“under the influence” (beatlesque)

I wanted to take a little time to try to give some indication of the vast scope and reach of the influence of the Beatles, and in particular, their influence on other musicians.  This has inspired everything from direct Beatle parodies such as “The Rutles” (featuring Neil Innes and Eric Idle) to tracks that sound very Beatle-like (such as any number of Raspberries, Badfinger, Todd Rundgren, The Move, Roy Wood, Knickerbockers, songs – and many, many others – see lists below) to whole albums of Beatles tribute (such as Utopia’s brilliant and very musical Beatles spoof album, “Deface The Music”, from 1980).

Even the world of jazz was invaded by the music of the Beatles, from Wes Montgomery and other guitarists of the day, inventing their own jazz versions of Beatles tracks, or someone of the stature of Ramsey Lewis, making, in 1968, an entire album of Beatles covers, all taken, amazingly, from the Beatles then-current 1968 “White Album” – in a completely unique and extremely jazz way.

Awesome inspiration, across all genres of music – the music of the Beatles actually can be called “universal” in its appeal, given the strange and disparate characters who breathe new life into a huge, huge range of covers and tributes and sound-alikes, from the very ordinary covers, to the truly bizarre spoofs, jokes and odd variations that abound the world over – everybody under the sun has had a crack at covering a Beatles song – and some go much, much further, either creating amazing near-carbon copies of Beatles songs (such as 1976’s “Faithful” album by Todd Rundgren – his “faithful” version of “Strawberry Fields Forever” is exquisite) or creating music that sounds so much like the Beatles, that it is actually thought to be by the Beatles (for some unknown reason, “Klaatu” was one such band, where folk thought that it was actually the Beatles, performing anonymously six or seven years after they had broken up…but, it was not).

For my money, there are other artists who create original music that is much, much closer in content and feel than the music of “Klaatu” (but, don’t get me wrong, “Klaatu” are a remarkable, very capable, and very interesting band to listen to – and, little-known fact, they are the actual authors and creators of the original version of the Carpenters’ hit single, “Calling Occupants (Of Interplanetary Craft)” – not too many people know that in that case, the Carpenters were doing a cover of…“Klaatu” !

I think, though, that in many ways, that the Beatles, and to a somewhat lesser extent, The Beach Boys, had a huge influence on musicians all over the world.  From Apples In Stereo to XTC, there are so many musicians, including some pretty unlikely characters, that have either covered Beatles songs faithfully (or unfaithfully in some cases), or have created either songs and/or albums of songs that mirror, mimic or even mock, the sound of the Fab Four.

I think that it’s very true what they say, that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, if that is true, then the Beatles have been flattered until they are completely flat, because so, so many musicians have cited them as a major influence, and have unashamedly copied their songs, their sound, their harmonies, their guitar playing, their bass playing, their song structures and so on – and the list of people who do cite the Beatles as a musical influence is just simply too long to print in this forum.

What always surprises me is the number of extremely progressive musicians who claim a serious Beatle influence, when you listen to the music of a band like Yes, or King Crimson – you wouldn’t necessarily immediately think “Beatles” – but Yes were obviously fans of the band, in the early days, they covered the Beatles “Yes It Is”, and I believe that both Steve Howe and Chris Squire have said they are fans of the Beatles music.  Robert Fripp has also acknowledged the influence of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club” band on him upon hearing the whole album on his car radio one fateful evening, and Beatles references are embedded, sometimes deeply, into the music of King Crimson – “Happy Family” from the third Crimson album, “Lizard” is an unconcealed tale of the Beatles breakup, penned by then-Crimson lyricist Peter Sinfield.

So sometimes, there are Beatle-influenced bands and musicians, where the music made by those musicians, music sounds nothing like the Beatles to our ears – but for them, the Beatles still loom larger than life, buried deep in their internal, musical DNA – just waiting to get out, in the form of new songs that are about the Beatles, influenced by the Beatles, or simply sound like the Beatles, intentionally (usually) or not (occasionally).  Perhaps yet another splinter-list should be “Songs That Sound Like The Beatles But Their Composers / Performers Did Not Intentionally Try To Sound Like The Beatles – It’s By Complete Accident” but I feel that my already non-legendary non-skills as a list producer have already fallen flat, and that’s too complicated for me to work out who did or did not “intend” to sound like the Beatles!  I don’t think I can write that list – but if you can – please do, and please send it in, and if it’s complete enough, I will post it here.

Speaking now as a guitarist, I don’t think I’ve ever met a guitarist who did not care for the guitar playing of  John Lennon or George Harrison, nor have I ever met a bassist who did not respect the massive skills of Paul McCartney on the bass guitar – the absolute, indisputable master of melodic bass playing – and when I listen to Chris Squire play, I do hear echoes of Paul McCartney’s style in his playing – especially the “high register” bass work.  This famed skill at playing beautifully in the higher and highest pitch ranges of the bass guitar has been imitated by many, but for me, well, it’s Todd Rundgren’s “Determination” that showcases this technique in an incredible way (see below for more on “Determination” ).

