Jeff Lybarger's Song OF The Day

Song Of The Day LXXII

When the urge to continue this series finally hit me one of the first thoughts I had was: What song would be a good choice to get this thing rolling again? Of the previous LXXI there have been 56 about Led Zeppelin songs, 5 Special Editions, 4 from the Coverdale/Page project, 3 from Robert Plant’s solo journey and another 3 from the Page/Plant collaboration. After some serious consideration it hit me: This whole crazy ride began with my favourite album by Led Zeppelin; Presence. So it only makes sense after this extended break that I should restart at the beginning.

So join me won’t you, as we venture deep into the catalogue of the magic that was Led Zeppelin from what is undeniably their most underrated album of all time, and also their most under appreciated. Today we go back to that album with the vintage photos and the strange, black object. Our destination is the aptly titled Presence and track six, clocking in at 4:43, “Hots On For Nowhere.”

This track certainly begins life as a typical Jimmy Page start/stop riff. But then we are thrown some serious curves throughout. Down the center of your speakers you will hear Page/Jones/Bonham grinding out the riff, filled with some very awesome John Bonham fills on the kit. It’s the right speaker though that comes from out in left field, because there is where you hear one of Jimmy’s many overdubbed guitars, playing in a loose, somewhat funky manner, drawing you in and shaking your senses.

The lyrics by Robert on this track are nothing short of brilliant. Against a backdrop of quirky, off the wall riffing, Plant delivers a tour-de-force lyrical showcase. It has been documented that this track is Robert lashing out at Zeppelin Manager Peter Grant as well as Jimmy himself. Certainly, in typical Plant fashion, the meaning behind the lyrics is very open for debate. What isn’t debatable is the sheer brilliance that lies within.

 

“I was burned in the heat of the moment
 No! It coulda been the heat of the day
 When I learned how my time had been wasted
 A tear fell as I turned away
 Now I’ve got friends who will give me their shoulder
 If I should happen to fall
 With time and his bride growing older
 I’ve got friends who will give me fuck-all”

Absolutely stunning. The fourth line in verse one may be simple, but it is also quite powerful. “A tear fell as I turned away” What he sings here can be appreciated by everybody. EVERYBODY can relate to that. While the circumstances are most likely different than Robert’s, it is simply a universal line of truth.

 

The third line in verse two is, and keep in mind I am no Shakespeare expert, poetry at its finest! “With time and his bride growing older…” That lyric is pure beauty. The ironic twist here is that he follows that beautiful line with a direct slam, supposedly directed right at Pagey and Grant. It is only speculation as to what exactly has Robert so ticked off here, but my feeling is that it is because of what he perceived was his band not taking their responsibility as rock’s premiere group as seriously as he would have liked.

 

Think about this; Robert and Jonsey were the two mellower members in the band. When on the road they tended to not partake as willingly in the party as Page and Bonham. Robert has stated in interviews that the first couple tours he was a wide eyed British boy suddenly being fawned over by very cute and willing young American females. But as any singer can attest to, too much of the night life can destroy a voice.

 

Robert was married with two children during the time Presence was being written and recorded, plus he had just survived a near death experience. As I can verify, when you feel the kiss of death on your neck, it certainly changes your focus. You begin to analyze things from a different perspective. Led Zeppelin were Rock Gods in 1975. They could do nothing wrong. Everywhere they went they where adored and honoured.  There has to be a sense of immortality when placed on such a ridiculously high pedestal over an extended period of time. But Robert found out very quickly just how mortal he was.

 

Think about this also; In 1975/76 Jimmy was getting pretty heavily involved with Cocaine and Heroin. He couldn’t have weighed more than 130 pounds if that and I believe some of the lyrics in “Hots On For Nowhere” reflect Plant’s concern with this increasing problem.

 

“Corner of Bleeker and nowhere
 In the land of not-quite-day
 A shiver runs down my backbone
 Face in the mirror turns gray
So I looked ‘round to hitch up the reindeer
 Searching hard trying to brighten the day
 I turned ‘round to look for the snowman
 To my surprise he’d melted away”

The only Bleeker Street that I am aware of resides in Manhattan, New York. Greenwich Village to be precise. And I believe it’s safe to say that New York is known for its late night party scene. The line “In the land of not-quite-day” seems to be a direct reference to that as well as the line “face in the mirror turns gray.”

 

In the next verse I believe it fair to say that Robert isn’t singing about Santa Claus. So what does he mean with the reference to reindeer? Well, this could mean several things and knowing Robert’s propensity for being obscure it is also fair to say we may well never know exactly. However, if you think of what the reindeer were to Santa Claus they were the driving force. They were the power that helped Santa arrive at all his stops. Who was the driving force in Led Zeppelin? John Bonham and John Paul Jones. The drums and the bass, the duo that created such an awesome platform for Jimmy and Robert to do their thing.

