Well, well, well! It has been quite a long time now hasn't it? Much too long in fact. I hope this finds you all doing very well, healthy, and enjoying a fun and joyous summer. So let's get going, shall we? Hopefully I haven't forgotten how to do this. Today's selection comes from that mysterious fourth album with the little old man with all the sticks on his back, track six, clocking in at 4:44, "Four Sticks."
A super charged riff from the fingers of Jimmy Page kicks this track off, with John Bonham laying down a frantic yet perfectly controlled attack on the skins. The sound of this track is something that has always been such a pleasure to this listeners ears. It has a "quality" unlike any other song that Zeppelin recorded. There is something about this song that is too hard to describe, but the "feel" and "emotion" are quite evident. A majesticness that really lifts this song into another level of craftsmanship.
One of the things that I love so much about this song is Jimmy's main riff. Most people probably don't even notice this, it's such a subtle thing, but the way Jimmy sees music is so different than any other guitarist/songwriter, and that is perfectly evident on this song. The riff kicks in and he plays through it four and a half times, then hit's the "A" chord, where there is a slight pause, then bashes in with the "G" chord which leads him right back to the main riff. The second time through the riff though he only plays it two and a half times, then the "A", pause, then "G." To make this easier to explain, let's say that four and a half is actually five and two and a half is actually three, the "A" chord making up for the last two notes of the riff, in effect the other "half." Then, when Robert enters with the vocals he plays the riff ELEVEN times, then the "A" and "G", then back to three times. The overview that Jimmy has just amazes me sometimes. I can just imagine him trying to explain this song to Bonzo and Jonsey: "OK, we're gonna go five, then three, then eleven, then three, and then, when we get to the second verse we'll go nine and three. Got it? Right, let's give it a go."
To those who are not musicians you have to understand that five and three and eleven and three and nine and three are not too common in most musical structures. I am not talking about the time signature of the song, but the overall structure. Perhaps this is what Jimmy was going for in the first place, a song that defied most musical "laws", yet in the end, works perfectly. Whatever the intentions, the track is most mesmerizing. The addition of John Paul on Moog Synthesiser is the perfect choice for creating that "aura" that is so evident here. Very subtle, yet if you took the synth out of the mix it would be quite noticable that something was lacking.
Another grand display of the genius that is Jimmy Page in the studio. Another amazing fact about "Four Sticks" is that they almost threw the track away. It was taking them forever to get this on tape and one day out of complete frustration Bonham picked up two sets of sticks and they nailed it within two takes. Jimmy stated in the Robert Godwin book, "The Making Of Led Zeppelin's (Fourth)" that after those two takes it was "physically impossible" for Bonham to do another take. Hence the title of the song, "Four Sticks", and it all happened out of the bands frustration at not being able to get it right before.
As the song winds its way through they get to the change, the "when the owls cry in the night" section, and once again Jimmy displays his vision of what a song CAN be. On the left side of the stereo channel you will hear beautiful acoustic guitars, playing octaves and sounding truly heavenly, while on the right an electric pumping out chords for effect. This section is somewhat bizarre as it hits you out of nowhere, but what a beautiful counterpart to the main riff. When the main riff re-enters it sounds even more powerful following this brief acoustic interlude.
For all those who wonder what the new Page/Plant album will be like, just listen to songs like "Four Sticks", realize that this is JIMMY PAGE, and trust that the new album will be most special. "Four Sticks", as most of you know, was recorded with the Bombay Symphony Orchestra in 1972, along with "Friends", and was perhaps the seed for the inspiration on the "Unleded" unplugged special that first reunited Jimmy and Robert on a permanent basis.
While Zeppelin only performed this song once in their illustrious touring career, on May 3rd, 1971 in Copenhagen, Page/Plant pulled it from the cobwebs and used it as a staple on their 1995/1996 tour. Played at just about evey stop on the tour, 108 times in all, it was one of those fun moments for the band, with Michael Lee employing four sticks and Jimmy on the acoustic. My only complaint with the "new" version is that you lose that change from electric to acoustic and back to the electric. With the song performed on acoustic only that sudden change in mood wasn't quite the same. The addition of the orchestra and the Egyptian ensemble however did make for some serious rocking, especially as the tour progressed.
"Four Sticks" is a classic example of Zeppelin working as a band, and Jimmy trying different things than just the standard fare. It may have been a bit frustrating at first for them, trying to get this together, but in the end everything worked out just fine.
Till we meet again... Rock on,