The same can absolutely be said for drummers admiring Ringo Starr, everyone knows that Ringo is not a “flashy” drummer, he doesn’t often “show off” but what Ringo has that many, many drummers do not have, is the steadiest tempo imaginable, and, a sense of when to play, and when not to – he always provides just the right amount of percussion to any given song, never overplays – just what is required.  This is borne out when you hear live sessions by the Beatles, while John, Paul and George make error after error in the earliest takes of any given song, it’s rare indeed to hear the almost metronome-like Starr make an error.

Even guitarists who also play bass get the whole “Paul McCartney high-register bass playing” concept, as can be evidenced by the multi-talented Todd Rundgren, from his 1978 solo album “Hermit Of Mink Hollow”, there is a brilliant track called “Determination” , which not only features pitched up, trebled up, “jangly guitars” but a beautiful, beautiful, McCartney-esque bass line, that just pulls the heartstrings as it flies beneath the open chords, beginning in the high register, and then sweeping down to become a bass again – McCartney’s early adoption of unusual styles such as playing bass melodically, playing bass in the very high registers, or playing bass in any number of innovative ways, not always melodic – playing with his low E string slightly detuned (as in the song “Baby, You’re A Rich Man”) or, playing the low E string so hard that it detunes as he plays (as can be heard in parts of the song “Helter Skelter”)  – has not gone unnoticed by Todd, and any number of other McCartney imitators.  Speaking of McCartney imitators, Eric Carmen and the Raspberries also recognise the genius of the Beatles front line which is evidenced by songs that closely resemble Beatles songs in form and content, lyric and guitar styles.

I wish more drummers were like Ringo, well, there is one that immediately comes to mind – Zak Starkey, Ringo’s eldest son.  Zak is a remarkably talented drummer in his own right (I was fortunate to see him perform with an early incarnation of “Ringo Starr’s All Stars” (a show which also happened to feature the above-mentioned Todd Rundgren) and, hearing Zak and Ringo Starkey nail the complex drum part of Todd’s “Black Maria” live was absolutely fantastic – Zak made it his own, but carried the band of mostly older musicians, through the set with his unshakeable rhythm, and he has certainly inherited Ringo’s steady hand – but Zak is also a thoroughly modern drummer, and in some ways, he goes far beyond his famous dad – which is what you might expect – I mean look at Jason Bonham, it’s the same thing, drummer with a famous drummer dad, and with that burden of being the son of a legend, they try that much harder to sound unique, and go beyond the “oh, he’s the son of Ringo…” or “oh, he’s the son of Jason” – and I am justifiably proud of both of them, for carving their own musical paths, and not relying on “dad” for their fame or ability, but making it on their own laurels.

witnessing one of the variations of “Ringo Starr‘s All-Starr Band”, on the 1989 tour featuring Todd Rundgren, it was remarkable to see Zak take sole control of the drums when Ringo went front and centre to sing, so for some of the classic Beatles songs that the band played, it was Zak on the drums rather than Ringo himself, but it absolutely mattered not, Zak did an amazing job on tracks like “With A Little Help From My Friends” and “It Don’t Come Easy” – and at other times, father and son played together, and that was truly a joy to see – amazing !

Two generations of Starkey’s, doing what they do best – playing the drums, and playing the music of the Beatles too – among other items from the various band members such as the aforementioned Todd cover – and “Black Maria” live  with Zak AND Ritchie Starkey is not something I shall forget any time soon – fantastic”!

And, because it was Todd’s big moment, Ringo was free to join Zak on drums, so it was the pair of them behind Todd – and you could see in Ringo’s face how much he enjoyed playing the song (I believe it was included in the set list, because Ringo always had liked the song, so much so that he insisted that it be the “Rundgren” moment in the concert – it being his favourite track off of Todd Rundgren’s seminal 1972 album, “Something / Anything”) and Zak was just head down getting on with the drum part – and that is the only time I’ve ever seen the song performed with two drummers – and if those drummers are Ringo and Zak Starkey, you know it’s going to go well – and it was an excellent cover, absolutely spot-on, and a real highlight of the show.

I don’t think anyone can argue that the Beatles had a very, very significant influence on musicians of many generations, and new generations of players are discovering the Beatles anew even now, in 2014, and are translating their experience of hearing Beatles material into their own new “musics” – so the process continues, of hearing songs influenced by the Beatles, even in new music created by young musicians – because, in 2014, maybe they just heard “Revolver” for the first time, and it absolutely blew their minds – just like it blew our minds back in 1966 when we (now, unbelievably, now we’re the “older generation”!) first heard it.

And – it’s undeniable – this is unforgettable music, genius music from the writing to the playing to the singing and even to the packaging – Beatle imagery is also something that has been oft-copied, and some of their most famous album cover designs have been copied again and again by so many bands.

