Guest listener - Robin Ince
Who’s Robin Ince when he’s at home?
I present a Radio 4 science show w/ Brian Cox (“sexy face of particle physics” tm) called the Infinite Monkey Cage, write and present documentaries on things like Bertrand Russell, Schrodinger’s Cat, Melancholy and Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, and until recently, I was touring my stand up shows endlessly, but have now ended that after all.
Robin’s Top 3 albums ever?
As I Sat Sadly By Her Side by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Meat is Murder by The Smiths
Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven by Godspeed You! Black Emperor
(these were my immediate thoughts, I have no real top 3)
What great album has he never heard before?
Led Zeppelin II by Led Zeppelin
Released in October 1969
Before we get to Robin, here’s what Martin of Ruth and Martin’s Album Club thinks of Led Zeppelin II
Of all the stories, this would make the best film.
It begins with a montage of Jimmy Page’s greatest hits.
As a session musician, he had recorded with The Who, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, and virtually every other band that needed a job doing in the studio. Often working 3 sessions a day, 7 days a week, he would just pop in, nail his part, and then move on again - a bit like The Littlest Hobo if The Littlest Hobo was a really good guitarist rather than a dog that enjoyed the occasional caper.
With all these contacts Page became one of the most well-known, but least famous, guitarists of the mid ‘60s. He’s so good that The Yardbirds hatch a plan for him to replace Eric Clapton but Page turns them down. After Clapton eventually leaves The Yardbirds, they approach him again but he still wasn’t interested - this time suggesting his friend Jeff Beck as the perfect replacement.
So here he is, emerging from the credits as a man living in the shadows - content to ply his trade as THE go-to session musician in town.
Just to flesh out the character a bit more, it’s worth noting that he’s been into the occult since he was 15, loves all things Aleister Crowley, and looks a bit like an extremely posh woman who has just heard she’s made it to the final of The Great British Bake Off.
Then in 1966, he has the idea that drives the plot.
Jeff Beck had started work on a solo project which, for some reason, involved recording a version of Ravel’s Bolero - imaginatively titled Beck’s Bolero. To help him out he recruited some of the finest musicians around - John Paul Jones, Nicky Hopkins, Keith Moon, and, of course, Jimmy Page. As they rehearsed, Page imagined a group that was beyond anything else at the time. What if they could just cherry pick from existing bands and create a new one where EVERYONE played their part to perfection? A great guitarist, a hooligan rhythm section, and a brilliant singer.
He floated the idea to the assembled company and Keith Moon gave his response.
“Yeah, it’ll go down like a lead zeppelin.”
Everyone laughed their heads off. Everyone except Page, who was completely serious. So much so that he then sets about trying to break up some of the best bands around to realise his vision. He approaches Stevie Marriot from The Small Faces as a potential singer and continues telling Keith Moon, and subsequently John Entwistle, that their futures would be best served by leaving The Who.
But it never happened.
Moon and Entwistle stayed loyal and Stevie Marriot’s manager phoned up Page and asked him how he would like to play the guitar with broken fingers. As if that wasn’t bad enough (it is) Page then increasingly found himself out of work. The original R&B groups were moving away from killer riffs towards overblown orchestral arrangements and, in some cases, a theremin.
Frankly, it all went a bit The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.
So, with nowhere else to turn, he finally did the one thing that he’d been avoiding for two years - he joined the bloody Yardbirds.
Again, cue montage. This time of a band outstaying its welcome, a band out of time. Images flashing past the screen of matching suits and moody blues against a backdrop of flowers and kaftans, of people blowing bubbles and looking at them as if it’s the first time they’ve seen a bubble.
The montage tells you that something has to give and inevitably it does. After two years of trying to keep up The Yardbirds finally call it a day and play their final gig at a college in, of all places, Luton - the worst end to a story ever
Page walks away from the wreckage of The Yardbirds frustrated, yet determined. He may only be the third most famous guitarist the band has produced but he’s had a taste of the limelight, albeit flickering, and he wants more. In particular, he still has this idea that he’s been nurturing for two years - this imagined band that, if he could just find the right people, would blow everyone’s head off.
Then out steps another character from the shadows - Peter Grant, the 25 stone co-manager of The Yardbirds. Equally frustrated with the bit part role he’s had so far, he joins forces with Page and gives him the confidence he needs. Encouraging him, cajoling him - one of those massive cockneys who doesn’t need to shout because the quiet, deliberate version is even more terrifying.
“Go and find the band and I’ll do the rest”.“
Of course, it’s a great scene - obvious despite itself, but nevertheless a great scene. And what a character Grant is, what an introduction to the film. The absolute size of the bastard, the implicit threat - you can’t take your eyes off him.
Page sets off to find a singer and approaches a fella called Terry Reid who goes by the nickname of "Superlungs”. Sounds promising, but Reid turns down the opportunity, backing himself to make it as a solo artist. Instead he recommends another singer - a 19 year old called Robert Plant.
Page’s first question, which is brilliant, is “what does he look like?”
