Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Led Zeppelin vs. The Rolling Stones

More years ago than are important, Cecil and I engaged in a battle of music-related wit. Mostly because our light sabers were in the shop, and we couldn't drink on campus. Well, not legally anyway. But the topic -- which is the better rock band, Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones -- came up, and we went round after periodic round on the thing, until we both realized that the other was too stubborn to bother listening. And because nothing's better/more productive than resurrecting old wars, we decided to have it out, once and for all, to bury the hatchet if you will.

The 7000-word battle, after the jump.

bankmeister: When I think back to the summer Saturday in 1987 when I made a decision to ride my stepmom’s bike to the mall, two things come to mind: 1) It was heavy hot out, the kind of heat that Midwesterners know too well, the kind where breathing feels like a chore, when you spend a significant portion of every day pondering your level of comfort with each and every minute that ticks by. 2) I had no idea how much that trip to the mall would forever shape my musical life.

My sister and I were staying at Dad’s for the weekend, an activity that was probably in the peak of dwindling to non-existent. We were nearing that age of self-centeredness where every moment away from your friends felt like punishment, and you could hear the pain in Dad’s voice every time I would tell him over the phone that we weren’t coming over. I don’t recall telling Dad too many lies over the course of time. It wasn’t that I feared him, rather I loved him so much that lying to the old man felt like a betrayal bigger than Simon Peter’s. But I’d come up with some garbage reason that I thought was sparing his feelings, and, even through the telephone line you could tell he knew that I was full of it. I could feel his hurt through the receiver, but being as self-centered as I was, I always felt relief hanging up, like he was some client I dreaded seeing.

On this August weekend, though, we were over. I had some cash in my pocket, and I was determined to get to Musicland and purchase some cassettes. My library had grown very little in 13 years on the planet, and its contents at the time included: Rupert Holmes’ The Stranger, Barry Manilow’s One Voice, an ‘80s compilation called Hot Tracks, Olivia Newton-John’s Physical, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. These were all on vinyl, and they had all been gifts. I owned one album that I’d purchased: Van Halen 1984. It was time to get the tape library rolling.

When my dad's second wife Elaine had given me permission to borrow a bike, I zipped out to the garage and spotted the only viable option of two-wheeled transportation: her clunker of a three speed that was quite cob-webby, a shade of yellow I’d never before seen, and boastful of a strangely shaped seat that had two wide springs suspended from the rear. I didn’t understand the function of those springs then, and still don’t. Back in the house, I shamefully learned that that was, in fact, the bike to which she’d referred, and –- take it or leave it –- it was the only working option as Dad’s had a flat tire.

I wrestled with the self-imposed immensity of my reputation being seen on this heap, and the $20 bill in my pocket may as well’ve been soaked in kerosene, it was burning that bad. I could take side streets, and hell -– I was in Missouri. My Kansas people would never spot me. Unscathed, I made it to Ward Parkway Mall, and trudged my sweat-soaked self into the blast of air conditioning, and before I knew it, I was holding it, the end-all, be-all of music in my hands. Led Zeppelin IV.

Okay, well we all know that “IV” isn’t really the title of the band’s fourth release, but that’s what it came to be known as. That and “ZoSo.” But I arrived at the idea that this was a must-own after sitting in Mrs. Caldwell’s seventh-grade Communications class one day. That week, each of us were displaying a skit for our classmates, an improv-ish kind of assignment, and when the dust had settled from the collection of performances, one stood out: Billy Chambers and Jon Brick impersonating Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. They had all of the props: wigs, headbands, a fake cigarette, all accompanying Brick’s unbuttoned vest and microphone, Chambers’ broom guitar. The tune they “played” was “Rock and Roll,” and when I heard it, I had no idea who the band was, nor did I know the names of any of the members in it. The only thing I knew as that I had to have it.

So I made my way home that day with two new albums, the second of which, I’m not ashamed to admit, was Billy Joel’s Innocent Man, a release that had a few tracks I was familiar with, and a sentimental purchase at that; the old man was a big Joel fan, and hey – Dad had a guitar in his basement and a music collection. Somehow, I was going to make this music thing work, whatever the thing was.

Led Zeppelin IV, though, was the seed of my life as a Zep’ fan, and it’s an understatement to say that I listened that album into the ground. “Rock and Roll,” “Black Dog,” “When the Levee Breaks,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” “The Battle of Evermore” -- which took me years to appreciate -- and yes, even “Going to California” and “Stairway to Heaven.” Hell, may as well include “Four Sticks” while I’m at it, but this sound of theirs, this start-to-finish awesomeness embodied in one album from some 16 years prior is where I began my journey down the path toward an enlightened sense of Ze(p), courtesy of these four English rockers. Funny sidenote about “Evermore”: While I was learning how to love it, I grew fond of the version Ann and Nancy Wilson recorded, which I think wound up on the Singles motion-picture soundtrack, but that’s a story for another time.

