PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

The Album Remains the Same: Led Zeppelin - "D'Yer Mak'er"

"D'Yer Mak'er" concludes the controversial middle section of Houses of the Holy in an uproarious fashion. With this song Led Zeppelin proves that for every Tolkien reference, there's a corresponding joke—and a pretty damn good one at that.


Led Zeppelin

Houses of the Holy

Label: Atlantic
US Release Date: 1973-03-28
UK Release Date: 1973-03-28
Amazon
iTunes

Two installments ago, in my analysis of the funk jam “The Crunge”, I noted that the three songs that make up the midsection of Houses of the Holy are often where the album faces its biggest critical bashings. “Dancing Days”, the serviceable but relatively unmemorable single sandwiched between “The Crunge” and “D’Yer Mak’er”, softens the blow posed by the two aforementioned tracks. While the shuffling groove of “The Crunge” doesn't differ radically from Led Zeppelin’s classic singles, “D’Yer Mak’er” seems to throw a major wrench into Houses of the Holy. Creativity is the defining hallmark of this LP—for myself and many others, it’s what makes it the strongest in the Zeppelin catalog—but not unreasonably for some, “D’Yer Mak’er” is where the band’s experimentation goes too far. Stephen Erlewine of AllMusic found that though “D’Yer Mak’er” contributed to the diversity of the record, it “suggest[ed] the band was searching for material.” In a stronger opinion, Gordon Fletcher wrote in the original 1973 Rolling Stone review that the song would likely “get the Zep laughed off the island if they bothered playing it in Jamaica”, calling it “a naked imitation” that was “easily the worst [thing] this band has ever done.” (In a revised 2003 review, Gavin Edwards relaxed the magazine’s initial criticism, calling it a “swinging take on reggae.”)

These reactions, while simplistic, aren’t to be entirely unexpected. Even on an LP as varied as Houses of the Holy, “D’Yer Mak’er” is an oddity. If there’s one thing that could be more bizarre than a group of internationally renowned white British musicians attempting an authentic take on funk—as in “The Crunge”—it’s those same musicians pretending they’re on a Jamaican vacation for four and a half minutes. The image of Robert Plant getting dreadlocks while the rest of the band lets their pasty British skin burn up in the sun comes to my mind every time I hear “D’Yer Mak’er”, and every time it happens I laugh aloud. It’s a reaction I rarely get when listening to Zeppelin—“Hot Dog” and “The Crunge” excepted—and for that reason the song is one of the tracks on Houses of the Holy that easily lingers in the memory. Though it’s unlikely to be placed in any canon of the iconic Zeppelin works (it was never played in full live), “D’Yer Mak’er” nonetheless a shining moment on the band’s best album; as such, the notion of it as an inferior one-off experiment is certainly unjustified. Following the comparatively weaker "Dancing Days", it's in fact the humorous boost the record needs.

Like the two tracks before it, “D’Yer Mak’er” is far from a lyrical gem. A good 50 percent of the lyrics are vocal filler: “oh”, “ah”, and “ay” are examples of the loquaciousness not present. The song's name itself, an intentionally botched phonetic attempt to say "Jamaica", seems to suggest the lyrics themselves are nothing more than contributions to a single joke. But if one pays close attention to the lyrics rather than getting caught up in the overall hilarity of things, they'll discover a pretty standard lament of unrequited love. Led Zeppelin's oeuvre does contain some breakup-worthy material ("Tangerine" and "Heartbreaker" especially) but compared to the rest of its eight-to-ten minute epics and straightforward rockers, these type of lyrical pinings are few and far between. That the group would take one of the most ubiquitous song types in pop music—the unrequited love ballad—and perform it via a mock take on reggae is gutsy, to say the least.

Much like the James Brown inspiration of "The Crunge", one gets the sense that there is a little Bob Marley worship in "D'Yer Mak'er", and while the thought of the four members of Led Zeppelin in rasta beanies is more comical than genuine, the sense that they're aware of their limitations is definitely present. Both this song and "The Crunge", while operating in different genres, are great corollaries in this regard; both are clear genre exercises, a fact the band is well aware of. Rather than trying to be "a funk band" or "a reggae band" for a little part of the album, however, these rascally Brits opt to variate on a theme they know they'll never quite be able to grasp. This is evident in the music itself, which is incredibly simple and at times nondescript; the guitar wah-wahs just like it should, the bass lays down a decent groove, and the cymbals splash like the waves the song is meant to evoke. Yet underneath all these boilerplate composite parts lies a tongue-in-cheek energy that's admirable, and in the grand scheme of Houses of the Holy necessary given the doom and gloom of the track immediately following "D'Yer Mak'er", the Norse death chant "No Quarter".

This energy isn't surprising, though. The same source of the conviviality that invigorated "The Song Remains the Same" is also present in "D'Yer Mak'er". This LP followed Zeppelin's stratospheric rise to the top of rock following Zoso; undoubtedly, island vacations (to Jamaica or otherwise) became much more of a reality for the group. This somewhat silly effervescence is what elevates "D'Yer Mak'er" from the genre exercise that it is to something greater, namely a musical interpretation of the joys of international stardom. This is where the title Houses of the Holy comes from: it's the name given to the concert venues where the group performed, a name rooted in the appreciation of the Zeppelin fanbase. Zep understandably ditched "D'Yer Mak'er" in favor of more pertinent album material in its live shows, but in a lot of ways it's a shame they did; few tracks are as expressive of its love to play live than this one.

This, of course, is but one of many interpretations. A satiric reading of the track, one where the Zep is an out-of-place gaggle of tourists, is certainly plausible. Either way, I would suggest that rather than the blight on Houses of the Holy that many make it out to be, "D'Yer Mak'er" concludes an eclectic album midsection that makes this the most vibrant of Zeppelin LPs—not to mention the best.


Previous Installments

*”Introduction/The Song Remains the Same”

*”The Rain Song”

*Over the Hills and Far Away”

*”The Crunge”

*”Dancing Days”

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.