Posts Tagged ‘blues rock’

“East-West” by the Butterfield Blues Band (1966)

David Crosby’s ramblings between songs during the Byrds’ set at the Monterey Pop Festival on June 17, 1967, have become the stuff of legend.

As bandmates Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke listened very bemusedly, Crosby talked into the microphone at length about such topics as sanctioned drug use and the John F. Kennedy assassination. Probably not coincidentally, Crosby was an ex-Byrd a couple of months later.

One of his statements, though, resonated with many of those in attendance at the festival:

Man, if you didn’t hear Mike Bloomfield’s group, man, you are out of it, so far out of it.

The group in question, the Electric Flag, had performed earlier in the day, making its live debut, in fact. And much of the attention at Monterey was focused on Bloomfield, whose instrumental prowess had won him acclaim as perhaps the most highly regarded guitarist in rock music at the time.

Perhaps the performances of the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend (and to some degree, Jerry Garcia) the following night opened some eyes to the next wave of guitar stars. But as of Crosby’s proclamation, Michael Bloomfield was at the top of the pyramid.

He continues to be widely respected decades after his death on Feb. 15, 1981. Rolling Stone has ranked him as high as No. 22 on its periodic, and extremely fluid, lists of all-time greatest guitarists.

But his impact in the pre-Hendrix days seems to be little remembered.

As a teenager, Bloomfield already showed enough talent – and balls! – to walk onstage and play with many of Chicago’s top blues acts. After recording some sessions for Columbia Records in 1964, he joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which was among the first American groups to combine the blues with the harder edge of rock. Butterfield and company, including second guitarist Elvin Bishop, quickly became a top national draw with its exhilarating live performances, and the band’s first album, “The Paul Butterfield Blues Band,” released in 1965, is considered a cornerstone of blues-rock.

Bloomfield, who’d grown up as a blues player, meanwhile was exploring other influences, including jazz and especially Eastern modal music. The latter – along with a dose of LSD, according to music critic and author Dave Marsh – inspired Bloomfield to compose what became the title track of the Butterfield Blues Band’s second album.

“East-West” is one of two instrumentals that take up roughly half the album’s playing time and went a long way toward establishing Butterfield and company as pioneers in exploring the possibilities of rock music. The rhythm section of bass player Jerome Arnold and Billy Davenport, the supporting instrumentation of keyboard player Mark Naftalin and guitarist Elvin Bishop, and Butterfield’s powerful, foghorn-like harmonica all build a solid foundation for extensive jamming. Then there’s Bloomfield’s guitar, which really carries the proceedings into previously uncharted territory.

The band’s cover of cornetist Nat Adderley’s “Work Song,” which wraps up Side One of the LP, represents an early foray into jazz-rock, for the most part following the standard hard-bop version until Bloomfield begins his solo, building the intensity as he shows off his fluid playing, transforming the easy-paced tune into a virtuoso guitar showcase.

Prior to the release of “East-West” in August 1966, few rock songs had ventured past the four-minute mark by anyone who was not Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa or the Rolling Stones. And none of their material sounded anything like “East-West,” the composition: 13 minutes of mind-melting intensity, courtesy of Mr. Bloomfield’s guitar. He set the stage for extended rock instrumentals, but few, if any, ever matched what he and the Butterfield band put on record.

“East-West” is built on a modal format, eschewing chord changes to give the soloists a platform for jamming, as grandly exhibited with Miles Davis’ landmark “Kind of Blue” and subsequent work by Davis’ tenor sax player at the time, John Coltrane. The theme is introduced by the band, with Bishop contributing a spirited guitar line to start proceedings, demonstrating him to be quite a capable instrumentalist, even as a bandmate of Bloomfield.

After about a minute and a half, Butterfield joins in on harmonica, doing a creditable job with his lung power of making his instrument the aural equivalent of an amplified electric guitar. The band chugs along behind him, bringing proceedings to a an early climax shortly before the 3-minute mark.

Then it’s Bloomfield’s turn. The title of “East-West” comes from his combining musical styles from different sides of the globe, and his “East” portion features a minor-scale counterpoint to the modal D, with Bishop eventually joining him as Butterfield and Naftalin help create a wall of sound leading up to an abrupt change in the action.

Nearing 7 minutes into the song, Bloomfield breaks into the melodic, relatively easygoing “West” section, switching to a more-recognizable major scale for his solo. Then, as David Dann writes in his essay “Beyond the Blues: A Critical Look at ‘East-West'”:

At 08:32 Bloomfield introduces the now-familiar Motive A, a four-note scaler run consisting of D-E-F-F#, and creates from it a marvelous compound phrase that twists and turns for a full 60 seconds, only resolving back to D some 40 bars later at 09:38. It’s no overstatement to assert that the coherence, clarity and Bach-like motion of this passage, “the 40-bar phrase,” establish Michael Bloomfield as one of rock’s greatest soloists. Certainly no one else before him had exhibited such musical virtuosity.

Bishop again helps provide a stunning dual-guitar attack as the song reaches its conclusion, the band breaking into a punctuated, bluesy rhythm that wraps up with an extended final note, with a quick Butterfield harp flourish serving as the final note.

Unfortunately, that also served as Bloomfield’s finale with Butterfield as far as studio recordings. He left the band the following spring to embark on the Electric Flag project, and later he worked on the well-regarded “Super Session” album.

After a so-so venture as one of Columbia Records’ featured solo artist and a brief Electric Flag reunion, Bloomfield released a number of uneven albums, the last being “Crusin’ For A Brusin’,” which came out on John Fahey’s Takoma label shortly before Bloomfield was found dead in his car in San Francisco.

Photographer-filmmaker Deborah Chesher recently compiled her work of deceased musicians into a fascinating volume called “Everybody I Shot Is Dead.” The first chapter is on Michael Bloomfield, whose death probably touched her the most among the dozens of subjects in the book. She wraps up the chapter with:

If you’ve never heard him play, find his CDs and listen. Michael Bloomfield was an exceptional musician. He was also intelligent, mischievous, curious, crazy and a whole lot of sweetness. I was lucky to know him.

The other half of the “East-West” album contains more stellar examples of the Butterfield band’s groundbreaking forays into blues-rock, including a definitive reading of Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues” and a cover of Michael Nesmith’s “Mary Mary,” before he did his own version with the Monkees. Also featured is Allen Toussaint’s “Get Out of My Life Woman,” which the band had issued as its debut single the previous year.

The songs with vocals make for good listening, certainly. But if you enjoy rock instrumentals, “East-West” is a must.

Well, it’s been over a year, with some long delays between posts. But we’re heading into the home stretch.

To repeat my disclaimer: The rankings are purely subjective, based on my respect for an album’s merits and how much I enjoy listening to it. Plus I’m striving to include a large variety of artists, meaning some would seem to get shortchanged in a way. For example, as I’ve noted, a great majority of Beatles albums deserve to be on any “top 100” list, but I wanted to acknowledge the Mans and Loves of the musical world, too!

Of the final 20 albums, many will have you nodding in agreement; others will have you scratching your heads. I will say that I pretty much formulated my opinions on these recordings decades ago, and if that makes me a “dinosaur” … hey, proud of it!