Cecil: I won't pretend to have such a particular, poignant background to my general dislike of Led Zeppelin. There's no sad tale, no indelible memory, no schoolyard beatdown administered to the strains of "Misty Mountain Hop." I just...don't really dig 'em.

That small statement is enough, as I have learned over the intervening years, to get you into an argument or 40. Led Zeppelin fans think of Led Zeppelin in hagiographic terms: it's not enough to admire their success and nod your head along occasionally with the radio, you have to acknowledge that they were The Best Ever. Failure to do so invites an endless ration of scorn tinged with disbelief. Really? So...you're saying you actually don't like them? Honestly?

I grew up with the work of ol' PlantPageJonesHam serving as a kind of youthful background track, thanks to the presence of my older brother and sister(s), and simply never really thought much about it. The tunes that really stuck in my head as a lad were Dylan, Neil Young. The Rolling Stones (a band that I could never, ever have escaped from, given my older sister Caite's still-going crush on Mick Jagger). Even Fleetwood Mac, for fuck's sake, although that's probably more a function of their ubiquity than anything else. I find any number of tunes by those artists, and plenty more besides, more compelling than "Black Dog" or "Whole Lotta Love."

Is that because so many other -- many, including my debate partner here, would add "lesser" -- artists have bitten their style over the years? I mean, I guess, but it's not like I was a big Whitesnake fan as a kid, either. For whatever reason, this near-universal appreciation of Led Zep just skipped me over. "Kashmir" leaves me cold. "The Immigrant Song" is best when sung by Jack Black, or not at all. That "you don't have to go, oh oh oh oh" song makes me violent in the guts. Every time I hear someone brag on that guitar-slop Satanist Page like he was Jimi fucking Hendrix, I imagine God destroying a city populated entirely by adorable talking seals.

bankmeister: I see. So the Zep never jived with you. Fair enough. Talk about your appreciation for the Stones, a little more on how it started, and how it developed early on. Where had you gotten with them by, say, the high-school age, and then the college years.

And before you do, I feel compelled to respond to a few of your quips regarding the PlantHam. I’ve never been interested in parading around the country touting the Zep as the best ever. That said, there was a significant stretch of my adolescence wherein I whole-heartedly believed that, and rare was the occasion that one of their albums wasn’t blasting from the boom box in my room or the stereo in my rusty brown Corolla. As my music appreciation grew, I got way into Pink Floyd, and have had serious long-term affairs with both Dylan and Young. As it sits today, I wouldn’t say that one is better than the other; I appreciate each of them for what they are/were.

Thus far, my only bone to pick with you would be your claim that various Fleetwood Mac tracks gave you more musical erections than the litany of Zeppelin tunes that have been overplayed on the FM airwaves over the years did. To that end, I have three points:

1) Fleetwood Mac was an incredible outfit until Stevie Nicks came aboard. Everything after stinks up a house like chicken fat in your kitchen trash can that has to wait six days for the waste-removal truck to swing past, and even after it’s still a little foul. Specifically, I’m referring to the original lineup that featured Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, and John and Christine McVie. They emerged in the late 1960s, have been associated with the London blues explosion, and for great reason. Specific music genres are not for everyone, and the blues is no exception, but if you’re into it, this quartet absolutely killed it. If you’re unfamiliar, their self-titled debut, and the follow-up, Mr. Wonderful are simply magical, as are many live recordings from ’68 and ’69, specifically two from Chicago and London. I’m not versed in the Mac of the early/mid ‘70s, but I’m aware, as is every other human that’s ever walked the western half of the earth, of the Mac of late ‘70s through today, and it is not good.

2) That said, classic-rock radio (CRR) was considered, at one time, the new sliced bread. Back then, there was nothing wrong with that, I don’t think, but classic-rock radio is also akin to heroin in that, if you enjoy the shit out of it, it could very well kill you. The world-renowned Mac that has sold millions of records and packed concert houses for over two decades is but one example. I imagine that their popularity exploded the way it did because they were producing rock n’ roll, but had a female front vocalist, which was pretty rare, unless you were part of an outfit called Heart, which, again -– we won’t get into now. I’m curious, though, if there’s an aspect for your Zep non-appreciation that’s largely attributable to radio, or, in other words: Would things have been different if you’d ever sat down with an album of theirs, and gave it three listens?

