Led Zeppelin – ‘Led Zeppelin II’

As the years went by bands and artists were being discovered at a rapid rate. With many it was just a matter of time, and some inexplicably took longer than others. Even after obsessing over music for forty years there are plenty I feel like I’ve missed out on, but some voices, or songs, or albums, despite repeat listens just don’t grab you, or just don’t grab you enough to persevere. Bruce Springsteen would be the most obvious of many for me, but who knows… there’s still plenty of time. At 22 years old I’d waited long enough to sink into Led Zeppelin, but when I did I went full tilt.

I bought Led Zep I, II, III and IV in quick succession, I’m not sure in what order, but I do know II was my pick of the bunch. Just. The iconic Whole Lotta Love set the tone, and immediately it was obvious (though I think I already knew) that this was four musicians at the top of their game; musicians who were borrowing from the past, but piling the groove, rock and psychedelia on to the blues. And boy, were they piling it on. Led Zep II was a gloriously heavy musical boogie, with a beautiful stench of 1969.

I could listen to Led Zeppelin II just for John Bonham’s drumming. In fact, if I could pick an all-star line up of vocals, guitar, bass and drums, Bonham would be on the sticks. He just had it all, and had it in spades. John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page would come close to that group too, but that’s a whole different story. With Led Zep, for me it was all about the feel. Songs like What Is And What Should Never Be, Heartbreaker, Ramble On and Moby Dick would ebb and flow, with dramatic, screeching peaks pouring into deep, meandering troughs. Watching live footage of those early performances shows mastery and as much sexual energy as Plant’s pants could muster. All four were killing it.

Throughout my later years, when I’d deny ever having been a mod, many who knew me would titter at that suggestion. I’d DJ’d at sixties/mod clubs and soul nights, owned vintage Vespas and obsessed over Weller, soul and watched Quadrophenia more times than I can remember. Now, I love almost everything about the mod movement, but can a mod love Led Zeppelin? With all that leather and long hair? And Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and Santana just around the corner? Now mod is far more than the music, but I always felt my musical and cultural tastes expanded at an early age, and felt it unnecessary to label myself.

Whatever. For me 1988 was Rumours, Moondance and a whole lotta Led Zeppelin. And the gym. Listening to Heartbreaker roll seamlessly into Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman) takes me right back to mixtapes and slogging up hills with my Walkman. Sweat and Led Zeppelin. A rightful mix.

Van Morrison – ‘Moondance’

By 1988 I had developed an unhealthy relationship. Charivari had been my chapel of joy, but for a year or two it was the gym, or a swimming pool, or a very steep hill. My employ had changed too. Still retail, but I was selling cricket bats, football boots and tennis rackets instead of shit clothes. I’d go swimming before work, to the gym straight after and punched bags, skipped, did squats, pull ups, aerobics, ran up zig-zags at Bournemouth beach and generally anything to generate a pool of sweat. I was about to get as fit as fuck, but become a bore. Fitness became a shallow addiction. My passion for music however, was flourishing as much as my strength.

I’ve no idea how I came about Van Morrison, and Moondance in particular, but it was bound to happen at some point. I was aware of his legend and had dug his stuff with Them in the mid ’60s, but another beautiful musical discovery was about to unfold. I love Van’s story, his musical heritage and knowing he could be a cantankerous sod, up there with the best of them in his stubborn single-mindedness. Astral Weeks was a year or two down the line for me, and would rival Moondance for top spot, but Moondance was my first love, and for that reason alone, the best.

Moondance has a swing, a groove, it’s a beat more uptempo and a touch less dark than Astral Weeks and therefore slightly more accessible. I’ll listen to either endlessly, depending on my mood, but it’s the soul and the gorgeous overwhelming feel of Moondance that gripped me. Van’s lilt bleeds emotion, whether it be the subtle beauty of Crazy Love or the gypsy soul of Caravan.

“I can hear her heart beat for a thousand miles
And the heavens open every time she smiles
And when I come to her that’s where I belong
Yet I’m running to her like a river’s song

She give me love, love, love, love, crazy love
She give me love, love, love, love, crazy love”

Crazy Love

My Van Morrison catalogue would expand to double digits over the years with his ’74 live double LP It’s Too Late To Stop Now blowing my mind, but since this first purchase one song has remained my favourite. Into The Mystic has it all. The aura, the sentiment, the arrangement lifts me, coming as close as any song to affect me spiritually.

Then there’s the subtle simplicity and Van’s restrained passion, cut loose when the fog horn blows…

“And when that fog horn blows
I will be coming home
And when the fog horn blows
I want to hear it
I don’t have to fear it

I wanna rock your gypsy soul
Just like way back in the days of old
Then magnificently we will float
Into the mystic”

The few times I’ve seen Van Morrison live have been a disappointment, but I’ll forgive him anything for the sheer beauty contained in his music, being one of those artists that just connects with your soul. Van, is indeed, the Man.

Fleetwood Mac – ‘Rumours’

Prior to the tail end of 1987 my knowledge of Fleetwood Mac was limited to say the least. Quite a few of their most popular songs were familiar to me, many of which I liked, but I’d owned nothing so had yet to pay them my full attention. That was about to change. Rumours was about to get personal.

Some artists or albums bring back memories of certain people, and Rumours is definitely one of those. A one-year relationship was the launch pad for a lifetime of love for an album flooded with personal trauma. It took me quite a while to be able to listen to Rumours and absolutely love it for the stunning album it is, rather than the associated memories, but if anything these songs hit me harder now than they’ve ever done.

Let’s ignore the drugs, apart from to say there’s no better album recorded under an ocean of booze and snowstorm of coke. Despite the intense and fractious themes, Rumours is so much more than a break-up album. Yes, pain is ever present, but so is love, and the songs are all the more powerful for their brutal honesty.

Rumours may be full of sorrow, but the album is also full of majestic songs that never fall far from perfect. Yes, I love songs that make me cry and I’ve shed plenty to Christine McVie’s epic, Songbird. Knowing that these songs were written amongst, and about, intense breakups within the band, makes them all the more magnificent.

Lindsay Buckingham wrote Go Your Own Way about Stevie Nicks. Buckingham on lead, Nicks on backing vocals…
“Loving you isn’t the right thing to do
How can I ever change things that I feel?
If I could, baby I’d give you my world
How can I when you won’t take it from me?”

Stevie Nicks wrote Dreams about Lindsey Buckingham. Nicks on lead, Buckingham on backing vocals…
“But listen carefully
To the sound of your loneliness
Like a heartbeat drives you mad
In the stillness of remembering
What you had and what you lost”

I’m not sure what it says about me but much of my favourite music is the saddest and most despairing. Since a very early age I sought emotion from music, I couldn’t care for gimmick, for fake, for music that lacked soul. Music could move me in many ways, and Rumours hits heavy with the sheer genius contained in the songwriting; the melody, harmony, production and best of all it hits you where it hurts most. The heart.