Here’s what we have so far:

100. “6 and 12 String Guitar” by Leo Kottke
99. “A Picture of Nectar” by Phish
98. “Mass in F Minor” by the Electric Prunes
97. “Back Into the Future” by Man
96. “Brave New World” by the Steve Miller Band
95. “Bridge of Sighs” by Robin Trower
94. “Dual Mono” by the Greenhornes
93. “Live” by Golden Earring
92. “New Riders of the Purple Sage” by New Riders of the Purple Sage
91. “Born Under a Bad Sign” by Albert King
90. “Blue Oyster Cult” by Blue Oyster Cult
89. “Hollywood Dream” by Thunderclap Newman
88. “Mothership Connection” by Parliament
87. “Smash Your Head Against the Wall” by John Entwistle
86. “Billion Dollar Babies” by Alice Cooper
85. “Blues Helping” by Love Sculpture
84. “Stratosfear” by Tangerine Dream
83. “New Dark Ages” by the Radiators
82. “High Time” by the MC5
81. “Third” by Soft Machine
80. “Blues for Allah” by the Grateful Dead
79. “Nazz Nazz” by the Nazz
78. “Fun House” by the Stooges
77. “Elephant” by the White Stripes
76. “Marquee Moon” by Television
75. “After Bathing at Baxter’s” by Jefferson Airplane
74. “Forever Changes” by Love
73. “White Light/White Heat” by the Velvet Underground
72. “Fear of Music” by Talking Heads
71. “Spectrum” by Billy Cobham
70. “Garcia” by Jerry Garcia
69. “London Calling” by the Clash
68. “Procol Harum” by Procol Harum
67. “Blue Train” by John Coltrane
66. “Physical Graffiti” by Led Zeppelin
65. “Vincebus Eruptum” by Blue Cheer
64. “Made in Japan” by Deep Purple
63. “Yer’ Album” by the James Gang
62. “The Gilded Palace of Sin” by the Flying Burrito Brothers
61. “The Who Sell Out” by The Who
60. “re-ac-tor” by Neil Young & Crazy Horse
59. “Truth” by Jeff Beck
58. “Safe As Milk” by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
57. “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” by Pink Floyd
56. “#1 Record” by Big Star
55. “Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part 1” by the Kinks
54. “Head Hunters” by Herbie Hancock
53. “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus” by Spirit
52. “Sticky Fingers” by the Rolling Stones
51. “The Inner Mounting Flame” by the Mahavishnu Orchestra
50. “Eat a Peach” by the Allman Brothers Band
49. “Band of Gypsys” by Jimi Hendrix
48. “Animals” by Pink Floyd
47. “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake” by the Small Faces
46. “American Beauty” by the Grateful Dead
45. “Exodus” by Bob Marley & the Wailers
44. “Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs” by Derek & the Dominos
43. “Volunteers” by Jefferson Airplane
42. “The Band” by the Band
41. “In a Silent Way” by Miles Davis
40. “The Psychedelic Sounds of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators” by the Thirteenth Floor Elevators
39. “Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton” by John Mayall
38. “Anthem of the Sun” by the Grateful Dead
37. “Rubber Soul” by the Beatles
36. “At Fillmore East” by the Allman Brothers Band
35. “The Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd
34. “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane
33. “On the Beach” by Neil Young
32. “Spirit” by Spirit
31. “Led Zeppelin II” by Led Zeppelin
30. “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” by the Byrds
29. “Beggars Banquet” by the Rolling Stones
28. “Bringing It All Back Home” by Bob Dylan
27. “Hot Rats” by Frank Zappa
26. “Roger the Engineer” by the Yardbirds
25. “The Basement Tapes” by Bob Dylan & The Band
24. “Revolver” by the Beatles
23. “Are You Experienced?” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
22. “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd
21. “The Doors” by the Doors

“Roger the Engineer” by the Yardbirds (1966)

Album-oriented rock still was a long way off when the Yardbirds’ career got into full swing in the mid-1960s.

The band issued a string of hit singles that consolidated their status in their native Britain and the United States, classics like “For Your Love,” “Heart Full of Soul,” “Evil Hearted You” and “Shapes of Things.” Much of that material was compiled for two U.S.-only LPs, “For Your Love” and “Having a Rave Up With the Yardbirds,” which further enhanced their American reputation, particularly among fledgling guitar players who taught themselves to the riffs of Jeff Beck and Eric “Slowhand” Clapton.

In the summer of 1966, the Yardbirds finally released their first U.K. studio album, simply titled “The Yardbirds” but popularly known as “Roger the Engineer” because of the caption on drummer Jim McCarty’s distinctive cover portrait. Also confusing the issue is the name the album was given outside Britain: “Over Under Sideways Down,” after an LP track that became a hit single.

“Roger” turned out to be the only Yardbirds U.K. studio album, at least until the 21st-century version of the band released a CD called “Birdland” in 2003. The LP “Little Games,” featuring Jimmy Page on lead guitar, was a U.S.-only release in 1967.

Meanwhile, the overall Yardbirds discography has grown exponentially over the decades, with much of the band’s early material seemingly out there in the public domain for anyone who wants to slap together a collection for marketing purposes.

And so for music enthusiasts looking to dig into Yardbirds material, “Roger the Engineer” is a logical place to start. Not only does it represent the band’s most consistent full-length release, but it’s a damned good representation of the transition from garage rock to psychedelia.

Yardbirds bassist Paul Samwell-Smith co-produced the album, foreshadowing his transition from playing music to studio work. His bass guitar is the dominant instrument for the opening track as he provides the octave-scale hook for “Lost Woman.” At least, that’s until Beck fires off a scorching lead in the middle section, setting a precedent for much of the rest of the album.

“Over Under Sideways Down” features a fuzzed-guitar motif – Beck was a pioneer in getting that type of sound out of this instrument as vocalist Keith Relf provides a narrative worth of the band’s home of Swinging London:

Cars and girls are easy come by in this day and age
Laughing, joking, drinking, smoking ’til I’ve spent my wage.
When I was young, people spoke of immorality
All the things they said were wrong are what I want to be

The song represents the last major singles triumph for the Yardbirds: No. 13 on the U.S. charts and No. 10 in the U.K.

Beck spells Relf on lead vocal for “The Nazz Are Blue,” and although Jeff doesn’t sound particularly comfortable in that role, he started his solo career as a singing guitarist with the British Hit “Hi Ho Silver Lining.” As for “The Nazz,” it’s in a fairly standard 12-bar blues format, with Beck providing his usual stellar guitar. The song served as the impetus for the names of at least two American bands: Todd Rundgren’s band out of Philadelphia, which recorded three albums as the Nazz, and another group from Phoenix, until the members started calling themselves Alice Cooper.

“I Can’t Make Your Way” is an upbeat ditty that extols the virtues of living beyond the pale, so to speak: “Taxman, rent man, they all chase me, I ain’t home when they come around/Got no money, live my life free, that’s the best way I have found.”

Another Beck showcase is “Rack My Mind,” another blues-based, woman-done-wrong song driven by a memorable bass line. His guitar really comes to the forefront during the slowed-tempo middle section.

The brief, sparsely accompanied “Farewell” has Relf musing about the ills of the world throughout the days of the week, concluding on Sunday with the ominous: “On Sunday back inside my room, I draw the blinds, ’tis afternoon/I let my mind find its own ways, farewell to future days.” Who said the ’60s were all about flowers and sunshine?

“Hot House of Omagarashid” has the Yardbirds veering off into experimental territory, with rhythm guitarist producing a rhythm by shaking something called a wobble board and the band plunging into another bass-driven tune, this one enhanced by various members chanting an infectious “Ya-ya-ya!” lyric. The mono mix of the song features one of Beck’s most searing guitar leads.

“Jeff’s Boogie” pretty much is what the title indicates: Beck providing a workout to an instrumental line that strongly resembles Chuck Berry’s “Guitar Boogie.” He also throws in a few quotes from “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” perhaps as a nod to Buddy Guy.

The Yardbirds show their heavier side on “He’s Always There,” a lament about trying to hit on a girl when her boyfriend won’t leave her side. Beck’s playing is somewhat reserved until the outro, during which he plays a blazing guitar as Relf and others sing the song title repeatedly.

“Turn into Earth” is a foray into Gregorian chant territory, along the lines of the highly successful “Still I’m Sad.” Relf returns to the lyrical doom and gloom of “Farewell”:

Distant dreams of things to be
Wandering thoughts that can’t be free
I feel my mind turning away
To the darkness of my day

“What Do You Want” is the Yardbirds in rave-up mode, jamming to a catchy tune as Relf puts forth another lament about a fickle woman. As with many of the “Roger the Engineer” songs, this one is available in some collections in its instrumental form, again showing why Beck was regarded as one of the top young guitarists of the era.

