Jeff Lybarger's Song OF The Day

Song Of The Day LXXVI

Picture for a moment that you are standing at the edge of a cliff, a majestic sunrise breaking through the sky as the dawn of a new day gently kisses the ocean. Overhead, birds fly lazily about calling to each other in a language that only they understand. You can smell the pure beauty of nature and taste the salt from the ocean spray as all your senses are awakened in one dramatic moment. You are standing at the threshold of something exciting and new. You may not be quite certain what it is exactly, but it most definitely feels right. As if perfection had placed her hand upon your cheek.

If you are in the mood for a journey that will examine the very roots of such a time, then join me won’t you, as we drift along, together, back to the very first album released by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham; Led-Zeppelin. It is side one of the LP, track two, clocking in at 6:40 of pure bliss and wonderful foreshadowing, Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.

It is impossible now, in 2006, to try and imagine a time when only one Led-Zeppelin album existed. Yet, that is what I am going to ask you to do right now. In your world right now only nine songs represent this group. Nine songs. Now try and imagine you have just purchased this album, either because a friend suggested it, or a disc jockey on the radio was singing its praises. You have just listened to the first track, a good rock number titled Good Times Bad Times. Oh sure, you are familiar with Jimmy Page and his prior work. You have a couple of Yardbirds albums, and the name John Paul Jones rings a slight bell, though you aren’t really sure how it is that you know his name. These other two members of the group though are unknown. You noticed on the first track that the drummer has some skill and you appreciate the singers range, but you are still trying to take this all in.

And then it happens; you find yourself standing at the edge of the cliff. Everything you have come to know about music is about to change. The rules are about to be broken. You aren’t sure why, can’t really place your finger on it, but this band is on to something. And that something is really special.

From the heavy rock and blistering guitar solos found on track one, you now are surrounded by a lone, acoustic guitar. The music is sad; the feel of the piece is one of terrible longing. Just like that you are transported to another experience; one of a completely different origin than on the first track. You find yourself being pulled in, as if a voice is beckoning you. The notes linger in the air, the melancholy echo of their cry calls out to you. Completely powerless you succumb to their will as if in a trance.

 
 Babe…baby, baby I’m gonna leave you
 I said baby…you know I’m gonna leave you
 I’m…leave you when the summer time
 Leave you when the summer comes a rollin’
 Leave you when the summer comes along

Suddenly, without warning, everything just explodes, catching you quite off your guard. With nothing more than an acoustic guitar, bass and drums the song ascends to a perfect outpouring of emotion. This band is tight. Everything about this track tells you that something exciting and new is taking place. This music, this breaking of all the musical rules, makes you feel very much alive. But what is it? These guys are pushing the very limits here. You haven’t heard anybody try anything like this. Why? From the sad and subtle acoustic guitar to the full band in unison breaking through any and all barriers that have been in place prior, this band with this album, are out to prove a point.

It suddenly dawns on you; you have heard this song before. It was Joan Baez. Suffice to say, Ms. Baez’s version is absolutely nothing like this. There is a general feeling pulsing through your veins that says; this is how music should be played.

 

 Babe…babe…babe…babe…babe…babe…baby
 Baby I wanna leave you
 I ain’t joking woman I’ve got to ramble
 Oh yeah…
 Baby…baby
 I’ll be leaving
 Really got to ramble
 I can hear it callin’ me the way it used to do
 I can hear it callin’ me back home…

The roller coaster ride of emotion continues with the music swelling, lifting you up in one instant, and gently bringing you back down in the next. The drummer, John Bonham, has proven in two songs just how amazing he is. Here, his controlled outbursts never fail to lift the song up and give it wings. He plays with power and precision, but he also displays a keen sense of feel. This guy isn’t just about the power.

Jimmy plays some sparse yet effective single note lines that really pierce the soul of this song. The pain, the anguish, the feeling of longing, these things are all present in his guitar artistry. At one point he even plays a few lines on slide guitar, utilizing all the weapons available to deliver a masterpiece.

Robert Plant is nothing short of awe inspiring during this performance. Not only his vocal range, but his control and the ability to express much emotion are staggering. Considering his young age at this time it is really a great testament to his abilities and what he offers musically within the group.

Babe I’m Gonna Leave You was Led-Zeppelin standing at the edge of the cliff. This is the song that gave fair warning to all. This was the song that hinted, ever so powerfully, of what was to come. It represented the light and shade, the heavy and soft, the whisper to a scream; all these would later evolve into the trademark sound of Led-Zeppelin. This song, their delivery and use of dynamics, was the prelude to later Zeppelin masterpieces. Everything from Thank You to Gallows Pole to Over The Hills and Far Away to The Rain Song to Ten Years Gone and yes, to the one song that lifted the band to their greatest heights, Stairway To Heaven.

It all started here, on side one of their first album, track two. They proved with this track that they were willing, and quite able, to take chances that others wouldn’t, or couldn’t, take. You see, it’s not like every band could just whip out a tune like this. It takes great imagination for one, but it also takes tremendous talent. Most bands lack the talent to pull off a number like this. With Led-Zeppelin, talent was one of the many things they had an abundance of.

During their first two tours Zeppelin performed this number. Sadly it was dropped after that. It wasn’t until Robert and Jimmy reunited in 1994 for the No Quarter album and subsequent tour that the track was revived. There are some amazing bootlegs of the Japan tour in early 1996 with this track a staple in their set. On their 1998 Walking Into Clarksdale tour the duo again chose to revisit this number. One interesting note; in the live versions that took place from the mid-1990’s on Jimmy would conclude the song by teasing the crowd with the intro to Stairway.

It is really quite difficult to describe properly just how incredible this song is in the hand of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Certainly the version on Led-Zeppelin has stood the test of time. It helped set a precedent that would later define Led-Zeppelin. They took the musical bar and raised it several notches with their rendition. But as amazing as the studio version is, their live versions are always a wild ride too. I was so happy to see them dust this classic song off and offer it up to their fans in the 1990’s, particularly since so many of those fans never had the opportunity to experience Led Zeppelin perform this.

Even now, as Robert reinvents himself yet again with Strange Sensation he performs this number. In a live setting Robert tends to drift into new territory whenever he plays this. Always expanding the song, always stretching the boundaries, always pushing the envelope.

Do yourself a favour and pick out one of your favourite versions of Zeppelin, or Page/Plant or Robert solo, and go revisit this song. The journey will be exciting and exhilarating, and you just may find yourself feeling as if you are there, at the edge of the cliff, with arms open wide, ready to welcome the dawn of something new, something special.

Until the next time….

Jeff

 

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