Some of those copies are more on the side of parody, for example, Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention classic Beatles parody, made not that long after the original came out, “We’re Only In It For The Money” is directly made to look like a bizarre “version” of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and in some ways, the cover is the biggest part of the joke – the music on the album (which is brilliant, by the way – one of my favourite early Zappa / Mothers records) is not nearly as important to the parody as the album design was.  But the whole effect is…kind of hilarious 🙂

In particular, some of the most famous Beatles album covers, such as the “bendy” photographs of the band that graces the cover of their innovative “Rubber Soul” album have been imitated by many other bands, time and time again.  Even in the earliest days, the unusual photographs of photographer Robert Freeman (as in, the classic shot of the Beatles silhouetted against a dark background) as on “With The Beatles” (UK) or it’s US counterpart, “Meet The Beatles” has been copied many times over the last few decades.  But revolutionary cover art is difficult to come up with, so bands just borrow from the best…The Beatles.

No article about Beatles’ influence would be complete without mentioning two gentlemen from different eras of pop music, firstly, the ridiculously talented eric stewart of 10cc, who has performed Beatles songs live in concert with 10cc, and also has an undeniable streak of “beatlesque” harmony and sound on various tracks throughout the long career of 10cc – the best example is probably part 1 and part 3 of 10cc’s pop opus, “feel the benefit” – very “dear prudence” if I don’t mind saying so myself :-).  the other gentleman in question is from a couple of decades later, from the 1990s and beyond, and that is Jason Falkner; unwilling conscript into pop genius band “jellyfish”, after he escaped their clutches, went off on a very successful if low-key solo career – and again, the sound of his vocal harmonies, the beautiful chord progressions in his music tell me one thing: he, like Eric Stewart before him, is under the influence of the Beatles.  Personally – I cannot get enough of the music of 10cc or Jason Falkner, two generations apart, perhaps, but, united in their love for Beatle harmonies, jangly Beatle guitars, beautiful Beatle chord progressions, and even Beatle-like lyrics.

I started out writing this edition of the Beatles’ story by trying to create various lists of bands that sound like the Beatles, and then, albums inspired by the Beatles, and I was really only able to touch upon a very few – I know that I have missed out so, so many – and everyone has a different “take” on what bands sound like the Beatles, what albums are directly or indirectly inspired by the Beatles and so on.

Regarding my attempts at filling in these lists – I am ultimately not satisfied by my primitive attempts at “list-making”, and in searching the Internet for valid lists of bands that sound like the Beatles, I kept finding lists that made no sense to me, personally – that would always include every big rock band of the day, so it would always be “Pink Floyd”, “The Who”, “Jimi Hendrix” – and I don’t think any of those bands sound like the Beatles at all !  Yet, site after site would cite (ha ha, get it – site – cite) Hendrix or Pink Floyd as a Beatle sound-alike – but I cannot bring myself to agree with this, yes, Hendrix loved the Beatles, he played bit of Beatle melody in the middle of his own songs, he covered many Beatles songs – but, he doesn’t really SOUND like the Beatles, does he?  Maybe very vaguely, on a song like “Crosstown Traffic” perhaps – but, I’d say, if anything, that Hendrix influenced the Beatles, as much or more than the Beatles influenced Hendrix.

Jimi Hendrix sounds like…Jimi Hendrix, and no other, really – he is utterly unique.  Hendrix did absolutely love the Beatles, and would indeed, often insert a perfect bar of George Harrison lead guitar, into one of his own original songs, in live performance – and then give a little laugh, like it’s an “in-joke”  – “here’s a cool melody that I nicked off of the new Beatles disc, it’s called “Revolver…”.

As for Pink Floyd, it would take some real convincing for me to add them into the list –  I love a bit of early Floyd as much as anyone, but I do not hear echoes of the Fab Four in their music (you saw what I did there….”Echoes”…Pink Floyd – and, it was completely unintentional!) I am afraid I just don’t get it, these constant references to Pink Floyd sounding like the Beatles – maybe they are talking about the odd Syd Barrett track, I don’t know, but it just doesn’t seem right to me….so I did not add them in :-).  Yes, the Beatles and Pink Floyd did both play psychedelic music, but it was very different in nature – so, no, I don’t see the connection, musically.

So – please send in your additions and corrections to any of the lists, and I will update them periodically to reflect world opinion – I am not a Beatle expert (although I have read extensively about them, in particular, I started out years ago with Hunter Davies’ remarkable biography of the Beatles;  in later years,  I’ve studied the remarkable works of Mark Lewissohn, whose “The Beatles Recording Sessions” is like the Bible, to me, one of my most cherished and most often re-read Beatles information sources).

I will read anything and everything written about the Beatles, even now – and I cannot possibly compile complete lists of the type I am presenting here, so any and all input from readers would be much appreciated – please comment, and in your comments, submit corrections or additions to any of the lists, and every few months, I will compile all of the comments and update the lists – so over time, maybe, these lists will become relatively complete – which would be great, because we would be creating a useful, accurate, and complete Beatle resource – or rather, a resource of bands and albums that SOUND like the Beatles, anyway – why not?

Meanwhile, on the subject of the Beatles music, I’ve been very happily really enjoying my two latest Beatle purchases: from 2013, the two-double-CD “Live At The BBC” – volume 1 (from 1994) completely remastered, and a new volume 2 entitled “On Air” which is a fantastic addition to this wonderful series – four CDs chock full of radio performances, studio out-takes, and the Beatles chattering – a fantastic Beatles music resource, of early live tracks and one demo, and at this point I say, thank God for the BBC !  Luckily, they kept all of these Beatle recordings, so now they have been compiled for future generations to enjoy.

