I didn’t mention Babe I’m Gonna Leave You when I reviewed Led Zep’s debut platter. It didn’t swing my verdict one way or the other. It’s not the best song on the album and it’s not the worst. But I was listening to Led Zeppelin again today and a lot of the album’s characteristics are summed up in this one song. It’s a great example of the album’s light and shade, folk and rock. A lovely acoustic part alternates with a cool heavy part where Boaby “Robert” Plant lets rip with roaring vocals. But it’s also a great example of why I got so bored of the album so quickly. The light and heavy parts both have the same chord progression which means this overlong song doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere. And neither does the narrator. By the end of the tune, no-one has left anyone. After the 17th-or-so “baby” I’m the one getting itchy feet.
They would go on to enjoy insane, enormo-success and an inflated reputation as the One Band To Rule Them All but Led Zeppelin’s first flight was a rickety, low budget affair. Their S/T 1969 debut album was knocked out in just 36 hours for less than two grand, which is not bad going considering it became a seminal work in the early history of “heavy”. Before Black Sabbath and before In Rock, Led Zep dished out dark, powerful riff-based rock on tracks like the bewitching Dazed And Confused. But there are both good times and bad times to be had on Led Zeppelin. Communication Breakdown is a superb proto-Paranoid metal chug but Good Times, Bad Times‘ powerful rhythm section and Your Time Is Gonna Come‘s dreamy mix of acoustic guitar and organ can’t disguise the band’s dated, hippy songcraft. Elsewhere, the famously sticky-fingered Brits resort to mining other artists’ material. This approach works well on tracks like How Many More Times, where Zep supercharge the blues with swingingly heavy results. But it also results in stodgy workouts like I Can’t Quit You Baby and Black Mountain Side, a folk arrangement that shows good taste but lacks imagination. The album’s thudding rock power makes Led Zeppelin a notably heavy debut but it’s also heavy in mood: a monochrome moroseness that, mixed with some weak and old-fashioned material, makes repeat listens an increasingly dreary experience. Better would come when Zep’s creativity and vision caught up with the power of their delivery.
The modern idea of “heavy metal” starts here. Judas Priest’s seminal sophomore album Sad Wings Of Destiny laid down the template for countless others to follow with its evil, slashing riffs, demonic guitar duels and the screaming, theatrical vocals of the one-and-only Rob Halford. This 1976 album contains four peerless classics in the humungous Victim Of Changes, the thrashing Genocide, Tyrant and the malevolent The Ripper. And, while less innovative, the deep cuts like the orchestral Prelude, psychedelic Dreamer Deceiver and the funereal Epitaph give the album a mournful, gothic construction that makes this the Priest to hear if you’re a crucifix-necklaced, flare-wearing, doom metal type. Supposedly the album’s A and B sides were accidentally reversed on initial release so we’ve all been listening to it in the wrong order. But it doesn’t matter. Listen to this any way you like: forwards, backwards, up, down, shuffle. Either way it’s a masterpiece. Actually… maybe avoid listening to it backwards. Just in case.
Chase the Dragon and On a Storyteller’s Night are the sturdier, rockier picks of the Magnum back catalogue but they reached their peak of life-affirming, pop rock joy with Wings of Heaven: one of the most feelgood albums ever created. Tony Clarkin writing simple, catchy AOR rockers par excellence delivered with winning passion and panache by the ever-lovable Bob Catley. Boaby sings like he would take bullets for Magnum. “It’s a flame that keeps burning… everLASTing torrrchhhh!”, “Too old to die young, too big to cry… MAMA!” The guy’s a total hero. As soon as he chimes in on genius opener Days of No Trust (“Pray to the future…”) you are on your feet. The album continues with the vista of Wild Swan and the sublime power pop of Start Talking Love. Classics all. Different Worlds is a mid-album lull but Pray for the Day and the WWI epic Don’t Wake the Lion (Too Old to Die Young) end the album with weight and compassion: breathtaking, heartrending but still triumphant, mighty and melodic. It’s a colossal climax to an excellent album. File this in your collection alongside your Jovi, Lep and Whitesnake and it won’t be long before it steals your heart. A heavenly magnum opus.