Call for Music Writers... Rock, Indie, Hip-hop, R&B, Electronic, Americana, Metal, World and More

 

All That Glitters: Led Zeppelin - "Rock and Roll"

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Oct 25, 2011
In the hands of a force like Led Zeppelin, a tribute to the golden age of rock music will inevitably sound thoroughly '70s -- wantonly libidinous and bone-crushingly heavy.
cover art

Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin IV

(Atlantic; US: 8 Nov 1971; UK: Nov 1971)

Not long after “Black Dog” fades into the ether on the Led Zeppelin IV tracklist does John Bonham come roaring back, making a tremendous racket on his drumkit to lead listeners into “Rock and Roll”, Zep’s ode to the genre’s golden age. The song emerged during a stalled attempt to record another track for the album; blowing off steam between takes, Bonham started playing the opening beat to Little Richard’s “Keep A’ Knockin’”, which Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page instantly augmented with a ‘50s-style boogie riff that he wrote on the spot. Singer Robert Plant added to the time-warp fun by throwing in references to the Diamonds, the Drifters, and the Monotones in his lyrics.
  
Despite its origins, “Rock and Roll” is no by-the-numbers retrofest. The introductory drum part from “Keep A-Knockin’” is retained for the song, but in Bonham’s meaty mitts, the fill was transformed into the fitful starting rumble of a relentless steamroller that plows onward, with John Paul Jones gamely keeping pace as he pummels out his chugging eighth-note bassline. Coming in on an off-beat instead of right on the downbeat, Page’s riff swings and thrashes around, inevitably allowing for showy chord crashes that were suited to the arenas Led Zep would soon make its home in. Plant’s distinctive wail as always is unmistakable, his preening croon of the line “It’s been a long time since I rock and rolled” owning more to his rowdy blues inspirations than any Elvis Presley or Little Richard imitation.


Essentially, what Led Zeppelin did on “Rock and Roll” was what it did for the blues on previous LPs: amped it up to supersized proportions, imbuing the form it tackled with overwhelming brute force and a raging libido that could not be disguised by wordplay. It can actually be easy to overlook how closely Zep follows the ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll template on the track since it sounds so quintessentially ‘70s in its execution. Dial back the distortion, pull back the attack, and throw plenty of cold water on Plant, and the song’s grounding in comparatively-quaint early rock singles from 15 years prior becomes much more clearer.


Personally, though, I’ve never warmed up to “Rock and Roll” as a lot of others have (for starters, it was one of four Zeppelin tunes to make VH1’s “100 Greatest Songs of Rock & Roll” countdown in the late 1990s). To me, “Rock and Roll” has always felt like a means to keep the momentum inaugurated by “Black Dog” going rather than a proper song in its own right. Though every member of the band turns in a stellar performance from a technical standpoint, it’s the attitude that makes the track. By extension, that has always left me with the feeling that the group could have been dabbling in any other form at that point on the record as long as it was approaching it with similar gusto.


Regardless, it’s hard to quibble when a band such as Led Zep—at the height of its powers on this album—is clearly having a ball running through a beloved style that inspired its members during their formative years. That’s as good explanation as any as to why “Rock and Roll” is so highly regarded in the Zeppelin mythos.


Previous entries:


* “Black Dog”


Related Articles
26 Feb 2015
Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin's first last album, represents the most grandiose expression of these Brits at the height of their powers.
26 Feb 2015
Album anniversaries of the music of Led Zeppelin and Slayer highlight this week in metal: one is a sprawling double album epic, the other a stepping stone for one of metal's most important bands.
25 Jan 2015
No matter how grandiose the Led Zeppelin legend gets, hearing the golden gods tell their tale is both astounding and more real than anything anyone could ever make up.
By PopMatters Staff
14 Dec 2014
The music world saw reissues from all over the genre map, spanning classic rock titans to electronic music legends.

Visit PopMatters's profile on Pinterest.
discussion by
Comments
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2015 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.