My other purchase, “The U.S. Albums” is a 13 disc monstrosity, but hearing the albums in the U.S. running orders for the first time since I was a child, is just remarkable – even though John Lennon condemned Capitol for messing with the Beatles’ carefully considered running orders, the odd, arbitrary, Capitol-created running orders are unfortunately for we Americans, what we grew up hearing, so even now, I am still startled by the UK releases – because the songs don’t arrive in the order my brain expects they will.  So now I have complete choice – if I want the real thing, I consult the Stereo and Mono boxes from 2009.  If I want the Capitol versions – I consult the US Albums from 2014 – very exciting stuff for Beatle-maniacs such as myself 🙂

The last time I bought this many Beatles CDs all at one go, was in 2009, when the long-awaited stereo and mono re-masters appeared – and of course, that was an essential purchase. Following that, though, I am truly amazed, and at the same time, very grateful indeed, that in 2014, I can almost casually pick up 17 “new” Beatles albums – four from the BBC, and 13 from Capitol – and that just makes my Beatles catalogue so much more complete and containing even more variations on their remarkable catalogue of music – beautiful, rockin’ Beatle music.

So we’ve gone down an alternative path this time, a path taken by the many, many musicians who revere the Beatles, and admire their music enough to copy it exactly, partially, or, some aspect of Beatle music has entered into their own songs, anything from a guitar riff to some high register bass work of a melodic nature, or a steady Ringo Starr back beat – so sometimes, you may have a completely unique song, but there is a section of it that REALLY recalls the Beatles very strongly – so, five percent of the song is 98 percent Beatle-like – but, the REST of the song is not !

As a musician and a guitarist, I do hear a lot of these “stand-alone” Beatle moments, it might be a few bars of music in a Jason Falkner or Michael Penn pop song that strongly remind one of the Beatles, or just a 10 second passage in a song on the radio – you hear “Beatlesque” bits of music almost every day, and I am often fascinated by them, sometimes, you work in your mind to try and figure out which Beatles song or songs is being referenced – sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes, it’s impossible to determine – but you do know, just by hearing, when something has the quality of being “Beatlesque”.


Lists Of Bands That Sound Suspiciously Like The Beatles


Bands Or Artists That Always Sound Like The Beatles:

The Rutles

Bands Or Artists That Often Sound Like The Beatles:

Badfinger – an Apple band

The Knickerbockers

James McCartney – son of Paul McCartney

The Move – featuring Roy Wood

Raspberries – featuring Eric Carmen

The Swinging Blue Jeans


Bands Or Artists That Occasionally Sound Like The Beatle


Apples In Stereo

The Bears – featuring Adrian Belew

Adrian Belew (ex-King Crimson) – solo artist

Electric Light Orchestra – featuring Jeff Lynne

Jason Falkner (ex-Jellyfish) – solo artist

Dhani Harrison – son of George Harrison

Jellyfish – featuring Jason Falkner

The Kinks


Julian Lennon – son of John Lennon

Jeff Lynne – Electric Light Orchestra – Harrison’s producer /  member of Traveling Wilburys

Aimee Mann – solo artist

Bob Mould (ex-Husker Du) – solo artist

Nazz – featuring Todd Rundgren

The New Number 2 – featuring Dhani Harrison – son of George Harrison

Andy Partridge (ex-XTC)

Michael Penn – solo artist

Michael Penn & Aimee Mann – couple (they did an incredibly lovely cover of “two of us” – gorgeous track)

Todd Rundgren – solo artist

Teenage Fanclub –  Scottish pop band

Utopia – featuring Todd Rundgren

Roy Wood (ex-Move) – solo artist

XTC – featuring Andy Partridge


Bands That Sound Suspiciously Sort Of Like The Beatles

Oasis – (in their dreams, anyway!)

Tame Impala


Albums That Are Directly Inspired By The Beatles

Fresh – Raspberries – 1974

Faithful – Todd Rundgren – 1976 (all covers album, including Beatles covers)

The Rutles – The Rutles – 1978

Archaeology – The Rutles – 1996

Deface The Music – Utopia – featuring Todd Rundgren – 1980

We’re Only In It For The Money – Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention – 1968

– visual parody of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band


Well-Known Known Admirers Of The Beatles – Musicians

Jon Anderson (ex-Yes)

Adrian Belew (ex-King Crimson)

Eric Carmen (ex-Raspberries)

Robert Fripp (King Crimson)

Liam Gallagher (ex-Oasis)

Noel Gallagher (ex-Oasis)

Steve Howe (Yes)

Eric Idle (ex-Rutles)

Graham Gouldman (10cc)

Jimi Hendrix (may he rest in peace)

Neil Innes (Rutles)

Aimee Mann (solo artist)

Andy Partridge (ex-XTC)

Michael Penn (solo artist) – brother of Sean Penn

Todd Rundgren (solo artist) – w/Nazz, Utopia

Chris Squire (Yes)

Eric Stewart (10cc)

Alan White (Yes)


Please – agree or disagree with my choices; send in additions, recommend deletions, recommend changes – and if there is enough input, I will periodically re-published updated versions of any Beatles lists that have appear in this blog series based on your input.

