“They’re a once in a million band. That’s what separates the greats from the goods; the bands that we still talk about are the ones that kind of fluke it in terms of how they got together.”
Even’s Ash Naylor has been obsessed with Led Zeppelin for over 30 years.
For those who don’t know the Led Zeppelin origin story: here’s a quick primer. Jimmy Page knew John Paul Jones from around the traps, both starting out as guns for hire session musicians. Robert Plant was suggested as a singer and he in turn roped in his good friend John Bonham to play drums.
It lays the foundation for so much that came after it.Ash Naylor — Double J, 2018
Each of the members possessed their own remarkable skills, but collectively they fuelled and fused to become one of the most influential bands of all time.
“A band with four virtuosos is not a common thing,” Naylor says.
He recalls being blown away by songs like ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Rock and Roll’ when he first heard them on AM radio in the 80s.
He’d been a KISS fan before that, but these howling, heavy, bluesy marvels from Led Zeppelin’s fourth untitled album provided him with a moment of clarity.
“I realised, ‘I’m changing’,” he says. “It was a revelation, and it has been since then.”
Led Zeppelin had broken up by this stage and amongst the glossy, hyper colour pop and soft rock of the 80s, their songs seemed out of place and uncool. But that was of no concern to Naylor.
“I didn’t know what was cool or not, I just knew what made me believe in music,” he says.
In 2014, Naylor organised a band and cast of vocalists to pay tribute to Led Zeppelin’s 1972 Kooyong show, their only ever visit to Australia.
As a fan who’s loved, absorbed and learned to play many of their songs, he is well positioned to share what makes the songs from this fourth instalment so great, in particular the ubiquitous but still magnificent ‘Stairway To Heaven’.
“It’s the drama of it,” he says of the album’s centrepiece and specifically its climactic guitar solo.
“It’s in a minor key and that always evokes drama. Also, as a guitar player, it’s within reach. A lot of the scales are minor blues scales. When you’re tooling around as a junior player, you can chance upon the minor blues scale, before you might discover other scales.
“Jimmy Page had a lot of patterns that evolved. When you break down his solos, a lot of licks repeat and re-emerge. To me, that solo kinda epitomises the minor blues approach, there’s something menacing and epic about it, and it’s within reach. You don’t have to be a shredder to get your head around it.
“And it’s not just a mindless solo, it has form and it actually goes somewhere. A lot of solos are blazing away, that one seems to have composition – a start, a middle and an end. It’s stupendous, it’s one of those moments in rock where, all these years later, we’re still talking about it. It lays the foundation for so much that came after it.”
The production on IV stands out too.
“The clarity and power, the separation of sound, the standard of work is phenomenal. It’s powerful, but doesn’t bludgeon you. It’s the kind of record that slaps you in the face then gives you a warm hug. ‘Going To California’ is one of the most beautiful things they ever did and ‘Black Dog’ is one of the dirtiest things they ever did.”
Aside from the power, imagination and incredible proficiency on display in the songs, the record’s mythical status was tantalising as well.
The nondescript album sleeve, the fact that it’s untitled, with only symbols given to represent each band member, the strange old man carrying a bundle of wood on the cover, and various Tolkien references in songs like ‘The Battle of Evermore’ and ‘Misty Mountain Hop’.
The band weren’t aiming to be mysterious, though. It was a deliberate effort aimed at dispelling certain press criticism of the band as ‘hype’. In response, they urged listeners to judge them just by their music.
Led Zeppelin fans will all have different records that they’d deem to be the defining classic and Ash Naylor isn’t willing to make a call on that front. But IV remains an emotional favourite, because he discovered it at a young age and so clearly recalls its effect on him.
But what he will say about the fourth Led Zeppelin album probably won’t raise much of a raging argument amongst the diehard followers.
“It’s the essence of the band,” he says. “If you’re boiling down the band to their purest form. [IV] is a band at the absolute peak of their powers.”