3) The third point touches on your assertion that many a brow has been wrinkled for supposing that bands that have come since Zeppelin’s heyday rip off the Led style, or don’t live up to them, etc. I imagine that there might be many out there that feel this way, but your mentioning of it is the first time I’ve heard someone make that point. I can certainly connect the dots and see how folks might feel that way over say, a Great White, but I do not. I don’t care if a band wears their BonJones influence on their sleeve. I’m probably not going to get into that band, but it won’t be because I feel as though they can’t get the Led out.

As for your final two thoughts there, I think we can all agree that “D’yer Mak’er” has, at one time or another, pissed off every male rock fan on the planet, but that’s another fold in the classic-rock laundry basket. In and of itself, it’s not a terrible song. If you listen to Houses of the Holy in its entirety, it fits in well, and if nothing else, it’s one of many Zeppelin songs in which you can appreciate the insane drumming abilities that John Bonham possessed. If CRR murdered hundreds of songs and artists, they Charles Manson’d a few dozen tracks in particular, “Mak’er” being one of them. Also, I’ll acknowledge the assertion that Jimmy Page worshipped the devil, and I’ll add to that that I expect more of you in this discussion. I mean, let’s agree that rented mules are rented mules, and if one feels so inclined, one can beat one. I’m not here to claim that Page is greater than/less than Hendrix. That would be foolish. I will, however, posit that he was 10 times the guitarist Keith Richards ever fashioned himself to be. In doing so, though, I admit we dip our toes in potentially murky water. Were the two musicians, independent of/along with, their associated outfits, ever even trying to accomplish the same thing?

Cecil: Fair enough -- although I should say first of all that I am nowhere near as big a Stones fan as you are a Zep fan, but seeing as they've been my proxy in this argument for so many years, let's keep this dance going.

I think the Stones are underrated. Which is ridiculous, yes, because they were the most popular band in the world for decades, and remain a huge cultural force in certain (aging) demographics.

But their best work (Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Let It Bleed, for starters) is the canon, some of the foundational material upon which our modern rocktopolis was built, and for whatever reason that seems to have been forgotten in the intervening years. Is it because of all the dreck that came after? The Steel Wheels, the "Emotional Rescue," the "She Was Hot"? I'd wager the casual classic rock listener doesn't think of the mighty, messy monolith that is Exile in its wholeness as much as they think of "Jumping Jack Flash."

Zep, on the flip, has entirely the opposite issue: they broke up after Bonham drank himself dead at the height of their popularity, and never had that looooooong slow decline into Burger King commercials, guest appearances on "Perfect Strangers" and a decade's worth of reunion tours. They left their (admittedly huge) fanbase screaming for more, and all of the remaining members' shitty solo albums and projects combined -- seriously, The Honeydrippers? -- couldn't dent the legacy of the original band. That they didn't have a chance to devalue their brand, their chest-hairy glory left frozen in classic rock amber.

As far as my personal journey as a fan? I've made mention of my sister Caite's enormous crush on Mick; her fake ID used to claim that her name was "Caite Jagger." Well, as a little kid, she was usually my babysitter, and that alone guaranteed that I'd be exposed to more Stones than anything else. I recall when Some Girls came out, probably their last good record, and having to listen to it constantly. As I grew into my own tastes, I realized that I'd glossed over their true glory years, and I challenge anyone to find me a rock band from any era with such a distinct musicality. Richards may not have been the equal of Page as an axeman, I don't think that's up for debate -- although I bet he could kill him in a shoot-heroin-into-your-face contest -- and he may have just been repurposing old Chuck Berry licks, but holy shit that guy knew how to write a fucking song. No filler, no wankery, just a brawling, bluesy pub fight.

(Also, perhaps I should clarify something I said earlier: I have no love for Fleetwood Mac, they just occupied a more prominent place in my young musical forebrain than Zep did. Who knows why. It wasn't like any of my thousand older siblings really liked them or anything. I guess it just shows the power of FM radio over a four year-old's mind -- something off of fucking Rumours was playing about every third song back then, but then, same with Zep. Maybe I've just repressed a real love of treacly cocaine-pop all these years.)

bankmeister: Okay. Now we're getting into the bloody, marbled meast of this thing, and it is from within this wall of fat and sinew that many flavors of musical debate can commence. And to keep it simple, we can chalk everything up to three c-words: composition, crunch, and collection. More on those in just a moment, but I think it's worth clarifying your statement about John Bonham. In my estimation, there is a seven-year window -- 1969-1975 -- in which Led Zeppelin was the most powerful band on the planet, and off the top of my head, no single outfit has ever put together six consecutive, mind-blowing albums in such a fashion.