The album closes on a foreboding note with “Ever Since the World Began,” a minor-key dirge that abruptly shifts to a much livelier tempo. Lyrically, it’s yet more familiar territory a la “I Can’t Make Your Way”: Band members chant, “I don’t need money,” as Relf expounds in a root-of-all-evil theme.

Most reissues of “Roger the Engineer” have included two additional songs, the single “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” and its British B-side, “Psycho Daisies.” Both feature the short-lived lineup of Beck and Page sharing lead-guitar duties.

The A-side may mark the pinnacle of the Yardbirds’ creativity, but unfortunately it stiffed on the charts, peaking at No. 30 in the U.S. and No. 43 in the U.K. “Happenings” also represents an early collaboration between Page and John Paul Jones, who played bass.

In the United States, the B-side was “The Nazz Are Blue.” Rundgren must have bought the 45; not only did he name his band after one of the songs, but he covered the other on his “Faithful” album in 1976.

After “Roger the Engineer,” the Yardbirds’ commercial appeal declined significantly, and the band broke up in June 1968. Page put together another group to fulfill some contractual obligations, and so Led Zeppelin played its first several gigs billed as his previous band.

If he, Jones, Robert Plant and John Bonham played any “Roger the Engineer” material together, it has not been recorded in any Led Zeppelin histories.

“Beggars Banquet” by the Rolling Stones (1968)

I. Torn and Frayed

At nearly four centuries old, Swarkestone Hall Pavilion offers visitors to England’s Derbyshire County in England an opportunity to spend the night with history.

The structure, now offered for accommodations, dates back to 1632, when Sir John Harpur commissioned pioneering architect John Smythson to build a recreational building on the grounds of the family residence. The main house has been in ruins since around 1750, but the pavilion has endured, most recently assisted through efforts by the British building conservation charity Landmark Trust.

The building had stood for more than 330 years when it had its most enduring brush with fame.

In June 1968, photographer Michael Joseph chose the locale for a shoot involving five long-haired, rather scruffy young men from London. They’d been photographed countless times before, and would be so exponentially more in the future. But this session would prove to be among the most memorable, and bittersweet, occasions.

Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Billy Wyman, Charlie Watts and Brian Jones met with Joseph in their hometown of London before moving to the more picturesque location in Derbyshire, providing a wealth of images that ended up illustrating two Rolling Stones albums, that year’s “Beggars Banquet” and the 1970 anthology “Hot Rocks.”

By the time Decca Records was preparing the packaging for the latter, one of the subjects no longer was available. Lewis B. Jones, as was his proper name, died July 3, 1969, setting the precedent for the unfortunate spate of rock superstars who have succumbed to the lifestyle at age 27.

The back cover of “Hot Rocks” shows the Stones at Swarkestone, Watts standing front and center on the ground, and the rest of them perched on the massive window sills. Jones is reclining rather precariously, as if he were about to plunge downward, a position that fairly accurately represents the trajectory on which he found himself the last few years of his life, especially with regard to his band.

The “Beggars Banquet” motif that would up being portrayed on the inside of the album jacket shows Brian in a seemingly helpless position, pinned to his chair by a large dog, his facial expression bemused, his hands held skyward in a gesture of surrender. He was only 26 at the time but had the general appearance of a much-older man.

The Joseph sessions represent one of the final glimpses of Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. True, he’d appear with the rest of the band on a would-be TV special, “The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus,” filmed in late 1968 but pretty much hidden away for the better part of three decades afterward. By then, he had become but a footnote in the band’s history, with latter-day fans often wondering, “Who’s that guy?”

Those participating in recording sessions for “Beggars Banquet” might have wondered the same thing, considering Brian’s contributions to the project, or lack thereof. He’s credited with playing slide guitar – stunningly, as usual – on one track, harmonica on a few others, and a few assorted, more exotic instruments here and there. But for the most part he had little input toward what turned out to be his last album, save for incidental appearances on a couple of tracks on the followup, “Let It Bleed.”

In another bittersweet twist, critics at the time regarded “Beggars Banquet” as the first truly solid Rolling Stones album, a viewpoint that persists nearly half a century after its release. That’s because Keith Richards stepped up in a big way to fill the void left by Brian, once the band’s showcase instrumentalist, and his slow, steady decline, one that didn’t necessarily have to be irrevocable.


II. Come On

In mid-1962, the late Ian “Stu” Stewart was an easygoing 24-year-old piano player looking to hone his boogie-woogie style with a band of likeminded individuals in his adopted hometown of London.

“So when a little advert appeared in Jazz News – a character called Brian Jones wanted to form an R&B group – I went along and saw him,” Stewart told author Stanley Booth for his landmark biography, “The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones.”

I’ll never forget. He had this Howlin’ Wolf album goin’. I’d never heard anything like it. I thought, Right, this is it. He said, “We’re gonna have a rehearsal.”

Gathering with Jones and Stewart were an assortment of motley characters, among them 18-year-old guitarist Richards. He persuaded his acquaintance Jagger, who was singing with Alexis Korner’s Blues Inc. while studying at the London School of Economics, to drop by one of the rehearsals.

Thus marked the beginning of the Rollin’ Stones, before they added the “g.” The band came close to falling apart right away, though, as Richards recalled:

Brian was living right in the middle of where all the spades live here, in a basement, very decrepit place with mushrooms and fungus growing out of the walls, with (girlfriend) Pat and his kid. Now sometime this summer something really weird happens. One night Mick, who’d been playin’ a gig with Korner, went ’round to see Brian, if I remember rightly, and Brian wasn’t there but his old lady was. Mick was very drunk, and he screwed her.

This caused a whole trauma. At first, Brian was terribly offended. The chick split. But what it really did was put Mick and Brian very tight together, because it put them through a whole emotional scene and they really got into each other, and they became very close.”

Jagger, in fact, was more serious about his education than a music career, until Jones convinced him otherwise. When Bill Perks (Wyman) and Charlie Watts joined the band – originally it was the Rollin’ Stones – it became the vocalist’s going concern.

“At the start of the Stones it was Brian who was the monster head,” Korner told Booth:

Brian was incredibly aggressive in performance. … He used to jump forward with the tambourine and sneer at you at the same time. The aggression had a tremendous impact. Also, he was a very sensitive player. Brian, at his best, could play slow blues exceptionally well. But what I remember him most for is his ‘I’m gonna put the boot in’ attitude.

At the start, Brian was the image of aggression in the Stones much more than Mick.

Jones was the de facto leader of an energized sextet with a sound and stage act that attracted a multitude of customers to London’s Crawdaddy Club, along with a teenage entrepreneur named Andrew Loog Oldham. He and business partner Eric Easton took over the Rolling Stones’ management and signed them to Decca Records. On May 10, 1963, the band cut two songs for its first single, Chuck Berry’s “Come On” and Willie Dixon’s “I Wanna Be Loved,” and soon after the Stones played the former on a TV show called “Thank Your Lucky Stars.”

“They wore matching houndstooth check jackets Oldham had provided to make them look more like a group,” Booth wrote, “and there were only five of them.”

“This is where Brian starts to realize things have gone beyond his control,” Keith said. “Before this, everybody knows that Brian considers it to be his band. Now Andrew Oldham sees Mick as a big sex symbol, and wants to kick Stu out, and we won’t have it. And eventually, because Brian had known him longer than we, and the band was Brian’s idea in the first place, Brian had to tell Stu how we’d signed with these people, how they were very image-conscious, and Stu didn’t fit in. …

“By now, the Beatles have seen us play, and we’ve been to see them at the Albert Hall, and we’ve seen all the screaming chicks, the birds down in front, and everybody can’t wait, you can’t wait to hear the screams.”

