Led Zeppelin ‘1’ – Audio Cassette

Led Zeppelin 1 audio cassette

I made a post about the Jimi Hendrix Experience the other day, taking a glance at their defining role in the birth of rock music. But Hendrix didn’t single-handedly invent heavy rock. He was a supreme innovator, but when it came to setting the musical paramaters of what we now refer to as hard rock, there was a much more direct instigating force. That force, was Led Zeppelin.

In truth, apart from Robert Plant’s vocals, there wasn’t a lot of difference in overall sound between Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and other early power bands like Cream. However, Led Zeppelin did have a different approach to their song arrangements. Jimmy Page’s seminal riff-based rock guitar contributions were probably only intended to serve as an element in a much wider whole in the earliest days of Led Zeppelin, but they would quickly overshadow the more bluesy guitar work of the time and become a style in their own right. The guitar ‘riff’ was really just a way of using a repetitive lead pattern in the context of rhythm playing rather than as a solo, but no one had previously exploited the principle in the way Jimmy Page did.

Page’s guitar innovations were seized upon by the rest of the band, and accentuated by John Bonham (drums) and John Paul Jones (bass), rather than treated as an incidental factor. It was this very focused unification of the musical instruments around a powerful new way of driving songs with a guitar that came to define the heavy metal style in the 1970s. Hendrix had begun to separate rock from blues in the mid to late ‘60s, but Led Zeppelin took things a critical stage further with this, their inaugural album, recorded in late 1968, and released at the start of 1969.

Undeniably, there are still plenty of very strong blues elements evident in this first Led Zep album, but it does also have the key ingredients of what was to become heavy rock/metal. Robert Plant’s vocal style – a theatrical and distinctive departure from late ‘60s styles – set a precedent upon which most singers in the metal genre would subsequently build. And whilst there still is a lot of variation and experimentation in the musical backings, it’s a heavy sound, and there are moments where you genuinely do feel like the band were mapping out a completely new style of music.

The cassette is interesting. I don’t know how old it is, but it’s clearly not an original 1969 product. It has the early ‘80s innovation of Dolby HX-Pro, and uses standard ferric tape rather than the chrome coated type more commonly associated with commercial cassettes in the mid to late ‘80s. Dolby HX-Pro allowed high signal levels to be recorded to standard ferric tape with enhanced high end response and minimal distortion – and those are precisely the characteristics this cassette displays.

In fact, when you look at the tape deck’s level meter and how far into the red the LED runs on playback, you expect distortion. But there is none, and the fidelity in the high frequencies is a lot more impressive than you’d expect from a ferric tape. What you’re hearing doesn’t correspond with what you’re seeing. If HX-Pro is responsible for that, I wonder why more purveyors of commercial cassettes didn’t take this route? The fidelity seems just as good as with chrome, and the music’s louder, with a more solid bass end.

The silver paper label looks very mid ‘80s to me, so I’m guessing that’s the period during which the tape was manufactured. It doesn’t show in the photo, but the screws holding the tape’s casing together are old-style slot-heads, not cross-heads.

I don’t know what’s gone wrong, but the song order on the cassette is different from the order listed on the inlay. The cassette label lists the songs as they actually appear on the recording, although some titles have spelling mistakes. The actual order is: SIDE 1Good Times Bad Times, Baby I’m Gonna Leave You, You Shook Me, Dazed And Confused… SIDE 2Your Time is Gonna Come, Black Mountain Side, Communication Breakdown, I Can’t Quit You Baby, How Many More Times.

However, the listing on the inlay is: SIDE 1Your Time Is Gonna Come, Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, Black Mountain Side, Dazed and Confused… SIDE 2Good Times Bad Times, You Shook Me, Communication Breakdown, I Can’t Quit You Baby, How Many More Times. I don’t know where this listing comes from, because the original vinyl album had the tracks ordered as in the previous paragraph, just like the cassette.

But this kind of thing comes as no great surprise with old cassette tapes. They were always the poor relation to vinyl albums when it came to record company focus. This tape, on the Atlantic label, has no problems whatsoever when it comes to sonic delivery. But the presentation is frankly quite pathetic. As I say, no particular shock, but I wonder how many music industry professionals would get away with spelling mistakes (like “Dazaed And Confused”), incorrect song orders and minimal attention to the inlay notes today?