Physical Graffiti came out in '75, and I'd put it toe-to-toe with any double LP ever released. It is simply magical. After that, you got Presence the following year, which was mostly unimpressive (though some insist it remains underrated), In Through the Out Door in '79, which was fine, but it's also where we got sappy CRR staples like "Fool in the Rain," and "All My Love." Bonham died in 1980, and two years later, they dropped Coda, which was mostly garbage. So for me, I wouldn't say that he died in the midst of their heyday, leaving fans screaming for more. For me, the proverbial load was shot with Graffiti, and things kind of made their way downhill from there.

I like/agree with the notion of their glory frozen in classic-rock amber, but it's important to appropriately arrange the details, in my opinion.

Once I had IV, though, my next grab was the self-titled debut, and I would then purchase their releases in order of drop date until my collection was complete. I have no idea how many hundreds of hours I've spent listening to studio Zeppelin over the years, but that's the approach I've always had: Invest in an album from start to finish, and then repeat roughly 75 times. Any cuts you catch on the airwaves are either added bonus or a shipment of grated nerves. There's no in between there, but particular tracks can leap from one end to its opposite.

That self-titled debut made its way into my hands before CRR had fully scarred me, and so it's safe to assume that "Good Times/Bad Times," "Dazed and Confused," "Communication Breakdown," and perhaps "Your Time Is Gonna Come" were already familiar. There isn't much to say about GT/BT or "Breakdown." They're not spectacular, but "Dazed" was a species previously unknown to the human ear, and "Your Time" gave you the nice gospel-y feel with fat organs, and again, Bonham just going bananas at the kit. For my money though, "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" and "I Can't Quit You Babe" were absolute gems, productions that shocked my brain like blanched Brussels sprouts being dropped into an ice bath. The soul, the goose bumps, the whole nine. And don't worry: We'll get to the songwriting credits in a moment.

It is virtually impossible to discuss II without pretending that nearly every minute of that recording has not crushed every shore on Earth like some sort of global tsunami, so we'll skip it, but I like to think that if a world without CRR existed, I could spend some quality time with this album, and really sink my teeth into its juicy flesh.

Led Zeppelin III always left me with a strange feeling, and it still does today. This is largely because I would sit in my room with these cassettes and stare for hours into the cover art of the album I was listening to, forging in my brain some sort of relationship with the music and the imagery. On IV you get the old man in the field with the straw bundle on his back. With self-titled you have the intimidating burning blimp, and with II you get burning-blimp silhouette, but in the background of some conglomeration of the band and some Mad Max extras and Hell's Angels. Really weird. But with III, it's like the cover-art dude was on vacation, and they just let some kids, armed with school-room supplies, get after it.

Also, I'd probably heard "Immigrant Song" 40 times before I bought III, and I had no idea it was Zeppelin, so for that haunty, hollerific rager of a cut to kick off the album, I was almost certain I'd purchased a fouled-up copy of the the release. Then it goes into "Friends," which kept up with the theme of the mismatched; the song's title never jived with the creepiness and bizarre rhythm of the cut. As for the rest of that side, "Celebration Day" never did much for me, and "Out on the Tiles" was a very fun/unique cut, and sandwiched in between the two is "Since I've Been Loving You," which might be the best blues-rock song ever composed.

So, the theme of the strange continues with this album when you flip to side B; you get one of the best half-albums in their history. Just amazing, even if you don't know what a Bron-Y-Aur is, or how you'd go about stomping it.

As for Houses of the Holy, I never got the naked-kids-on-the-rocks thing, continuing to enhance the sense of mystery I associated with this band, but it kicks off with "The Song Remains the Same" and if you don't get inspired with that opening minute, then there's something clinically wrong with you. "The Rain Song" follows and is drop-dead gorgeous from start to finish. "Over the Hills and Far Away" is still an epic track, even if CRR has mucked up its face with those nasty, grubby hands. I could take or leave "The Crunge," and "Dancing Days" is still pretty fun. We don't need to say anything more about "D'yer Mak'er," but I file "No Quarter" with "Dazed and Confused" in terms of raw, cock-out, spookified, blastable rock and roll. It's cuts like this that you realize there is one thing that's underrated in this band, and that's the versatility of John Paul Jones. This cut tells an untold tale of a cold, windy trek (somewhat Sleepy Hollowesque) to some dark sword-in-the-stone kind of place where there's death and decay all around, and it's all for minimal reward and redemption. And Houses closes with "The Ocean," which has always left me a little lukewarm. I also seem to recall having read something about this composition being tied in with Robert Plant's nearly fatal car crash, but I could be mistaken.

