Ann and Nancy Wilson’s Heart formed in 1967! They had huge commercial success from the mid-’70s to the mid-’80s. At the time I never gave them much consideration. Their brand of Rock seemed a little too corporate for my tastes – not edgy enough.
But over time my opinion has changed. Ann’s powerful vocals were never in doubt. I undervalued Nancy’s guitar playing. One of the “ah-ha” moments for me was when I saw Heart perform at the Bridge School benefit concert on October 27, 2013. They played a beautiful version of Led Zeppelin’s “Rain Song.” It wowed me and led me to connect how much their music was influenced by Zep. That may be obvious to all of you, but I was late to the realization.
The signs were there earlier. Who could forget their amazing performance of “Stairway to Heaven” at the Kennedy Center on December 2, 2012, complete with strings, horns, and a gospel choir? Led Zeppelin was there to accept the honor and you can see the expressions of approval as they were as blown away as the rest of the audience.
Today’s SotW is a Heart original that captures the spirit of Led Zeppelin as well as any of their recordings. It is “Love Alive” from Little Queen (1977).
It follows the same blueprint as “Stairway…” It starts with an acoustic guitar and softly sung verses and grows into a full blown rock and roll rave.
Heart was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 18, 2013. Their fans thought it was long overdue.
Today’s post is yet another in the
ongoing Evolution Series.
Led Zeppelin left a huge influence on
the development of Rock and Roll. It
seems ironic, then, that they’ve been accused so often of plagiarism.
I first wrote about this in February
2009 when the subject was “Dazed and Confused,” an obvious and undisputed rip
off of Jake Holmes “I’m Confused.” In
June 2016 I posted about the lawsuit by the estate of Randy California that
claimed the intro to “Stairway to Heaven” was lifted from Spirit’s “Taurus.” I defended Zep on that one because, although there
are similarities, there just wasn’t enough to justify calling it plagiarism (at
But let’s move on to “Whole Lotta Love.”
Most people attribute Robert Plant and Jimmy Page’s song to an original by Muddy Waters. His 1962 release, “You Need Love,” was written by Willie Dixon and has lyrical similarities to “Whole Lotta Love.”
You’ve got yearnin’ and I got burnin’
Baby you look so ooh
sweet and cunnin’
Baby way down
inside, woman you need love
Woman you need love,
you’ve got to have some love
I’m gon’ give you
some love, I know you need love
Although Page and Plant were steeped in the traditional American blues masters, I don’t think the Muddy Waters track was their inspiration. Instead, it may have been the Small Faces “You Need Loving,” released in 1966.
The Small Faces recording clearly copped
the same lyrical phrases from Waters/Dixon, but they modernized it into a blues-rock
version. Ronnie Lane and Steve Marriott
took writing credits for their song. But
aside from the lyrics, it is undeniable that Marriott’s vocal approach was an
influence on Plant. If you’re not
convinced, check out the breakdown near the end of the Small Faces cut at about
3:35 in. If that doesn’t seal the deal,
I don’t know what will!
A few years ago a film was released called 20 Feet from Stardom (2013). It’s all about the background singers whose fine work has supported so many more famous acts in the studio and on the road.
Today’s post highlights a few of my favorite examples of the value the background singers often contribute.
Merry Clayton, perhaps the most sought background singer in the rock era and one of the featured artists in 20 Feet from Stardom, provided the memorable performance on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” (1969).
In a 2013 interview on Fresh Air with NPR’s Terry Gross, Clayton told her story about the making of “Gimme Shelter.”
Well, I’m at home at about 12–I’d say about 11:30, almost 12 o’clock at night. And I’m hunkered down in my bed with my husband, very pregnant, and we got a call from a dear friend of mine and producer named Jack Nitzsche. Jack Nitzsche called and said “You know, Merry, are you busy?” I said “No, I’m in bed.” He says, “Well, you know, there are some guys in town from England and they need someone to come and sing a duet with them, but I can’t get anybody to do it. Could you come?” He said “I really think this would be something good for you.”
Mick Jagger told NPRs’ Melissa Block on All Things Considered:
“We randomly phoned up this poor lady in the middle of the night, and she arrived in her curlers and proceeded to do that in one or two takes, which is pretty amazing. She came in and knocked off this rather odd lyric. It’s not the sort of lyric you give anyone–‘Rape, murder/It’s just a shot away’– but she really got into it, as you can hear on the record.”
Clayton later lost her pregnancy to a miscarriage. Though unrelated, the association with “Gimme Shelter” made it very difficult to listen to the song for many years.
In 1970 Led Zeppelin released their acclaimed 4th album. “Stairway to Heaven” get the most attention but deep cut “The Battle of Evermore” is equally worthy. And it wouldn’t be the same without the vocal provided by Sandy Denny.
The song has the flavor of a traditional British folk song, so inviting Sandy Denny – whose pedigree was with Fairport Convention and Fotheringay – was a natural choice. Robert Plant and Denny perform a duet on this song. It is a story that references The Lord of the Rings where Plant plays the role of the narrator and Denny represents the town crier. “… Evermore” is the only Led Zeppelin song that has ever used a guest vocalist. Well played!
Maggie Bell’s effort on Rod Stewart’s “Every Picture Tells a Story” is smaller but no less significant.
She adds harmony on the fabulous fifth verse and, along with John Baldry, sings the “every picture tells a story, don’t it” line that repeats through the end of the song. But her best part is when Stewart sings the line “Shanghai Lil never used the pill” and Bell spits out the response “she claimed that it just ain’t natural.” That seals the deal for me.
Lastly is Clare Torry’s improvised vocal on Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky.”