That’s what Jones wanted, and as the band started traveling throughout England, that’s what he got, albeit in a rather raucous manner. Stewart, who’d been relegated to roadie after Oldham’s intervention, told Booth about the general atmosphere of an early Rolling Stones concert in the hinterlands:

“No dressing rooms, no stages, no electricity, no security, fuck-all, used to be a hell of a bloody fight every night. They all said, ‘We’ve had the Beatles here; we can handle anything.’ You’d say, ‘Well, you haven’t had the Stones yet. You wait,’ and they’d say, ‘Oh, we can handle everything,’ so everything used to get destroyed.

“The boys themselves never used to help matters much, because they resisted for a while the idea of all traveling together. Brian had something to do with this. Nobody wanted to be in the same car with Brian for any length of time. He began to feel he’d been eased out. He became difficult to live with.”


III. Shattered

On Aug. 27, 1963, during a whirlwind tour of England, the Rolling Stones performed at the Star and Garter pub in Windsor. Richards was the only guitarist that night; Jones was ill and sat that one out.

His status as the group’s leader already was eroding. In the beginning, he handled the cash and paid the other band members. Eventually, they received their money from the management office.

Also eventually, Jagger and Richards starting writing songs together, “though we didn’t like anything we wrote and we couldn’t get anybody else in the band to play it,” Keith recalled. But after other artists started scoring hits with their material, most notably Marianne Faithfull’s “As Tears Go By,” the Stones started recording more Jagger-Richards material, solidifying the partnership when “The Last Time” hit No. 1 on the UK singles charts.

Jones wrote songs, too, but none ever would be recorded by the Rolling Stones, which had become almost on par with the Beatles as a top rock ‘n’ roll attraction. Their American tour in late 1965 grossed $2 million in a month and a half, and their string of hit singles continued into 1966 with “19th Nervous Breakdown,” which contained what appeared to be a reference to mind-altering drugs: “On our first trip I tried so hard to rearrange your mind/But after ‘while I realized you were rearranging mine.”


Brian Jones and Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival, June 1967

The lyrics have applied to Jones.

“He had to outdo everybody, do more,” Richards recalled. “If everybody was taking a thousand mikes of acid, he’d take 2,000 of STP. He did himself in.”

He still could be the band’s premiere instrumentalist, when he wanted to: Jones “sat for hours learning to play sitar, put it on ‘Paint It, Black’ and never played it again,” Watts recalled. In early 1967, on “Ruby Tuesday” – containing the line “Lose your dreams, and you will lose your mind” – Jones played “ethereal, not to say haunting, flute. The last thing, Stu said, Brian ever did for the Stones,” Booth wrote.

That summer, the Rolling Stones went to work on the album that eventually arrived as “Their Satanic Majesties Request,” a psychedelic mishmash that seemed to be highly derivative of such work as the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and Pink Floyd’s “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” Jones, who was enduring court proceedings related to drug arrests, was pictured on the LP cover, but that may have been the extent of his involvement.

In the spring 1968, the Stones finished work on a new single, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” that went on to score the band its first No. 1 hit in two years. On May 12, the Stones gave a surprise performance at the New Musical Express Poll Winners’ Concert at London’s Wembley Stadium. Booth wrote:

It was just like the old days, girls screaming, cops with linked arms holding back hysterical fans. The Stones did “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Satisfaction,” and Mick threw his white shoes into the crowd.

Nine days later, four days before “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” was released, Brian was again arrested for drugs. He had heard the screams for the last time.


IV. “Beggars Banquet”

When the Rolling Stones gathered in March 1968 to start work on a new album, one of the first songs to emerge was “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and its success seemed to give the band a renewed sense of energy in the wake of Jones’ musical inactivity. He did contribute to some of the tracks that eventually surfaced on “Beggars Banquet” – chief among them is his bottleneck slide on “No Expectations” – but the album stands as a testament to the band’s ability to soldier on without its founder.

The opening track, “Sympathy for the Devil,” is at once a startling foray into an adventurous musical direction and a lyrical challenge to pop conventions. It starts with guest percussionist Rocky Dijon joining Wyman on maracas to create a tribal motif, over which Jagger provides echoed, ethereal yelps before he launches into his narrative:

Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year, stole many a mans soul and faith
I was around when Jesus Christ had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that pilate washed his hands and sealed his fate

That’s strong stuff, even 44 years after the fact.

The song, of course, became one of the best-known in the Stones’ extensive canon and became the band’s unofficial theme for a while, until the Satanic overtones clashed with events at the Altamont concert in December 1969, when a man was stabbed to death directly in front of the stage.

Following the raucous jam of “Sympathy for the Devil,” which lasts more than 7 minutes, the Stones turn down the volume for the acoustic ballad “No Expectations.” Influenced by Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain,” which the band later recorded, the song probably represents Jones’ last musical stand:

“We were sitting around in a circle on the floor, singing and playing, recording with open mikes,” Jagger said in a 1995 interview for Rolling Stone magazine. “That was the last time I remember Brian really being totally involved in something that was really worth doing.”

“Dear Doctor” draws its influence from country music, resulting in a tongue-in-check tale of a young man who’s about to marry, against his will, “a bow-legged sow.”

“There’s a sense of humour in country music,” Jagger explained, “a way of looking at life in a humorous kind of way, and I think we were just acknowledging that element of the music.”

The band returns to its blues roots for “Parachute Woman,” which also kind of returns to the band’s sonic roots: It was recorded onto a cassette recorder and double-tracked, to give it a bit of depth. The song puts Jagger’s penchant for not-too-subtle sexual innuendo on display: “Parachute woman, will you blow me out? Well, my heavy throbber’s itchin’, just to lay a solid rhythm down.”

On “Jig-Saw Puzzle,” Jagger’s lyrics are willfully obtuse, perhaps his take on a Bob Dylan epic, as he introduces a variety of characters: a tramp, bishop’s daughter, family-man gangster and 20,000 grandmas, along with the queen who kills them. And then there’s his telling portrait of the Rolling Stones, themselves:

Oh the singer, he looks angry
At being thrown to the lions
And the bass player, he looks nervous
About the girls outside
And the drummer, he’s so shattered
Trying to keep on time
And the guitar players look damaged
They’ve been outcasts all their lives

For an album that contains “Sympathy for the Devil,” it would appear to be difficult to top that as far as generating controversy. But “Street Fighting Man” did the trick, with lines like this: “Hey, said my name is called Disturbance/I’ll shout and scream, I’ll kill the King, I’ll rail at all his servants.” The student uprising in France during the spring of 1968 inspired the song, but Jagger admits about his own country: “in sleepy London Town there’s just no place for a street fighting man.”

Jones contributes sitar and tamboura to a relatively muddy mix, which subsequent remastering jobs haven’t been able to correct too much, for good reason. As Richards recalled in a 1971 Rolling Stone interview:

The basic track of that was done on a mono cassette with very distorted overrecording, on a Phillips with no limiters. Brian is playing sitar, it twangs away. He’s holding notes that wouldn’t come through if you had a board, you wouldn’t be able to fit it in. But on a cassette if you just move the people, it does. Cut in the studio and then put on a tape. Started putting percussion and bass on it. That was really an electronic track, up in the realms.

Mississipi-born Robert Wilkins wrote “Prodigal Son,” originally titled “No Way to Get Along,” back in the 1920s, and the Stones tackle the song as a primitive blues, with sparse instrumentation. In 1969, Jagger and Richards performed the song as an impromptu duet during a power outage at the band’s concert in Oakland.

“Stray Cat Blues” owes a debt to the Velvet Underground’s early catalogue, in its sustained introduction, which Jagger said was influenced by the VU song “Heroin,” and in its subject matter: The protagonist propositions a 15-year-old girl – on the live version released on “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out,” she’s 13 – to “just come on upstairs.” And then he ups the ante:

You say you got a friend, that she’s wilder than you
Why don’t you bring her upstairs
If she’s so wild then she can join in, too

The song’s conclusion is a lengthy, modal drone that also is reminiscent of the Velvets’ work, demonstrating the then-obscure New York City band had won some fans in high places.