I won't get into Graffiti, because I could probably hunk together 5000 words about it, but if you've never sat down with it from start to finish, you're doing yourself a massively huge musical disservice. Back to those three Cs, though.

Composition: I think we can both agree that it's pretty rare when an outfit truly has a gift of consistently putting together top-quality productions. I argue that Zeppelin fits right in their in the discussions of -- Get your Top Gun quotebook out -- the best of the best. Years ago, when we kindled the flames of this debate, you dropped your rip-off-artist line on me, and it seriously shook the very foundation of my musical existence. I was instantly convinced you were incorrect, that you knew nothing, that it was impossible to smear this immaculate outfit. I also had, to a T, that you-actually-don't-like-them questioning sort of experience you touched on.

You gave some props to Richards for songwriting, and this, then, is the point in which I open the door to you to discuss the discredit that is, or should be, associated with the Zeppelin name for the various blues/attribution/legal/unoriginal episodes this band has experienced.

Cecil: I knew that once I started in on this, I'd be in a knife fight armed with a broken plastic spork. Your comprehensive knowledge of the Zep catalogue is most impressive.

But rather than try and rebut each of those opinions as if I had some legitimate beef with your particular taste in songs, I'll skip straight ahead to the last line and "discuss the discredit that is, or should be, associated with the Zeppelin name for the various blues/attribution/legal/unoriginal episodes this band has experienced."

First, I get it. Everyone takes from someone. I mentioned Keith Richards re-purposing Chuck Berry for a new generation earlier; that was no mere throwaway diss, it's the truth, and Keef himself has basically owned up to it over the years. The Ramones would not have existed without The Stooges or The New York Dolls, Radiohead without Kraftwerk and P.i.L., Guns 'n' Roses without T. Rex. The salient difference between those groups and Zep is that they didn't lose lawsuits brought by artists whose work they'd appropriated.

I mean, it's just facts. Plant lifted large chunks of Willie Dixon's lyrical work and then had to pay him for it. Their whole early ouevre, especially on I, is basically one big theft o' the blues. Page is, I think, still involved in a court case with some old folk singer who claims to have written Dazed & Confused.

But then -- and I am gonna make an attempt to neuter the reply I feel building on your end, here -- it probably doesn't really matter all that much, in the end. One could make a similar argument about Clapton. He pretty much swallowed the Delta blues whole and spit it back out in a different time signature. Does that invalidate his career? Only a fool would say as much. I may not be the biggest Zep supporter in the world, but I will, finally, here and now, admit that their sticky fingers were no dirtier than most of their cohorts, and the vast majority of their work is indisuptably of a sound all their own.

Speaking of that sound: it's always been the case, when we have this discussion, for me to say that the one Zep album I really loved was III, and you've always held that was one of your least favorite, if not the least. And you've hardly been alone in that: most hardcore fans seem to think that's their weakest work. Why is that? For my dollar, it's their best combination of songcraft and cock-out-rock-out. Weird cover, though, I do agree.

bankmeister: That was much less harsh of a response than I anticipated, and quite frankly, I'm pleased to hear you acknowledge that sound-all-their-own aspect, an idea with which I wholly agree.

As far as III goes, it just stands out in that six-year-window as the odd child, and by odd, I mean to attach zero negative connotations. It is, on the whole, a remarkable album that should stand in the shadows of none other of those seven albums, and certainly dwarfs In Through the Outdoor on the badassery scale.

Really, I think it's fascinating that that's the album you own(ed) and that your beef with the band has always hinged on original songwriting because their approach to this recording session was totally different than any of the other three of their first four albums. If memory serves, the traditional recording studio route was shunned in favor of some sort of Plant/Page rustic getaway wherein they took a few months to write down the bones of the album, while crapping in an outhouse, bathing in nearby springwater, and depending on lit wicks for light after sundown. But I think they put that skeleton on the musical chalkboard and then had the other blokes join them to flesh the thing out.

And at its heart, III moved away from the less-desired-by-some blues regurgitation experienced on the first two albums and into a more acoustical approach, which is not clear from track one, but unequivocal with the eerie “Friends”, the foot-stompy “Gallows Pole” the downright gorgeous “Tangerine” and so forth. Regarding what they accomplished in that approach, I’ll say that “Friends” has one of the greatest lyrics ever written: “Mmm-mmm, I’m telling you now, the greatest thing you ever can do now, is trade a smile with someone who’s blue now." “Tangerine” might be the best air-guitar song ever recorded, and if “That’s the Way” doesn’t make you wanna take your girl on a picnic and make love to her under a tree, you should have someone check your head; “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” might be one of the most underappreciated pieces of music John Paul Jones

(always my Zep hero, by the way) ever wrote; and all in all, the album really just caught people off guard. You got a blimpful of CRR airplay with the first two, and “Immigrant Song” and “Tangerine” were the only ones that got any significant time from this record.

