I couldn’t do a whole week on the theme of Led Zeppelin and not finish with a big epic. When you’re a Led Zep fan you’re not short of choices if you’re in the market for a big epic. Stairway is too obvious. It’s also banned in guitar shops and since 2012 has been rehabilitated from it’s mocked status and happily living out a peaceful retirement with the ladies of Heart (Please Read The Tribute that I wrote). You could also look at Kashmir, the Eastern glow is strong with that one. Or Dazed and Confused. The first time I saw a single song take up a whole side of an album I was pawing over a friends copy of The Song Remains The Same. Truth be told though. Dazed and Confused on TSRTS is not a great tune. I know. I know. I know. Come on. We’re not supposed to say it. But there’s at least seven minutes of unlistenable bilge in the middle of the live take of Dazed and Confused. Don’t get me started on Moby Dick.
Achilles Last Stand though. This song captured my imagination when I was still a learner driver of my turntable. It’s almost prog rock. It’s saving grace is that the emphasis is on the Rock. The Prog is there for sure but the rhythm section ensure ALS never rests on it’s laurels for a moment. It’s well documented I have an allergy to Prog Rock in it’s purest form. Asia, Yes, Rush all that. Makes my teeth itch and brings me out in hives.
Led Zeppelin’s Presence though. I’m all in on that. I think it helps that it’s the albums opener not it’s closer. Sort of In Through The Out Door as it were. The sort of tricks usually saved for a finale are employed with a vim and an uplift inside that brilliantly shot Hipgnosis cover.
The visuals for Led Zep were a big part of the fandom. This mini Kubrickian obelisk seems to predict the black mirror of the cell phone or the omnipresence of the internet in domestic life when interpreted from a current perspective. That’s a sign of a good piece of visual art. You can make a kind of sense of it whenever you find it. Everything else is cartoons or advertising. Presence might not be every LZ fans go to for the ultimate work from the band but I’ve always adored the record. Not least for this opening track.
I’d like to use this moment to pay tribute to the quiet one of the Led Zeppelin universe. John Paul Jones. Listen to the way he plays bass on this track. He’s doing everything at once. There’s an urgency and a complete capability that makes me think JPJ is a terminator style robot working the entire instrument filling the rim shots and blast beats of Bonzo’s output with hail stones of bass notes into a deep Mediterranean sea. The fact this track is principally about Greek Myth and Gods and Kings got me to sit still history class. If the story was cool enough for LZ to sing about I’d pay attention to the teacher. Might be fun. I can see the marble columns, sailing ships and lightning bolts in my mind when I listen to Achilles Last Stand even now. As clearly as I could when I was 11.
I’ve pimped Robert Plant’s Podcast on here before too. He does a wonderful episode about this track. Telling tales of the roads in Marrakesh, the writing of this song while wheelchair bound and talking to the dog when he feels low. The man really is a treasure. So too is the music of Led Zeppelin. Mr Page may finally be finished remixing, repackaging, representing the body of work to us every decade or so but every time he does tinker or polish this delicious music gets more and more vibrant. I don’t think the music world will ever see the like of a Led Zeppelin again. Nor a Beatles, a Stones, a Janis or a Jimi. Rock is ancient history now. Mythical and taught in schools.