Man, I love Robert Plant so hard. He’s one of my favourite singers ever. And not Young Led Zeppelin Robert Plant. That guy was great. But I like 40s-And-Beyond Robert Plant even more. There’s a texture and character to his voice that taps into a vulnerability and nuance that even the great Young Led Zeppelin Robert Plant couldn’t muster. I hear it on material from Fate Of Nations onwards. Plant has never been scared to explore new territory, from song to song and album to album, and it really feels like he’s truly expressing himself with his voice rather than simply repeating the songs the audience want to hear. I don’t want to hear Robert Plant replicating what he’s done on record (not that he’d do that anyway). I want to hear him take it somewhere else that I can’t get sitting at home in a beanbag. If you’ve ever seen him live you know what I’m talking about. He’ll play a song like “Black Dog” but it’ll be an utterly different track to the Led Zeppelin version in every way but lyrically. And I frigging love that. The song above, “Little Maggie,” will be on his new album Lullaby And… The Ceaseless Roar, which will be released September 9 on Nonesuch/Warner Bros. Records.
Is there anything better than a good song intro? Well, yeah. I can think of a few things, and some of them even have something to do with music. But still, there’s just something magical about a great song intro. Whether it’s an unaccompanied slab of guitar wizardry, some kind of unexpected time signature, a chunk of mysteriously atmospheric ambience or even just some kind of silly bit if dialog recorded in the studio, a good intro can set the scene and build anticipation for the song proper. So in celebration of the glories of the intro, here are a few of my favourites, divided in to guitar and bass examples. What are yours?
Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy is a landmark album. Well, okay, all of Led Zeppelin’s albums were landmarks. But in the context of Led Zeppelin albums it’s a landmark because it marks a real shift to more of a studio-based sound. They’d always had overdubs and layering on their albums, but it was often employed to simply thicken an arrangement. This time, both Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones had home studios, and this allowed them to further build upon the bed tracks for future classics like The Rain Song, Over The Hills and Far Away and No Quarter. The results were ethereal and complex: living, breathing entities manifested as pure sound. Just try to listen to No Quarter without getting the creeps, or The Song Remains The Same without feeling the California sunlight, the sweet Calcutta rain, the Honolulu starbright that the song namechecks. Read More …
It’s hard to believe it’s already been five years since the surviving members of Led Zeppelin reunited (with Jason Bonham on drums) for a one-off show at London’s O2 Arena in honour of Atlantic Records exec Ahmet Ertegün. But what’s really hard to believe is that it happened at all. Robert Plant seems to have a love/hate relationship with Zeppelin, proud of the band’s achievements and even willing to revisit them in various forms with Jimmy Page from time to time (the No Quarter album, Walking Into Clarksdale, a few semi-reunion mini sets in the 80s), but never ready to fully commit to anything with the Zeppelin stamp on it. And it doesn’t look like this will be happening again, so Celebration Day is really all you’re likely to get in terms of new music made by Led Zeppelin.
So what have we got here? A whopping sixteen tracks of Zeppelin classics rendered by three of the four guys who made it happen (and a goodly chunk of DNA from the remainder), in CD and DVD/Blu-Ray form. Kicking off with Good Times, Bad Times, Plant gives a kind of wry wink to the opening couplet: “In the days of my youth, I was told what it means to be a man. Now I’ve reached that age I try to do all those things the best I can.” Plant’s starts off a little tentative here, but it doesn’t take him long to find his groove. Page’s guitar is characteristically raw and un-finessed, but that’s part of what makes him so freaking cool. He never needed to stand still and strum away in the background back in the day, and he’s not going to start now. A blisteringly loose but authoritative solo really kicks Good Times, Bad Times into overdrive and the energy level is cranked.
At long last, Led Zeppelin’s 2007 reunion show at London’s O2 Arena is being released! It’ll be screened in cinemas in October and will arrive as a home release in November.
I’m really stoked about this one. Robert Plant is one of my favourite singers. But not just any Robert Plant: specifically 1990s-and-onwards Plant, when his voice seemed to take on even more gravity and gravel.
