November 15, 2012
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page is a comprehensive "oral autobiography" of Jimmy Page, the legendary guitarist whose sound has helped shape popular music for the past fifty years.
Jimmy Page is primarily known for his work in Led Zeppelin, but he has had an extraordinarily long and productive career as a guitarist and producer. His life as a British session musician started in 1963, and he became so in demand it's been estimated that his guitar playing can be heard on 60 percent of the records recorded in Britain in the early sixties, including Tom Jones's volcanic "It's Not Unusual" and the James Bond theme "Goldfinger," sung by Shirley Bassey.
In 1966, Page joined the Yardbirds for two years before moving on to create the iconic Led Zeppelin. After that he dabbled in film scoring and was involved in several different band projects, including the Firm, Coverdale and Page, and his reunion with Led Zeppelin singer, Robert Plant.
The following are some of my favorite recordings from Page's extensive discography.
1) "She Just Satisfies"
Jimmy Page, 1965
Tired of his role as "the hidden face behind the hip hits," session guitarist Page briefly stepped into the spotlight and recorded this wonderfully aggressive solo single on the Fontana label, on which he sang and played all the instruments except drums. The track features a great pile-driving guitar riff, a snarling lead vocal, and a surprisingly strong harmonica break. Your friends will think it's a great, lost Kinks single.
2) "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago"
This is one of the only recordings featuring both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck on guitar, and it doesn't disappoint. In fact, this tour de force of psychedelic invention and orchestration is one of the absolute best singles of the era. Beck unfortunately departed the Yardbirds shortly after, leaving this as a glimpse of what could've been.
3) "Think About It"
As hard as it is to believe, this super-fab slab of proto-metal hipster rock was a B-side to the Yardbirds' god-awful "Goodnight Sweet Josephine." Page often refers to "Think About It" when he wants to explain where the Yardbirds were heading before the band called it quits.
4) "Dazed And Confused"
Led Zeppelin, 1969
Recorded primarily in a single take using just his Fender Telecaster, a Vox amp, a Sola Sound Tone Bender for distortion, a wah-wah pedal and a violin bow, the guitar sounds like an orchestra of otherworldly textures and sonic dread. So titanic was the composition that it would become Jimmy's signature and the cornerstone for Led Zeppelin's group improvisations that would go on for well over twenty minutes at many gigs.
5) "Since I've Been Loving You"
Led Zeppelin, 1970
It starts as a relatively standard minor blues and then it slowly unfurls into one of the most harmonically rich and complex compositions in the entire Zeppelin catalog. The solo is a stunningly original musical statement that combines gut-wrenching emotion with daring note choices and true rhythmic invention. As Jimmy explains, "We were playing in the spirit of the blues, but trying to take it into new dimensions dictated by the mass consciousness of the four players involved."
6) "The Battle of Evermore"
Led Zeppelin, 1971
Okay, everybody knows the greatest song on Led Zeppelin IV is either "Stairway to Heaven" or "When the Levee Breaks" or "Black Dog" or "Rock and Roll." But I'm gonna be a pervert and choose "The Battle of Evermore." For my money, it is the most magical of Zeppelin's mystery tours.
"Achilles Last Stand"
Led Zeppelin, 1976
Clocking in at ten minutes and twenty-five seconds, this contender for Led Zeppelin's greatest studio moment features one of drummer John Bonham's most powerful drum performances and guitars so majestic and pit-marked that they successfully evoke the Greek ruins of Ephesus. "I thought the solo on 'Achilles' was especially good," said Page, who is usually reluctant to pick favorites. "When I listen back to it, I think to myself, ‘My God, that solo says a hell of a lot to me.'"
7) "Hotel Rats and Photostats"
Death Wish II soundtrack, 1982
Written and recorded in eight weeks, the musically diverse Death Wish II score was Page's first major work after the official demise of Led Zeppelin in 1980. The eerie instrumental "Hotel Rats and Photostats," performed on an early Roland guitar synthesizer is one of the more intriguing tracks found on this somewhat obscure album.
8) "Satisfaction Guaranteed"
The Firm, 1985
The idea of creating a rock supergroup from the ashes of Led Zeppelin and Bad Company must've looked pretty good on paper . . . and it actually was. The Firm was an unexpectedly original-sounding unit, mixing Page and Bad Co. singer Paul Rodgers's natural blues tendencies with a spacious eighties new wave sound and a rubbery rhythm section driven by Tony Franklin's distinctive fretless bass. "Satisfaction Guaranteed" is the band at their sultry, slinky best, and one of the great, lost treasures of the era.
9) "Emerald Eyes"
Jimmy Page, 1988
A beautiful instrumental from Page's only solo album, Outrider. With its intertwining acoustics and tremolo rhythms, yearning lead guitar and tasteful use of keyboards, it sounds like a runaway track from Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti.
10) "Pride and Joy"
The media was quick to pounce on the project as being beneath Page, dismissing the flamboyant Whitesnake singer David Coverdale as nothing more than a Robert Plant wannabe, but the truth is that their one-off album is incredibly well recorded and a whole lotta fun. The single "Pride and Joy" bursts with good-natured bonhomie, featuring Page on the harmonica for the first time since his session days. The guitarist claims it took him about two hours to recover: "I blew so hard I saw stars!"
11) "Shining in the Light"
Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, 1998
This opening track to the highly underrated Walking into Clarksdale album produced by iconoclastic punk-rock producer/engineer Steve Albini is a wonderful and wistful modern alternative rock song. Page saw the album as a collection of songs and moods that "hopefully, presented a musical landscape." And for him, "Shining in the Light" was the access point to this landscape, "with high peaks and mountains and smoky valleys."
Brad Tolinski and Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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