“The first band I truly fell in love with were The Beatles, without a doubt. That was when I was about nine or 10 years old. Like a lot of people in bands even now, I studied their anthology. I had the songbook and I would play along with the records for hours; that’s how I learned to play guitar as well as learning about harmonies, melodies and structures. It was a really important starting point for my musical life, but by the time I was 12 or 13, that changed because I threw all those kind of records away and devoted myself to punk instead. Those are the rights of passage that most young music fans go through but Led Zeppelin were one of the bands that were always there — no matter what phase I was in. To me they were the greatest hard rock’n’roll band of all time. They literally represented it and, more than anything, they sounded fearless. Every member was so incredible that they each could have been a soloist in their own right, but when they played together it was a perfect combination. But being great players will only take you so far — the thing about Led Zeppelin was that they were untouchable as songwriters too. It wasn’t just music for musicians, it had a much broader appeal, and that’s what made them such a successful band.
There are so many different sides to these guys too. First up, you’ve got your staples: ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and ‘Communication Breakdown’ are the rock classics that everyone knows but there is so much more. Their virtuoso playing probably comes out best in songs like ‘Kashmir’.
I remember reading an article in an American newspaper that listed what they thought were the 10 best compositions of all time. In the list, they had pieces by Mozart, Beethoven, and Wagner, but ‘Kashmir’ was one of them as well. It’s like a musical eclipse — the parts circle each other and then, at a certain point, they come together in a sort of once-in-a-million years alignment — and it’s fucking genius. But then there are the swaggering songs that just straight-up make you want to boogie. ‘Rock And Roll’ is a great one for that, but my personal favourite has got to be ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’— that one’s got some major style.
Of course, I can’t talk about the Zep without talking about John Bonham. I’ve said it many times before but he was a huge influence on me as a drummer. He had such a sense of recklessness in the way he played, and it was very daring. Sure he had power and he had chops, but I was fascinated by his feel too — nobody could recreate that. It’s just something that was entirely at the hands and feet of John Bonham and John Bonham only. There’s a drum roll on ‘Achilles Last Stand’ which sounds inhuman. I swear to god, I have no idea how it’s possible for anyone to do that and ‘Good Times Bad Times’ has the kick drum break that changed the world. If you have any aspirations to be a drummer, songs like these are absolutley crucial to you. Even if you can’t play them, you need to know about them.
Outside of just drumming, I think ‘When The Levee Breaks’ is probably the most important song to me because it made me realise that it’s not so much the players that make the band but the relationship between them. It’s completely relaxed, natural and totally real, and it made me understand that if you substituted a member of the band with another person it would still be different even if that new person could play all the parts exactly the same. I’ve recently come to realise that with Foo Fighters too — that what happens on stage with the four of us is a direct result of the personal relationships we have, and you can best hear the power of Led Zeppelin’s relationships with each other in this song.
I still listen to every one of their albums front-to-back, so fitting an entire career of eight albums on to two CDs is a pretty tough job, but these two discs probably sum it up as well as it’s possible to. One of the more underrated albums of their anthology is ‘Led Zeppelin III’. I think it was considered a little too acoustic for a rock’n’roll band, but I loved it – it was my soundtrack to dropping out of high school – and because of that, I would’ve liked to have seen more songs like ‘Friends’ and ‘Bron-Y-Aur Stomp’ on this compilation. But that’s not necessarily a criticism. All I’m saying is that everyone has their favourite era of Led Zeppelin and mine is a little unrepresented. But as for the songs that are actually on here, they prove that this was a once-in-a-lifetime band.
I defy anyone to find a rock group with enough good material to create a two-disc compilation that’s as strong as this. If it was my mixtape I would make it a lot longer, but if I wanted my daughter to learn about Led Zeppelin, I would definitely give her this. As for the score — I’m not fucking around here — it has to be full marks.