Alfred Music have put out a number of Led Zeppelin music books over the years, but as a very amateur level player, I find that their guitar tablature titles are the easiest to use. In conjunction with the recent release of the concert DVD Celebration Day (which will be reviewed separately), they have just issued three excellent Led Zeppelin guitar TAB books, and a companion piece of sorts to last year’s Led Zeppelin Guitar TAB Anthology, this one for piano, with 20 songs notated. What makes the guitar books so special is that each focus on a full album, rather than being sort of a random “best of” as the earlier Led Zeppelin Guitar TAB Anthology was.
The first of these is Celebration Day, which features all 16 songs they performed at London’s O2 Arena on December 10, 2007. I suppose that this could be called a “best of,” as the set they performed that night was drawn from their entire career. What I found particularly impressive were the TABs for two songs from Physical Graffiti, “In My Time of Dying,” and “Kashmir.” Both of those songs are incredibly complex, yet with the TAB notation, at least there is something of a road-map to them for a guy like me.
The first eight pages of Celebration Day are in full color, and include shots of the band from the concert. After that is “Guitar Tablature Explained,” which shows the three different methods used. The methods employed are rhythm slashes, musical staves, and in tablature. When you see the methods explained and look how they are used in the sheet music, the notations become very clear. I think most people will opt for the tablature form, as it shows you exactly which strings and frets are to be used.
It sounds very basic, but believe me, even with this sort of a “cheat,” you still have to get the rhythm and intonations down. Jimmy Page is one of the world’s most respected guitarists for a reason. It must have taken an enormous amount of effort to reproduce what he does in tablature.
One of the keys in attempting to “crack the code” of Page’s playing are the various methods he uses in each song. “Directions for Special Notation” follows “Guitar Tablature Explained.” There are 16 examples which include various bends, slides, pull-offs, palm muffling, and more. In addition to the tablature transcriptions, the book also includes the chord symbols, chord diagrams, and lyrics for each song.
The publisher also offers a line of books titled Alfred’s Platinum Album Editions, which focus on one album by a particular artist. Along with the Celebration Day book, they have just issued Platinum Album Editions for Physical Graffiti and Presence. There are actually two versions available for each, one for guitar TAB/vocal and one for drums. Since I am not a drummer, I am just going to focus on the guitar TAB/vocal books.
The 15 song double-album Physical Graffiti was released on February 24, 1975. It holds the distinction of being the very first album to ship platinum. Unlike a platinum-shipped disaster such as the soundtrack to the film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band a couple of years later, retailers did not return any copies of Physical Graffiti.
In the Platinum Album Editions, Guitar World editor Brad Tolinsky writes a Forward to explain the ongoing significance of the recordings in question. In his opening paragraph regarding Physical Graffiti he says, “Choosing Led Zeppelin’s best album is a fools task at best, but it could be argued that Physical Graffiti, their sixth record, was the first album lengthy enough to showcase the complete breadth of a vision that had been in place since the group’s debut in 1969”
These Platinum Album Editions appear to authorized projects, so I am guessing that Tolinsky chose his words carefully. He obviously was not prepared to just come right out and say it, but I think most Zeppelin fans would agree that Physical Graffiti is the band’s finest moment. There is an old argument, dating back at least to The Beatles’ White Album, that most double albums would be better if pared down to a single. In some cases, that theory holds water. But in the case of Physical Graffiti, it does not. I challenge anyone to tell me what songs they would remove to make Physical Graffiti a better single disc.
I am old enough to have bought Physical Graffiti when it was released back in 1975, and I still have it. There are a number of reasons for this. One is the fantastic packaging. The cover shows a tenement building, with holes cut out for the windows. Depending on which way you put the album sleeves in, you have your choice of four different covers. The way it was sold in the stores had the letters that spelled out the words “Physical Graffiti” in the windows. But if you turned the sleeve around, or put the other one in, you had numerous famous characters inluding King Kong, Flash Gordon, Elizabeth Taylor, and even the Virgin Mary hanging out at the Led Zeppelin building.
Besides the great packaging though, there is the art form of programming an LP side which has simply been lost today with the demise of the format. Jimmy Page was a master at this, and each of the four sides tells a distinct story. This is where the idea of excerpting Physical Graffiti becomes ludicrous. You pull one song out, and you unravel the whole thing. It could be argued that the six songs which made up the first album, and the nine songs that make up the second could have been released as separate LPs, but why? There is not a single “dud” on the set.