“Factory Girl” is a folk-oriented offering, with the recording featuring an unusual assortment of musicians: Dijon on congas, Ric Grech of Family on violin, Dave Mason of Traffic on Mellotron (sounding like a mandolin) and Watts on tabla. As Charlie noted in Dora Loewenstein and Philip Dodd’s “According to the Rolling Stones”:

On “Factory Girl,” I was doing something you shouldn’t do, which is playing the tabla with sticks instead of trying to get that sound using your hand, which Indian tabla players do, though it’s an extremely difficult technique and painful if you’re not trained.

The album closes with “Salt of the Earth,” which the Stones apparently intended as the band’s grand epic: They concluded “The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus” with a performance that included a sing-along with everyone in attendance. The studio version features the Los Angeles Watts Street Gospel Choir adding a dramatic flair, an effect the band would repeat on its much better-known “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” the following year.

The release of the album was delayed because of a dispute over the cover art, which the Stones delivered as a graffiti-covered bathroom wall. An invitation to a “Beggars Banquet” was substituted, and the original art didn’t surface until the CD version became available in the ’80s.

Brian Jones, of course, wasn’t around to see it.

“Led Zeppelin II” by Led Zeppelin (1969)

I. The Danish Connection

Gladsaxe Kommune is a small municipality on the island of Zealand, toward the easternmost part of Denmark. In 1955, it became home to a 206.5-meters-tall guyed television mast, the first TV transmission site in Denmark.

That might have served as the sole claim to fame for Gladsaxe, which today is modestly inhabited at about 62,000 people.

In the summer of 1968, whoever booked the performers for the Teen-Clubs at Gladsaxe’s Egegård Skole (school) must have figured he scored some kind of coup by scheduling the Yardbirds. The British band had scored a string of hit singles, although the last one was way back in 1966.

A couple of dozen youngsters gathered to hear the Yardbirds, unaware that what they witnessed was essentially a different group. Guitarist Jimmy Page, who had replaced Jeff Beck – himself, a replacement for Eric “Slowhand” Clapton – was the only remaining member from the band that last played as the Yardbirds on July 5 in Los Angeles. With Page were bass player John Paul Jones, who was fairly well-established around London as a session arranger and musician, and singer Robert Plant and John Bonham, a couple of 20-year-old unknowns from Britain’s Black Country.

While the teens in attendance expected to hear a typical Yardbirds set, the band instead launched into a series of blues covers, all with a common denominator: “They were so loud it almost hurt,” wrote an anonymous reviewer of the show. That especially held true during “Dazed and Confused,” a psychedelic number Page already had made famous by his use of a violin bow to produce eerie, ear-splitting sounds as Plant tried his best to replicate them with his voice.

Fans who would have preferred to hear “Still I’m Sad” and “Mr., You’re a Better Man Than I” probably left the show disappointed, as well as temporarily deaf. But they later could claim to be among the few in attendance at the very first Led Zeppelin show.

Actually, the second Led Zeppelin show took place that same evening of Sept. 7. Having wrapped up proceedings at the Teens-Club, the band packed up its equipment and headed to a venue called the Brondy Pop-Club, in nearby Brondy. Another reviewer wrote this synopsis:

“Jimmy Page has put a new band together. The music is the same, only better than ever. … Robert Plant should face some small criticism and a lot of praise for an excellent performance. There is no doubt that he is a good singer, but he doesn’t have to twist his body like he’s having a ruptured appendix, does he? Musically, the band is super-great. Their hard disciplined beat is amazing. Of course, it was foremost Jimmy Page that was responsible for this but the drummer should also be mentioned; a drum solo so wild and good is hard to find. It was so good that one almost wished that John Bonham wouldn’t stop.”

And so began one of rock ‘n’ roll’s ultimate legends, a band with music that remains in high demand nearly four and a half decades after it formed and 32 years after it came to a tragic end.


II. Your Time Is Gonna Come

The story of Led Zeppelin in the 1960s isn’t often told amid the tales of excess and debauchery that arose during following decade. Whether those are true, exaggerated or merely apocryphal matters little; the upshoot is that the term “rock star” was given a new, larger-than-life definition.

The tendency is to view Led Zeppelin as an overnight sensation, which fits to some degree: Within a year of the Gladsaxe show, the band was among the most sought-after concert attractions in rock ‘n’ roll. But that’s because Page and Zeppelin’s no-holds-barred manager, Peter Grant, came up with a plan that defied the music industry’s conventions at the time. Following the plan was going to take a lot of effort, and there was absolutely no guarantee it would work.

“Page began to patch together a grouping of songs, many of them things he’d worked on live with the Yardbirds,” explained Charles R. Cross in “Led Zeppelin: Shadows Taller Than Our Souls.” “He wanted Led Zeppelin to quickly record an album and make their mark that way, rather than cut singles or work their way up through small clubs, as most British bands did in that era.”

The Scandinavian shows represented prior commitments for the Yardbirds, and as soon as those nine gigs were finished, Page, Plant, Bonham and Jones entered Olympic Studios in London. In the span of about 36 hours, according to the guitarist, they completed their first LP, mixing and all. Page paid for the studio time, meaning economy was necessary; as Jimmy recalled, that arrangement also assured another important aspect of the recording. He told Guitar World magazine in a 1993 interview:

I wanted artistic control in a vice grip, because I knew exactly what I wanted to do with these fellows. In fact, I financed and completely recorded the first album before going to Atlantic (Records). … It wasn’t your typical story where you get an advance to make an album. We arrived at Atlantic with tapes in hand. … Atlantic’s reaction was very positive, I mean, they signed us, didn’t they?

At any rate, the studio bill came to the equivalent of about $3,000, which represented a substantial sum for a 24-year-old musician. (It still does.) Fortunately, Grant and Page had been dealing with Atlantic president Ahmet Ertegun (1923-2006), who had the foresight to recognize the band’s commercial potential and provided Led Zeppelin a $200,000 advance.

Now, that was substantial, considering no other rock act had received anything approaching that before, and Page’s project was barely known outside of the fans who had started attending shows finally using the Led Zeppelin name. The press derided Ertegun’s leap of faith, starting a rocky relationship with Page that lasted for decades.

Meanwhile, Zeppelin was playing mainly university gigs around England, to mixed reaction, especially with regard to Plant’s vocal antics. On Dec. 10, the band performed at the Marquee, one of London’s major clubs, and a reviewer noted as T. Wilson expressed some common complaints:

They are now very much a heavy music group. … Amp troubles didn’t help them on this particular occasion but there seemed to be a tendency for too much volume which inevitably defeats musical definition. … Drummer Bonham is forceful, perhaps too much so, and generally there appears to be a need for Led Zeppelin to cut down on volume a bit.


III. Across the Ocean

With only about 20 shows performed to that point, Led Zeppelin embarked on its first American tour, starting the day after Christmas at the Auditorium Arena in Denver. The once-grand building opened in 1908 as the second-largest arena in the nation, after Madison Square Garden, and it hosted the Democratic National Convention that year. By 1968, the building served as the home of the Denver Rockets (later Nuggets) professional basketball team and as the city’s largest indoor concert venue.

The Dec. 26 concert featured Vanilla Fudge, which had scored a massive hit with a proto-metal cover of the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hanging On” but was having trouble finding focus as 1968 drew to a close. The band had opened for the Jimi Hendrix Experience during part of its tour earlier in the year, and it has been conjectured that certain “businessmen” in the Fudge’s native New York put forth some kind of ultimatum to the Hendrix management to make the necessary arrangements.

Also on the Denver bill was Spirit, a highly innovative Los Angeles-based group with 17-year-old guitarist Randy California, a Hendrix bandmate before he hit it big. Among Spirit’s more popular numbers was a song called “Fresh Garbage,” the riff from which would end up as part of Led Zeppelin’s repertoire.

As for Zeppelin, Grant’s design was for the band to gain as much exposure as possible in the United States, which represented an exponentially larger commercial market than Britain. He also conjectured that American fans would be more receptive to highly amplified, blues-based music than their English equivalents.