And CRR was the way that music was delivered back then. Well, that and vinyl. If you recall what I said earlier, III contains one of the best half-albums ever released, as well as the most solid blues-rock composition of all time. If I scoffed at III as a stand-alone the first time we had this debate, I’m sure I was just trying to get back into my rocker, having been knocked out of it by your hate-fueled stance. I dig III a ton. Make no mistake, but I think at best it takes, ironically, a third-place slot behind IV and Graffiti. Naturally, it’s possible that IV will always get such a high vote from me because it was my first impression.

But back to a larger scale, I’m starting to feel a white-flag-waving vibe from you, and I’m curious if you’re going to come out of your foxhole and fire off some intrinsic guns that suggest why the Stones should get the decision at the end of this 12-round bout. For me, Zep is one of the best outfits to ever walk the halls of rock. Plant’s presence and Page’s riffs go unmatched in the annals, so much so that Joe Perry and Steven Tyler should be ashamed every time the two band names are mentioned in the same sentence, and believe me, I’ve loved me some Aerosmith. I couldn’t tell you much about the personal life of John Paul Jones, but if I wagered a guess, I’d imagine he was a pretty humble, down-to-earth guy, and his talents in this outfit have always been a drip on the massive canvas that was, and I think the two frontmen even shunned him a few times in the past, an act for which they should be punished. And you can poke fun at Bonham’s charred liver all you want. He was a damn animal at the kit, the touchstone example of a rock band that is actually led by its drummer, as opposed to using one as a backbone.

What, say you, oh believer in closets occupied by condors?

Cecil: Well, as far as where the Stones should go when we order the Firmament, I'm sticking with "at the top." Because they were the fucking Rolling Stones.

I've made mention of some of their earliest, finest works, but I think the thing that really stands out about their career -- aside from its sheer longevity, of course -- was its consistency. For about a 15-year span, they just bashed out great album after great album and didn't really hit a low note until the '80s, when they picked up the disco baton on Emotional Rescue.

During that period, the Rolling Stones lost one member to drug abuse and the remainder were riddled with some of the most problematic substance abuse issues in musical history. By the middle part of the '70s they basically despised each other. And close to the end of that decade, for all of the quality and credibility of their musical catalogue, they had yet to see the truly massive commercial success that Zep (for instance) had*. Yet they still built a musical legacy that will stand against any.

*This sounds off, I know, seeing as the Stones have made more money than Croesus, and have like 14 different Platinum-and-above selling albums, but it wasn't until the late '70s/early '80s and the beginning of the big stadium tours that they really started rolling in it. Mick's naivete as a young man led them to sign one of the worst record contracts in history, early on, and to the best of my knowledge they *still* don't make anything off of some of their most famous songs.

Let's go to the tape: it wasn't their first record, but Out of Our Heads is probably the first real "Stones" album that wasn't mostly just old blues covers with a few originals, like on 12 x 5. It dropped in 1965, when a lot of young folks stateside were still busying themselves with The Archies, and then all of a sudden those fresh-faced American virgins found themselves ear-to-speaker with shit like "Satisfaction" and "Playing with Fire."

From that point forward, until the Goats Head Soup/It's Only Rock & Roll era, they didn't miss with a single record.

First, take a gander at the track listing on the A side of Aftermath (1966 and the first full Richards/Jagger effort): "Mother's Little Helper," "Stupid Girl," "Lady Jane," "Under My Thumb," "Doncha Bother Me," "Goin Home." One side of one album. Now look at the four album stretch after Satanic Majesties (which didn't get a lot of love when it was released but is widely considered visionary now): Beggars Banquet. Let It Bleed. Sticky Fingers. Exile on Main Street. I just can't think of a stretch of work by any musical outfit in our lifetimes that really compares, both in musical quality and cultural import. The cultural part is where the brightest line gets drawn, for me. Zep had a big tour bus and stuck fish in groupie pussy; the Stones had Altamont. They mattered, in a way that none of their contemporaries really did.

Now on to your contention that I'm packing up my knives a bit: you're not wrong. Fact is, the years, and the arguments, and the years of arguments, have led me to reconsider my Zep stance. This little exchange has allowed me to focus on why, exactly, that is, and the answer isn't flattering: in large measure I'd always torn them down because they'd been built up. Because everyone liked them, and I prided myself, when I was younger and even more stupid than now, on not liking the things that everyone else liked, because everyone else was just a lowing herd animal buying what their corporate masters told them to. Or something.