Meanwhile, maybe there are some artists noted here that you were not aware of, that have obviously studied the music of the Beatles and learned from it, and I am always happy to listen to any musician or band that sounds like the Beatles – so, if I have missed any truly obvious ones – please let me know, and again, I will update the list, too.

Happy listening – the influence of the Fab Four runs deep, traverses the entire globe, and only seems to be on the increase over time, as successive generations re-discover their music (often prompted by their parents, but still…) and then integrate parts of it into their own new kinds of music – a process that I hope goes on forever.

Nothing would make me happier, “in the year 2025” (another 60s pop joke for the older folk in the audience!!), let’s say, to hear a brand new song on the radio that sounds very original, but, completely Beatlesque at the same time – that would please me no end, because we then will know – young people are still listening to the greatest rock band that ever was – the fabulous Beatles – and they rock!!

I don’t know about you, but I am definitely under the influence of the Beatles – always have been, always will be – my favourite band from childhood, the first band I truly appreciated, and in actual fact, I literally “grew up” with them and their music, it’s a joy to still be listening to them now, in the year 2014, and feeling just as happy about it as I first did back in 1963, when I must have heard them on the TV, on the Ed Sullivan show – being only five then, I don’t directly recall it, but as it was repeated on TV every year or more often every year thereafter, I feel like I do remember it – and I do remember their later TV appearances directly.

What a remarkable group, and what a remarkable influence they’ve had on a remarkably talented group of very respectful and creative musicians – my peers I am proud to say, who also “grew up” with the Beatles.  There’s no better way to end up “under the influence…”


celebration day – led zeppelin live at the o2 arena – ahmet ertegun tribute concert

as a long-time fan of the mighty led zeppelin, I felt I owed it to myself to see how the band did after ageing ever so slightly.

the best way to do this nowadays is probably to go see “celebration day” – the film of the o2 arena show in london, the ahmet ertegun tribute concert – so last sunday, that’s what we did.  we could have waited for the DVD, but for some reason, I liked the idea of it being shown in a theatre, as if the ghost of the band was going on the road for one more tour of britain…

and to be truthful, also, to compare how they play in the film, with my own distant internal memories, of how they played “back in the day”.  in fact, the very, very first concert I ever went to, was led zeppelin at the san diego sports arena, in may 1973.  to this day, it’s still the loudest show I’ve ever been too, but also, one of the best rock shows I’ve ever been to, if I am honest.

I “grew up” with three huge guitar influences: hendrix, clapton, page.  this was the beginning of the “rock” phase of my teenage guitar playing years, and I dedicated myself to learning everything I could from these three – that funny riff in cream’s “politician”, that great high speed 8 note/7 note riff in e major, and descending solo, near the end of page’s masterpiece, “dazed and confused”, the odd almost middle eastern sounding lead solo of hendrix’ “purple haze” – all of these were studied and played and studied more and played…

after my starting point in music, the beatles, took up the time from when I was 9 until I was 13, when I reached that age – that’s where my real education in guitar started, at age 13, and for a couple of years, hendrixclaptonpage was really all there was to me.  I didn’t really “need” more – because these three were all deeply rooted in the blues (although eventually, over time, others DID begin to find their way in to the picture – billy gibbons, johnny winter, duane allman…).

I spent hours and hours and hours dissecting every solo and sound I possibly could.  with the most primitive effects known to man, I tried to make my guitar sound like that of my heroes.  a second-hand arbiter fuzz face, a vox wah-wah, a tape echoplex – that was about it, that’s all you had, and all you really needed.

I learned huge chunks of “led zeppelin I” by heart.  I struggled to emulate the beautiful blues in c minor that is “since I’ve been loving you” from the third album.  also from that album, the band I was in at the time, “pyramid” – well, we did a lot of unusual zeppelin covers, from “tangerine” on up to very, very complex works like “ten years gone” (boy did I ever struggle to learn those solos!) as well as (but not limited to) “good times, bad times”, “dazed and confused” or “the rover”.

later, in my next rock band (name unknown!), we played things like “the ocean” which is a hugely fun zeppelin song to play…

from “led zeppelin I”, after months of work, I could pretty much play the whole album from heart (as well as any 15 year old boy could play the solos of a guitarist he really, really admired!) – especially the lead solos from “good times, bad times” and “dazed and confused” – those were my specialities – I would take a crack at “communication breakdown” or “how many more times” sure enough, but “good times” and “dazed and confused” – now THOSE were the page solos that I wanted to understand and be able to play.