That seemed to be the case in Denver, as recalled by promoter Barry Fey in his 2011 autobiography, “Backstage Past”:

The night of the concert, I get on stage to make the announcement to open the show. “Ladies and gentleman, please welcome, direct from England for their North America debut, Led Zeppelin!”

There was a smattering of polite applause. Then, Robert Plant let it rip and everybody in the audience was stunned. Frankly, I don’t know how Spirit went on after that. You didn’t have to be a genius to know Zeppelin was going to be a smash. Oh, my God. People were going crazy!

The next morning, I get a call from Max Floyd, the program director at the Denver FM rock station, KLZ. “Who did you have on last night? Our phone lines are jammed!”

The band had given me a white copy of their album, one that hadn’t been released yet. I took the album to the radio station and they played it continuously, all day.

The tour package, still headlined by Vanilla Fudge, continued to the Northwest. For the Dec. 29 show in Portland, Ore., the billing was “Special Guests: Led Zeppilen, featuring Jimmy Page,” the first time the named of the band had been used, albeit misspelled, for promotional purposes.

At the start of 1969, the band headed down the coast for its first California shows, playing three nights at the Whisky a Go Go. The famed Sunset Strip club had served as a springboard for many of the era’s notable Los Angeles bands, including the Doors, Buffalo Springfield, Love and the Mothers of Invention.

Led Zeppelin’s first headlining performances were at the Whisky, with another band that would create its own legend in the ’70s, Alice Cooper, opening. Then it was back up the coast for three nights at an even more prestigious venue, Bill Graham’s Fillmore West in San Francisco.

Despite Page and possibly others suffering from the flu, the band made an impression on the Fillmore crowds during its four-night run, creating a buzz throughout a city that had a tremendous influence on music at the time. Zeppelin’s frenetic take on the blues provided quite a contrast in styles compared with the laid-back, country blues of opener Taj Mahal and the psychedelic jam sessions of headliner Country Joe & the Fish.

The day of the final Fillmore show, Atlantic released the LP “Led Zeppelin,” from the October Olympic sessions. “Good Times, Bad Times” was released as a single in the United States, back with “Communication Breakdown,” both original compositions. No singles were released in England, in 1969 or at any time throughout Led Zeppelin’s career.

Meanwhile, the band headed east, braving a snowstorm to play in America’s heartland, at the University of Iowa. William L. Seavey wrote this review:

Jimmy Page, a former member of the Yardbirds, is group leader, although the way he slinked around the stage hunched paralytically over his guitar he didn’t look the part. But leader or not, he is one incredible talent. He is to the electric guitar what Adres Segovia is to the classical guitar or Chet Atkins to the folk guitar. …

John Bonham, drums, is said to have created a sensation with his solos when he accompanied Tim Rose on and England tour last year. Wednesday night he turned the trick again as he captivated the audience with what must have been 15 minutes of percussional gymnastics.

Robert Plant is the Janis Joplin of the group, a blues belter par excellence who is in indefatigable despite a voice constantly strained to its limitations.

These three have the makings of idols, although perhaps not as the Zeppelin. They seem to lack identity as a group, although that is not to say they are uncompelling. But with time and material they could command quite as much attention as some of the established groups do.


IV. Destroyer

Amid such accolades, the band arrived in Detroit, which already had established a proto-metal identity with the likes of the MC5, the Amboy Dukes and the Stooges. The more seasoned members of the Motor City press weren’t as kind to Page and company, but they did admit the band had an abundance of potential.

Word hadn’t spread to the D.C. area, where a reported 55 audience members showed up for a concert at the Wheaton (Md.) Youth Center on the day Richard Nixon was inaugurated. Perhaps the more enlightened rock fans in the area were drowning their sorrows.

In Boston, Led Zeppelin received a tremendous response, with Jones later asserting that Grant felt the shows at the Boston Tea Party club convinced him the band truly was headed in the right direction.

The LP had reached the Top 20 – on the strength of FM Radio play, hearsay and certainly the stunning cover photo depicting the Hindenburg disaster – by the time the group reached New York for a run at Graham’s Fillmore East, opening for Iron Butterfly, whose “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” album would remain the top-selling album in Atlantic’s catalog until Zeppelin put an end to that. London’s New Musical Express reported: “As expected, Led Zeppelin destroyed the audience at the Fillmore East last weekend. Second show Friday night they remained onstage for 90 minutes of absolutely incredible musicianship up and down the entire blues scene.”

The tour continued in Toronto, then in Chicago, where Led Zeppelin debuted an extended version of Garnet Mimms’ “As Long As I Have You” with a section featuring Spirit’s “Fresh Garbage” riff. The tour’s final show was in Baltimore, and the band headed back to England having made quite the impression on its massive target audience.

Bonham, Jones, Plant and Page kept the momentum going after their return to Europe, playing some U.K. gigs and doing their first recording for the BBC on March 3. Incredibly, the band duplicated its Gladsaxe Teens-Club and Brondby Pop-Club doubleheader on March 15, with the Danes theoretically knowing the difference between the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin this time around. Two days later, the band did a television appearance in Copenhagen, a performance that appears on the “Led Zeppelin” two-DVD set, released in 2003.

When the group returned to the United States the following month, it headed all the way to San Francisco for two shows each at the Fillmore West and Graham’s larger local venue, Winterland. The April 24 Fillmore show is the best-sounding audio recording to emerge from the ’69 tours, featuring the definitive “As Long As I Have You.”

On April 26, the band debuted a tune based on blues composer Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love,” with Plant wailing the line that would become the song’s title in the Led Zeppelin catalog.

“Whole Lotta Love” was part of a set of recordings on which the band had been working on since January, ducking into studios between gigs in the United States, Canada and England. With the heavy touring schedule Grant had arranged for them, Bonham, Jones, Page and Plant had no time for the type of hiatus usually associated with recording an album. But in the ’60s, artists were expected to deliver at least a couple of LPs per year, and with Led Zeppelin already a proven commodity, it made sense to keep the momentum going.

Fortunately, the band was displaying no shortage of creativity.

“Jimmy’s riffs were coming fast and furious,” Jones recalled in the liner notes for the “Led Zeppelin” CD boxed set, released in 1990. “A lot of them came from onstage, especially during the long improvised section of ‘Dazed and Confused.’ We’d remember the good stuff and dart into a studio along the way.”

Cross wrote:

This piecemeal approach necessitated that they carry the master tapes with them everywhere they traveled as an extra piece of carry-on luggage. When even a few hours in their schedule would free up, they would book a nearby studio, rush in for a quick session and then head off to their next concert commitment.

The commitments continued at a brisk pace, with Led Zeppelin playing a series of further concerts on the West Coast, including a whirlwind trip to Hawaii, before heading back to the Midwest and closing the second American tour with three return dates at the Boston Tea Party and two at the Fillmore East.

Work on the forthcoming album continued as the band scurried around England throughout June. At the start of July, it was back to the USA for the Atlanta Pop Festival, Newport Jazz Festival and Laurel (Md.) Pop Festival. Then came Pennsylvania’s Zeppelin debut, at the Summer Pop Festival in Philadelphia’s Spectrum, alongside the likes of Johnny Winter, Jethro Tull and Buddy Guy.

The latest U.S. continued throughout August, with Led Zeppelin playing numerous festivals – hey, this was 1969! – but not the one that took place Aug. 15-18 at Yasgur’s Farm in Sullivan County, N.Y. Grant had been offered a slot at Woodstock, but instead opted for a higher-paying gig at the Convention Hall in Asbury Park, N.J. Somehow, that night’s opening act, Joe Cocker, made it to New Jersey after his afternoon set that was captured for posterity in Michael Wadleigh’s “Woodstock” movie.

This being 1969, Led Zeppelin also experienced problems with sound systems that couldn’t quite keep up with the bombast, especially at some of the festivals. At the State Fair Coliseum in Dallas, Plant announced the band wouldn’t be playing at the forthcoming Texas International Pop Festival, then corrected himself. But problems prevented the audience, which had gotten into an uproar, from hearing the correction.

