Date: Thu, 31 Jul 1997 09:43:54 -0400
From: Jeff Lybarger
Subject: Song of the day LVIII
Well good day to you. How are you this fine day? Doing ok? I hope so. Today's journey is a unique one, because it is something we all have in common. We have all been at a place in our lives where we have been down, when the road seems too long to keep pushing on, when the night seems eternally black with no promise of daybreak in sight. It is at these times that we find something out about ourselves. Somehow, someway, we fight back, we tell ourselves that it will get better, that we must keep pushing ahead. Sometimes we do it alone, but usually we find someone that is there to help us. As if an angel were sent down to take us by the hand and guide us. When you feel sad and alone, when you just need a shoulder to hang on, when the touch of another person means the difference between hope and despair, it is then that we discover our true friends. Join me won't you, as we look at one of Led-Zeppelin's finest moments, in terms of musical structure, band participation, and the overall timeless quality. A little song from the Led-Zeppelin III album, track two, clocking in at 3:55, "Friends."
A bit of an outtake quality to this one at the beginning. Studio chatter going on, something that sounds like a television or a radio, a bit of a false start on the guitar, and then... Ba Da DA! Ah yes, the warmth from that acoustic guitar. Bonzo banging on some bongo drums and we are taken to a brand new world. Exotic, hypnotic, and very mesmerizing, a track unlike anything they had attempted up to this point, and certainly nothing they did after this approached this sort of direction.
The tuning employed by Jimmy on this song is the same as "Bron-Yr-Aur", the gorgeous instrumental from Physical Grafitti, as well as "Poor Tom." The tuning, from low to high, C, A, C, G, C, E, is one of his most beautiful alternate tunings. If you listen closely in the first few bars of the song, you will hear the low "C" vibrating harshly against the neck of the guitar. Most guitarists would have probably redone the track, but Jimmy went with the emotion of the moment, and who cares if there's a little buzz on the record anyway?
One cannot say enough about the contributions on this track by John Paul Jones. He completely wrote the string arrangement which provides so much of the aura on this performance. His ability to take an idea and run with it is once again a major reason for the success of a Zeppelin song. John Paul was, and is, a creative and a talented wonder. Always content to stand in the shadows and let the others take the spotlight and get the attention, John Paul Jones was definately a one-of-a-kind team player. Maybe the greatest thing about Jonsey's contributions that one could say, is that you may not always notice them right away, but if he wasn't there, you would definately know it.
Robert offers up some truly inspiring and beautiful lyrics. The message here is one of hope. He also hints a bit at the karma we all reap in our life. Good advice from a young Mr. Plant.
"...mmm I'm telling you now, the greatest thing you ever can do now... is trade a smile with someone who's blue now, it's very easy just..."
There is much to be admired about this section. We have all probably been in that situation. We have a friend who's down and we try to cheer them up. That's usually pretty easy to do, simply because we know the person. What I take from these lines though is to try this with a stranger. That isn't always so easy. But wow, when you do it, the reward can be so wonderful. You are walking along having a great day and suddenly you spot someone you don't know at all, but you can see that they are troubled. Maybe the clerk behind the counter having a rotten day, maybe the homeless person on the street corner just trying to survive. But you dare to seek the road less traveled, and rather than ignore them you take a few seconds out of your day and offer them a smile. A compliment. You share something humourous with them. Out of nowhere you see a slight smile ease into their face. Perhaps they look at you funny, but maybe, just maybe, they look at you and say... nothing. But their eyes, their eyes are SCREAMING: THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! That is what life is really all about. The exchange of compassion from one human being to another. The fact that somebody really does care. What a beautiful feeling.
"Met a man on the roadside cryin', without a friend there's no denying... you're incomplete, there'll be no finding, looking for what you knew... So anytime somebody needs ya, don't let 'em down, all though it grieves ya... someday you'll need someone like they do, looking for what you knew..."
And here we see the karma. If you believe, like I do, that what we give out is what we get back, then pay attention. That wonderful feeling we just experienced only took a few seconds, and yet most people would find that just too troubling to do. "Don't bother me. I'm busy. I don't know you. Leave me alone." What happens is these people are constantly pushing everyone out of their way, until one day they reach out. In the darkness they seek a hand to hold, someone to help them through the pain, another human who can relate with them and say everything will be fine. But they find... emptiness. Their karma, what they have spent a lifetime giving out, comes right back to them. And they find that to be the loneliest feeling of all.
"...mmm I'm tellin' you now, the greatest thing you ever can do now... is trade a smile with someone who's blue now, it's very easy just..."
The music begins to build now. Robert has re-emphasized his point, the music begins to take on a life all it's own. Pumping, driving, the experience totally engulfing the listener.
"...mmm I'm telling you now,"
The string arrangement and the guitars getting louder, and louder, still driving the song, and the message deep into our soul.
"the greatest thing you ever can do now..."
Pulsing, the acoustic guitar speeding up.
"Is trade a smile with someone who's blue now,"
That droning Moog synthesiser starting to surface. "it's very easy... It's easy easy..." Building and building... and then... suddenly... it stops, and that drone note from the Moog is all that's left. Wow, what a jolt back into reality. What a compositional masterpiece. What emotion, what a song.
The thing I think I love the most about Led-Zeppelin, the band, the music, everything that went into who they are and what they did, is the emotions that I feel when I listen to their music. No other band does THIS MUCH for me. I have had the great fortune of meeting a lot of really wonderful people on Digital Grafitti, and at the two Zep-fest conventions I have attended. At this last one in Niagara Falls I had a lot of friends to reknew acquantainces with. Through out the busy weekend one was lost in the shuffle. Time that was to be spent sharing exciting news and exchanging thoughts on all topics Zeppelin ended up not happening at all. We did share a brief few moments talking one evening, but it wasn't what we had in mind. I regret allowing that to happen, because of the great distances we both had to travel I am not sure when we will see each other again. However, she does know that I consider her a dear and true friend, and we have spoken about that weekend and agreed that next time things will be different. Don't lose sight of your friends people. You will regret it always.
Funny thing about this mini-masterpiece: Zeppelin only performed it in concert once. In Osaka on the 1971 tour of Japan. But, just like a fine wine, Jimmy and Robert dusted it off for their "Unleded" MTV special, and this was one of the highlights. Yes there was an Egyptian orchestra, the London Metropolitan Orchestra, Ed Shearmur on Hammond Organ, and Charlie Jones on bass, all trying to "fill" the mighty shoes of one John Paul Jones. Jimmy and Robert then proceeded to play this song on their tour that followed, and it was a crowd pleaser everytime. "Friends" was the other song, alongside "Four Sticks", that Jimmy and Robert recorded with the Bombay Orchestra in March of 1972. On the "Unleded" performance Jimmy had to detune his guitar down a half step to accomodate Robert's voice. The low "C" was now down to low "B", creating an extra heavy effect.
A beautiful song which conjures up many emotions for me, I hope it has the same effect for you...
Until the next time we meet...
...trade a smile with someone who's blue,