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Sacred Cows, Led Zeppelin and Does the Song Remain the Same?

C. Michael Bailey By

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"Sacred cows make the tastiest cheeseburgers" —after Abbie Hoffman (1936-1989)

I have always said of popular culture, that like a McDonald's cheeseburger, it is to be consumed but never considered. Much of music is nothing more than a reflection of popular culture and certainly falls beneath that grand proclamation. A good deal of hip hop and all of dubstep, electro house, post-hardcore and what passes for R&B today will not be remembered, much less heard regularly, in fifty years. While popular culture may become "classic" culture, it does not do so wholesale.

The same cannot be said for that music made between 1955 and 1975, comprising what some commercial radio call "classic rock," who's staying power is no more evident than twisting the knob on the car radio. No, this is music that has proven to be something much more that simple entertainment, something much more sacred and vital.

In his tribute to Johnny Cash on the artist's death in 2003, commentator and VH1 Executive Director Bill Flanagan opined on the CBS program Sunday Morning:

"It's becoming more apparent with every year that goes by that the period from the mid-'50s to the mid-'70s was a golden age for popular music. To have lived in the era where Cash and Presley and The Beatles and Stones and Aretha [Franklin] and Dylan and Miles Davis were around is like to have lived in Paris during the time of the impressionists. That era is moving away ... We can assume that these musicians who loom large in our culture will always be around. They won't. We should appreciate them while we have them because someday we'll turn around and they'll be gone."

When one considers that the popular music made between the two World Wars fell into antiquity by the early '50s, and that we are still listening to music from the "Golden Age," defined above, fifty years later defines "staying power." How many movies released since 2000 have used the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" as part of the soundtrack? I rest my case.

Saying this serves to lay the groundwork justifying the discussion of a particular long-playing (LP) record (a "double album," actually) and movie from yesteryear that fairly well failed to move me at the time and one I have often cited as one of the poorest live recordings released...much to the chagrin of others.

I seem to have been in a scant minority of naysayers regarding Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same, as I was to learn, all too well, 30 years after its release.

While reviewing The Rolling Stones: Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! The Rolling Stones In Concert (40th Anniversary Deluxe Box Set) (Abcko Records, 2009), I made the following comment:

What is the measure of a great live music recording? That answer would be intellectual brevity, spontaneity and invention. A better illustration would be examples of poor live recordings ... Ergo, Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same (Swan Song, 1976) ... is certainly full of the invention part, too much of it, in fact. The Song Remains the Same was guitarist Jimmy Page's masturbatory opium dream full of noodling around and self-pleasing, self-aggrandizing (translation: "boring").

From this position, I received the following dissenting feedback:

"The Song Remains the Same was guitarist Jimmy Page's masturbatory opium dream full of noodling around and self-pleasing aggrandizing (translation: "boring")?" Obviously you couldn't recognize or appreciate a musical genius the likes of Jimmy Page sic [I doubt you've ever listened to it in its entirety]. The Song Remains the Same is Page's guitar masterpiece. Although you did do a good job plagiarizing the description of the movie.

and As soon as I heard your description of The Song Remains The Same, you lost ALL credibility! You don't deserve a column to write...

Yikes! That is easily the worst dressing down I have received since starting to write about music 25 years ago. Immediately, these comments illustrate two things: one, we Baby Boomers take our music seriously (and I hope the posters are fellow Baby-Boomers, because if they are younger, they can take the proverbial flying leap at the proverbial rolling "O")... and why not? It was and is pretty special, and the soundtrack of our collective youth is absolutely something about which to be this passionate. Somehow, I cannot imagine Rihanna or Drake garnering as much attention 50 years from now as Led Zeppelin continues to. Second, the readers betrayed a complete lack of context that perhaps I unfairly have, writing about music released nearly 40 years ago. But Then again, maybe not. And, if so, too effing bad.

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