Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 227
Tues. Oct. 1, 2013
“Communication Breakdown (BBC Sessions circa 24.6.69)”
For years critics and devoted followers have been trying to brand Led Zeppelin as originators of Heavy Metal but Jimmy Page has always resisted this distinction as he told author Mick Wall in his book, When Giants Walked The Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin, “I had a whole sort of repertoire in my mind of songs that I wanted to put into this new format […] I was seeing all this sort of dynamic. Because my tastes were all-encompassing, musically, it wasn’t down to one particular thing. It wasn’t just blues, it wasn’t rock’n’ roll. It wasn’t folk music or classical music. It went all the way through the whole thing.” Page was right he didn’t just invent Heavy Metal, craft almost perfect folk gems like “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” or perfect the bluesy style rock inspired by Robert Johnson; with this 1969 live BBC sessions version of “Communication Breakdown,” Page would unknowingly inspire The Ramones and spark the Punk Rock revolution in America.
Yes, you read right, Led Zeppelin created punk rock; Just ask Johnny Ramone who credits Page’s down stroke style “Communication Breakdown” as being the foundation for the sound of the Ramones. Mickey Leigh of The Rattlers was the one who not only introduced Johnny to Led Zeppelin as he explained in his book, I Slept with Joey Ramone: A Family Memoir, when he recalled this famous exchange with the future guitarist of The Ramones when he wrote, “One day, I started playing Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown,” and John was really impressed.
“Wow, you know about down strokes, huh?” John said.
“Whaddaya mean, down strokes?” I answered.
“Ya known, how you’re picking everything downward” John said, motioning.
“I’m just trying to play how it sounds.” I explained.
“Yeah, well that’s really important,” John told me. “Most people don’t realize that. That’s how rock & roll should be played. All of it! Everything should be a down stroke.” In retrospect, I believe Johnny had begun formulating the concept for the Ramones sound even back then.” Even Mick Wall agreed with Leigh when he wrote referring to “Communication” in his book, When The Giants Walked The Earth, “[…] with its spikey, down stroke guitar riff [“Breakdown”] was proto-punk; the sort of speeded up, one-chord gunshot the Ramones would turn into a career a decade later.”
While British punk rockers like The Clash’s bassist Paul Simenon were dismissing Page’s guitar styling’s when he famously said in 1977, “Led Zeppelin? I don’t need to hear the music—all I have to do is look at one of their album covers and I feel like throwing up.” The Clash’s punk rock brethren from across the pond refused Simenon’s advice and took in all Page’s and Led Zeppelin’s inspiration; without songs like “Communication Breakdown” there would have been no Ramones. Marky Ramone admitted as much telling in an interview with Misunderrated about Johnny’s devotion to Led Zeppelin when he said, “Yeah, he loves Jimmy Page and he also likes “Communication Breakdown”. Even though he’s not the lead guitar player, those are rhythm songs that’s why he likes that stuff.”
Johnny Ramone discovered the sound of The Ramones through the album version of “Communication.” The seeds of “Breakdown’s” aggressive punk style were augmented during Zeppelin’s dynamic BBC Sessions. It was during these performances that Page refined “Communication” as he told Brad Tolinski in Light & Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page, when Zep’s guitarist said, “I think we felt at the time that “Communication Breakdown” and “Dazed and Confused” in particular were most representative of what the band was about.” Jones agreed saying the performances at the BBC reflected the band’s attitude when he told Mick Wall, “We were very young and cocky at the time. I don’t think too many bands were doing the sort of improvising we were doing and the BBC allowed us the scope to do that on the radio. We were determined to make the best of every BBC radio opportunity.” Page concurred with his bassist specifically telling Tolinski, “It’s interesting to hear “Communication Breakdown,” evolve from performance to performance. It’s like looking at a diary. It’s not the best Led Zeppelin, and it’s not the worst. It’s what it was that night. Which, in most cases, was very good.”
More than just “very good” the June 24, 1969 rendition of “Communication,” is a 2:40 snapshot of what every punk rock band should attempt to emulate. Johnny Ramone was right to disregard The Clash’s musings and following the lead guitar styling’s of Jimmy Page. Even Rat Scabies drummer of The Dammed heard the dynamics in Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin’s explosive chord fury from “Breakdown” when he admitted to Barney Hoskyns in Led Zeppelin: The Oral History of the World’s Greatest Rock Band, “I really didn’t like any of the songs that were long, but they had really cool short-riff rock songs that motored with a pretty good energy. In 1975, we might even admit that “Communication Breakdown” had punk energy.”
Paul Simenon isn’t the only one who remained unconvinced about the furious punk energy of Led Zeppelin, in Michael Molenda’s The Guitar Player Book, Johnny Ramone talked about the post Ramones music world when he said, “Bands today don’t know what it takes to be great. They don’t see the great stuff, so it’s really hard for them to understand stand how it is to look a certain way and to have great songs. When I was a kid, it meant a lot to feel like the coolest guy in the neighborhood. But you’d go to a show and say, “Wow, that’s Led Zeppelin up there. They’re way cooler than we are.” Now’s its disappointing when I go to concerts, check out the stage and think, “Hey, these guys aren’t as cool as me.” Johnny’s right, but it’s more than just the attitude, if you’re an artist, writer or in a band, you need to know you’re rock history. The thing that made Johnny and The Ramones so timeless was that they understood the importance of Page’s down stroke guitar method and learned from the best—Led Zeppelin.
More than just a blues, folky, heavy metal band, Zeppelin were also the originators of the American punk rock revolution that was led by The Ramones. It wasn’t by accident that Jimmy Page crafted song that would inspire artists in so many different fields as he told Matt Snow in Q Magazine, “We knew what we were doing: treading down paths that had not been trodden before.” For all you unitiated doubters, press play and experience the post-punk styling’s of Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown.” From the BBC Sessions, this furiously explosive performance will make you believers. You will thank me for this one!