another track from their first record, "Phantom of the Opera" features Iron Maiden at their epic, progressive-metal best. At 7:02, it's a longer track with plenty of tempo and feel changes throughout. Penned by Steve Harris, Phantom is a shining example of where the band would go on later albums. The guitar solos by Dave Murray and Dennis Stratton are tastefully executed, while drummer Clive Burr lays down an absolutely furious drum beat during the verses, while also showing his great feel on the slower parts of the song. "Phantom of the Opera" has featured prominently in Maiden's live shows for years and is a favourite of Harris's.

Drifter

A song that maybe flies under the radar a bit, "Drifter" is the last track on 1981's Killers album, but it's an all-out rocker. From the opening guitar notes to Di'Anno's scream of "Walk Away", "Drifter" - written by Steve Harris - delivers thanks to a punky verse offset by a slower bridge with a great, slow Dave Murray solo. After the last verse, Adrian Smith delivers one of the best guitar solos on the entire record (using a wah wah) that carries the track to the end, where Di'Anno shows his vocal chops on that last scream. It's such a good song, in fact, that Maiden has dusted it off and played it during a few tours over the past decade.

Murders in the Rue Morgue

Based on the Edgar Allan Poe of the same name, "Murders in the Rue Morgue" is a song narrated from the first person with an amazing feel that almost puts the listener on the streets in Paris, harkening to Maiden's ability to paint pictures with music. A highlight comes from the twin guitar solo of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, while Di'Anno lays down a convincingly menacing vocal track as the killer of two young girls.

Killers

On "Killers", Di'Anno is at his best, whether it's the powerful opening screams or the conviction he brings in the vocal delivery during the verses. It's a song where Di'Anno gets a rare songwriting credit (alongside Steve Harris) and it's one of Iron Maiden's best early tracks with its driving energy and foreboding lyrics about a serial killer who murders with knife. Harris sets the tone with a dark bass intro and it takes off from there. This is arguably Di'Anno's finest moment in his three years with Iron Maiden.

Check out how Iron Maiden forged their sound on the Killers album.