I think I did realise, even then, that page’s genius was a flawed genius, and in seeing this film yesterday (a very limited run of exactly two showings in our local stirling theatre) I think I can now understand some of the reasons why.

certainly, I could tell that in live performance, in the 70s, that page was a little bit…erratic.  sometimes, he was amazing, sometimes, he seemed quite…lost. or maybe “sloppy” is the word I don’t quite want to say.  when compared to my other two early heroes – well, hendrix also had problems in live performance, while clapton seemed to have it much more together as far as live performance went.

in the studio – where time is no object – page’s work with led zeppelin just got better and better (at least, until bonham’s death – after which, the band really just lost all heart – and who could blame them?) – in the studio, as always, jimmy was the master.

so why was there this slight edge of sloppiness in live performance?  I was fortunate enough to see the band play three times back in the day; once, my first concert ever in 1973, and then twice in one week, back in 1975.  and – they were amazing live, loud, fun, brilliant – fantastic.

fast forward then to the concert at the o2, so many years later – and even worn with time, they still sound great.  do not get me wrong – if you love led zeppelin – you will enjoy this film.

after my two years of almost exclusive hendrix / clapton / page listening and learning, as I matured, I started listening to more capable guitarists: zappa / fripp / belew became the new triumvirate, and prog, the new amazing music to strive towards….

years later again, I had a taste of the discipline of guitar craft, which drew attention to a lot of, curiously, jimmy page like habits of my own.  so all that prepared me for the strange but obvious relevation, the obvious reason why jimmy page is a little bit erratic in live performance:

he plays with just three fingers.

only once during the entire film (during which, there are a lot of great close ups of the fret work, which is brilliant!) did I see him use his fourth finger, and I think that was almost by accident.

I watched him playing these amazing solos, that I had grown up with and loved, and all those amazing heavy riffs – with three fingers.  I also feel that this is the same problem that hampers todd rundgren – who also, if you watch the films, seems to play mostly with three fingers.

one quarter of your vocabulary – gone. the other problem that adds to the problem is…facial expressions.  in guitar craft, this was identified for me as an issue – the fact that I was putting so much energy into pulling “rock and roll” faces, contorting my jaws and so on – that there was little energy left to play the guitar well.  I actually agree with this – it really can detract from your ability to concentrate.

and the problem for mr. page, to my mind was – I thought, my god, I would struggle to play ANY of those solos, if I were forbidden the use of my fourth finger.  some of the solos were incredibly awkward, with page barely able to hit the notes (because he was running out of fingers!) – because…he was only using three of his four fingers to fret!

it was maddening to watch, because I could see that he was making it far more difficult than it needs to be – if he had worked out the fingering using all four fingers – playing those solos, and those riffs – would have been much much easier to play! – both at the o2, and in his entire career as a guitarist…

I would say the same for todd, too, who is a brilliant guitarist; an absolute wizard in the studio – but live – and I’ve seen him many, many times – he can be all over the place – although his facial expression problems are nothing as bad as jimmy page’s are.

in hindsight, everything is 20/20, and in a way, who cares if they only play with three fingers – they are still great guitarists, playing great material, awesome riffs and awe-inspiring solos – and some of page’s solos, both in the 70s and at this one-off benefit concert for ahmet ertegun – were absolutely amazing

however, interestingly, a lot of the interesting things about page’s style that attracted me as a 15-year old guitarist – now, at the o2 concert, seemed to me to be the biggest weaknesses!  for example – the violin bow bit in “dazed and confused” – I loved that when I was a teenager, and yes, I had a violin bow, and I played that solo – and I played versions of the solo inspired from hearing live led zeppelin recordings – so I could play it studio or live – that bit seemed so clever and so inspired.

at the o2, it just sounded…lame.  pointless.  not inspiring, not clever, it just didn’t sound that good!  and I used to love that back in the day…

another example of this – is the wild theremin solo during “whole lotta love”.  again – if you just listened – it didn’t sound that good.  it looks great – but it doesn’t actually work as music. back in the day, a visual and sonic highlight – now, a sonic disaster that still looks fairly cool – but musically void.

I hope this means that I have matured, that these somewhat…sensational, theatrical elements just don’t have the impact on me that they used to.  that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy them – I just didn’t enjoy them as much as I used to…

I don’t want to give the impression that the film is bad.  quite the contrary.

it’s really quite amazing, although I do believe I could detect a fair amount of re-amping (i.e. additional effects added to parts of or to entire guitar solos after the fact – for example, when page was 20 feet from the pedal board, suddenly, his guitar “grew” a really detuned chorus…hmmm…) going on in page’s solos, and possibly, additional effects for plant’s voice too.  I hope I am wrong, but the three-year delay (or however long it was) from performance to film release, makes me think that page took some time to…uh…”improve” the sound of the band.

as far as john paul jones and jason bonham go – in my opinion, there was no “re”-anything needed; bonham is so like his dad it’s uncanny, and his playing is simply superb.  rock steady when it’s supposed to be, on up to a “keith moon-like” blur of rolling, cymbal crashing mayhem/madman/insanity…

powerful. accurate. a rock drummer to die for – and the only possible “replacement” for bonzo.

and jason has another very, very useful skill in a band that traditionally, only really had one singer – he can sing.  on a couple of numbers, he would don his headset, and without missing a beat, he would sing perfect harmony to robert plant’s lead vocals.  this made a huge, huge difference to the sound of those songs, and was a crucial element in “misty mountain hop” – a great tune, and the version here, with bonham junior on perfect john bonham drums and backing vocals – is a scorcher.  “what…what do you think I saw??”