When the band did perform at the festival in oven-like conditions on the last day of August, Plant gave a brief apology about the misunderstanding, as heard in a high-quality audio recording of the event. Led Zeppelin played only five songs, but the set goes on for more than an hour, capturing the excitement the band was bringing to each performance as it made new fans by the tens of thousands.


V. “Led Zeppelin II”

Amid all the touring, the band finally wrapped up recording and producing the new album before heading back to England on Sept. 1. With the debut firmly ensconced in the charts, Atlantic had no trouble promoting the upcoming release of what eventually hit the shelves as “Led Zeppelin II.”

In fact, some 400,000 advance orders had come in by the time the album finally appeared, on Oct. 22. By that time, Led Zeppelin had embarked on yet another American tour, its fourth of the year. It started with this gig, as noted by reviewer J. Harris:

Led Zeppelin became the first hard rock act to play Carnegie Hall since the Rolling Stones tore the place up some five years ago. Even up against Donovan at Madison Square Garden (a complete sellout), both of Zepppelin’s shows went clean, with tickets being scalped as much as twice their original price!

Though the management was uptight at half the audience dancing on top of their seats, and tried desperately to control the encores, the group managed to pull off one of the most exciting performances ever. They featured a selection of material from their new album, in addition to Jimmy Page’s haunting “White Summer” solo and Bonzo’s 25-minute attack on the skins.

The album performed along the same lines as the concerts, knocking the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” out of the No. 1 spot on the American charts and going straight to the top in the U.K., Canada, Australia, Spain and Germany. (It peaked at No. 2 in Norway.) The single version of “Whole Lotta Love” reached No. 4 in the United States and became one of the top-selling 45s of 1970. Even its B-side, “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman),” went to No. 65.

Some critics, though, tore heavily into “Led Zeppelin II.” Rolling Stone’s John Mendelsohn, for example, wrote that “it seems as if it’s just one especially heavy song extended over the space of two whole sides” while derisively referring to Page “the absolute No. 1 heaviest white blues guitarist between 5’4″ and 5’8″ in the world.”

A major point of contention was Led Zeppelin’s authorship of the music. As mentioned, “Whole Lotta Love” sounds somewhat like “You Need Love,” as recorded by Muddy Waters and, with a slightly different title, England’s the Small Faces. “The Lemon Song” basically is a combination of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor” and Robert Johnson’s “Travelling Riverside Blues,” and part of “Bring It On Home” is loosely based on a Sonny Boy Williamson II tune.

But a closer examination reveals a majority of the album’s songs as being cut from original cloth: “What Is and What Should Never Be,” “Thank You,” “Ramble On” and especially “Heartbreaker.”

And even the supposed pieces of plagiarism are far removed from the originals. No one had come up with a riff resembling “Whole Lotta Love” before, and it remains one of the best-known guitar figures in rock history. The song’s middle section certainly is unlike anything on any blues album, a free-form splurge combining Page’s pyrotechnics, Plant’s otherworldly vocals and a whole lotta special effects into a package that serves as the definitive bridge between psychedelia and hard rock.

Plant’s a cappella “Way down inside, woman, you need …,” echoing itself as it bleeds through the various recording tracks, also has endured as one of rock’s defining moments, leading back into the main theme and Plant’s couldn’t-quite-be-censored “Shake for me, girl, I wanna be your back-door man.” Yeah, those lyrics had been heard before, but never quite like this.

“What Is and What Should Never Be” starts as a ballad, one of the first sets of lyrics composed by Plant, about a romance with his wife’s younger sister. The song contains one of Page’s more lyrical solos, performed on his ’59 Gibson Les Paul, before shifting gears into a hard-rock outro, complete with Plant’s rapid-fire delivery of words, a sheer counterpoint to the earlier tone of the song.

“Thank You” is an even more gentle tune, one that Mendelsohn apparently missed when he was giving the album a listen for his Rolling Stone piece. Plant delivers a mature set of lyrics – a tribute to his wife, Maureen – supported by Jones on Hammond organ and Page on 12-string guitar. Jimmy also sings some backing vocals, a rarity among Zeppelin recordings.

The LP’s second side opens with “Heartbreaker,” the song that, in retrospect, establishes Led Zeppelin as a major contributor on the path toward heavy metal. Page’s monster riff combines with Plant’s energized vocals and Bonham’s frenetic drumming to establish a true template for the genre.

Then everyone drops out, and Page launches into an unaccompanied solo, one that he improvised on the spot, showing the range of his chops in a minute-and-a-half burst. Aspiring guitarists have been attempting to emulate him ever since.

Bonham and Jones return for a power-trio romp before Plant comes back in with the vocals. The track ends abruptly, with Plant’s vocal intro to “Living Loving Maid” popping up almost immediately.

“Ramble On” serves as an early display of the band’s interest in mysticism, as the lyrics invoke J.R.R. Tolkien:

Mine’s a tale that can’t be told,
My freedom I hold dear;
How years ago in days of old
When magic filled the air,
‘Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor
I met a girl so fair.
But Gollum, and the evil one crept up
And slipped away with her

Instrumentally, the song is notable for Jones’ melodic bass playing intertwining with Bonham’s percussion, although there is some debate as to what exactly Bonzo was playing when the song was recorded; it may have been a small plastic wastebasket or the soles of his shoes.

There’s no doubt that he bashes his trusty drum kit on “Moby Dick,” his answer to Ginger Baker’s “Toad” with Cream. Bonham had been performing solos from the band’s early days as “Pat’s Delight,” named for his wife, before the catchy Page-Jones riff made it way into the proceedings.

“Bring It On Home” starts as a mellow, harmonica-based blues, as Plant does his best Williamson impression. In a dramatic sweep, Page comes in with yet another epic guitar riff, transforming the song into a metallic rampage before it wraps up by easing into Plant’s harp-blowing once more.

Much of “Led Zeppelin II” has become so familiar over the decades that it’s difficult to appreciate the album’s various innovations, its advanced-for-the-time production techniques, the subtly of its instrumental dynamics and the influence it had on popular music of the ’70s.

“Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton” by John Mayall (1966)

Contrary to legend, Eric Clapton didn’t have quite a household name when he decided to leave the Yardbirds in 1965.

The band had experienced some success around the nascent London blues circuit, but the members and their management eventually learned they’d have to extend their repertoire a bit if they were looking for major success.

And so came “For Your Love,” the Yardbirds’ breakthrough hit. The primary instrument is the harpsichord, played by freelancer Brian Auger. Clapton’s guitar appears only in the bridge, and even then it’s kind of buried in the mix under Keith Relf’s multitracked vocals.

Keep in mind that “Slowhand” still was a teenager at the time, and he was none too happy about his role in the band being usurped. And so he bailed out, making his spot available for another teenage guitarist, named Jeff Beck. The rest, as they say … well, who needs to spout clichés?

The B-side of “For Your Love” was an instrumental called “Got to Hurry,” which probably contained the most accomplished lead guitar heard to date in the United Kingdom: Clapton’s fretwork screams out against a relatively routine 12-bar-blues backing, begging for discerning listeners to take notice.

One of those listeners was John Mayall, who’d been cultivating his own version of the British blues to a modicum of success. His Blues Breakers backed up John Lee Hooker on a U.K. tour, and his band’s single “Crawling Up a Hill” made a bit of noise on the charts.

Mayall snatched up Clapton for the Blues Breakers, and they promptly cut a couple of tracks for a 45. The A-side, “I’m Your Witchdoctor,” while not a hit, gave knowledgeable listeners a bigger hint about Clapton’s guitar capabilities.

Clapton and Mayall cut another single, just the two of them: “Lonely Years” backed with the Eric-penned instrumental “Bernard Jenkins,” before the guitarist decided to go hang out in Greece and play in a band called the Glands. He eventually returned to the fold after Mayall briefly brought in a replacement guitarist named Peter Green.