But when I think about their actual work, specifically the first several albums, and of those even more specifically II and III, I can't help but tell myself that I've been showing my ass all these years. Yesterday, a local sports talk radio show played the opening to "Good Times, Bad Times" as bumper music and I thought, You know, this song kind of fucking rocks. That's a meaty drum lick, and a legitimate rock god axe, and...maybe I better go to Itunes. I didn't, but still, I thought about it.

So, yes. I am finally, after going round and round about this with you for nearly two decades, ready to confer my personal stamp of Rock Music Legitimacy upon the bones of the most popular group of the '70s. Led Zeppelin may have stolen, yes, this is indisputable; but they also made great fucking albums. Jimmy Page was a monster, John Paul Jones a vastly underappreciated artist, Bonham the second-best drummer ever (after Keith Moon) and Plant sported a truly masculine chest forest.

But I will not give them classic rock primacy. That belongs to the Stones. And I will never, ever, ever ever ever, listen to "Stairway to Heaven" again, for even a few seconds.

bankmeister: We've managed to cover some ground here, and we got off track a bit from where I'd intended, but it's all been very solid. We spent plenty of time talking about composition, or, the first 'C'. I think, but correct me if I'm wrong, that we could fairly assign an even tie to the two groups on that one.

Crunch was the second 'C' I wanted to address, and I'm going to guess we'll agree to disagree on this, but I give Zep the from-the-top-turnbuckle, knockout-punch victory over TRS in this one, and I say so because, in my estimation, the Stones, as you mentioned, wrote a boatload of good songs, and some of them, many of them, could be deemed great. Hell, an immeasurable amount of listeners have deemed them great.

To me, though, their sound, and the energy that comes from it, has always been a bit flat in my opinion, which I don't prop up as an attack or an insult, but I mean, in terms of rockin' out with the twig an' berries exposed, that's what Zep does. The Stones definitely have their up-tempo moments, but it's always felt a little bit blues-based, or seasoned with some soul influence. And I'm not sure how much they ever strayed from it. Zep, on the other hand, just reaches out and punches your Adam's Apple when they're gettin' after it, even when they're writing and stealing blues, so I give them the edge by a landslide.

Collection, however, I don't think we even need to discuss. I mentioned a specific window in which released Zep material was certified awesome, and of course the death of Bonzo cut the coursed meal short. So, I think the Stones get the easy win there. Are those assertions accurate, or am I off in 'C' two?

You've dissed "Emotional Rescue" twice in this exchange, and that might be one of my all-time favorite Stones songs. I think it has flair, a nice poppin' bass, and a funk feel to it. What's up with your dislike of that track?

Also, if you would, talk about this not liking what others like(d) approach. Where did that come from? How much did that shape what you liked/approved early on, and how much has it shaped what you listen to today? Is it possible that such an approach can be potentially limiting?

Finally, Physical Graffiti. Have you ever given it a full listen? More than once? If not, would you consider giving it three full monties -- if I bought it for you -- and get back to me?

Cecil: You know, I probably haven't actually listened to Physical Graffitti all the way through in 17 years or so, so yeah, I'd definitely give it a re-listen. My brother always said it was their best, and as long as I skipped over "Kashmir" I'd be fine.

I admit I've kind of ignored some of the basic structures of this lil' debate, what with the collections and the crunches and so on. But I will definitely give you that second C: When it comes to simple lay-it-down-with-a-fury, Zep wins by a landslide. There's a reason every heavy metal band of the last 30 years puts them first when the inevitable rock journalist asks the inevitable "what are your musical influences?" question. Bonham is the biggest part of that, in my mind, because he just had that huge, thumping sound that (aside from his buddy K. Moon) was almost entirely nonexistent back then. The Stones, for instance, had/have a great drummer, but his style owes a lot more to jazz than, say, the echo of Spectral Death-Horses Raining Pestilence Upon the Unbelievers, which was more Bonham's thing.

Now, "Emotional Rescue"...here's the thing. I don't hate the song. It is, as you suggest, kind of a spare, funky little creation. What I dislike is what it meant: That eponymous album signified the for-real final decline of what had been the Most Important Rock Band of the Last Two Decades. There would be no further Some Girls, fine albums that could reasonably seen as a return to something approaching classic Stonesery. Rather, there would be a succession of thin, derivative knockoffs of past tropes. "She Was Hot." Steel Wheels. Mick & Keith's respective solo careers. Jan Wenner would breathlessly drop to his knees each time, of course, but it didn't matter, because the band he'd named his magazine after was gone. The thing that carried forward was, to clumsily borrow from Yeats, merely the form in the grass where once the hare had lain.