jason’s singing added a whole new dimension to led zeppelin live – a led zeppelin that now suddenly has “vocal harmony” on stage!!!  sure, I know that jason’s dad did sing on “the ocean” and maybe on other live pieces, but jason was really doing the whole nine yards – impossibly difficult drum part, AND harmonising with robert plant – at once – live – no problem.

of course, though, it’s john paul jones who is, as has been said, “the revelation here” – and if you are not familiar with just how capable he is – you need to see him here – playing clavinet and bass pedals (yes, with his feet – a la hugh banton of van der graaf generator – those two are the only two who can use all four limbs to be both keyboardist and bassist – remarkable!) on “trampled underfoot” or electric piano and bass pedals on “no quarter” or mellotron and bass pedals on “kashmir”…

he’s calm, he’s assured – and he is simply, a brilliant musician.  his bass playing is absolutely assured, and he even takes a turn at fretless bass – no problem.  as we’ve seen from his solo career, too – the man can play anything.

as for the curly-haired lead singer – well, he sounds fuckin’ great.  he doesn’t try for the high notes so much (wisely) as finds another melody that works just as well. this is one of the best robert plant performances of any kind that I have ever seen, and he totally reinvents these stage-worn songs – I even enjoyed “stairway to heaven” primarily because robert sang it so beautifully here.  and I was totally burned out on “stairway” – from too much radio play back in the day – but this time, I actually almost enjoyed it again – and, nice to watch jimmy have a go at the “how fast can I switch between 12 string and 6 string” on his beautiful double necked gibson sg.  sigh.

the answer? pretty damn fast.

just prior to the big, final guitar solo, he’s playing the 12 string, and he plays a c major chord; then a c major chord with a b in the bass…and then, the song requires that on the next beat, that he hit the first note of the guitar solo – so he literally slams his arm down across the switch and hits that note on the 6 string RIGHT bang on time – I was really actually very impressed, because in the old “song remains the same version” – he played a few bars of chordal jamming BEFORE going to the solo, to give him time to switch – but not now, now, he plays it LIKE THE RECORD – and nails it – somehow.  and I really do love that final solo, it just rocks – I don’t think I enjoy any other version of the somewhat careworn “a minor, g major, f major” chord progression more – it’s in so, so many songs, from “all along the watchtower” all the way to “stairway to heaven” – but in the latter, it just rules.

so I found myself enjoying songs that I thought I disliked or was very tired of, and of the songs I liked, well, they did a LOT of those, and they did a lot of those…very, very well indeed.

I think that the secret of led zeppelin, well, not the secret maybe, but one of the main factors that makes this somewhat unlikely quartet “work” – is simply that the rhythm section are so tight, and so talented (don’t forget that john paul jones was the mature, “older” studio musician, producer and arranger even before page was, back “in the day”) that if robert or jimmy wander off-course a bit (and, we have to admit it, they sometimes do…) that – it doesn’t matter, because that anchor – that bass – those amazing bass drum pedals, those pounding toms – is rock solid.

not that robert or jimmy strayed far from the plot in this film, well, sometimes, jimmy absolutely did, to be honest, but he always ended up back where he belonged in the end.  they rehearsed for six weeks for one show (well, that’s what plant seems to be intimating in the film, anyway) which is quite a bit, really – but I think it still came down to skill, experience and professionalism more than anything else – there are bits of zeppelin songs that are almost entirely formless, and I could see that they had to work at cues, they had to figure out how to “climb back in” from that musical limb that they had crawled out on…

as far as the choice of material, mostly, it’s great, personally, I could do without “in my time of dying” because I’ve never really cared for it, so that might be the low point (and, if I am entirely honest, I don’t think that page on slide guitar really convinces – he’s not the best slide player in the world), but otherwise, the song selection was really good, a great variety of songs from just about every album, at least the first six albums – and there were some really important pieces of music in there too – such as “the song remains the same” which is a huge highlight for me personally, a very proggy moment for zep, but played brilliantly here (page is on fire, and the solos are almost incendiary – fast, exciting, and powerful – great 12 string – great vocal from robert – a fantastic performance)  – as well as rockers like “trampled underfoot”, “misty mountain hop”, “black dog”, and the final encore, of course, “rock and roll” – all those great songs from all those great albums…it was really quite something.

and yes, a really quite good version of “since I’ve been loving you” as well, with the amazing john paul jones on mock hammond b3 organ – and page, erratic but beautiful on that fabulous lead guitar part…

the fact that the final encore was “rock and roll”, it just strikes me now, really brings me full circle with my led zeppelin experience, because that was the FIRST song they played when I saw them at my first concert in 1973!!! over those 35 plus years, it had made it’s way from the start of the set to the end of the set – which kind of parallels my own journey with this amazing, amazing – but ever-so-slightly – erratic band.

if you are lucky like me, and you did see them in the 70s  – then this is a chance to see them fully mature, in some ways, more at the height of their powers when they were…at the height of their powers!

