We do aim to please here at Bollocks!, so when a few friends asked to hear my “Fuck Led Zeppelin and Here’s Why” lecture, I decided to put my “Everyone Should Stop Covering Jimi Hendrix and Here’s Why” post on hold to bring you, by popular demand, my argument against Led Zeppelin.
But first, in this season of giving, let’s be charitable and talk about some things that were good about Led Zeppelin. I like one or two Zep tunes myself and I like to give credit where credit is due. For one thing, Led Zeppelin arguably had one of the best (next to the Who) rhythm sections in all of rock music. John Paul Jones and John Bonham don’t always get the media love that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant get, but those dudes could lay some shit down, musically speaking. So I honor the bassist and drummer of Led Zeppelin, but I don’t honor a whole lot else.
For starters, they stole a shitload of songs. From the (by now) well-documented theft of Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love” to their uncredited recording of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” Led Zeppelin never met a black dude’s song that they didn’t like. And by “like”, I mean “steal without giving the dude credit.” So it’s not just the theft of these songs that bothers me, it’s who they were stolen from – mostly poor, black musicians; guys who ran around the country singing their songs and shagging the wives of white men, only to make enough money to get to the next town and do it all again. And, as a fan of early blues music, I find Zeppelin’s versions of these songs pretty inferior to the originals. Take “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” – Blind Willie Johnson’s version has exponentially more soul than the Zep version and the sad thing here is that the Led Zeppelin version is one of their songs that I like. Check out the audio of Blind Willie Johnson here. You might disagree with me about this song, in which case you are quite possibly Robert Plant.
Which brings me to another reason Led Zeppelin sucks: Robert Plant and his banshee-wailing bullshit. I know I’m gonna get a lot of flack for this, but I have never understood why people think Plant is such a great singer. He spent most of his time in Led Zeppelin singing like a hysterical teenage girl from a B-grade horror flick (the rest of his time was spent finding black guys to steal from and trying figure out subtle ways to musically suck off J.R.R. Tolkien). You know what’s missing from all of my favorite Zep tunes? Plant’s banshee-wailing bullshit. He wasn’t bad when he just sang like a normal person, but even then, I don’t see what all the fuss was about. He was adequate at best and extra annoying at worst.
And as for Jimmy Page? Totally overrated. So he played with a bow on one song. Big fucking deal. You know which Jimi Hendrix solos are better than everything Jimmy Page ever played? All of them! Page also loses points for his continued denial, despite mountains of evidence (including lawsuits from original artists), that Led Zeppelin stole songs from people. And claiming that you’re paying “tribute” to an artist when you don’t give them credit for writing the song isn’t homage – it’s being an asshole. Page couldn’t even credit the correct songwriters when defending Zeppelin’s theft to an interviewer in 1977 – he said of “Bring It On Home” that there was “only a tiny bit taken from Sonny Boy Williamson’s version and we threw that in as a tribute to him.” I’m sorry, Mr. Page, the answer we’re looking for is Willie Dixon, who wrote “Bring It On Home.” And “Whole Lotta Love” for you too. If this were final Jeopardy, Jimmy Page, the answer would be, “A black blues musician upon whose back Led Zeppelin built their career.” And the question, in all caps, would be “WHO IS WILLIE DIXON, YOU THIEVING FUCK?” Incidentally, I’d like to tattoo that on Jimmy Page’s forehead.
Led Zeppelin is often credited with “inventing heavy metal.” Now, if you wanna have a really satisfying argument, argue with people about who invented heavy metal (I sometimes offer the two Gustavs, Mahler and Holst, as the godfathers of heavy metal, which ends arguments fast because precious few metal-heads know who Mahler and Holst were). A lot of people will say Led Zeppelin, a few will say Black Sabbath and some might suggest the Stooges or even Jimi Hendrix. But let’s not equivocate – Led Zeppelin did not “invent” heavy metal. Yes, they got their debut on the streets a few months before Black Sabbath and the Stooges, but Sabbath was the heavier band by far and I’m goddamn sick of Tony Iommi having to live in Jimmy Page’s shadow, despite the fact that he is a vastly superior guitarist. Also, Black Sabbath has credibility on their side – they wrote the songs on Black Sabbath, with the exception of two credited cover songs. The correct answer is that Sabbath invented heavy metal (though they, like almost all of us, owe a debt of gratitude to Jimi Hendrix), the Stooges invented punk (a decade ahead of its time!), and Led Zeppelin, sorry to say, invented cock rock. So the next time Warrant comes by your state fair, remember to thank Led Zeppelin.
Of all the reasons that I hate Led Zeppelin, the theft still weighs most heavily on my mind. Or rather, it’s what the theft means. Led Zeppelin made a lot of songs famous that they didn’t write and they’ve enabled generations of middle class white kids to avoid learning true history – kids who love “Dazed and Confused” aren’t going to seek out the original version. I actually got in an argument when I was in college over “Whole Lotta Love” and the kid I was arguing with, who had never heard the original, dismissed Willie Dixon by saying, “Led Zeppelin made it better.” It might be tempting to say that “it’s just music” and it doesn’t matter, but we’re talking about intellectual dishonesty here – the idea that you don’t have to acknowledge the truth if the lie is more comfortable. That philosophy, such as it isn’t, is dominant in our culture right now and if we can’t defeat it in our entertainment, what hope do we have of defeating it anywhere else? I’m not saying that it’s unethical to like Led Zeppelin – remember, I even like some of their tunes – but I am saying that the pedestal upon which their fans have placed them is built on the graves of talented black men and if you can’t admit that when you’re defending them, you’re showing me that you are susceptible to all kinds of (perhaps more dangerous) deception.