Dear Messrs: Page, Plant, Bonham, and Paul Jones,
As this message is not about the first half of “Stairway to Heaven,” I want to address all four of you. I say the following with the deepest respect and reverence:
Led Zeppelin is a Heavy Metal band.
I’m responding, of course, to past comments attributed to your singer and guitar player:
- “We don’t say ‘heavy,’ do we?” Robert Plant once said about Led Zeppelin IV. “Well, I don’t know whether we do. . . But it’s strong stuff, and it’s exciting.”
- In 1988, Plant pointed to a Judas Priest poster and said, “If I’m responsible for this in any way, then I am really, really embarrassed.”
(Oh, Robert. . .)
- “I’m not really sure where we got that tag,” Jimmy Page once said. “There’s no denying that the elements of what became known as Heavy Metal is definitely there within Led Zeppelin. But the reality of it is that this is riff music, and riff music goes back to the Blues – – the electric Blues of the ’50s and what was going on down there in Chicago.”
- And we can’t forget the 2016 incident when Jimmy Page declined to appear on Eddie Trunk’s “That Metal Show.” Trunk later said that page “wanted nothing to do with the term, ‘Metal.’”
Gentlemen, you’ve made your position clear. . . Allow me to retort. Let’s examine the key Metal points in Led Zeppelin’s personnel and music.
(But first, hold on, before anyone says, “Hey man, like, we totally don’t need musical genres and classifications. . . .” Yes. . . deep sigh. . . Yes, we do. Even if record stores are becoming extinct, we still need to know the right aisle to find you. They can’t just stick your albums under “L” between Lady Gaga and Lil Nas X.*)
Robert Plant Vocals, words, moans, heavy breathing, yelps, harmonica – The swagger, the screams, the hair, the look, the eardrum-humping sexiness. . . how many Heavy Metal vocalists copied your template? Regardless of whether they were merely strongly influenced, or were actually trying to be you – – whether they were terrible or great – – your progeny are nothing to be “really, really embarrassed” about. Take this sampling of greatness in your wake; listen to “Still of the Night” or “Slow an’ Easy” by Whitesnake or “Fly to the Angels” by Slaughter. David Coverdale and Mark Slaughter are both wonderful singers.** Be proud of them and their amazing songs that have carried on your tradition.
Oh, did I mention all of the Led Zep lyrics about war and death and Vikings and High Fantasy?
Jimmy Page Guitars, Mandolins, violin bows, all the other folky shit – The mysticism, the mystery, the presence, the black magic, the occult obsession, the Zoso – – dude, you owned Mr. Crowley’s house! You were a scary motherfucker in your heyday. And listen to that fat, fat, distorted Gibson sound, those sick bends on the low strings. Aside from Black Sabbath, no one else in the 70s was bringing this much power, this consistently.
And that songwriting! If not for Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page would be hailed as the all-time guitar riff king.
John Bonham Drums, kettle drums, mustaches – We miss you, man. Bass drum like an artillery cannon, toms like grenades, snare drum like a .45 Magnum. Some have been more technical, more intricate, faster, louder, more dexterous – – but no drummer has been more influential to Rock and Metal bangers. Among them your own son, Jason. He does you proud.
John Paul Jones Bass guitar, keyboards, strings, and that three-necked monstrosity – Again with the power – – in the bass, the keys, and the orchestrals. Understated, ominous, essential; your contributions had so much depth and darkness, yet were also full of life and exuberance when they needed to be.
We’ve established that the Metal is in all four of you, but what truly makes Led Zeppelin Heavy is the music. The Hard Rock songs in your catalogue aren’t the exceptions to the norm – – as with Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” by The Beatles, “One of These Days” by Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic,”*** etc. For Zeppelin, the Hard Rock tunes are the norm. Metal is imprinted across your entire oeuvre. Here’s an incomplete list of examples from just the first four studio album:
- “Dazed and Confused” summons pure Metal evil in all the best ways. Its main guitar refrain is uncomfortably close to the one from “Paranoid.”
- “How Many More Times” – – Heavy as hell.
- “Communication Breakdown” – – Cattle Decapitation could work this into their set, and no one would accuse them of going soft.
- “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.” OK, every Metal band has a great ballad or two. Remember Great White’s stellar cover of this song?