 

What then of the “snowman” reference? Well, here I think it is Robert speaking directly about Jimmy. What do most people who are heavily involved in Cocaine actually call their drug? Snow. Their dealer is known as the snowman. The line “to my surprise he’d melted away” screams a direct reference to Page and his frail condition at the time.

 

When you look at those two verses together you get the feeling that Robert is growing tired of The Scene and just wants to play music with his band. When he looks around for the reindeer (Bonham/Jones) which will brighten his day he finds that Pagey (snowman) has slipped away.

 

The following verse is another perfect example of that artistry and genius that is Robert Plant. Why has he never been given his due as a lyric writer? I can’t imagine Dylan being able to write this song any better. What makes Robert’s choice of words even more spectacular, to me any way, is the fact that the music in this song is not typical of deep, thought-provoking lyrical insight. Yet that is exactly what we are treated to.

 

“As the moon and the stars call the order
 Inside my tides dance the ebb and sway
 The sun in my soul’s sinking lower
 While the hope in my hands turns to clay
I don’t ask that my fields full of clover
 I don’t moan at opportunity’s door
 And if you ask my advice- take it slower
 Then your story’d be your finest reward”

Again we are treated to some of the most perfectly constructed lyrics that Robert has ever penned. I think that one of the other amazing things about this track is that with the pace of the song Robert has to sing fast. This is one of the reasons the words get somewhat lost in the shuffle, but it makes it all the more wondrous that he can produce this kind of verse within the frame work of this style of song.

 

Another very cool thing during this section is the fact that while the main theme of the song continues its start-stop pattern, Page’s overdubbed guitar just keeps chugging along throughout the entire verse. It is sometimes subtle, but this is another classic Page trademark: You keep slightly changing things up, adding momentum and building the song towards its dramatic climax.

 

From here we get a classic urging from Robert; “Now do it!” This leads to some nice backing vocals by Robert and then right into a wild, strange, Fender Stratocaster-led assault by Jimmy. His solo here is really unlike anything he’d put down on tape prior. With his new Strat toy Jimmy shows all of its capabilities in the matter of 30 seconds and then wraps it up with some extreme use of the Whammy Bar.

 

“Lost on the path to attainment
 Searching the eyes of the wise
 When I bled from the heart of the matter
 I started bleeding without a disguise”

Again Robert delivers some wonderful lyrical food for thought. The first line dictates, to me, the predicament that he felt the group was in, and the second line “Searching the eyes of the wise” could very well mean he was looking to Peter Grant for help. Grant, after all, was the Manager who had been there and done that. It was also his job, so to speak, to make sure the band was not running straight into the darkness blindly. Try as he might though, he was finding no help from Mr. G.

 

I think the line “I started bleeding without a disguise” could signify that he was tired of keeping his concerns inside and he felt the timing right to air his differences.

 

“Now everything’s fine under heaven
 Now and then you gotta take time to pause
 ‘Cause if you’re down on the ground
 The only best hope around
 You can land in a boat without oars”

The outro is another very cool section of this song, with Plant getting in plenty of “Hey babe, Hey babe…I lost my way!” Jimmy adds some very tasteful runs and we get another classic Page trademark: The false ending. The song stops…then kicks back in with Page’s guitars all over the place and you really have to check out Bonham during this section. The drums here, and on this entire track, are just magnificent.

 

One of the drags about Presence is that Zeppelin couldn’t tour immediately after its release. With Plant hobbled the band had to wait almost an entire year before they could hit the road. Had they been able to tour hot off the release we may have seen live renditions of “Candy Store Rock,” “Hots On For Nowhere,” “For Your Life” and “Tea For One.” Sadly, it wasn’t to happen.

 

It remains a mystery to me why Presence is so overlooked. There is an incredible energy and emotional out pouring on this album. It is vastly different from any other Zeppelin album and part of this may be the fact that it was recorded, overdubbed and mixed in an astonishing 18 days.

 

Whatever the reason for its lack of commercial appeal, don’t be scared away from this album. It is absolutely one of Zeppelin’s finer moments, catching the band in a very heavy, emotional time. There was a lot of doubt hanging over the bands head at the time they recorded this, because the doctors weren’t even sure if Plant would ever walk properly again.

 

 

Perhaps you bought this and tried it out once or twice and decided it just wasn’t for you. Well, do yourself a favour and go dig it up, put it on and prepare to be completely blown away. Oh…and make sure you turn the volume way up! The end result will not disappoint you. Until we meet again…

 

 

 

Rock On~

 

 

Jeff

 

 

 

Thanks must be given to Bill McCue for his help in actually deciphering some of the lyrics in this song.

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