Torry was introduced to the band by Alan Parsons, who engineered the classic Dark Side of the Moon at Abbey Road. Initially reluctant, Torry agreed to the session and recorded 2 ½ takes. The final was an edit of all three takes. All pressings of the song since 2005 give Torry co-writing credit for “TGGitS.”
I can’t imagine any of these iconic rock records without the key contributions from these female supporting vocalists.
Back in February 2009 I wrote a post featuring “I’m Confused” by Jake Holmes. I pointed out that “Dazed and Confused” by Led Zeppelin was a blatant rip off of Holmes’ song.
In fact, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant have a long history of lifting other people’s riffs or lyrics and repurposing them, often very creatively, for songs that they’ve claimed writing credits.
To some, this is just an extension of the old folk/blues tradition of handing songs down from one generation to another – add a new verse here, alter the chords or melody there. All harmless, no?
To others it’s plagiarism and causes economic harm to the original copyright holder. A prime example is Zeppelin’s first big hit, 1969’s “Whole Lotta Love.” The lyrics are very similar to a 1962 Muddy Waters song, “You Need Love”, written by Willie Dixon.
You’ve got yearnin’ and I got burnin’
Baby you look so ho sweet and cunnin’
Baby way down inside, woman you need love
Woman you need love, you’ve got to have some love
I’m gon’ give you some love, I know you need love
Sound familiar? The courts thought so and Led Zeppelin settled out of court with Dixon in 1985 for an undisclosed sum. As part of the settlement, Dixon’s name was added to the credits for “Whole Lotta Love” on all subsequent releases.
This week Page and Plant are in court again. This time it’s over the intro to their timeless classic “Stairway to Heaven.” Some claim it bears a striking resemblance to the instrumental “Taurus”, today’s SotW, by the California psych band Spirit.
So far the plaintiffs – the estate of the song’s author, Randy California – are trying to establish that Page and Plant heard the song on record or in performances before they wrote “Stairway to Heaven.” Page, under sworn testimony has denied it. Rolling Stone has been reporting on the trial. You can read their coverage here:
For my part, I hear the similarity, but in this particular case I find it a stretch to concede that there’s enough of a case to award Spirit a favorable judgement and monetary damages. Whatever influence he may have nicked from “Taurus”, Page takes “Stairway to Heaven” way further. No contest here.
But it will still be interesting to see how it is decided in the courts.
Most of you that read this weekly missive are music nerds, so you’re probably already aware that this week marks the 40th anniversary of Led Zeppelin’s classic double album Physical Graffiti.
The story of Physical Graffiti really starts in earnest in January 1974 when the band assembled at Headly Grange (the Grange), a dank 18th century English estate where the band had recorded albums starting with Led Zeppelin III, to work on some new tracks. By March they had tapes of eight very strong songs that would become enduring classics in the Zeppelin catalog. Those rough mixes were for:
• Custard Pie
• In My Time of Dying
• Trampled Under Foot
• In the Light
• The Wanton Song
• Sick Again
• And today’s SotW, Ten Years Gone
When the mixes for these songs were finished over the summer, there was too much music to fit on a single album, but the band couldn’t stomach the idea of dropping any of them. So they decided to release a double album and filled it out with seven leftovers from recordings dating back as far as 1970.
But let’s get back to “Ten Years Gone.”
It has been well documented that Robert Plant’s lyric was inspired by the memory of a 10 year past relationship he had with the younger sister of the woman he was then married to.
In a 2010 article in Classic Rock magazine, the great rock critic Barney Hoskyns wrote:
The song’s feel suggests a less dramatic ‘Kashmir’, with another airy dose of mysticism in the lyrics: “Then as it was, then again it will be/And though the course may change sometimes/Rivers always reach the sea…” Personally I love Plant’s hippie-dippiness because it’s shot through with empathy and compassion: give me his flowery poetics over the flip worldliness of a Mick Jagger any day.
Old wounds are keenly felt in the song’s hoarse middle-eight outpouring of “Do you ever remember me, baby/Did it feel so good…”
And the music is in my favorite Led Zep style – you know, those songs like “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” where they start out with gently picked acoustic guitar then go all dinosaur stomp, loud hard rock.
In a Rolling Stone article called “50 Artists’ Favorite Playlists”, producer Rick Rubin described “Ten Years Gone” as “A deep, reflective piece with hypnotic, interweaving riffs. Light and dark, shadow and glare. It sounds like nature coming through the speakers.” That about covers it.
Jimmy Page’s guitar riff was too good to pass up, so 2Pac sampled it for 1997’s “Life’s So Hard.”
Today’s post will be short and sweet. (I’m still jet lagged due to my return flight from Europe yesterday.)
Wednesday, October 22nd, marks the 45th anniversary of the release of Led Zeppelin II (1969). The album quickly ran up to the top position on the worldwide charts – knocking The Beatles’ Abbey Road out of that spot here in the US. They just don’t make ‘em like they used to, do they?
The SotW is “What Is and What Should Never Be.”
The song was one of the first to have lyrics contributed by Robert Plant. It’s a slow blues that uses the soft/loud dynamic that Led Zeppelin employed to such great effect. MOJO recently made a list of the 50 Greatest Zeppelin Songs and WIaWSNB came in at #26. Writer Clive Prior had this to say about it.
Plant’s half-whispered, phased vocal is both seductive and covert, the invitation to his lady friend to visit his nearby castle sounding playful as well as slightly absurd on a song of alleged deep confession. Then in a dramatic vocal switch, he assumes his strutting Golden God persona, his strident vocal bursting dramatically forth. Page’s intimate production adds a smoothness to the atmospherics served up by Jones and Bonham, the drummer’s gong pressed into service for the first time on record at 1:09 to shimmering effect.