Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV

Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV
Published in 1971
Welcome back to TAP: Classics, where we expand your mind, body, and soul by writing literally hundreds of words about albums that almost everyone has already heard and given consensus that it is awesome and add our two cents to that amazingly large pile of money that has accumulated, stacking upon itself on list after list of best album evars and top rock and roll albums, and whatever else you think of.

I have to say, I'm not actually that excited to talk about Led Zeppelin IV here.  First, about what I am calling it, I know that the album doesn't officially have a name, so I have decided to go with the common convention and just call it Led Zeppelin IV.  But the real reason that I am not that excited to talk about it is because this is one of the grounds that has been tread over and over by people, and it's obvious what the strengths and weaknesses are of this album.  If you hate Stairway to Heaven, you will hate this whole album.  It has a real JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, fantasy vibe to it, and if that is not your cup of tea, then this will not be the cup of tea for you.

However, I promised that I would pump out some words about this album, so I'm going to.  I think that the way in here is the difference between digital media and analog media, and how the switch has made some interesting and strange changes to what we call an album today.

Ever since I was pretty young, there has been an optical data storage and retrieval system.  What this means is that the whole thing is based on a piece of round plastic being spun around at a pretty quick pace with a laser sweeping across it.  The system was created to hold a great deal more information on a bit by bit level than an  analog data storage and retrieval system.  This system traditionally was used in two areas.  One, computer data storage, where a magnetic tape was run forwards and backwards in a programmed sucession to retrieve data, preceded by punched cards that were just a very early optical storage system.  Two, audio storage, which also used magnetic tape for a while, which moved a tape over a magnetic head which read the bits and converted them to audio, which was preceded by a thing called a record.

A record is an interesting thing.  It's a round bit of pressed plastic with a continuous groove running in a spiral from the inside to the outside.  (Anyone older than me is rolling their eyes at this description, anyone younger is rolling their eyes at how stupid this was.)  The groove was pressed to different depths, and was traced over by a needle, which was set vibrating by the grooves, and produced sound on the other end.  This was the technology for a really really really surprisingly long time. Just to be clear, the first time this technology was used, a guy named Thomas Edison shouted his favorite nursery rhyme into it, and played it back.

The record is amazingly better than it's predecessor though.  The predecessor was a thing that took in large amounts of energy, could completely go off the chart, was highly inconvenient to pack up and carry, required free drinks at parties, and cared how you looked at it when it played funny.  These were called live people, and while they are really good for parties, they were somewhat inconvenient at parties, especially when there were limited amounts of drinks.  I'm not saying that a good party can't have a live band, but these considerations must be put into ones mind.

The record had some drawbacks too though.  For it's orders of magnitude better portability, it was somewhat limited by the fact that it could only play the songs that were on it at that time, and couldn't change any of the songs.  It was also pretty weak against water and fire based attacks (seriously, a pokemon joke, oh my god, I want to shoot myself for that one), and, in fact, it wasn't all that portable.  It took a lot of them to have a wide variety of songs, two turntables to keep them going constantly, and we're always getting scratched or fucked up by drunk friends (or so I hear, and am told by movies).

The format is to have a certain length of time on one side, followed by a certain length of time on the other side.  These two grooves are unchanging, and they play the same songs every time, only changing with the wear on the record.  The analog interaction between needle and record slowly wore away the fineness of the grooves over time, and gave the tones an interesting, warm sound that is desirable to many people.

Why am I talking about this in association with Led Zeppelin IV?  Because this is a record on which you can hear the two distinct sides, even today.  The first four songs are one side, and the second four songs are the other side.  They are carefully picked and put together that way, and it makes sense for them to go in that order.  The record has a natural ebb and flow and a very natural division.  I think it speaks to the difference in thought between a record, which is naturally two sided, and a cd, which is a one sided, front to back affair.  If you want to draw something on one side of a piece of paper, it's all there, there is no need to look at the other side, but to make one side flow into the other side takes skill and dedication.  

This is a great album, one that should be listened to.  Stairway must have been an amazing experiment at the time, because it is hard to not joke about it now.  It's a moving interesting record, from Black Dog, all the way through When the Levee Breaks.  It has many blues and rock influences, and is obviously an influence for a lot of bands to come.  But it is mostly, in my mind, a demonstration in the fact that making a record and making a cd are different processes, and have a different goal in a lot of ways.  Maybe the amount of data that is given to the producers of music is not a more is better proposition, but that more is more.  

Anyway, it's something to think about.  I want to thank Led Zeppelin for giving me a context to talk about all of this in, and you for reading it.  Also, I want to put the call out for more albums.  If this project is going to go for five days a week for however long it goes, I need two albums a week from the masses.  I'm covered for the next couple of weeks, but some more suggestions and more variation is always a good thing.

Next time, Gadget, Next time.

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