- “Whole Lotta Love.” The horny vocals. The muted riff. The guitar solo. Metal.
- “The Lemon Song.” I’m banging my head right now to the breakdown.
- “Heartbreaker.” I guarantee that Richie Kotzen was conceived while this song was playing.
- “Moby Dick.” Sick, sick drop-D riff. Bonham’s drums destroyed speakers. And what could be more Metal than a song named for a giant, mythical sea creature? (See the music of Mastodon)
- “The Immigrant Song.” Ahh-ah-ahhhhh-AHH!
- “Friends.” Haunting use of the tritone there, even if the lyrics and title are an odd fit.
- “Out on the Tiles.” \m/
- “No Quarter” may have inspired thousands of Black Sabbath-pollinated Doom bands.
- “Rock n’ Roll.” Nothing that bangs this hard could be denied the Metal tag.
- The last two minutes of “Stairway.”
- “When the Levee Breaks.” This song has all of the hallmarks of great Metal, but that drum intro cements it.
And the list goes on and on into the later albums – – “Kashmir,” “Trampled Under Foot,” “Achilles Last Stand,” “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” “The Song Remains the Same,” “The Ocean” – – but I think I’ve made my point. What’s not Metal is Heavy, what’s not Heavy is Metal. There’s too much Hard material there to disqualify you. There were other Metal pioneers among your peers in the 70s: Sabbath, Deep Purple, Judas Priest, Uriah Heep, Scorpions, Alice Cooper – – but you were often every bit as loud, fast, and sinister as any of them.
Yes, of course your sound is highly diverse, touching upon numerous genres.
Is Led Zep a Rock n’ Roll band? Been a long time, but yes, absolutely.
Are you also a Blues band? Definitely.
Pop? Sure, at times, for the 1970s.
Funk? No. (All due respect to “The Crunge.”)
Country? No. “Hot Dog” doesn’t count.
Reggae? D’yer not, no.
Heavy Metal? Yes. Check that Heavy Metal underneath your hood.
You’ve encompassed numerous genres, and Heavy Metal is absolutely one of them. But mainly, you’re a soulful, deep, brilliant, majestic, grandiose, playful, serious, mischievous, weighty, earthy, spiritual, dirty, transcendent, angelic, devilish, high achieving, loud, sensual, ethereal, bombastic, spooky, Bluesy, Heavy, Hammer-of-the-Gods-wielding, Hard Rocking band.
To deny all that you were – – are – – would be a disservice. No one should dismiss any of the components that elevated Led Zeppelin to music’s divine pantheon.
Including the Metal.
I don’t care what the neighbors say, you’re a Heavy Metal band. It’s not a misunderstanding of your legacy when we in the Metal world name you as one of our own. This placard is bestowed with knowledge, love, reverence, and honor. I implore you to embrace this part of who you are and accept the Four Symbols’ place on the great denim vest of eternity. Recognize the role you played among the genre’s founding fathers. Accept the world’s love for all of Led Zeppelin’s dimensions.
Including the Metal.
That’s the way. That’s the way it’s gonna stay.
* As long as they don’t put Led Zeppelin in the “Oldies” aisle. I’m not ready for that.
** David Coverdale and Mark Slaughter are no mere wannabes. They’re both great in their own right, but you’re kidding yourself if you don’t see any Robert Plant influence.
*** King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man,” Michael Jackson: “Beat It,” Janet Jackson, “Black Cat,” Elton John – “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” Run-DMC – “Rock Box,” En Vogue – “Free Your Mind,” Tom Petty – “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” Weird Al Yankovic’s “I’ll Sue Ya,” Beastie Boys: “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” etc.
Jack Mangan is best known in the Metal world as the co-host of the popular Metal Hall of Fame and MetalAsylum.net livestreams with Rich Catino, but in this space, he’s also the lead author/project runner for the “Am I Evil?” graphic novel and a journalist with MetalAsylum.net and the official Metal Hall of Fame. In an adjacent life, he was a podcast pioneer, with numerous appearances on Dragon Page, Escape Pod/Pseudopod, and many others, including his own productions: Jack Mangan’s Deadpan, and the Podcast novel, “Spherical Tomi.” Friend him on Facebook if you can find him, but be warned: he’s not great about checking Facebook Messenger.