Just over a year later, on March 21, 1976, Presence was released. Once again in the Alfred’s Platinum Album Editions Forward, Brad Tolinsky offers his take on the record. As he notes, “Presence is Led Zeppelin’s darkest and most personal recording. Singer Robert Plant calls it ‘a cry from the depths,’ and guitarist/producer Jimmy Page admits that ‘it’s not an easy album to listen to.” Tolinsky concludes, “Raw and real, the album is simply devastating.”
Back in the days when there was a music business, I was in charge of ordering discs for a chain of stores. There were certain catalog items that had to be replenished practically weekly, and Led Zeppelin’s fourth “untitled” album was one of them. Presence was not. It is not only one of the most intense guitar albums ever made, it is one of the most intense albums period. Definitely not easy listening.
The album opens with the 10:25 “Achilles Last Stand,” and it is a monstrous guitar-orchestra of a track. I wondered just how in the hell anyone could dissect this piece into tablature form, but somehow they did. The full guitar TAB score for the song runs some 30 pages. It is what I would consider “Master Level” guitar playing from Page, and Robert Plant’s vocals are the perfect complement. For those who have never heard “Achilles Last Stand,” it is kind of beyond words to describe. Plant’s comment about it being “a cry from the depths” is as accurate as any.
All seven songs that make up the album are here, including the (relatively) fun rockabilly-ish “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” Besides “Achilles,” the heavy blues closer “Tea For One” is another amazing guitar workout. The track runs 9:27 on the album, and the transcription of it is as thorough as that of “Achilles,” although it “only” takes up 18 pages.
Both of the Platinum Album Editions contain much more detailed information regarding how to use the books than the one for Celebration Day does. There are actually three full pages at the back of the books that explain the various ways of bending notes, articulations, harmonics, rhythm slashes, pick direction, and how the tremolo bar is used. This is all highly informative material for guitar players of every level, unless you just happen to be Jimmy Page that is.
The fourth book in this holiday season Led Zeppelin celebration is the Led Zeppelin Piano Sheet Music Anthology. As mentioned previously, this is very similar to the Guitar TAB Anthology released last year. The editors have chosen 20 Zep classics from their eight studio albums, and have notated them for piano, guitar and voice.
Although this Anthology is primarily for piano, it contains the chords for guitar, and the lyrics. This is the basic format, the type that has been used since the beginning of the sheet music publishing industry. Since I only have a rudimentary knowledge of piano, I will let someone more qualified speak to that element of the book. For a guitar player though, you get the basic chords to each song, which is a start.
In looking through the 20 songs included in the Led Zeppelin Piano Sheet Music Anthology I noticed that every album in their catalog is represented, except for Presence. That is really no surprise though, as Presence is almost a pure guitar album. There is nothing from the Coda record either, but then that one was basically an outtakes collection released after the death of John Bonham, so I do not really include it in the “canon” anyway.
The music Led Zeppelin made in their 11 years together represents an enormous body of work. The whole band put their all into everything they did, and it shows. The albums Physical Graffiti and Presence contain some absolutely brilliant guitar work, and I cannot imagine just how much work it took to actually tear down those songs, and solos to their roots, and show us in tablature form every note that Jimmy Page played. This holds true for the 16 songs they performed for the concert as well. By the way, even though Page adds and subtracts various elements in performance, the TABs for the songs on Celebration Day are the same as those in the Platinum Album Editions.
I think the reason that there is so little piano music available for the band is fairly simple. When the keyboards of John Paul Jones were featured, as on “No Quarter,” for example, he was brilliant. But Led Zeppelin were Jimmy Page’s group from the outset, going back to their days performing as the “New Yardbirds.” Basically, Led Zeppelin were a guitar band.
As an admittedly amateur level player, having these songs in tablature form is very cool. I must say though, that even with every note and playing accent spelled out for you, it is still a very difficult task to learn these songs. For me, playing guitar is a great hobby though, and these books offer at least the possibility of learning some of Page’s tricks. And I would be remiss in not mentioning the value of having the lyrics. Robert Plant enunciated his words pretty well, but there have been a few lines that I was never quite certain of. With the inclusion of the lyrics, I’ll never wonder again about certain words in a song like “Kashmir“ for instance.
These books offer players of all levels a “way in” to the mysteries of Jimmy Page’s playing. What I have already found out from messing around with some of the techniques has already noticeably improved my playing. I doubt if I will ever be able to reproduce Page’s solo from “Achilles Last Stand,” but that is ok. It sure is fun to try, and what you pick up along the way is definitely as important (maybe more so) than actually learning to copy him note for note.
The guitar TAB books especially are highly recommended for players at literally every level of ability, and I am sure that piano players will enjoy the Piano Sheet Music Anthology also.