As far as the Opposite Day aesthetic I'd borne so long: I wouldn't say it's been necessarily limiting, really, since I do tend to have fairly Catholic tastes when it comes to music, but it's been an issue with discovering new things. As in, too often when I visit iTunes, I tend to re-buy stuff I'd owned years earlier -- some old Meat Puppets album, say, something by The Descendents, something by Public Enemy -- instead of jumping in the pool headfirst. So Pandora was a godsend for me. I could build a station, say Social Distortion, and come out with four new bands I wanted to check out. Or even four bands I'd heard of for years but never approached, because I'd never gotten past my initial will I like it?/I don't want to waste the cash barrier. Pandora, and I should also just say the internet in general. The power of worldwide peer-based review is priceless.

bankmeister: Certainly a fascinating series of takes, and I think we're rounding Conclusionary Bend here, so, final thoughts?

Cecil: In closing, this was fun, even though reading back through my cliche-riddled crap makes me realize how far away the boat has drifted these last few years. But that's no never mind.

The important thing here, at least from my perspective, was that this exercise allowed me to realize what a weak point I was making, to realize that I'd spent years playing the needless contrarian. Fact is, Zeppelin pretty much fucking rocks. And I'd always known that, but had let the ancillary issues, i.e. musical "legitimacy" (as if such a thing really exists), cloud my judgment. There's room enough for everyone in the pantheon and just because I prefer Exile to IV doesn't mean that IV doesn't rule.

Now I just have to convince you that Little Feat didn't suck. Come on, man, Lowell George!

bankmeister: Ha ha. Great points, and I think that what I can take away from this is this: I now realize that I have a ton of Stones to go listen to, a lot of which will be virgin sessions, so there's that little tidbit that kind of deflates my entire stance. And that's a stance, I should say, that was created on the defensive, so I won't claim to hate the Stones or say that they suck. Neither is true. In my glossary, though, they'll never steal first fiddle from the Zep.

Oh, and I know I told you that Phish covered Exile on Halloween '09, but did you know that Waiting for Columbus was '10's muscial costume?

Cecil: You didn't, but that's funny. They're forcing it on you. You have no choice but to consume. Consume the Feat.


Anonymous said...

Stones..... are OK
Zeppelin are thieves
and mostly just noise

bobby said...

Though I have soaked much enjoyment from the Stones and still like their music, Led Zeppelin remain absolutely the greatest rock band that ever stepped on a stage. Their music retains its almost eerie brilliant power. I realized (along with tens of millions others) decades ago that you don't outgrow Zep's music. It was built to last. Incidentally, ALL the British bands lifted from the blues. It's like Muddy Waters said 'All musicians are theives, but the good ones take it somewhere new.' Zep blazed a trail like no band but the Beatles. I give Zep the definite nod.

Anonymous said...

The Beatles are practically unanimously the number 1 greatest band of all time. Always. You cannot possibly mess that up even if you tried.

The way I see it. The Rolling Stones come with little dispute at number 2.

And I really can't think of any other band greater than Led Zeppelin to occupy the third spot.

So basically, it comes down to those 3 as the ultimate legendary bands in the History of music.

The best way to measure greatness is by a combination of factors. QUALITY is simply too subjective, variable, relative and arguable, not to mention personal and, therefore, cannot be measured on a list. So it is impossible to measure precisely who was the BEST (which means subjective artistic quality), but it is possible to be more objective and evaluate who was the GREATEST, because it's something that can be historically attested for more solidly.

In terms of POPULARITY and COMMERCIAL SUCCESS, you could say that Zeppelin beat The Stones, since they sold 300 milion records worldwide, against The Stones' 200 million. In terms of LONGEVITY, they're even: both will be remembered for the generations to come.

But when it comes down to CHART SUCCESS, The Stones beat Zeppelin with ease, since they are the second band to top the charts the most (behind The Beatles only).

So, up to now, in terms of ACHIEVEMENTS, they're pretty even.

The factor that makes The Stones greater than Zeppelin is exactly the most relevant of them all: IMPORTANCE. By that, I mean impact caused, influence and so on...

Yes, Both were extremely influential, but The Rolling Stones' impact is something that transcends music. Together with the likes of Beatles, Dylan and Elvis Presley, they represented revolution for a whole generation. Led Zeppelin never had that status. The world was not a different place after Zeppelin came around.

The Stones' impact reaches social and cultural spheres. They just shocked the world when they came out. Not to say they pretty much set the standard of what a Rock N Roll band should be. They paved the way. That's the difference that makes every serious music critic to rank The Rolling Stones behind only The Beatles on most "greatest bands" lists.

It will never change, because you cannot change History.