Dave’s Underrated Albums … “In Through the Out Door” (1979) by Led Zeppelin

“In Through the Out Door” was the first music by Led Zeppelin I ever heard and I first encountered their music in the spring of 1981.  As a music fiend, I certainly was aware OF Zeppelin, but had never actually listened to them.  I even knew about this album since I followed the Billboard charts and it was a #1 album for 7 weeks during the end of 1979.  I was 11-years-old in the spring of 1981 and Zeppelin were a band that I associated with older, cooler people.  Various babysitters talked about them in hushed tones.  Older teens in my neighborhood, specifically the ones with long hair, dirt-staches, drove muscle cars with primer paint, and reeked of cigarette smoke seemed to REALLY dig Zeppelin.  Without hearing a note of their music, they seemed dangerous and something that would be way too heavy for me, despite the fact that I was a huge Alice Cooper and KISS fan.

So it was a major shock to hear “In Through the Out Door,” because despite some “heavy” guitar work here and there, this album wasn’t particularly heavy, let alone scary.  The first thing I noticed was that there was a LOT of keyboards and synthesizer on the album.  I actually had an “Is that all there is to fire?” moment when I listened to this. But … because cooler people than me held Zeppelin in such reverence, I felt that I couldn’t outwardly condemn this, even though I found it disappointing based on what I was expecting.  To put this in terms Gen-Y can understand, I expected Marilyn Manson, but heard Hootie and the Blowfish instead.

But … this album has grown on me considerably over the years.  While no Zeppelin fan in their right mind would place ANY of the songs from “In Through the Out Door” in a Top 10  (or Top 20, for that matter) of the greatest Zeppelin songs of all-time, what is here is damn good.  The opening track “In the Evening” is arguably the “heaviest” song on the album and while it won’t rattle your molars, it still rocks pretty hard. Forget “Stairway to Heaven” …  “All My Love” is THE prom song for the feathered hair and ruffled tux generation. “Carouselambra” is almost all synth, but becomes mesmerizing if you let it wash over you … being on a mind-altering substance while listening to it certainly doesn’t hurt.  “South Bound Suarez” is a song where the piano slams harder than the guitars. “I’m Gonna Crawl” is a wonderfully brutal mix of soul and metal.

“In Through the Out Door” is probably on no one’s list of favorite albums of all-time, but like a quirky old girlfriend or an odd movie you watched on an evening when you were in a great mood, its oddly satisfying.  There are significantly better Zeppelin albums and songs, but one must give the band props for trying to do something fresh when so many other bands of the era remained mired in the same head-banging formulas that earned them success. It’s too bad drummer John Bonham checked out soon after this was released.  It would have been interesting to hear what Zeppelin would have done going into the 1980s and beyond.

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“Whole Lotta Love” – Michael Winslow

OK … who out there remembers Michael Winslow?  For those who don’t remember, he was the guy that became notorious in the 1980s for making funny noises with his mouth in countless comedy films, most famously the “Police Academy” series and a couple of “Cheech and Chong” films.

In case you wondered, Winslow is still around … and still doing some amazing things with his voice.  Here’s Winslow doing a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” for a Norwegian talk show called “Senkveld med Thomas og Harald.”  Everything here, but the acoustic guitar is courtesy of Winslow’s mouth.  Prepare to have your mind blown … seriously!  Why someone hasn’t released this a single is beyond comprehension.

“I’m a Dreamer” – Sandy Denny

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My favorite Sandy Denny song, released before her tragic death in 1978. Denny is probably most famous for her duet with Robert Plant on Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle for Evermore.” But she was also the lead singer for English folk-rock legends The Fairport Convention during their most acclaimed period between 1968 and 1971. Her best-known song, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” has been covered by everyone from Judy Collins to Eva Cassidy.

If a biopic of Denny’s life had ever been made, Emily Watson would’ve been the definitive choice to play Denny.

“Big Log” – Robert Plant

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Much of Robert Plant’s solo work during the 1980s is hit or miss. 1983’s “Big Log,” however, is quite remarkable. From the album “The Principle of Moments,” this is a terrific “night song” if there ever was one. This is a song that sounds just about right when you’re driving at 1:30 am, with little traffic or lights around you … when you’ve got nothing to distract you … and you start really thinking about stuff … especially with those Ennio Morricone-style guitars strumming in the background. Too cool.

“Gilligan’s Island (Stairway)” – Little Roger and the Goosebumps

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A notorious but funny piss take on Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” from the punk era. Little Roger and the Goosebumps cover “Stairway to Heaven,” but substitute lyrics from “Gilligan’s Island” instead of the ones we all know … and maybe love … does it really even matter anymore?

Way funnier than it has a right to be, even though Zeppelin’s lawyers were not amused. They threatened to sue Little Roger and the Goosebumps and demanded that all remaining copies be destroyed back in the day. Maybe Robert Plant wasn’t informed … or maybe he came around … but according to Wikipedia, he said in a 2005 NPR interview that this was his favorite cover of “Stairway to Heaven.” Now thanks to the glory of YouTube, you can check it out.