Here’s the press release:
On December 10, 2007, Led Zeppelin took the stage at London’s O2 Arena to headline a tribute concert for dear friend and Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. What followed was a two-hour-plus tour de force of the band’s signature blues-infused rock ’n’ roll that instantly became part of the legend ofLed Zeppelin. Read More …
One of the coolest techniques for expanding your guitar style is to copy other instruments – this is why you’ll sometimes find articles on I Heart Guitar about keyboard players, f’rinstance – but there’s probably no more expressive instrument than the human voice. When I was in high school one of my favourite things in the world was to chuck my bag in the corner, crank up my amp and play along with the vocal melody to David Bowie’s ‘A Small Plot Of Land’ from his ‘1.Outside’ album. It’s a pretty obscure track and you’ll probably have to dig pretty deep into iTunes to find it, but it’s well worth it, not only for Bowie’s killer phrasing and some very atmospheric Brian Eno production, but also for Reeves Gabrels’s really out-there guitar playing.
However I think the reason I became so entranced with this particular song as a guitar exercise was because the vocal melody included a lot of sustained notes, as well as a few small phrases with quieter dynamics than the rest, and a few notes that sort of drifted over the bar lines and behind the beat. It taught me a lot about leaving space in a melody, and about applying progressively wide vibrato over the course of a note, instead of the same level of vibrato over the whole thing.
So with this in mind, here’s a countdown of five other songs that I’ve found are good for copying vocal phrasing:
5. Black Sabbath – Changes.
Ozzy’s phrasing is relatively straightforward and is a good starting point for this technique. He tends to stick quite faithfully to the pulse of the song rather than messing about with the rhythm too much, and a lot of his melodies seem to be based on pentatonic scales. In Changes, there’s a lot of space between each phrase, and there are a few notes that he slides, which you can choose to mimic either by sliding from fret to fret or by bending.
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4. Led Zeppelin – We’re Gonna Groove.
This is a good one for trying to get underneath some very staccato rhythms. Plant tends to hold the same note for a steady stream of words at a few points in this song, and it’s a challenge to use different pick attack, vibrato and slide techniques on guitar to make up for the fact that you’re playing the same note over and over again. A vocalist can get away with this a lot easier because they can change the word, but a guitarist has to be a little more resourceful.
3. Alanis Morrissette – You Oughta Know.
I know, I know, this might seem like an odd choice, but y’know that thing Alanis used to do (she seemed to grow out of it after a few years) where she would finish a line and her voice would kind of jump to a high (and sometimes out of key) note? This can translate quite well to guitar, especially if you use it to go to a note that’s actually in the key of the song. You can use various techniques to hit these extra notes: harmonics, tapping, or, under the right circumstances, feedback. Find a spot near your amp where you get the same feedback note whenever you take your hands off the guitar, and soon you’ll be able to conjure that note at will.
2. Living Colour – Ignorance Is Bliss.
While the melody itself isn’t particularly crazy, this one is a little more out-there in terms of phrasing, with Corey Glover often holding a note until the last possible beat before dropping down to another note for the next syllable. There are also some very tricky vocal slides which translate really well to bends. You’ll also have to tackle the same “What the hell do I do when the vocalist sings different words using the same note?” issue as ‘We’re Gonna Groove’ in the ‘Ignorance is no excuse’ section.
1. Devin Townsend Band – Storm.
Devin’s metal screams and growls are some of the best in the biz, but his melodic singing is particularly amazing. This song features some great phrasing where he finishes each line with a note which slides down while he also applies vibrato. This technique is very tricky but for those with whammy bar-equipped guitars there are two ways to accomplish it: either apply the vibrato with your fretting hand and drop the pitch with the whammy bar, or slide the note down the neck with your fretting hand while using the bar to achieve the vibrato. Devin ends the song with an octave-higher, slightly on the edge restatement of the verse melody, and it’s here that the sheer range and emotion of his voice is in full flight. Check out the bit from 3:40 to 3:50. It’s extremely difficult to copy on guitar, as he slides from one note to another, and then to another, all on the same word, but such full-on pitch manipulation is very rewarding when you get it right, and these skills can then be applied to your own material.