I love them, my partner and I both really, really enjoyed the film – we are both big fans of the band, and we both thought the film much, much better than we expected – and, it’s a full two hours + concert, so you can sit back and finally “see” – and hear – led zeppelin – loud and clear – if you missed them the first time around, having a really good go at their legacy of remarkable music – and what a catalogue it is – 10 amazing albums, and so, so many great songs – including some surprises…

for example, I never really used to care much for “ramble on” (I am not, in general, a big fan of led zeppelin II, if truth be told) but after the great opener, “good times, bad times” they then played a version of “ramble on” that I thoroughly enjoyed (which included a little bit of “what is and what should never be” at the end) – it worked really, really well live.

another song I didn’t think I would enjoy – but really did – was “nobody’s fault but mine” – with a much improved lead vocal, and some very, very tight riffing on that amazing high speed riff – with page, john paul jones, and bonham all working together in perfect harmony, a riffing monster machine – and page looking happy – reasonably healthy.

that jimmy page can play those solos with just three fingers is nothing short of amazing, I guess he never wanted to take the time to relearn how to play with four fingers – if I am honest, I mostly played with three fingers for my first 17 years of playing – and then, I learned how.  and now, I can’t imagine trying to play without all four fingers – I am not sure I can do it.  I would have to force myself NOT to use my fourth finger – like intentionally tying one hand behind your back before entering the fray…

but then, I guess if you are a songwriter and composer of the ability of a jimmy page or a todd rundgren, and, you can spend endless hours in the studio perfecting just the right lead solo for your sonic masterpiece – that it doesn’t REALLY matter if you play with three fingers.  but – think how good these guitarists might be if they DID play with four…

as writers, and in the studio, I don’t find much wrong with anything either guitarist has done (well, ahem, there are a few todd albums I could do without – TR-i, anyone??) – but live, well, it’s more difficult, so it was a bit of a shock to realise – that the reason that there is something “odd” about the way page looks when he plays – ah, so THAT is why! – when I noticed that he only uses three fingers on his fretting hand, to play the guitar during the film.  just like todd – and probably a fair number of other very accomplished guitarists, too…

but if you didn’t watch – you might not have known – because he PLAYS the solos, he makes it through – and it sounds good, most of the time.  some of the guitar solos sort of…fizzled out, or went nowhere a bit – but not often, and then, usually followed by something really beautiful or amazing – so I could forgive him a lot.

another really strong performance was “kashmir” – again, just being able to watch what john paul jones is doing – playing two keyboards, one with each hand, and bass with his feet – really is a revelation.  and you tend to forget – this music, at the time, well, there was nothing on earth quite like “kashmir” (and really, there never has been since!) – and as a song, it’s really stood the test of time – and the o2 performance is a brilliant one – perhaps one of the film’s very best moments.

for musicians aspiring to play the works of led zeppelin, this is a GREAT film, because there are lots and lots and LOTS of the kind of close-ups that rarely appear in films of bands – that you always wish were there so you could “see how they do it” – well, in this film – you can.

for example, I learned that I am not playing the piano part of “no quarter” quite right – so when I get the DVD, I can sit down and “fix it” – and by the way, that’s another real highlight, a fantastic rendition of a great song from a great album – and of course, it’s john paul jones at the helm completely, with jimmy doing his level best to play the very, very difficult lead guitar parts. one of plant’s best vocals of the show – when they hit that b flat ninth chord, and then move up to the e flat – I just get the shivers, what a beautiful chord progression…

“they’re wearing steel that’s bright and true…to build a dream for me and you”…


I recommend this film highly to all fans of led zeppelin, OK, they are not quite as young as they were the first time I saw them play, it is a shock to see jimmy page with pure snowy white hair – but given the lives they’ve led, they have aged reasonably well – and this concert still packs one hell of a punch (despite just how much time has passed since 1969!) – it rocks – and it’s a great part of the led zeppelin legacy, and I for one, am really glad that they got together to do this before it was too late.

if for nothing else, you owe it to yourself to see the john paul jones / jason bonham team at work, or rather, hear them – they are just nothing short of remarkable, and I knew that jason bonham was a good, good drummer, who knew his dad’s repertoire – but I was wrong about that – jason bonham is an amazing drummer, who knows his dad’s repertoire inside and out, and has actually built on it, added to it, added in his own personality – new rolls have appeared, new timings, new cymbal smacks – he’s taken his dad’s already amazing drum parts, modernised them a little, jason-a-fied them a lot – and it just rocks – and john paul john’s on the bass – he’s just sublime, he is effortless, and some of his bass parts are really, really tricky.

really though – all four of them sound great!  they really do – robert’s voice is in fine form, it’s not tired, or cracked, or strange – it’s just good – and his singing, his sense of melody is so much more mature and beautiful, it’s really good.  jimmy plays some blindingly good and very cool guitar, and it’s great to “see” these solos at long last – of course, I’ve seen some of them, I KNOW some of them, but you get really good close ups of a lot of parts that you haven’t “seen” before – and the rhythm section – well, we already know about them.


“celebration day” – which, ironically, they do not play at this concert (in fact, only one track from led zeppelin III makes it into the set list, “since I’ve been loving you”, which is such a shame – and – sadly – no acoustic set at all) is a really beautifully shot, clear and great-sounding record of an extraordinary concert – be there!


a fantastic way to spend a lazy sunday afternoon…