Led Zeppelin are probably the biggest sacred cows in Heavy Music.
The received wisdom is that they are the greatest band ever to walk the Earth. Robert Plant is the greatest singer and frontman ever, Jimmy Page is among the greatest guitar players ever and John Bonham revolutionized drumming.
Personally, I only agree with ONE of those statements.
Listening back to some Zep, as is pretty much unavoidable if you listen to Team Rock Radio, like I do, a few things struck me, and they feel somewhat blasphemous:
- Robert Plant is not a very good singer – in terms of sheer vocal ability, of his contemporaries, Ian Gillan sings rings around him. Same goes for Ronnie James Dio, David Coverdale, Glenn Hughes… even Ozzy (who freely admits he’s not the greatest singer in the world) is at least on a par with Plant.
- Plant isn’t the greatest frontman ever. He’s not even ONE of the greatest ever. I’d rate Ozzy over him any day. Same goes for Gillan, Coverdale, Halford… Freddie Mercury, in terms of sheer charisma and ability to command an audience, absolutely wipes the floor with him. Having heard a few live albums and seen them in concert videos… put it this way, I’ve definitely seen better, in terms of his contemporaries. Jimi Hendrix, as another example.
- Jimmy Page isn’t the greatest guitar player ever. Who’s better? Who’s more innovative? Jimi Hendrix, Tony Iommi and Ritchie Blackmore to name three who were around at the same time. Page trades in recycled riffs and gimmicks. Hendrix invented a new style of guitar playing, as did Iommi (who is also the writer of some of the greatest riffs in music, not just Metal). Blackmore is a true genius guitarist. Yes, he also was prone to riff-recycling, but he twisted and changed them to make them his own. Want to know how good he really was? Check out Jon Lord’s Concerto For Group and Orchestra. A pissed off Blackmore did that off the cuff. He’s also responsible for the riffs to Smoke On The Water, Black Night and many more, as well as the solo to Mistreated. He could well be credited with discovering Ronnie James Dio, David Coverdale and Joe Lynn Turner.
- With the odd exception, after Led Zeppelin II, they’re just… dull. OK, there are high spots like Kashmir, The Immigrant Song, Stairway To Heaven, Black Dog and Rock ‘N’ Roll… but that’s it.
To my mind, the real talent in Zep were John Paul Jones and John Bonham. JPJ is an incredible orchestrator. Bonham did indeed invent a new sound for the drums. Compare the sound of the drums on a Zep album against any contemporary stuff. Bonham sounds full and to have some real feel, pretty much anyone else sound like they’re banging on Tupperware.
Neither Page nor Plant have done anything noteworthy since Zep. They’ve not even done anything memorable. In fact, Page’s solo stuff has been poor at best. The nearest he’s got to anything decent was when he teamed up with David Coverdale, and The Cov himself admits that wasn’t exactly his finest hour. No wonder he keeps pushing for a reunion. Zep is the only thing he’s ever done that was in any way successful.
Don’t even get me started on Plant’s musical “endeavours”.
So… back to the original question: Are Led Zeppelin overrated?
Yes, they are.