The World According to Keitho

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Black Dog: Seperating the men from the boys

Posted by keithosaunders on May 18, 2010

So many bands followed in the wake of Led Zeppelin, — Aerosmith, ACDC, Van Halen, and Black Sabbath — and some of them were pretty good. The best of them, such as Aerosmith, could turn out anthemic hooks with an ease that some would say rivaled that of Jimmy Page.

Here’s where they differed. Zeppelin made the complicated sound easy. Case in point is “Black Dog,” from the 4th (untitled) album, which on first listen sounds like a run of the mill blues-rock riff. But try counting the bridge. (the instrumental section with the guitar and bass unison) Is it in 4? Is it in 3? Both? Better yet, try playing it with your garage band and see how far you get.

John Paul Jones, Zep’s bassist is supposedly responsible for the arrangement, but this does not deter from the fact that the band pulled it off with offhanded aplomb that sounded like they barely broke a sweat.  Here is Jones’ on the writing of Black Dog:  “I wanted to try an electric blues with a rolling bass part. But it couldn’t be too simple. I wanted it to turn back on itself. I showed it to the guys, and we fell into it. We struggled with the turn-around, until John Bonham figured out that you just four-time as if there’s no turn-around. That was the secret.” 

This does not fully explain what is going on in the bridge, but at least it is an acknowledgement that something quirky is occurring.  What I really want to know is where do they consider one to be?  Is the beginning of the riff a pickup, or is it in fact beat one?  Is there a bar of 2 there or does it actually even out?  [By the way, this is why as a listener I am never comfortable with exotic odd-time jazz songs.  I’m too busy counting bars to enjoy the solos!]

And what about the band’s vocalist, Robert Plant? What did he have to do with all of this? He only had one of the great time feelings in rock history. He had to carry the melody by himself for the first four bars. It’s his pulse that set up the entire rest of the song. His best was so wide and so confident that he may as well have been a second drummer. Witness “The Ocean,” in which the group had a long 2 bar hold before all four of them entered as one.

This band was not to be trifled with.

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2 Responses to “Black Dog: Seperating the men from the boys”

  1. Ahh, Led Zep. It’s been many years since I read a record review about this band. I’ve been a fan for about 30 years now. Zep IV, is one of my 5 favorite rock albums of all time. When my wife first heard Black Dog several years ago (she’s younger than I am and didn’t grow up listening to the stuff), she thought they somehow got it wrong. The bridge you are talking about was just not what she was used to hearing from a rock n’ roll band. When I explained to her that they meant for it to sound that way, that they did it because THEY COULD, she started to catch on. But my favorite song on the album is “When the Levee Breaks.” Cool post about an Oldie But Goodie, Bill

    P.S. When the hell did “Stairway to Heaven” become a prom dance tune? It wasn’t back when I was in school. Seems bizarre to me.

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