Warrel Dane/Jeff Loomis: Praises to the War Machine/Zero Order Phase Century Media
Here’s a Christmas present for the headbanger in your life. Specially packaged gift set of solo albums by Nevermore’s Warrel Dane and Jeff Loomis (who is a very Jason Becker-inspired guitarist with his own signature Schecter 7-string). Check out that skull-and-Flying-V ribbon on the packaging. There are various other 2-CD sets in this Century Media series, including Strapping Young Lad’s City and Heavy As A Real Heavy thing
Kings of Leon: Only by the Night (2008 UK Tour Edition) (Incl. Bonus DVD) Sony BMG
One of the surprise hits of the year (at least to me: when I saw them live there was only a small crowd, then five years later, BOOM!), this special UK-only two disc (CD + PAL/Region 0 DVD) tour edition of their 2008 album includes a bonus five track live DVD that features Use Somebody, On Call, Sex On Fire, Crawl and Manhattan. The version also includes the original UK only artwork.
The 2008 movie ‘Cadillac Records’ is the story of Chess Records. The soundtrack album includes covers of songs by Etta James (played by Beyonce Knowles), Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Little Walter (Columbus Short), Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), Howlin’ Wolf (Eamonn Walker) and more. This album, though, features the original classics.
Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same [Blu-ray] Warner Home Video
Blu-Ray version of this classic live concert film, complete with freaky fantasy sequences, Jimmy Page’s heroic double-neck Gibson-wrangling, and the understated genius of John Paul Jones. The playing and cinematography are notoriously flawed, and Zep sure could go on and on in concert, but this is an important concert film if only because it’s the only full show the mighty Zep ever released.
Kiss: Kissology Volume II 1978-1991 VH1 Classics
This 6 disc set covers KISS’s simultaneous solo albums, several full concerts including a 1980 show from Sydney, Australia, a 1990 show from Detroit, Michigan, the Vinnie Vincent years, the abandonment of make-up, and, oh my god, the made-for-TV movie ‘Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park’ in its entirety. Check out the other volumes in the series too.
This brilliant documentary by a metal-loving anthropologist will be of immense interest to metal fans but is also entertaining enough for non-headbangers, as it traces the development of metal as a parallel to social, geographic and economic factors.
So I see over at Blabbermouth.net (via eGigs) that the rumours are true: Led Zeppelin are looking at touring with a different vocalist (and, dare I venture to guess, a different name, so fans don’t get all uppity about it?) because Robert Plant is too busy taking over the country music world through his bluegrass project with singer Alison Krauss.
At the Mansons Guitar Show in Exeter, Devon, UK, bass player John Paul Jones confirmed the band’s intentions, and said they’ve been trying out various singers. Jones is quoted as saying “I’m afraid, there’s no final answer yet. As you probably know, Jimmy [Page], Jason [Bonham] and I are actually rehearsing and we’ve had the odd singer come in and have a bash. As soon as we know — which we don’t — we will let you know. But we really hope that something is going to happen soon because we really want to do it and we’re having a lot of fun, actually, just rehearsing. Jason is actually tremendous… he’s really taking chances. He is a very brave man… Every other drummer in the world was watching him thinking [at the reunion show], ‘That could have been me.’ He’s creative and really fun.”
Rumour has it that singers to rehearse with the band include Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters, and Myles Kennedy from Alter Bridge. Interesting to note that both of these guys are quite proficient guitarists too: Could it be that Jimmy Page is open to the idea of having a second guitarist to more accurately reproduce his studio guitar orchestrations? Led Zep were always into the one-guitar thing live, but I guess if they’re willing to go out there and play these songs without Plant (or the zombie of Bonham), they might as well make further tweaks to the sound.
Jones also hinted that there’s a chance Plant might rejoin the band in a few years, when his commitments with Krauss have concluded. “We really want to do something and Robert doesn’t want to do this sort of thing, at least for the moment,” he said. “I don’t really know what his plans are. He is touring with Alison, as you know. . . He really doesn’t want to make loud music anymore. We do. I mean, I love acoustic music, but it doesn’t stop me from turning something up . . . And what we’ve done so far sounds absolutely fantastic. When it does come, it will come, and you’ll know about it.”
Personally I’m a huge fan of Plant’s solo work, especially the albums Fate of Nations and The Mighty Rearranger, and I’d love to see him perform his solo stuff one of these days. But maaaaaaaaaaaaan I’d love to see him with Page and Jones, so I hope he gets bitten by the rock bug again soon.
Photo: Getty Images via NME