Mayall, Clapton, bass player John McVie – yes, where half of the name “Fleetwood Mac” came from – and drummer Hughie Flint then went about laying down tracks for the bandleader’s first studio album. Recorded in March 1966 with Clapton playing a 1960 Gibson Les Paul, “Blues Breakers” – also known as the “Beano” album, because that’s what Eric is pictured as reading in the cover – amply demonstrates the prowess he already commanded just shy of his 21st birthday.

The album opens with a cover of Otis Rush’s “All Your Love,” during which Clapton doubles on the song’s signature riff while weaving sinewy leads around the main theme. During a mid-tune rave-up, he shows why his nickname “Slowhand” is anything but derogatory.

One of Clapton’s biggest influences in his early days was Texas six-string giant – in physical stature, along with instrumental ability – Freddie King, and Slowhand rips up the classic instrumental. In doing so, he provides the first hint that British guitarists might just be able to keep the pace with their American counterparts.

The Mayall original “Little Girl” follows, and while its lyrics are a bit hackneyed, the song boasts a killer riff and more stellar Clapton fretwork. Mayall also takes credit for “Another Man,” which actually is a traditional blues and serves as a showcase for his harmonica work. (For an acoustic guitar workout, check out the version of the song on Jorma Kaukonen’s “Quah.”)

The languid blues “Double Crossing Time” features Clapton playing a lead that lays the groundwork for his work with the band he’d help form later in 1966, Cream. The first side of the LP wraps up with a spirited version of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say,” although much of the track is taken up by a relatively pedestrian Flint drum solo.

The horn section on “Key to Love” foreshadows Mayall’s work circa 1968-early 1969, and “Parchman Farm” is a harmonica-driven take on the oft-covered Mose Allison tune. (Two years later, Blue Cheer would do a proto-metal version for “Vincebus Eruptum.”) At nearly 6 minutes, Mayall’s “Have You Heard” is the longest track on the album, and it gives Clapton plenty of opportunity to further hone his blues mastery.

The next two songs became stapes of the Clapton catalogue: “Ramblin’ On My Mind,” in which he performs his first lead vocal while bringing the legend of composer Robert Johnson to the musical masses, and James Bracken’s instrumental “Steppin’ Out,” which later stretched out to epic proportions during Cream concerts.

“Blues Breakers” wraps up with harmonica master Little Walter’s “It Ain’t Right,” which ostensibly features Mayall but has Clapton underpinning the song with furious riffs throughout.

The album climbed to No. 6 on the U.K. charts while inspiring the notorious “Clapton is God” graffiti around London. By that time, he was well on his way to becoming an ex-Blues Breaker, combining forces with Jack Bruce (also a Mayall alumnus) and Ginger Baker on a project that further entrenched him as one of rock’s top few guitarists.

Mayall became renowned as a bandleader whose sidemen went on to carve their own niches in rock history: Green, McVie and Mick Fleetwood with Fleetwood Mac; Mick Taylor with the Rolling Stones; Andy Fraser with Free; Jon Hiseman, Tony Reeves and Dick Heckstall-Smith with Colosseum; Flint with McGuinness Flint; Keef Hartley with the Keef Hartley Band (which played at Woodstock); Aynsley Dunbar with the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation; and Jon Mark and Johnny Almond with Mark-Almond (not the Soft Cell guy!).

At age 79, Mayall still has a heavy touring schedule, with numbers from “Blues Breakers” included, of course.

“Truth” by Jeff Beck (1968)

For anyone who gets nauseous at the thought of leisure-suited lunkheads lurching around under a disco ball to the strains of “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?: Rod Stewart once knew how to sing rock ‘n’ roll with the best of ’em.

He’d kicked around in the early ’60s, literally: His ambition was to become a professional soccer player. When that didn’t quite work out, he worked as a gravedigger and at a funeral parlor. Deciding that wasn’t his lot in life, either, he started singing and playing harmonica, joining a band called the Ray Davies quartet. (Yes, that Ray Davies.) He later performed with group called Steampacket and Shotgun Express, and as a solo artist, during which time he gained the nickname “Rod the Mod.” But none of those efforts caught on commercially.

Meanwhile, guitarist Jeff Beck was tearing it up as Eric Clapton’s replacement in the Yardbirds, blazing new trails in the sounds he was getting from his Gibson Les Paul. That already-successful band seemed to be headed for new heights when another esteemed guitarist, Jimmy Page came aboard. But Beck abruptly quit and started his own solo career, scoring a hit U.K. single with a song called “Hi-Ho Silver Lining.”

Beck sang that tune, but he was more comfortable sticking with the guitar. So he hired Stewart as vocalist and, for good measure, a youngster from a London band called the Birds named Ron Wood. (Yes, that Ron Wood.) Together with drummer Mickey Waller, they formed the first Jeff Beck Group.

When it came time to record an album, the band drew heavily from Beck’s blues-infused background, with his guitar-playing skills featured prominently throughout. But “Truth” turned out to be a launching pad for Stewart’s phenomenal success, whatever you might think of his discography as a whole.

Recorded in four days’ worth of sessions in May 1968, “Truth” serves a blueprint for hard-rock albums to follow; not more than one critic has noticed its resemblance to the debut album by Page’s post-Yardbirds band, known to the world as Led Zeppelin.

“Truth” leads off with a sledgehammer reworking of the Yardbirds’ hit “Shapes of Things,” with a slowed-down tempo and Stewart’s scratchy voice supplanting the more dulcet tones of the other band’s singer, the late Keith Relf. Beck somehow manages to make his middle-eight guitar solo as memorable as his triple-tracked fretwork in the original.

“Let Me Love You” is credited, more or less, to Beck and Stewart but bears more than a slight resemblance to a Buddy Guy song. At any rate, it represents blues played in a much heavier manner than had been heard previously, with producer Mickey Most turning up the volume on every available instrument.

The mournful sound of bagpipes opens “Morning Dew,” perhaps a suggestion from Stewart with memories of his grave-digging days. Bonnie Dobson’s folk song about nuclear annihilation is given appropriate treatment by Beck, whose stinging guitar evokes the sounds of shots being fired.

Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me” follows, with Beck dueling it out with late pianist Nicky Hopkins and an organ player. You’re probably familiar with the same song on “Led Zeppelin,” and the two versions sound fairly similar, perhaps because the organist on “Truth” happens to be John Paul Jones.

Stewart’s empathetic voice is the highlight of the Broadway standard “Ol’ Man River,” from “Show Boat.” Notable is the beat of the timpani played by a musician credited as “You Know Who”; the late Keith Moon couldn’t be listed for contractual reasons.

Beck shows off his acoustic prowess with a sterling rendition of “Greensleeves.” According to Jeff in the liner notes: “Played on Mickey Most’s guitar which by the way is the same as Elvis’.”

“Rock My Plimsoul,” another composition attributed to Beck and Stewart, is a close match to the blues chestnut “Rock Me, Baby.” Again, the vocalist and guitarist combine for a memorable performance.

The instrumental “Beck’s Bolero,” based loosely on Ravel’s classical composition, actually dates back to Beck’s Yardbirds days. He recorded it with Page, who is credited as composer, along with Jones, Hopkins and Moon in what might have been the all-time dream band had those five stayed together for more than a one-shot deal! Listen closely for Moon emoting just before the bridge in one of rock’s all-time-great screams.

“Blues De Luxe,” the final Beck-Stewart song on the album – this one sounds a heck of a lot like B.B. King’s “Gambler’s Blues” – suffers slightly from the pretentiousness of overdubbed audience noise. But Stewart, Hopkins and especially Beck redeem themselves with another solid workout.

“Truth” closes with another Dixon song, most closely identified with Howlin’ Wolf: “I Ain’t Superstitious.” Probably the album’s most familiar song, it prompted Beck to admit in the liner notes: “This number is more or less an excuse for being flash on guitar.”

“Truth,” indeed.