Reid says he looks like a Greek God and that people call him “The Wild Man of The Black Country” - that industrial part of the West Midlands where people get really annoyed if you call it Birmingham.
But then Page gets the bad news - Robert Plant is already in a band and they’re called Hobbstweedle. Personally, that would have been it for me. No matter how great he looked or how well he sang, anyone that was in a band that sounded like an unwelcome guest ale would have been crossed off the list.
But Jimmy Page was obviously more tolerant, or desperate, and he actually travelled to Birmingham to see Hobbstweedle live.
It goes without saying that they were awful, all flower and no power, but Page was impressed enough with Plant that he invited him to his house to get to know him. A couple of days later Plant turns up, probably with an open shirt, and the two men spar with each other as they play records and smoke dope.
Page’s mind is working overtime, asking himself all the right questions underneath a cover of geniality. “Is this the guy? Is this actually THE guy?
At this stage he’s not sure, but then Plant does himself the biggest favour imaginable.
"Oh yeah, I know this drummer too”
He then tells Page all about John Bonham - a brick shithouse of a drummer who was also from Birmingham and went by the name of Bonzo. Intrigued, Page goes to see him play in the unlikely setting of a country club in Hampstead and his head fell off. Bonham was the loudest, most powerful thing he’d ever seen. He immediately finds a phone and calls Grant.
A telephone box in Hampstead. A close up - “I’ve just seen this drummer. We need to get him”
After ignoring over 40 telegrams, Grant turns up at Bonham’s council flat in Birmingham and uses his powers of persuasion to recruit him. Eventually, he accepts.
Two down, one to go.
John Paul Jones, one of the originals from the Beck’s Bolero session hears that Page is on the lookout for musicians and, prompted by his wife, puts a call in.
“I hear you need a bass player”
And that was that, the line-up was complete. It’s a bit like how The Magnificent Seven were formed but with a lot more trips to Birmingham.
With the band now formed, they book their first rehearsal in a tiny room beneath a record shop in Soho. Imagine the scene - people are upstairs trying to buy Dusty in Memphis and below Led Zeppelin are playing for the first time. Suddenly the place starts shaking and records start falling off the wall, landing on people’s heads. It’s total chaos. Meanwhile, downstairs the band have clicked straight away. After just one song, they’re grinning from ear to ear and each one is amazed at how brilliant the other three are. What started out as a speculative rehearsal ends with them thinking they’re in the best band in the world.
Page’s imagined band is now a reality, and they’re far beyond his wildest dreams.
They play a few gigs under the banner of The New Yardbirds (thankfully not The New Hobstweedle), and then get to work recording their first album - the entire project funded by Page and recorded in under 30 hours. Meanwhile, Grant plays his part to perfection, negotiating a deal with Atlantic Records after deciding that British labels were a waste of time and that he might as well just go and break America.
The band receive a huge advance and, in my favourite part of the film, John Bonham uses his share to do up his council flat with some oak panelling, loads of chandeliers, and some gold taps. Bless him, he doesn’t yet realise that he’ll spend the rest of his life in the biggest band in the world and, instead, acts like a bricklayer who has won the pools.
At some point during all this, The Old Yardbirds send a “cease and desist” letter to The New Yardbirds so, remembering Keith Moon’s quip from 2 years before, they change their name to Led Zeppelin. It was Grant who suggested altering the spelling to Led and Page agreed, concerned that otherwise people might mispronounce it - as in “lead guitar”
He was right too. I know at least 3 people who would have done that.
They release their first album, brilliantly titled Led Zeppelin, and head straight to America. Again, cue montage. This time of newspaper clippings, of sold out shows, and audiences that are getting pulverised from New York to Los Angeles.
It’s during this mayhem that they write and record their second album
Like all the best things in the '60s it’s done in a rush, by a band on the run that never set out to create something that some idiot like me would be writing about 47 years later. They can’t even be bothered to think of a name so just call it Led Zeppelin II. It works though, the whole things works - it’s incredible.
And now the final scene, the end of the film.
Led Zeppelin arrive in Boston where they’re scheduled to play for one hour. After they walk off stage the place goes nuts so they come back and perform 12 encores. 12 ENCORES! After that, they walk off stage again and this time the audience literally drag them back on. By the time they’re done, the gig has lasted four and a half hours and they’ve run out of songs.
They walk off stage for the last time, exhausted, and greeted by a joyful Peter Grant. He hugs them and lifts them all off the ground at once.
There’ll be sequels of course, overblown and excessive, but the original ends here - a freeze frame of Peter Grant with the whole band in his arms. And if the film has been made properly you won’t have heard a single Led Zeppelin song yet. But now you do, when the credits roll you hear Bring it On Home.
Sitting in the cinema you think “is this it? Is this what all the fuss was about?” A wailing harmonica? A singer trying to sound like Willie Dixon? Maybe you get up to leave, maybe you’re half way to the exit, but then after exactly 103 seconds that riff comes in, through one ear and out the other. Then that hooligan rhythm section that bounces and pauses all over the place.
You sit back down. You hide in your seat and hope no one notices you. You’re grinning from ear to ear - ready to watch the whole thing again.
