I have such mixed feelings about the band Led Zeppelin.
Their eponymous first album I loved. I recall quite clearly the day I first heard it. It was a sunny and warm day in late May or early June 1969, when I was 16. I was riding a borrowed bicycle and was riding over from the First Ward to the South Side of Binghamton, NY, along with my very good friend Carol, to visit friends. The bike had hand breaks, which I had never had on any of my bikes; one “broke” by putting one’s foot back. Got down Front Street without having to slow down, but crossing the bridge, I was gaining on Carol, and couldn’t stop, so I put my foot to the ground to slow down, flipped the bike, and crashed to the ground. I got a nasty gash on my right forearm. Carol said, “Are you OK?” and I lied, “Sure.” And that’s when I learned about hand breaks.
We rode the rest of the way, talked with our friends, had some food, and someone played that LZ album. I was immediately entranced by the opening chords of Good Times, Bad Times.
Then my friend Lois noticed the gash on my right forearm, just above the elbow, and she, Carol and Karen started removing gravel from the abrasion. It hurt, a lot actually, and left a scar that remained until the vitiligo obliterated it only a couple years ago. But it didn’t matter, because I’m really enjoying this music. My first favorite song was Communications Breakdown.
When I bought the album shortly therafter, I noticed it had two songs by the blues legend Willie Dixon, You Shook Me and I Can’t Quit You Baby, and attributed as such. The biggest deception was the 3:30 running time for How Many More Times, which was more like 8:30, apparently a trick to try to get radio stations to play it.
Led Zeppelin II was even more entertaining, but ultimately it became problematic for me. The first song, Whole Lotta Love was attributed to the band, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham. But I discovered a few years later that it bore a distinct similarity to You Need Love as performed by Muddy Waters, which was a song written by Willie Dixon. As described here, the Small Faces had nicked the song even before Zeppelin.
“Another blues classic on Led Zeppelin II became famous as The Lemon Song. Derived directly from Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor”, there is also the infamous quote about squeezing lemons that comes from Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues.” Chester Burnett, a.k.a. Howlin’ Wolf, received no credit for The Lemon Song. In the early ’70s, Arc Music sued Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement. The suit was settled out of court.
But the most egregious theft, I thought, was Bring It On Home. As described here: This was influenced by a song of the same name recorded by Blues great Sonny Boy Williamson and written by Willie Dixon. The Dixon composition was so similar that Led Zeppelin reached a settlement with Dixon over the royalties for the song, and credited Dixon as the writer when this appeared on Led Zeppelin’s How The West Was Won live DVD. Plant’s beginning vocal even imitates Williamson’s.
I just don’t understand the need for misattribution. Yet, which album did I ultimately buy on CD? You guessed it: LZ II.
I have other Zeppelin albums, but that’s enough for now, except for this
Republican congressman quoting the group on the floor of Congress. Oy.