Martin Fitzgerald (@RamAlbumClub)
The Critics on Led Zeppelin II
In a retrospective review, Pitchfork gave it 10/10
Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it the 75th best album of all time
So, over to you Robin. Why haven’t you listened to it? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?????
I missed out on heavy rock, metal or whatever genre title must be given - blues rock, mouth organ apocalypse etc etc. I fell in with the Oxfam overcoat mob, and it was all Joy Division, Smiths and 60s Motown round my teenage head, plus a lot of John Barry. I was 20 by the time Nirvana’s Bleach and Mudhoney’s Touch Me, I’m Sick started beating me around.
Maybe then I should have started working backwards, but I didn’t.
I think it was because of the denim of my neighbours, who were heavily patched and with walls adorned with Robert Plant images that also made me think it might not be for me. It all seemed so very masculine. Also, I am not too keen on too many songs that are about “my woman” “I need my woman” “woman you make me heavily damp” and I thought that might be what it was all about
You’d think Aleister Crowley would be my entry point but, no, that didn’t do it either. Plus, I don’t like Lord of the Rings so that didn’t help.
Things started to change when I realised I liked prog…some prog. Then there was watching metallica ay Glastonbury, and having a hilarious night at The Classic Rock Awards (Tequila supplied by Cleo Rocos)
You’ve now listened to it, at least 3 times, what do you think?
I didn’t love Led Zeppellin 2, but I do wish that I had listened to it when I was younger.
I have grown to really like later Led Zeppellin, but I missed out on earlier stuff. It was a combination of Abel Ferrara’s use of Kashmir in Bad Lieutenant, seeing The Song Remains the Same, and John Paul Jone’s production work with REM that prodded me, far too slowly towards “blues rock” or “hard rock” or whatever it is called. All the bits in between the bits used by Top of the Pops in Whole Lotta Love were magnificent and It’s only now that I realise how wonderful it is that a non singles band were the theme of TV’s biggest celebration of singles. They would never be on Top of the Pops but they were on Top of the Pops all the time – if you know what I mean.
I no longer fear this sort of rock, and it makes me want to buy a lot of blues records. I’m still not sure which songs are just about sex and which ones are about Bilbo Baggins. I am quite keen on drum solos at the moment, frequently revelling in the enormously lengthy solo of Panic in Detroit (live at Nassau, from Bowie’s Station to Station tour), so Moby Dick was a treat. I like the idea, “how shall we deal with the complexity of Herman Melville’s lengthy novel Moby Dick? …why of course, let there be drums.” Great.
And I think The Lemon Song is about as “male” as I can get listening to a record before I have to pull the duffle coat hood over my head. It’s those juice running down the leg after squeezing me elements that make my 1940s Ealing movie face wrinkle and wince. This album is as old as I am, and it conjures up lurid images of a past that is not mine. As the snippets I’ve heard become a full piece of work it fascinates me how my mind and memories of late 60s, post Altamont images create a messy collage.
It doesn’t make me hanker for a past I never had, but the boldness of it all makes me wish this was a time when you could play something new and find it shocking (in a positive way). There is much contemporary music I love, Savages new album is superb, proper punching to the face and ears, but that shock of the new is a rarer thing. I envy those in 1969 who would have over a decade of hearing rapidly changing and reassembling genres and think, “what the fuck is this now?”
I am never as keen on the slower things, as with Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters, I listen and think, “no no no, do fast and loud, do fast and loud” and I worry that Thank You may be being sung to someone before they are then used as a sacrifice over Aleister Crowley’s blood filled ornamental pond that he kept behind the dismantled swannery.
So all in all, it’s Ramble on and Moby Dick for me.
The older I have become, the more I like elegant cacophony. Listening to this all now, I can see what a gateway this album is to so many musical possibilities. Oh look, it’s the blues, oh no hang on, speed everything up, collide with everything, then back to the blues.
I hope that most ramblers, as they seemingly mosey along a bridlepath near brambles and blackberries, secretly have Ramble On playing very loudly in their head. That is their secret.
I think Physical Graffiti is my favourite, but I realise there is much work to be done, and much to be listened to. This is another example of the annoyance of musical taste broadening.
I’m still trying to get to terms with jazz, then there’s so much prog, now I realise I want to go to Download.
Would you listen to it again?
Yes I would, but I would skip songs. And I would probably listen to Robert Plant’s Lullaby…and the Ceaseless Roar, which I bloody love.
A mark out of 10?
RAM Rating – 9
Guest Rating – 8
Overall – 8.5
So that was Week 56 and that was Robin Ince. Turns out he’d never listened to Led Zeppelin II before because his neighbours wore denim and he didn’t like Lord of the Rings. So we made him listen to it and he really liked bits of it, even Ramble On which has a bit in it where Robert Plant is hanging around middle earth with his girlfriend and then loses her to that Gollum thing - a situation I’m sure we can all relate to.
Next week, Brian Bilston listens to something from 1972 for the first time.
Until then, here’s Bring it on Home from Led Zeppelin II
Lots of love
Ruth and Martin